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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Will the Leader of the House-person— [ Laughter ]—grant a debate in Government time to allow Ministers to ponder, during this Government-created debt bust and pause in house building, and to give further consideration to their frequent assertions that large housing developments will not take place unless there is a suitable social infrastructure in place to support them, quite outside the normal section 106 agreements? Will the Leader of the House ask her colleagues to look further at this because it results in necessary housing going ahead without the proper infrastructure to support it, to the great disadvantage of all our constituents?

Ms Harman: There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue in next Wednesday’s debate on local government finance. I am sure that he will be able to make further points there. We must make sure that wherever there are housing developments, there is suitable infrastructure—whether roads, schools or health services—and that the planning system takes that into account. We are very much in favour of more housing being built as there is a need in this country, but it must be accompanied by the proper infrastructure. We certainly want to support the construction industry by bringing forward capital projects. Quite the opposite effect would occur if, at a time when the housing market is struggling, public sector capital infrastructure projects were delayed, so we will attempt to bring those forward.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a “Government-created” recession. He will know that there is a slowing of growth in China. Was that caused by this Government? He knows that there is a recession in America, France, Germany, Canada and Spain. If he simply talks about a Government-created recession, he will reinforce in everyone’s mind one of two things: either that the Opposition do not really know what is going on, or that they do know what is going on, but are more determined to make party-political points than to contribute to working together to help the country through this very difficult time.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Has my right hon. and learned Friend had a chance to see the report issued at 11 o’clock today on the conduct of the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway)? Does she agree that his conduct since almost the beginning of this century has brought this House into disrepute, and will we have an opportunity to debate his conduct next week?

Ms Harman: The report has been published this morning by the Standards and Privileges Committee, and it is entitled: “Mr. Derek Conway MP: Third Report of Session 2008-09”. I have not had a chance to study it in detail, but the Committee had already found that this Member had wrongly taken £13,000 out of public funds, and this report concludes that a further sum of £4,000 appears also to have been taken. The House must have a chance to consider this: we should all have time to read the report, and then the House will probably swiftly need an opportunity to debate it. The question the public will ask themselves is: quite how much money can somebody wrongly take out of the public purse while still continuing to hold their job as a Member of Parliament?

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Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): The Leader of the House has spoken of the responsibility of MPs to ensure that their constituents are made aware of the Government’s announcements on the actions they are taking to combat the economic downturn. My constituents continue to be bewildered by the announcements that are made, and by the lack of relation they bear to their experiences on the ground. In particular, businesses are telling me that they are still struggling to get the banks to lend to them, and councils that are participating in the mortgage rescue pilot, such as Brent, are telling me that they still do not have details of the scheme they are supposed to be piloting. May we have a debate in Government time about not only the measures the Government are taking, but about the impact those measures are having on the ground, because I think there is a very big gap?

Ms Harman: I will look for an opportunity to do that. As I have said, it takes time for people to understand the help that is available to them. On behalf of the hon. Lady’s constituents—businesses big and small, and families who might seek her help—I ask her to go on to the Government website and print off “Real help now: for people and businesses”, which explains where to find help with homes, jobs and finances. That will be kept up to date. I acknowledge that there have been a number of initiatives; that is because we have needed to take focused measures, rather than just spread public money at large. That has meant that there is a level of complexity in the measures, but it is important that they are made clear and simple—and I commend the civil servants who have worked on the document to which I referred. I agree that we need to look for an opportunity for a debate but, in the meantime, the hon. Lady, like all hon. Members, can help her constituents.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): To follow on from some earlier questions, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in 2007 first-time home buyers generated in excess of £2 billion in high street and service-sector sales, but that the sum now being generated is a fraction of that? Being mindful that the business announced for next week focuses on building and public spending, will she agree to have a debate in Government time specifically on the perilous state of the house building market?

Ms Harman: There will be an opportunity to consider these issues when the Banking Bill returns to the Commons. My hon. Friend makes the important point about ensuring that money flows back into the housing market very well.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Can the Leader of the House tell us when she expects to convene the next meeting of the Modernisation Committee? [Hon. Members: “Never.”] If, as I suspect, that is not imminent, may we have a debate about the desirability of merging the Modernisation Committee with the Procedure Committee? That would enable one Select Committee of the House to look at modernisation and procedure in a co-ordinated way. If we cannot have a debate, can we have some action on this?

Ms Harman: A lot of the work to modernise the House of Commons has come not only from the Modernisation Committee, but from the Procedure
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Committee that the right hon. Gentleman so ably chairs. I say to any right hon. and hon. Members who might be worried that the process of reform and improvement of the House of Commons has ground to halt that it absolutely has not, because the right hon. Gentleman is taking that forward through his Committee. The Modernisation Committee membership needs to be changed following the elevation of my former Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), to his current position as my excellent deputy, but I assure Members that the work of modernisation is proceeding.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I first declare my interest by stating that I suffer from type 2 diabetes? The Leader of the House will know that on Tuesday the Government’s health profile for England was published, which showed commendable progress in a number of areas, but an alarming rise in diabetes. The rate among adult males is now 5.6 per cent. and for adult females it stands at 4.2 per cent. She also knows that we spend £1 million an hour on treating diabetes-related illnesses and that it is the fifth biggest cause of deaths globally. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we deal with this alarming rise by providing members of the public with the opportunity of being tested? Will she arrange for a statement to be made on this matter as soon as possible?

Ms Harman: I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he raise this matter in oral questions to Health Ministers on 10 February. Perhaps I can also take this opportunity to congratulate him on the work he does, not only in raising the issue of diabetes in the House, but in his charitable work to make sure there is public awareness of it. This is a public health issue; better public health can lead to postponing, or preventing, the onset of diabetes. It is important that people get screening for early diagnosis and effective treatment. It is my understanding that my right hon. Friend discovered that he had diabetes when he was helping to promote screening in his own constituency and offered to take a blood test. I congratulate him on his work, and I say to him that the Government will back it up.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the unelected and unaccountable role of regional government in this country? Bradford council has been told that, on top of the 50,000 homes it is expected to have built in the next few years, which is already against its wishes and the wishes of local residents, it might be hit with a further increase in the number of houses it is expected to have built. My constituents are sick to the back teeth of every scrap of green space being built on, which has been imposed on them by regional government, which is both unelected and unaccountable. May we have a debate about this, as it is of great concern to many constituents?

Ms Harman: I am sure that in the hon. Gentleman’s region there is a recognition that there need to be more homes and that there is a need for housing development, but that it must be in the right place and in the right areas with proper infrastructure. It is precisely for the reasons he mentioned that we are setting up regional committees so there can be regional scrutiny of the regional development agencies and the work of the
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Homes and Communities Agency at a regional level. I hope that soon—once the Committee of Selection has done its work—we will be able to proceed with those regional committees.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Wind farms are becoming increasingly central to the delivery of renewable energy. However, there is no factual knowledge that we can count on that defines the efficiency of the source of energy and there are no guidelines about the location of these wind farms. At present, Stockton and Sedgefield are facing planning requests for more than 90 turbines. This is, of course, a problem that the local authority is attempting to handle. If it turns down these requests, it will then have to face costly appeals. That is not fair and it should not be the responsibility of local authorities to handle this. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make representations on behalf of the many of us who live in areas that are facing planning blight from turbines, which are springing up everywhere in our rural areas?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and that is why we introduced the Planning Act 2008, which will involve bringing forward a national policy statement on energy. That will include the framework within which renewable energy projects can take place, under which once proposals are made they can be swiftly consulted on and either taken forward or dropped.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to provide an opportunity to debate freedom of speech and political demonstration? She did not answer the point on Parliament square raised by the shadow Leader of the House. Although it is important that people should be free to demonstrate outside Parliament peacefully and to lobby Parliament, it is quite wrong that a squalid encampment should permanently disfigure the centre of our great capital city. Can we please deal with this expeditiously?

Ms Harman: This is a matter of concern. Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is a question of the balance between freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate. This matter involves the City of Westminster police, the Mayor of London and the House authorities, and it is being considered under the general heading of constitutional renewal by the Secretary of State for Justice. I shall draw his attention to the comments made by the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Leader of the House.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): During this worldwide economic downturn, none are suffering more than people who have savings. Can we have a debate to see how we can protect, and ensure there is a guaranteed minimum income for, pensioners and people who save? That would be a way forward and it would give them hope.

Ms Harman: There is a great deal of concern about this, not least among savers. Many savers are retired, and that is why we have sought to ensure that additional financial support is provided to savers. There will be an opportunity to return to these issues during the remaining stages of the Banking Bill.

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Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): May I, too, push the Government for a debate on the economy in these times of recession and credit crunch? It should focus particularly on those who are stopping money reaching the real economy, such as irresponsible bankers, and on the crass and arrogant actions of Labour in Scotland, who, helped by the feeble Lib Dems, yesterday blocked £1.8 billion of new money. This would have been new money for councils, for health, for the vulnerable and for the disabled, and it would have provided support for 5,000 construction jobs. Reckless Labour is now—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not get up and read out a speech. He should ask a question about the business for next week—it should be about the business of this House, not the devolved Parliament of Scotland. Perhaps the Leader of the House should try to answer, and then we can move on.

Ms Harman: I know that many Members of the Scottish Parliament were concerned about the lack of investment in apprenticeships and training, and that many Labour MSPs voted against the budget on that basis. However, this is, as you say, Mr. Speaker, not a matter for this House.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Members of all parties met the director-general of the BBC earlier this week and expressed considerable anger over its stance on the refusal to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on Gaza. That anger is shared by my constituents, many of whom are BBC employees, yet senior management seem determined to ride it out. So can we have a debate on the Floor of the House on this issue, which is wrecking the BBC’s reputation at home and abroad?

Ms Harman: No one can be in any doubt about the intensely high level of concern in this House about the humanitarian plight of people in Gaza—that came out in the debate that we had in the past fortnight. Everyone wants to see not only an increase in the levels of Government humanitarian aid, which the Secretary of State for International Development has raised, but a recognition that the voluntary contribution is essential for humanitarian exercises, in addition to Government international pressure on the Israelis to make sure that that humanitarian aid gets through. Obviously, there has been nationwide dismay about this situation but, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we need to step back—we should not step over the line—from telling the BBC, which is independent, how it should make its editorial decisions. I see from the papers that it is reviewing the complaints that it has received about this issue, a Westminster Hall debate has taken place on which. A statement will be made just after business questions by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, so provided “digital” is in the question, there might be an opportunity to ask him for an answer too.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I listened to the earlier exchanges about the decision of the ill-fated Learning and Skills Council to suspend its capital funding programme. May I add my voice to concerns about this matter, not least on behalf of Sharnbrook upper school and community college, which found that many months
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of negotiations with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, its local authority and the LSC had been undermined by that decision and that there was a consequent negative impact on its pupils? Was the Leader of the House disappointed that information on the matter came not from a statement from a Minister but through contact with Members of Parliament? Is she very disappointed that, again, this matter is not being debated by the Government in their time, but has to be brought up by the Opposition in order to pin the Government down about such an important capital freeze?

Ms Harman: I do not think we need any lessons from the official Opposition on capital spending. We have said that we are determined to bring forward capital spending on our infrastructure across the board, so that, as well as providing real help for people now, we provide real hope for the future. The hon. Gentleman’s party has suggested cutting capital spending, so I suggest he address his questions to his own Front-Bench team, rather than to me.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I add my appeal to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter), because there is widespread concern, including among my constituents, about the BBC’s decision not to show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on Gaza? People up and down the country are licence fee payers and, although I appreciate that the Government cannot tell the BBC what it should be doing, Back-Bench Members across this House want to express their views and would welcome an opportunity to do so on the Floor of the House.

Ms Harman: I take the point that hon. Members are saying that even if the Government cannot take a position, they feel free, on behalf of their constituents, to do so and therefore I should look to provide an opportunity to discuss the issue, possibly through a topical debate.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a Procedure Committee report, which was accepted by the Government, that would enable them to take action immediately on the eyesore and noise nuisance that desecrates Parliament square?

Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on Zimbabwe? I press this point week after week; my commitment to that country is 100 per cent. Horrors as great, if not greater, than those occurring in Gaza are taking place there daily—starvation and cholera are killing thousands of people. May we have a debate in this Chamber to reflect our horror and to urge action?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter previously. Since it was raised by him and other hon. Members, I have spoken to my colleagues in the Foreign Office and I will seek an opportunity to debate Africa, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur and Zimbabwe; I know that these are really important issues and I will look for an early opportunity.

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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): May I, too, echo the concerns about the BBC’s decision on Gaza?

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Legal Services Commission is planning to move the processing of legal aid from its office in Wales, at a time when Welsh law is diverging from English law because of the developments resulting from the Government of Wales Acts, with the loss of 40 jobs? Can she suggest any parliamentary opportunities for me to raise this very important issue further?

Ms Harman: I suggest that my hon. Friend, who is a champion for jobs in her constituency, should look for an opportunity to raise this matter in Justice questions next Tuesday. I understand that she could also seek a meeting with Lord Bach, who is the Minister responsible for legal services. I think everybody appreciates that these are important jobs for her constituency.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): The latest figures show that in the year to come council tenants in the London borough of Sutton will be paying £10.5 million of their rent to the Treasury, which, in effect, means that council tenants in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park will be paying their April to August rents to the Treasury. May we have a debate in Government time with the title “Treasury profiteering from hard-pressed tenants”?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman’s party has already chosen two topics for the Opposition day next Monday, but he will find an opportunity to raise these issues next Wednesday in the local government debate.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): The Leader of the House will recall that she and I debated the need to change the law on cohabiting couples in Westminster Hall about two or three years ago. On 13 March, in the other place, Lord Lester will introduce a private Member’s Bill to reform the law for cohabiting couples. Following a two-year study by the Law Commission that reported in 2007 and the fact that the law has been changed in Scotland, do we not now need an urgent debate on the Floor of this House to see how we can change the law to protect the 2 million couples who are living together, and the 1.25 million children who are living with these parents and who are completely unprotected in the event of a breakdown of a relationship?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have just seen research that shows that after marriage breakdown the woman is likely to be around 25 per cent. worse off, and she usually looks after the children, so that has a bad impact on them. Men are likely to be some 25 per cent. better off, and that is why I strongly commend the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill to ensure that fathers do not stop paying for their children when a relationship breaks down. My hon. Friend has been a champion, reminding everybody that although it is often unfair on children and women after marriage break-up, it is often even more unfair when cohabiting couples break up. This issue is under consideration by the Secretary of State for Justice and I suggest that she reminds him to make progress on that in Justice questions on Tuesday.

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