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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): We have already done a great deal, including the introduction of explanatory memorandums, changes to the Order Paper to make it easier to understand and the inclusion of more information on the parliamentary website so that all members of the public can understand what is happening in the Chamber. We are, of course, always happy to consider any good ideas that come from any source other than the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath).
Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. My constituents tell me that they are confused by the way we address each other in the House, using terms such as hon. Member, right hon. Member, learned Member, learned and gallant Member and so on. The public really do not understand those terms. What can we do to make them more understandable?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I gather that, at one point, there was a debate in the House of Lords about whether one could refer to somebody as a gallant peer when there were no longer any four-star generals. It was only four-star generals who previously were referred to as gallant. I know that many hon. Members find this very complicated
and in this House it is sometimes difficult for members of the public to understand whom we are referring to when we refer to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe or to the right hon. Member for this, that and the other. It is not [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) says that it is not simple. It is not very simple for ordinary members of the public and this is perhaps something that we ought to look at. However, parliamentary language is primarily a matter for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, not ours.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): The Deputy Leader of the House referred to all members of the public, but I would like to ask him about members of the public with disabilities. For example, may we consider having sign language interpreters, when appropriate and requested, in Select Committees? May we have documents written in Easyread for people with learning disabilities where the issue is of interest to them? For instance, my Select Committee produced its report on services for adults with learning disabilities in Easyread.
Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I know that the House authorities have worked hard to make it possible for Members of the House with disabilities to be able to function perfectly as well as any other Member of the House. That is clearly vital. He makes some interesting points that I will seek to take up with the House authorities to see whether there are further ways to make those issues available.
Monday 9 MarchEstimates (2nd allocated day). There will be a debate on the work of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the current economic situation, followed by a debate on railways. Details will be given in the Official Report.
[ The details are as follows: Delivering a sustainable railway: a 30-year strategy for the railways? (10th Report of Session 2007-08 from the Transport Committee, HC 219; Government response e ighth special report, HC 1105); and Departmental Annual Report and scrutiny of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (14th report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, HC 1116; and Government response Cm 7559 ) and further Oral Evidence of 16 December, 14 January and 23 February. ]
Tuesday 10 MarchOpposition Day (7th allocated day). There will be a debate on unemployment in the UK, followed by a debate on the European working time directive. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
Thursday 12 MarchIf necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report .
[The details are as follows: the 30th, the 36th, the 39th to the 41st, the 43rd to the 49th and the 51st and the 57th Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2007-08, and of the Treasury Minutes on these Reports (Cm 7493, 7522 and 7545).]
Thursday 26 MarchA debate on the report from the Committee on Arms Export Controls entitled Scrutiny of Arms Export Control (2008): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2006, Quarterly Reports for 2007, Licensing Policy and Review of Export Control Legislation.
Alan Duncan: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, and welcome her back from her appearance at Prime Ministers Question Time yesterday. I hope that she has fully recovered. I also thank herthis is importantfor correcting the record so swiftly on Sir Fred Goodwins pension, and urge other Ministers to learn from her example.
May we have a further statement on the position of Lord Myners, the City Minister, another banker who has received an honour for his services? Will the Leader of the House confirm that, contrary to previous assertions by the Government, Lord Myners was aware of Sir Fred Goodwins obscene pension package and, indeed, acceded to it? Might the City Ministers willingness to rubber-stamp Sir Freds pay-off have had something to do with the fact that he himself has a £100,000 pension entitlement from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group?
May we also have a wide-ranging debate on honesty in Government? Yesterday morning the Minister for Borders and Immigration launched a very aggressive attack on the independent Office for National Statistics, criticising it for, as he put it, playing politics, questioning its motives for releasing certain data, and describing its decision as
naive or, at worst, sinister.
Is that not an astonishing charge from a Government who have consistently manipulated statistics for their own political advantage? How on earth can the Minister justify his statements when just two months ago his own boss, the Home Secretary, was forced to apologise to the House for partial and untimely publication of knife crime figures? Is it not increasingly the case that the Government quite simply do not like the statistics because the truth about them hurts?
People up and down the country are finding that the social institutions that once bound us together as a country are fast disappearing. Local surgeries, small shops, police stations and post offices have all been victims of this Government, but now, it seems, it is the turn of the great British pub. Can the House, inspired by the all-party parliamentary beer group, be given an opportunity to debate the question of how pubs can survive when Government policy has already led to the closure of 2,000 of them? What is the point of making it seven times more expensive to drink in the controlled environment of a pub than to buy alcohol in a supermarket, following which so many people end up throwing up on the pavement?
May we also have a debate on how the traditional media will survive the recession? Yesterdays job cuts at ITV are a raw indication of the huge problems that the
drop in advertising revenue will cause for both broadcasters and the press, and particularly for local newspapers, which are of great value to all of us in the House. I acknowledge that the right hon. and learned Lady may be tiring a little of the affectionate attentions of her friends in the media, but given that a healthy democracy is sustainable only with a healthy media, may we be told what Government policy is on saving our local radio stations and our local newspapers?
Why are we not being given a statement, even today, on the economy? Can we not have a statement from the Government and a full debate on quantitative easing, so that Members can question the Government on how they intend to steer a course through inflation and deflation? The decisions being taken today are of the utmost gravity and will have profound effects on the economy for many years to come. They are desperate measures designed to address economic failure and collapse. When can we be told in clear terms exactly what the Government are doing and why?
Finally, may we have a debate on the way MPs are treated by the press? In the past few weeks we have seen some very cruel references to the right hon. and learned Lady. We have had Hapless Harriet, The Mad Hattie and Hattie the Harridanand that is only from her own side. So may I invite her to my office for a comforting hug, a heart-shaped chocolate and an openly declared hefty cheque from me for her leadership campaign?
Ms Harman: May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his excellent response to the business statement? He has rather over-achieved; indeed, on the basis of what he said just now, he must surely at least be on the shortlist for moving to the Wednesday slot and standing in for the Leader of the Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about Sir Fred Goodwins pension and Lord Myners, and I would refer him to the comments that were made in the House of Lords by Lord Myners when he answered questions on Monday this week. He made it absolutely clear that the decision was not one for the Government, but one for the old RBS board. That is the position, and we are looking into it, as I mentioned yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman talked about Government statistics. We set up the independent Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics, because after his party had been in government confidence in official information was at complete rock bottom. We therefore set up the Office for National Statistics and it does very important work.
The hon. Gentleman asked about pubs. It is true that pubs, like any other businesses, need support during the recession, and I know that Ministers addressed the lobby of Parliament on behalf of pubs yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman asked for more opportunity to discuss the economy. There will be a written ministerial statement later today about the decision by the Bank of Englands Monetary Policy Committee to ensure that the inflation target is met and that the economy does not fall below that target by putting extra money into the economy, which is described as quantitative easing. There will be an opportunity to debate the economic situation in Government time next Monday, as well as
an Opposition debate on Tuesday on unemployment and a debate on business rates on the following Wednesday. On Monday week there will be a debate on industry and exports and on Tuesday week there will be a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill. There will be a great deal of further discussion on the economy in the next week or two.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): May we have a statement next week about the national Statistics Authority and the e-mail trail that has been published by the Office for National Statistics on knife wounding? It is clear to me that, having set up the new authority, which is at arms length and is supposedly independent, the Government are seeking to manipulate the way in which statistics are published. I would ask my friend for a statement next week.
Ms Harman: The Home Secretary has acknowledged that she jumped the gun in putting out one particular statistic, in addition to a number of statistics that have been approved. We need to ensure that we co-ordinate at all times with the national Statistics Authority, and the Office for National Statistics and I pay tribute to their work.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Deputy Leader of the House was far too excitable and noisy earlier for me to give an illustration of what I meant by the truncation of consideration. The Northern Ireland Bill, which everyone agreed yesterday was very important, consisted of five clauses and six schedules, but only two clauses were completed in the House and the rest of the Bill was given no scrutiny at all by the elected House. That is no way to run a Parliament.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) that we need a debate on public service broadcasting in the widest sense, particularly in the context of ITV and also because we are losing some very important elements of public service broadcasting, not least childrens television, which has almost completely gone down the drain. We need to make sure that the creative industries in this country are properly supported.
May we have at the very least a statement, if not a debate, on the excellent report on contaminated blood and blood products by the noble Lord Archer of Sandwell? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) and the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. OHara) and for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) for their very good work in that area. It cannot be right that 5,000 haemophiliacs are infected with blood contaminated by HIV or hepatitis C yet no recompense is made and we do not investigate the circumstances. At present, there is no commitment for a Minister even to respond to the report, because it was not Government-commissioned, but I hope that the Government will respond and do so promptly, as the matter is of great public interest.
I notice that on Tuesday 10 March we have a debate in Opposition time on the European working time directive. I welcome that, but may we have a separate statement from Ministers on the position of retained firefighters? There is a serious problem for those of us who live in rural areas because we rely on retained firefighters to provide an essential service, and the application of the working time directive in its present form will have a profound effect on their ability to do their job effectively.
Lastly, I do not know whether the Leader of the House saw the performance before the Treasury Committee of the leadership of United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltdor UKFI as I believe we are supposed to call itbut I think most members of the Committee felt that it was fairly deplorable. From what the right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday, it seems that she has confidence in that organisation to do the job she wants. In view of her comments yesterday and, perhaps most appositely, the comments of her ministerial colleagues, may we assume that the Bill writing team for the Sir Fred Goodwin (appropriation of assets) Bill has now been stood down?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman made some comments about my deputy, but I have to say that I will not hear a word against him. My hon. Friend is fast on his way to becoming a national treasure. He is not excitable and noisy; he is energetic and outspokenrightly so.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Northern Ireland legislation. As he will remember, there was no vote on the Second or Third Reading of the Bill because the principles were accepted. On his question about the consideration of amendments, their selection is rightly a matter for the Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman asked about broadcasting and regional newsas did the shadow Leader of the House. Regional news is very important indeed and I will, if I may, consider it for a future topical debate.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the work of Lord Archer. Everybody will know that is not Jeffrey Archer but our own Peter Archer, Lord Archer of Sandwell. He is a former Member of this House, who has done important work on the report on contaminated blood products. I thank him for his work. The Government will be responding shortly.
The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the effect of the working time directive on retained firefighters and there will be an opportunity further to debate that during the Opposition day debate on the working time directive next Tuesday.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in deploring the Competition Appeal Tribunal decision on Tesco and the Competition Commissions original decision to have a local competitiveness rule linked to planning permission? Is she aware that many of our towns and cities are being blighted by that manipulative monopoly, and is it not about time that we debated Tesco in this House and introduced legislation to cut its monopoly?
Ms Harman: I will draw my hon. Friends comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and ask them to contact him directly. He might also consider seeking a debate on the Adjournment on the subject.
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