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Many students will be alarmed this week by universities proposals to double fees. Before a further generation is put into deeper debt, may we have a debate on the
matter so that we know the Governments position? They know that many of us will oppose any such proposals bitterly.
We had the sad statement about Stafford hospital, and many of us recall earlier events at Maidstone. I wonder whether it would be appropriate to have a debate on professionals duty of care. I understand that administrators appear to have taken an extraordinary view of targets and abused the system at that hospital, but clinicians, doctors and nurses have a duty of care to individual patients and they should be reminded of that. It is not part of their role simply to accept whatever orders they are given, if they are detrimental to patients. May we therefore have a debate on that?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister made a statement about allegations of collusion with torture. That written statement raised more questions than it answered, not least because, as I read it, it confers on the Attorney-General a wider role, which I believe to be entirely unconstitutional, whereby a Minister of the Crown determinesnot only in the case referred by the High Court, but in othersnot whether Government agents are prosecuted, but whether they are even investigated. That cannot possibly be right constitutionally or legally. May we have a serious, sober debate about that matter, about which hon. Members of all parties will be concerned?
Ms Harman: I shall not add anything further to my answer to the shadow Leader of the House about FE colleges, except to say that 261 colleges will go ahead with their capital improvement, and that over three years, £2.3 billion will be invested. An inquiry is being set up under Sir Andrew Foster about the preliminary approvals that were given, but should not have been. It will report shortly.
The mortgage schemethe help for people to defer their interest paymentswas announced in January, but it was made clear when it was announced that because the scheme involved the major mortgage lenders, it would have to be worked up with them. It was not just a Government scheme, like the Her Majestys Revenue and Customs scheme, which could be announced and then implemented straight away. It had to be worked up in partnership with the mortgage lendersand that is happening. In the meantime, we have given more help to those who become unemployed by shortening the amount of time for which they have to be unemployed before they get help with their mortgage payments, and increasing the amount for which they can get help with their payments. We have issued guidance to the county courts to ensure that they enforce the position that repossession is a last resort. We also have a moratorium with the mortgage lenders on moving to repossession. That work is under way, and some has already come on stream.
On higher education fees, the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) has said that there will be a review. However, even before the review we know that admissions to further and higher education have increased across the board.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the Attorney-General and the Prime Ministers written ministerial statement on detainees. At Prime Ministers questions, my right hon. Friend spoke of our absolute abhorrence of torture and rendition, and our rejection of anything to do with that. To reinforce that, and to reassure people so that they know that our important security services are not contaminated by such abhorrent malpractice, guidance will be published. A further request has been made to the Intelligence and Security Committee to review recent developments, and Peter Gibson will examine the matter and report annually to the Prime Minister. It is not unusual in complex matters for the Attorney-General to examine the issues first and request the police to investigate. Obviously, the police can investigate of their own volition, but it is not unusual for the Attorney-General to undertake a preliminary reviewand that is exactly what she is doing.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): When my right hon. and learned Friend responded to the shadow Leader of the House, who requested a debate on the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, she said that there had been a statement yesterday and that there would be Health questions next week. That is not good enough. That hospital is about 12 miles from my constituency and I am intensely concerned about what happened there. The preliminary reports are horrifying and shocking. Please may we have a debate in Government time soon?
Ms Harman: Action has been set out following the statement, and my hon. Friend will be able to ask further questions of the Health Secretary. It is important to reinforce to bereaved families who have lost relatives in that hospital the fact that they can individually have a review of their relatives cases.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The Leader of the House knows that although the Government have a good-sized majority, the vast majority of the British public voted for Members of Parliament who sit on the Opposition side of the House. May we have a debate on the need for electoral reform, so that the Government of the day have the support of the majority of the people?
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): When can we have some time set aside to set up a Regional Select Committee for London? The Mayor has cut major infrastructure projects in London, the 50 per cent. target for affordable housing has been cut, and a £75 million revenue black hole has been created in the budget of Transport for London. London Members of Parliament want a voice on those issues and an opportunity to scrutinise the Mayoror at least, Labour Members want that, even if the Liberals and the Tories do not. When can we set up a Committee for London?
I agree with my hon. Friend. When we debated the regional Committees in the House, we said that because of the different governance arrangements in London, with the Mayor and the Greater London
authority, we would have to consider the issue further. However, I agree with the points that my hon. Friend has made. We need to look into the issue and make progress on it.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): In the early hours of Sunday morning, mindless and vindictive vandalism was committed in my constituency. When my constituents woke up, they found that every road sign that had the words Hospital and A and E on it had been sprayed out. That was legal, because the primary care trust had instructed the highways authority to do it. The vindictive and mindless vandalism that took place was the closure of my acute hospital in the middle of the night. The A and E department, intensive care and the stroke, cardiac, maternity and all other acute services were closed on Saturday night. Can we have a Secretary of State come here for a debate about why so many facilities are closing round the country?
Ms Harman: That is an example of where, if the hon. Gentleman had mentioned to me that he was raising that issue, I could have given him a more substantive answer than this, which is simply that he has an opportunity to put that question to the Secretary of State for Health next week.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I do not wish to add to my right hon. and learned Friends woes, but could we have an early debate on the problem of FE colleges? A modest college in Rotherham has spent millions of pounds, closed a road and published its plans, but has suddenly been told that it cannot go ahead, having received full authorisation up to that moment. Either the Learning and Skills Council officials who authorised that were wrong and should resign or the senior civil servants who supervised and authorised it should resign. If the matter came across a Ministers desk, questions have to be asked. The issue is important for the construction industry and for the confidence of some of the weaker economies in our country. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate and tell the Prime Minister that we need clarification and for the money set aside to renew our economy to be put into the FE college building programme?
Ms Harman: We have acknowledged that there is a problem and Sir Andrew Foster is investigating how it arose. However, my right hon. Friend will acknowledge that, unlike under the previous Administration, Thomas Rotherham college has had considerable investment over the past 10 years.
Ms Harman: Okay. Well, even if my right hon. Friend was not asking about Thomas Rotherham college, it is in his constituency and has had considerable investment. I am not saying that there is not a problem about FE; Sir Andrew Foster is looking into it.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con):
In announcing the business the right hon. and learned Lady suggested that next weeks defence debate might be used as an opportunity to raise the important issue of the reserves review, which is long awaited and much delayed. Will
she confirm that the matter is of sufficient importance and involves so many MPs who have reservists as constituentsa great deal of work has been put into thisthat it should be the subject of a proper oral statement by the Defence Secretary? Will she also confirm that that should be done as soon as possible, as the review is now completed?
Ms Harman: There will be a full-days debate next week on defence, as I have said. There will be an opportunity for hon. Members to raise the question of reservists with the Minister concerned, but if they are not satisfied thereafter, we can look at the situation again.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Many right hon. and hon. Members head back to civilisation on a Thursday to the midlands and the north along the Euston road or through the Euston area. May I counsel them not to go near the 13th floor of Euston tower, 286 Euston road, which houses the central London tax office of Her Majestys Revenue and Customs for my constituent the Air Logistics Group, as well as for many hundreds of other businesses. There appears to be a serious black hole there, which is obviously a danger to public safety. Information is not coming out of that Government office, despite faxes, e-mails, telephone calls and requests for refunds from my constituent, who is concerned about a bill for more than £25,000 for corporation tax for 2008. We are told that the office is behind with its post. The Government signed up to the prompt payments code at the end of last year and set a limit of 10 days on all transactions with the private sector in particular, but that is not happening. Can we have a debate on the HMRC, its resources and how it handles
Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to hon. Members that I am not going to get through all the Back Benchers in this question session if the supplementaries are as long as that. They are not an opportunity to make a speech; it is a question that should be put to the Leader of the House.
Ms Harman: Treasury questions are next Thursday and there will be a full-days debate on the economy. HMRC is processing promptly all the applications from those businesses that want to defer their tax. I will raise with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury the issues to do with the tax office that my hon. Friend raised.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Leader of the House recognise that Select Committees are one of the most important ways in which we have the opportunity truly to hold the Government to account? However, the Regional Select Committees are a total travesty. Will she become the Leader of the House for once and abandon them, and instead have the regional Grand Committees, to which every Member in the region concerned is entitled to attend?
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Derian House, a childrens hospice in my constituency, and St. Catherines, which is next door in South Ribble, are doing the good work that the Government rely on. People who are dying, who need that loving care, are dependent on the income of those hospices from charitable donations and the money from the Government. As my right hon. and learned Friend well knows, the childrens hospice is the poor relation for direct funding from the NHS. What can she do through this credit crisis, as charities struggle with the amount of money that they receive, to ensure that the funding gap can be bridged through the NHS? It would be a good idea to have a topical debate on funding for the hospice movement.
Ms Harman: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate. The Government have put extra money into the strategy for end-of-life care, and £10 million extra into childrens hospices in particular. We have also helped with gift aid. However, some hospices have been hit particularly hard because their reserves were in Icelandic banks, which has added to their problems at a time when charitable giving has fallen. We are acutely aware of the effect that that might have on health services that are incredibly valued by families who need them. I agree with my hon. Friends point and will look into the issue for a topical debate.
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): At the end of another week when significant redundancies have been announced in the knitwear industry in Hawick in my constituency, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that when the Chancellor introduces the debate on the economy in due course, he acknowledges the challenges facing that world-class industry and brings forward a set of proposals to support it?
Ms Harman: I will bring the points that the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of businesses in his constituency to the attention of the Chancellor, and if he thinks it right, he can include them in his remarks to the House.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the article in The Independent today about restaurant owners using the credit crunch as an excuse to ask the Government not to stop the inclusion of tips in the national minimum wage? We fought long and hard to close that loophole, so I hope that she and other members of the Cabinet and the Government do not agree with those restaurant owners, who are bad employers exploiting young people. When will the legislation come forward to this House?
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. From this October, all staff must get the full minimum wage, excluding tips. We can all support the fair tips, fair pay campaign and ensure that we give our tips in cash.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con):
In her rather shrill defence of the catalogue of incompetence that has led to the FE crisis, the one thing that the right hon. and learned Lady did not say was whether Ministers would come to the House to answer to Members from across the House whose FE colleges face such difficulties. The Association of Colleges says
today that those FE colleges that were encouraged to devise and develop projects for capital expansion have already spent £150 million in doing so. A Minister says that we should not be in this state and that the programme has not been managed properly, but what Ministers will not do is come to this House and answer for the incompetence that has led to this situation. Will the right hon. and learned Lady bring about the opportunity for Members from across the House to defend their colleges and to make Ministers answer the questions that they seem so reluctant to answer?
Ms Harman: Given the risk of being shrill, perhaps I should answer the hon. Gentleman in a very deep voice. I refer him to the written ministerial statement that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills issued on 4 March. The Prime Minister answered questions on this matter yesterday in Prime Ministers questions, and Sir Andrew Fosters report will be forthcoming shortly. At that point, it might well be that the Secretary of State comes to the House to make an oral statement.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): It is really important that schoolchildren have an opportunity to visit the House, but I am struggling to arrange that for schools in my constituency. I am told that we are completely booked up until at least September or October. It is particularly difficult for schools in the north, because they have to come on a Monday or Tuesday; the other days are no good to them. Could those schools be given some priority, because it is easier for schools in London and the south-east to come later in the week?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. All our constituents find it incredibly valuable that schoolchildren come to the House. If I may, I will ask the Deputy Leader of the House to look into this matter, and possibly issue a written ministerial statement about it. Speaking as a London MP, I am sure that we would all readily understand the idea of making such visits possible for schools from outside London, for which more complex arrangements have to be made, and do what we can to help.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Given that the Prime Minister appeared to be in denial yesterday, that the Minister responsible for further education, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), was embarrassingly hapless when interviewed on the Today programme this morning, and that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just made it clear that a serious problem exists, surely it would make sense for the Secretary of State, and not a hapless junior Minister, to come to the Dispatch Box early next week to answer questions from Members who are worried about their colleges of further education. If the Leader of the House will give us a simple yes, we will all be happy.
In order that hon. Members should not be unduly alarmed, and that no one should suffer from any confusion about whether the 261 final approvals that have been given will be going ahead, perhaps I will
ask the Secretary of State to issue a written ministerial statement containing a list of the 261 final approvals, so that everyone is clear about which is going ahead this year. Sir Andrew Fosters report will be forthcoming shortly, and it is at that point that the Secretary of State should come to the House with the full facts of the situation at his disposal.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Could we have a debate on the future of the countrys rape crisis centres? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the excellent work done by their staff, most of whom are volunteers, but there is genuine concern about the future funding for the centres. Will she use her good offices to advance the argument for keeping them funded, in order that women, in particular, can use their services?
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. All local authorities ought to be supporting those local services that help the victims of rapeone of the most traumatic crimes. We set up a £1.1 million fund last year to help the rape crisis centres that were threatened, and none has closed because they were all able to apply to the fund, 100 per cent. of which was spent. Today, we are announcing the second round of the fund, which will be £1.6 million. It is important to support the victims of rape, but it is also important to hold the perpetrators to account. It is therefore welcome that, over the past 10 years, the number of men convicted of rape has increased by 46 per cent. We have a great deal more to do in the criminal justice system, but we are making good progress, and rightly so.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The Leader of the House did not respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) about Equitable Life. She will be aware, however, that the latest damning indictment of the Governments mishandling of the Equitable Life fiasco was delivered only today by the Public Administration Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Given the strident criticisms in the Committees report, will the Leader of the House now find time for a debate about the Governments handling of the whole Equitable Life fiasco, so that people can have their money returned to them?
Ms Harman: I did respond to the shadow Leader of the Houses question about Equitable Life in some detail. In order not to squeeze the time of other hon. Members, I will not go through it all over again.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the abysmal success rate in tracing employers insurance liability certificates in cases of asbestos-related disease? This morning, I received a letter pointing out that last year certificates were traced in only 25 per cent. of pre-1972 cases, and that for post-1972 cases the figure was only 38 per cent. There is an alternative: an employers liability insurance bureau. Will she arrange for a topical debate on the concept of such a bureau?
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