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Mr. Denham: I need to make it clear that no funding has been withdrawn from any college that has been given final approval to go ahead. [Interruption.] Yes,
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the final decision. Until a college has been told that it has approval to proceed, it does not have that approval. It is critical to emphasise that there is no question of our not spending all the money that we said we would spend on the FE capital programme. However, colleges in the pipeline that have not yet had approval in detail are affected, and the LSC is addressing that. As I said earlier, I understand the position of colleges that anticipated approval at a specific time and now must wait till March to see what the situation is. That is why I have said to the LSC that I want it to appoint Sir Andrew Foster to undertake an independent review of how the situation has been allowed to develop, but that must not cloud the fact that we will spend the money that we have been given and introduce the capital programme, as promised.

T8. [252547] Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Staff at Yorkshire Coast college in Scarborough have noticed an increase in recently unemployed people coming for training to get back into work as quickly as possible. However, some have had to be turned away because the available funding is for in-work training, such as Train to Gain. Is there a need to rebalance the budgets in the FE sector to take account of the change in the economy?

Mr. Denham: We are deliberately increasing the Train to Gain budget, but the greater part of our resources do not go through that scheme, but go through colleges’ adult responsive budget at level 2, level 3 and pre-level 2. We are introducing greater flexibility in those colleges to meet the needs of newly unemployed people and we have recently announced additional money from our resources and the European social fund to provide that flexibility. I therefore hope that we will make a significant move towards tackling the problem that the hon. Gentleman identified.

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Business of the House

11.34 am

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to give us the future business of the House?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 2 February—Opposition Day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Building out of Recession”, followed by a debate entitled “Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful: The Case for Urgent Reform of Parliament”. Both debates will arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.

Tuesday 3 February—Opposition Day [4th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Skills and Further Education in a Recession”, followed by a debate entitled “Child Protection”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 4 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 5 February—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 February will include:

Monday 9 February—Remaining stages of the Political Parties and Elections Bill—day one.

Tuesday 10 February—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Banking Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Banking Bill.

Wednesday 11 February—Opposition Day [5th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords Amendments.

Thursday 12 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Uprating Order 2009 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2009.

Alan Duncan: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. I thank her, too, for her observant personal comments last week, which, she will be interested to know, prompted a letter from a lady in Reading who said that she would put these encounters into her weekly diary as “He-man meets Harman”. I can think of better.

There has been a sudden delay in the Political Parties and Elections Bill. Will the right hon. and learned Lady tell the House why that has happened? Given her close personal links with the aristocracy, is she not doubly ashamed by the apparent conduct of her four Labour colleagues in the Lords? May we also have a debate on cash for influence in this House? Does not the House of Lords pale into insignificance, given that, because more than 90 per cent. of the Labour party’s battleground funding comes from the trade unions, the party remains a wholly owned subsidiary of an interest group with its own policy agenda?

In looking further at the reputation of Parliament, does the Leader of the House not agree that the permanent encampment in Parliament square has become a national
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embarrassment? It is a total abuse of the legitimate right to protest. Will she make a statement telling us what plans she has to bang heads together in the various Committees of the House to rid ourselves of this grotty eyesore and restore some dignity to the appearance of this iconic seat of democracy?

May I salute those Members who attended the Westminster Hall debate on Equitable Life this week? Members of the Opposition parties outnumbered Labour Members by about five to one, which measures the contempt in which the Labour party appears to hold the thousands of responsible, cautious people who saved with Equitable Life—

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Rubbish!

Alan Duncan: We hear shouts of “Rubbish” from the other side.

Is it not a disgraceful breach of trust that those people have waited so long and received so little? What hope is there for justice and redress through Parliament if the ombudsman’s report is so callously ignored? Does the right hon. and learned Lady have enough sense of justice to make her speak up in Cabinet and to allow a full debate on this matter? Will she commit to doing so now?

The Government’s announcement on mixed-sex wards yesterday was long overdue but totally inadequate. After all, with which member of the Cabinet would the right hon. and learned Lady be willing to share a mixed-sex ward? As a champion of equality, will she now give us a debate on the need to end these wards, so that we can give the House an opportunity to adopt our proposals for getting rid of them and for doubling the number of single rooms in the NHS?

The latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund suggests that, contrary to the Government’s mantra that the United Kingdom is well prepared to deal with the downturn, the UK is actually facing the worst recession in the world. Can we therefore at last have a debate in Government time to allow the House to express its lack of confidence in the Government’s handling of the economy, or is the Leader of the House worried that this is yet another issue that would leave the Prime Minister, as reported yesterday, “tearful and dewy-eyed”?

It would appear that the Prime Minister has lost confidence in his own Cabinet and, it would seem, even in himself. He has complained that his Cabinet members are ducking interviews and leaving him to look like the Minister for the recession, yet today, curiously, we have learned that Labour MPs have been instructed by the Whips not to talk about the economy at all. So who is going to win the parliamentary BAFTAs—the “Glumdog in Despair” in Downing street or the Basil Fawltys on the Back Benches shouting, “Don’t mention the recession”? Put simply, when is this country going to get honesty from the Prime Minister about the severity of our plight?

Ms Harman: The shadow Leader of the House mentioned the investigation into the conduct of a number of Members of the House of Lords and I understand that the Leader of the House of Lords is making a further statement there this morning. As hon. Members
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will have heard yesterday, the Prime Minister is concerned, as I know we all are, to ensure the highest standards in the House of Lords. Its members should have the privilege of serving there in the public interest, not in their own financial interests. We all need to be satisfied, as the public want to be satisfied, that there are clear and proper rules, that they are properly enforced and that there are adequate sanctions. Baroness Royall, the Leader of the House of Lords, is taking that forward.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of Equitable Life. We have been in no doubt about the seriousness of the concern about the effects of these events on people resulting from the mismanagement by Equitable Life management and the failures of regulation, which actually began before this Government took office. We have to recognise, however, that where there have been failures of regulation, there must be an apology and there must be compensation. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave an oral statement to the House, setting out how she was planning to take this forward and to ensure that the compensation process could get under way. Today, the financial services ombudsperson—[Hon. Members: “You can’t say that!”] Oh, yes I can; sorry, Mr. Speaker, it just slipped out. The ombudsman is giving evidence to the Select Committee today. It is important that we seriously address these matters.

The shadow Leader of the House also raised the question of mixed-sex wards. A great deal of progress has been made on ensuring that those taken into hospital do not have to go into mixed-sex wards and can go into single-sex wards. Much progress has been made particularly in respect of those having treatment on planned admissions, but problems have remained with intensive care and accident and emergency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made available £100 million to support further work and is keeping a close eye on the situation. He is determined to make further progress.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the economy. I take the opportunity to reassure him that I keep a very careful eye on ensuring that the House has sufficient opportunities to debate the priority No. 1 concern for every person and every household in this country. They would expect Parliament to scrutinise Government action and debate what is happening with the economy. We will have opportunities to debate it on the Banking Bill; earlier this week we heard an oral statement on the car industry; and the week before that we heard an oral statement on the banking industry. I undertake that, as far as we possibly can, we will make sure that there is an opportunity for the House to hear statements and to scrutinise and debate important economic issues every week. Next week, there will be a debate in Opposition time on education and skills, which is important and relates to the recession, and there will be a further Opposition day debate the following week. We can all play our part in ensuring that the House has an opportunity to debate these important issues.

Before I deal with the hon. Gentleman’s second point, let me say that I think that he and all hon. Members should focus on how we can help constituents, who may face the dreadful prospect of their homes being repossessed, to obtain the assistance that is being provided, and how, when businesses in our constituencies are struggling,
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we—as their Members of Parliament—can secure the information that will help them, too, to obtain the extra assistance that is available. Information on the Government’s website provides help for people and for businesses. I urge all hon. Members to download it, to take it to their advice surgeries, and to send it to their local chambers of commerce and citizens advice bureaux. Although there have been a number of focused initiatives, we must ensure that we serve as agents to obtain help for people who need it.

I have always believed that if people are in trouble and if people are struggling, it is the job of Government to step up and help them. That is why we have taken the action that we have taken. We expect people to respond and, if they think there are other things that we can do, to make suggestions, as did representatives of Southwark chamber of commerce when I met them last Friday. We expect people to contribute, to present proposals and suggestions, and to say if they think that we are not doing things right.

As for the hon. Gentleman, I know that just as in my heart of hearts I believe that the Government should help people if they are struggling, in his heart of hearts he does not believe that. He believes that there is no role for Government in this respect. His fundamental critique is that the Government are taking action when he thinks that they should not take action. In his book “Saturn’s Children” , he said that there should be cuts in housing subsidies, cuts in employment and training, and cuts in police services. He also said that the state should withdraw from education altogether.

The reality is that whereas we believe that the Government have responsibilities to people when they are struggling, the hon. Gentleman’s ideology is to do nothing—and, after all, he is a pivot of the Conservative party.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend may well be aware that the train operating company First Capital Connect, which made more than £48 million in profits in the first half of last year, has said that it will cut ticket office opening hours by 800 hours. That will affect 28 constituencies across the south-east. It will reduce customer services, passengers will feel less safe, and it will cost jobs. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to make representations to the Secretary of State for Transport and his Ministers and to give us time for a debate on the Floor of the House, because the proposal affects so many Members of Parliament and their constituents. It represents very poor value for money from First Capital Connect, and is, in my view, completely unacceptable.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. Even if First Capital Connect is a private company, it is operating within a public service framework, and transport is an important public service. This is a matter for the regulators as well as for Ministers, but I shall ensure that it is brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Another week is to pass without a debate on the economy in Government time. It is no good the Leader of the House asking the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives
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to use their Opposition days for a debate that ought to be held in Government time.

We have called a debate on public spending because there seems to be a complete separation between the Prime Minister’s mindset and reality. He keeps telling us that he is providing public money to fight the recession, but, as we heard earlier in Question Time, the reality is that all around the country colleges are being told that their anticipated capital spend simply will not happen. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Prime Minister actually to attend next Monday’s debate in order actually to hear what is really happening? He seems to believe that he is the Mikado, and that because he has ordered something to be done, it has been done. It has not.

While we are talking about the economy, can we deal with some of those who can least afford the difficulties at the moment: people who live in council homes? They are being saddled with enormous rent increases in many boroughs and council areas this year, simply because the Treasury has withdrawn £200 million from the council rent account, which means that rents are going up by anything up to £2,000 a year. Is that fair to some of the poorest people in this country?

Can we have a debate, or at least a statement, on the worsening situation in Sri Lanka?

Next week, finally—if it is not delayed again—we will have the Political Parties and Elections Bill. Has there been any progress in establishing the one-stop shop for the registration of Members’ interests to avoid the confusion that there is at the moment? The House asked for that to be done. What is happening about it?

Lastly, last Tuesday we had a statement from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It was eagerly anticipated because the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was speaking from the Conservative Front Bench. He spoke; he roared; he did not ask any questions. But had he asked any questions, there would not have been a Secretary of State on the Treasury Bench to respond. We had a report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, dated 25 November, that made a recommendation in that respect. The Government have not responded within the two-month period. Why not? When will they do so? When will the issue be moved to the Procedure Committee for a new Standing Order to deal with what is clearly a constitutional anomaly and what some would say is a constitutional enormity?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman started by saying that I had simply asked for the Opposition to bring forward debates on the economy. That is to misconstrue what I said. I want to make sure that, every week, there are debates and opportunities to scrutinise the Government’s work. There is a rapid pace of change in the economy and, as it has been ever since Dick Whittington’s day, the City of London is an important financial services centre. Therefore, a global financial services crisis inevitably affects the City. We are an outward-facing, trading nation and a global recession affects our economy in particular. We want to make sure that the House is able to focus on the rapid change that is happening internationally and how it is affecting our economy and can call the Government to account for the actions we are taking.

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The mindset of the Government and of the Prime Minister is to make absolutely sure that we are looking at what is happening and ahead to what will happen and taking the necessary action. The hon. Gentleman will understand that these measures take time to work through. We can work out the detail and announce them, but it takes time for them to work through and for their effect to be seen on the economy. That is why we can all help in our constituencies by making sure that businesses and families get the help they need.

The hon. Gentleman talked about council rents. There will be an opportunity to debate that next Wednesday 4 February during debates on the local government finance reports. Last week, he asked for those to be separate debates and to be voted on separately. I can tell him that that will be the case.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Sri Lanka, an issue of real and growing concern. I have spoken to Foreign Office Ministers, as I know the House will want an opportunity as soon as possible either to have an oral statement or a debate. The issue has been raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time, but hon. Members want to take it further and I will certainly look for an opportunity so to do, possibly in a topical debate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the registration of Members’ interests and the question of dual reporting. The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons has done a great of work on this. He tells me that the Select Committee is due to report on Monday and that there will be an opportunity to sort out dual reporting and have a single system of reporting, which will be brought on a motion on business on Monday 9 February.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that, not long after the deputy leadership election, when she assumed her role, I asked her, and the Prime Minister at a later date, for a statement about getting rid of Members of Parliament’s outside interests where they serve more than one master—directorships, consultancies and the rest? She said that she was looking at the matter and had prepared some material on the subject. Is she aware that since that time, members of the shadow Cabinet—not content with £4 million of Short money—have also been making money on the side? More than half the shadow Cabinet have directorships and consultancies and it is time that we put a stop to it. Members of Parliament cannot serve more than one master. Can we start this clean-up now?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises a very serious point. If Members are acting as barristers and in court in addition to their work in the House, their constituents sometimes ask, “How do you have time to do it all?” But there is a different point when income is being received by Members that is not related to their duties on behalf of their constituents. The difficulty is that the public say, “If you are receiving money, what are you selling? What is happening? Why are you taking money? What is the person buying your services getting for those services?” We must make sure that there is public confidence in this House, that the public know that we are in here to do our job for our constituents and that we do that in the public interest, and not to line our own pockets. My hon. Friend has raised an important issue and we will have to return to it.

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