Previous Section Index Home Page

Ms Harman: Perhaps there will be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to seek a Westminster Hall debate on that subject. I will bring his comments to the attention
19 Mar 2009 : Column 1065
of Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It is another example of where regulation is important to protect people.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we go back to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) about Equitable Life? In her first response, she referred to the statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury last November. That statement has just been dismissed by a Select Committee of the House as

May we have not just a debate but a debate with a vote, so that the House can decide whether it supports the Chief Secretary, or the ombudsman and one of its own Select Committees?

Ms Harman: The Liaison Committee chooses which Select Committee reports are debated in the House. I have nothing to add to what I said to the shadow Leader of the House.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In the next few days, the parents of four and five-year-olds will learn which primary school their children will be going to in September. Three weeks ago, the parents of children transferring to secondary school were told which secondary school their children had been allocated. As this is the first year of the new school admissions code, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the working of the code, once we have the full analysis of secondary and primary school admissions?

Ms Harman: I know that 87 per cent. of parents got their first choice for their children in the recent admissions allocation. The most important thing is that not only do they get the school that they choose, but that every school is as good as possible. I will raise the question of the monitoring and reviewing of the schools admission code with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and ask him to write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): May I join other hon. Members who have asked for a debate on Stafford hospital? Almost 15 years ago to the day, my mother died in that hospital. She got excellent care there, and there are a number of people who work there who will be horrified at what has happened. For the sake of those people, who have given good, loyal service to the national health service, we need a chance not only to say what has gone wrong in this instance, but to pay tribute to those people who have worked so hard in that hospital.

Ms Harman: I am sure that many of the people who work in that hospital will appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. Perhaps I can also remind the House that the Secretary of State for Health has said that there is new leadership in the accident and emergency unit—which had been the major problem—to ensure that all patients can be confident that they will be properly looked after from now on.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Next week, we will consider the massive Coroners and Justice Bill on Report. Mr. Speaker, you will be selecting the amendments and, as there are so many parts to the Bill, they will inevitably fall into at least eight substantive groups. We are grateful to the Leader of the House for
19 Mar 2009 : Column 1066
providing two days’ debate, but does she recognise that the ability of the House to scrutinise the legislation will be measured, in part, by whether we have time to debate all those groups? Will she take steps to ensure that there is adequate consultation between the parties so that those two days are used effectively to scrutinise all the parts of this important piece of legislation?

Ms Harman: I take seriously the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. It was on the insistence of the Secretary of State for Justice that we should have two days of debate for the important remaining stages of this Bill. I will reflect together with my right hon. Friend on the hon. Gentleman’s points about how to ensure that those two days are used in the best possible way for these important measures.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Can we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on asylum policy? Given that Adam Osman Mohammed, a south Darfurian, who came to this country to seek asylum in 2005 was denied that asylum, was returned to Sudan and subsequently shot dead by Sudanese security officers, does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that it is important that this House should debate the issue of returns—and sooner rather than later—so that we can establish that, while war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing are taking place in that country, Ministers have no plans to return further Darfurians to risk of imprisonment, torture or death?

Ms Harman: There will be a debate on Africa the week after next and there are Home Office questions next week. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in that case, an appeal was made against the decision of the authorities and a court went through all the evidence and decided that the man should return. Obviously, the very sad subsequent circumstances are being looked into, but this happened following a judicial challenge and a judicial process.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): I agree with the Leader of the House’s earlier comment that this is a time to put more money into the economy. Could she therefore find time for a debate on the proposed cuts to the budgets of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will have an effect on those economies?

Ms Harman: There are not cuts to the budget in Scotland. In fact, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday and as other Ministers have made clear, there is increasing investment going into Scotland and Wales, as there is into England. At the same time, as the fiscal situation becomes more difficult as a result of a fall in stamp duty and a fall in other money coming into the Treasury across the board, it is important that we all play our part—whether it be central Government, local government or the devolved Administrations—to make sure that every single pound of public money is properly spent. That is what the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales have agreed to work on with the Chancellor. That is the right process to be going through, but it should not be alleged that these are cuts in the budget. That is not what is happening. Cuts in the budget are being proposed by the Tories, but it is not what we are doing. That is why the public sector debt as a percentage of GDP is rising.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 1067

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Can we have an urgent debate on the decision of the House of Lords last night to vote down Government proposals for a retrospective business tax for UK ports, which would give the Government an opportunity to review the implications and perhaps review their decision?

Ms Harman: There is an Opposition day debate next week, which I suspect might well include those issues. Meanwhile Government business is dealt with in the normal way.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Can we have an urgent statement from the Defence Secretary in response to this morning’s report by the Public Accounts Committee on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrence capacity. The Committee points out that Britain will have to design the new submarines before the United States designs the new missiles that will have go into them. As the Committee points out, it will be difficult to design a missile compartment before knowing the design of the missile, so can we have an urgent response from the Defence Secretary?

Ms Harman: We welcome the Public Accounts Committee report. The defence equipment Minister has said:

It is a challenging timetable, but the Minister expressed his confidence, and there will be a defence debate next Thursday.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Can we have a debate as soon as possible on motoring in the United Kingdom, which is one of the most expensive parts of the world in which to be motoring? With the recession, it has got a lot tougher. The Chancellor has an opportunity to repair some of the damage he has done by axing the proposed 2p a litre tax increase, which is about to come about next month. In rural areas, a car is not a luxury, but a necessity. The Chancellor might also like to look at the scheme rolled out in France and Germany, whereby people with old bangers are able to trade them in and get a €2,500 or £2,500 benefit, as that would be environmentally friendly and would help to get rid of some of the clapped-out vehicles on our roads.

Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has had extensive meetings, and, indeed, a summit with the automotive industry, which we are determined to support. We continue to invest in public transport so that people have an alternative to relying on their cars—and that means public transport in rural as well as urban areas. In particular, we look ahead to new technology, new design and new manufacture of green cars, which are more environmentally friendly. The Budget is due, I think, on 22 April. The hon. Gentleman is doing what the Prime Minister yesterday accused the Leader of the Opposition of doing—of asking us to do more, while saying that we should spend less. The hon. Gentleman should decide which side he is on.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 1068

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Can we have a debate on the probation service, so that we can discuss why, at a time when the Government continue to increase numbers at the headquarters, they are cutting services on the front line? In the Thames Valley over the next three years, that means a 20 per cent. cut—of some £6.4 million—with an anticipated loss of some 140 front-line jobs. Why are we increasing the number of bureaucrats while cutting front-line probation officers? What impact will that have on reoffending rates in my constituency?

Ms Harman: I will raise that with the Secretary of State for Justice and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): When the Leader of the House responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) and tried, not very successfully, to defend the Solicitor-General for her ill-judged comments, she mentioned her role in leading for the Government in the detailed stages of the equality Bill. At oral questions last October, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office, when that Bill would be brought forward and she said that it was in a good state, but that she wanted it to be in the “best possible state” and that it would be introduced “soon”. It is now five months later, and just two weeks ago, the Leader of the House said that we would not see it for a few months. Will she tell the House when we will see that Bill?

Ms Harman: Soon, and I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s giving it his full backing. I hope that he will feel able to support it when he sees its progressive and far-reaching proposals.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Could I take the Leader of the House back to her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) and really urge her and her colleagues to think again about the imposition of retrospective rates on businesses in ports? The fact is that the Treasury Committee had condemned what is going on, and we have had completely different conflicting versions from the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and now the House of Lords has passed a motion of regret. Meanwhile, back in the real world, one business has gone bust and a whole mass of them are shedding labour in our ports. I urge the Leader of the House to talk to her colleagues to get them to have a fresh think on this matter.

Ms Harman: There is an Opposition day debate on Wednesday 25 March on a subject chosen by the Conservatives—the impact of business rates and how to help businesses through the recession. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Could we have a debate on the parliamentary ombudsman generally? When our constituents send us cases of alleged maladministration and we pass them on to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, our constituents expect, if the ombudsman finds maladministration, that some remedy will follow the inquiry. If there is no remedy, it doubles the sense of injustice, but also reflects on Parliament as a whole. After all, this is the parliamentary ombudsman.
19 Mar 2009 : Column 1069
What is the point of having a parliamentary ombudsman if, when she finds some maladministration, absolutely nothing happens? Can the House please have an opportunity to debate the parliamentary ombudsman’s role and powers and how the ombudsman’s reports should be implemented?

Ms Harman: What has happened in response to the ombudsman’s reports is not nothing, but three things. We have acknowledged that there was regulatory failure, we have apologised for it and we have set up an ex gratia payments scheme for those who lost out not only through the regulatory failure, but through the management failures in Equitable Life that started it all off.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has now written to you, Mr. Speaker, to confirm that details of this year’s programme of spending on preventing violent extremism will be published. I raised the matter in business questions last week. However, the letter also confirms that the Department does not currently hold the details. The question that naturally arises is how we can be sure that violent extremists, or at any rate extremists, have not got their hands on some of the money. Does the Secretary of State plan to come to the House to make a statement?

Ms Harman: I am sure that the Department for Communities and Local Government will want to understand how all the money that forms part of the budget for the Prevent programme has been spent, and will want to account for it fully to the House.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 1070

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Traffic Management Act 2004 gives local authorities extra powers to control the proliferation of roadworks in their local areas, yet to date no such permitting schemes have been introduced anywhere in the country. Could the Secretary of State for Transport come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement about this sorry state of affairs?

Ms Harman: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman table a written question to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on human rights in China, and in particular on the case of Shi Weihan, who is currently languishing in a Chinese prison on the basis of what I believe to be trumped-up charges, and will the Leader of the House express a view on whether a British diplomat should be present at the trial, which is to be held tomorrow?

Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of human rights in China, and for bringing the specific case of Mr. Weihan to the House’s attention. I think we all share his belief that human rights should not be abused in China. Ministers have raised the matter, and I understand that our embassy has asked whether it is possible for someone from the embassy to attend the trial and has raised its concerns about the issue with the Chinese authorities. I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman informing him of the latest developments.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 1071

Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you have been informed whether the Secretary of State for Health has given any indication that he will come to the House and make a statement about problems in the Royal London Hospital Trust about Dr. Iwegbu, who has been reported to the General Medical Council and against whom there are six interim orders, one of which states that he is not allowed to practise elective or trauma surgery on paediatric patients.

I do not want to involve myself in the GMC’s ruling when it is made, but it was brought to my attention this morning that this doctor has been calling himself a professor for some time. The trust has now decided to stop him doing so. An e-mail states that “discreet changes” should be “made throughout the Trust” so that no “embarrassment” is caused to the “Professor”.

The public, including patients, have seen the doctor in good faith in the belief that he was a professor in the medical profession. Surely it is not right for such information to be sneaked out in e-mails. I fear that a cover-up is taking place in the trust over the question of whether or not this gentleman is a professor in the medical profession, and I think that the Secretary of State should come here to explain what is going on.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter in which I can intervene. It is clearly a matter for the Secretary of State.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you tell us how you can defend and enforce the conventions of the House?
19 Mar 2009 : Column 1072
Yesterday a major debate on the economy took place, initiated by the Opposition. According to convention, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have responded to that debate. In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been in the House on Monday and would be in the House again next week. It so happened, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was present during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, and was also present—and voting—at 7 pm. So he was in the House yesterday, but was refusing to comply with the normal conventions by responding to a major debate initiated by the Opposition.

The Opposition have relatively few powers left to them in the House, but I should hope that one of them is the power to require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the Dispatch Box to respond to a debate.

Mr. Speaker: When right hon. Members, and indeed hon. Members, come into the Chamber at one stage and again at a later stage, that does not mean that they are doing nothing. They are leading very hectic lives.

Let me say in defence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, in my experience, he is a regular attender at the House, and he does make statements. We must ensure that we do not criticise unfairly. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to do that.

It is up to Ministers to decide which Minister should take the lead in certain debates. Knowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer as I do, I do not think that he would do anything that would constitute any disrespect to the House.

19 Mar 2009 : Column 1073

Legislative Reform

12.30 pm

The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): I beg to move,

Next Section Index Home Page