Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have a debate on the impact of the ending of the UK opt-out from the working time directive for retained firefighters? Some 321 of the 391 fire stations in Scotland are staffed by part-time firefighters. A strict application of the directive would mean that they would
22 Jan 2009 : Column 908
often be left unable to provide the necessary cover, and the stark fact is that many of our more remote communities simply do not have the critical mass of population required to maintain a full-time service. Surely it is wrong that the law of unintended consequences should be allowed to leave some communities without effective fire cover in this way.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has made a detailed and complex point, although it is actually about the simple and important issue of providing adequate fire cover at all times for all communities, including isolated rural communities. Perhaps I could raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman, to see whether he can allay his concerns.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the current status of the EU-Israel trade agreement? The House has been repeatedly reassured—starting with William Waldegrave, a Minister in a previous Conservative Government—that a breach of the human rights clauses in the agreement could lead to the agreement’s suspension. It is clear from the events in Gaza and from the suspension of the Arab parties in Israel that those human rights clauses have been breached. Parliament needs an opportunity to debate this matter, so that our Ministers can take it into account in their work in the European Council of Ministers.

Ms Harman: I know that my hon. Friend has played a leading role in the quest for justice for the Palestinians, and that she has visited the region on many occasions. She will be aware that we had a full day’s debate on this subject last week, and a statement from the Foreign Secretary earlier this week. I will be speaking to the Foreign Secretary to find out when he will next come to the House to report on this matter, because it is an issue of concern not only internationally but in this country, and I will bring my hon. Friend’s points to his attention.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Yesterday, Ofcom produced its report on the future of public sector broadcasting in the United Kingdom. The report contained proposals to cut news services from Scotland, and to see the south of Scotland being served from Newcastle. May we have a proper debate in this House on the future of public service broadcasting, to ensure that we get the best possible service for all the nations of the UK?

Ms Harman: We are grateful to Ofcom for its well-considered report. We are in no doubt about the importance of public service broadcasting, but we are also in no doubt that an important dimension of that is broadcasting from the different regions and from Wales and Scotland. This is a matter that the Government keep under close scrutiny. I take the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will try to work out what to do about this.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): May I refer my right hon. and learned Friend back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) about yesterday’s announcement that Gloucestershire county council has decided to obtain a site in my constituency to build an incinerator? This is
22 Jan 2009 : Column 909
an issue of probity, and I wonder whether she will look into it. The county council said that it was conducting a full-scale consultation on the options for waste, and that is why it took up the opportunity for a private finance initiative arrangement with DEFRA, although that does not seem to have happened. I hope that the Leader of the House will look into this key issue and allow us an opportunity to debate the matter.

Ms Harman: Waste management is an important issue generally. I was going to say that the incinerator was a hot topic, but I shall not do so. It is a very important topic in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I do not know whether he has had a chance to ask for a meeting with the relevant Secretary of State, but perhaps he should do that in the first instance. Perhaps I can talk to him later today, after the next debate, to discuss how he can take forward his concerns.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a debate on access to mortgages? Borrowers are finding it almost impossible to access mortgage finance, and if they can, it is only after paying a very high deposit. The Halifax is now asking for a deposit of 40 per cent., which is pretty much impossible for many people, and the Council of Mortgage Lenders says that it expects mortgage finance to decline for some months to come. It is difficult to see how we are going to get the housing market and the house building and construction industries moving again until the whole question of mortgage finance is sorted out. The Government say that they have done certain things, but the mortgage lenders and the building societies just do not seem to be acting.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been a big fall in capacity in the mortgage market, which has come from the collapse of banks in Iceland, in Ireland and internationally. A lot of our mortgage market was already dependent on loans and mortgages that came from abroad, in what is a global financial market. He will also know that the mortgage companies and banks in this country depend on loans from other banks abroad, and that inter-bank lending has, to a degree, frozen up. This is a matter of working nationally to recapitalise the banks and put them in a position where we can expect them to lend again, and of working with our international counterparts to ensure that there is confidence across the banking system internationally. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the lack of mortgage finance going into housing, and about the effect of that on construction, which is absolutely evident. This is a top priority, and if he has any further suggestions that are properly backed with funds and thought out, we will obviously consider them.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): May we have a debate on the use of statutory consultation in the Building Schools for the Future programme, given that councils such as Stoke-on-Trent city council take no notice whatever of the outcome of consultations or, sadly, of people’s opinions?

Ms Harman: I am sure that we all strongly back the Building Schools for the Future programme, and it is obviously important to get the consultation right, to ensure that the massive capital investment that is going
22 Jan 2009 : Column 910
into schools, which we all support, goes to the right place. I suggest that my hon. Friend meets the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): May we have a debate on Warm Front? It is an excellent scheme, but it could be greatly improved. Some of the quotations that people are now receiving are outrageously high. The number of people in Essex who are having to pay a top-up has increased from 304 to 1,429 over the past three years. Those very vulnerable people are now having to pay an average of £640 per top-up for work that could be done by local contractors at half the price. May we have a debate on that?

Ms Harman: Energy prices have recently fallen, and that is very welcome, but they are still higher than they were 12 months ago. That is a serious concern for many people. Energy conservation is also an important environmental issue, because of carbon emissions. We have had a topical debate on the cost of energy, environmental protection, insulation and the Warm Front scheme, but I will look for a further opportunity as these issues are very important to households up and down the country and, no doubt, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995? I tabled early-day motion 510 a couple of days ago.

[ That this House recalls the Farm Animal Welfare Council’ s recommendation in 2003 which called for the repeal of the exemption from stunning prior to slaughter for animals killed by Moslem Halal and Jewish Shechita methods; notes that these exemptions rema in; further recalls the Council’ s scientific evidence showing that sheep become insensible within five to seven seconds of the incision whilst adult cattle may take between 22 and 40 seconds, and calves may take up to two minutes to become insensible; abhors all forms of racism and religious intolerance; proposes that the stunning of an animal post-cut addresses animal welfare concerns whilst remaining compliant with the theological tenets upon which halal and kosher are based; supports the existing use of pre-stunning in the slaugh t er of over 90 per cent. of animals killed in the UK for halal meat; observes that bans on slaughter without pre-stunning in Norway, Sweden and New Zealand have been in place for over five years without harming religious freedom or community relations in those countries; and calls on the Government to work actively and constructively in co-operation with the Muslim and Jewish communities in the UK to address the animal welfare implications of all religious slaughter and to amend the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 accordingly. ]

The motion draws attention to the well-argued and scientifically validated report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, produced back in 2003, which urged the repeal of the exemption from pre-stunning before slaughter of animals destined to be used as halal and kosher food. Will the Government open up discussions with the Muslim and Jewish communities to see how we can make progress on this affront to animal welfare which, among other things, fires racism and religious intolerance among some communities?

22 Jan 2009 : Column 911

Ms Harman: Perhaps that could be the subject of a Westminster Hall debate in which my hon. Friend could set out his suggestions about how to build on and take further the work that we have already done on this.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The reputation of our politics has suffered a severe blow this week as a result of the Government’s antics in trying to hide MPs’ expenses. I thank the Leader of the House for eventually withdrawing the order in response to protests from tens of thousands of people across the country as well as many Members of this House. Can she confirm that this shameful attempt to exempt MPs from freedom of information legislation has been dropped not just for today, but for good?

Ms Harman: There is going to be a full debate on these issues straight after business questions. I think that what really causes a blow to the reputation of all Members is when any individual Member abuses the House allowances to line their own pockets. That is what undermines the reputation of the House, which is why we are bringing forward tougher rules, a more robust audit and more transparency.

The hon. Lady’s party has been consistent in arguing, as we did, for a Freedom of Information Act, which we actually brought in, and her Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), was quite right to criticise the Johnny-come-latelies in the Tory party who never did freedom of information when they were in government. As I say, at least the Liberals have been consistent and I would say to the hon. Lady that it is right for her, along with the rest of her party, to continue to call for greater transparency, but it is also very important not to get into a party political Dutch auction as to who can do most to besmirch the reputation of MPs.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Could we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the continuing crisis in Darfur and western Sudan? Given that aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape and the chaining together and burning alive of people—to give but four examples—have been recurrent facts of life in the region for well over five years, is it not high time that this House debated how the British Government, working in concert with President Obama and the international community, can secure the full 26,000 UN-African Union troop deployment to the region—before the genocide of Darfurians has been completed?

Ms Harman: As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, the attention of the international community has rightly been focused on the terrible
22 Jan 2009 : Column 912
ordeal, death and devastation happening in Gaza. At the same time, however, the situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating and things remains dire in the Congo, while the circumstances are still terrible in Darfur. I am looking for an early opportunity for the House to debate Darfur, Congo and Zimbabwe. We cannot forget the role that this country and the international community must play. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the written ministerial statement issued today by the Foreign Secretary, which talks about developing relations with China and making sure that we influence that country to play its role in the international community. It will be very important if we can make sure that China plays its part in helping to end the struggle and strife in Africa.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I reiterate the calls for an early debate on Ofcom’s public service broadcasting review? Given that the BBC has a never-ending guaranteed increase in its income and given that it is still happy to pay Jonathan Ross £6 million a year, surely the time has come to top-slice the income going to the BBC from the licence fee and give it to other broadcasters whose income is going down and down, which is totally unsustainable. May we have an early debate so that we can understand the Government’s thinking on that important issue and so that the Government can understand the views of hon. Members?

Ms Harman: A Government paper on digital Britain will deal with a number of those issues. It seems to me that the questions of public service broadcasting, digitalisation, regional news, Channel 4 and the BBC might well be grouped together in order to provide an opportunity to debate them.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): This week, Mr. John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said of the new EU working time directive that it was “an impending disaster” that would “devastate” medical training and lead to “dangerous” lapses in patient care. He went on to say that some hospitals and some hospital units will close. May we have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Health on the Government’s position in relation to the directive?

Ms Harman: I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s question to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. I would say, however, that what certainly caused dangerous lapses in patient care was junior doctors being absolutely knackered from not having any sleep. We have increased the number of doctors and nurses and the number of doctors in training, but we also need to ensure not only that they build up the necessary expertise over the course of their training, but that they have a reasonable working life. That applies to dentists, as well.

22 Jan 2009 : Column 913

Point of Order

12.26 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to thank you very much indeed for the statement you made regarding the police coming into my office yesterday. I was notified of their being in my office while I was in the Chamber speaking in an Opposition debate. My junior members of staff and researchers felt under a certain duress to hand over documents. I am extremely grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your saying that in future, even if it does not involve parliamentary privilege, the Serjeant at Arms should first be told if a police officer wishes to enter the office of a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but he must understand that things are sometimes done in good faith—and the approach made by the police officer to the hon. Gentleman’s staff was done in good faith. Other hon. Members have been put in a dangerous situation because of the particular investigation that is going on. I would ask that before hon. Members rush to points of order and make statements that can reflect badly on professional people who are doing a decent job of work, it would be better for them just to sit and wait for a while and get the facts together. That would have been the best thing, and I think that the hon. Gentleman’s approach would have been different if he had given himself a breather and thought about what was going on.

Business of the House


Mr. Speaker: Before I call the Leader of the House to move motion No. 2, I advise the House that all four motions are to be debated together.

22 Jan 2009 : Column 914

Members’ Payments and Allowances

12.28 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move motion 2— Payments to Hon. Members (Publication Scheme)

(1) That, subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) below, for the purpose of the publication scheme adopted and maintained by the House under section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, such information about payments made to, or on behalf of, hon. Members which is already published routinely in accordance with the scheme shall continue to be published;

(a) Administrative and Office Expenditure:

(i) accommodation costs for offices, surgeries, etc;

(ii) office equipment and supplies;

(iii) telephones and other telecommunications;

(iv) professional fees and charges;

(v) agency and other staff costs;

(vi) travel costs;

(vii) utilities;

(b) Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure:

(i) mortgage interest;

(ii) rent;

(iii) hotel costs;

(iv) council tax;

(v) fixtures, fittings and furnishings;

(vi) subsistence;

(vii) other household costs, including service charges, utilities, telecommunications, maintenance and repairs;

(c) Communications Expenditure:

(i) websites;

(ii) reports and surveys;

(iii) delivery charges, postage and stationery;

(iv) advertising;

(v) equipment;

(d) Staffing Expenditure;

(e) Travel Expenditure in relation to travel by Members:

(i) car, including third party vehicle rental and mileage;

(ii) rail;

(iii) air;

(iv) other UK and European travel;

(f) Resettlement Grant;

(g) Winding-up Expenditure;

(3) The Committee on Members’ Allowances shall keep the categories listed in paragraph (2) above under review and may modify them from time to time as the committee may think necessary or desirable in the interests of clarity, consistency, accountability and effective administration, and conformity with current circumstances.

Mr. Speaker: With this we shall discuss the following:

Motion 3 —Members’ Allowances (Green Book)—

Next Section Index Home Page