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On the question about the allowances we receive so that we can do our work as Members of the House, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. I will not actually read out the words, but it was clearly set out that the Prime Minister was
happy to have a meeting with other party leaders, that he thought action needed to be taken, that all parties could agree that the Committee on Standards in Public Life could do a good job looking at the issues and that he had asked it to speed up its review so that it could be completed as quickly as possible. That is the course of action and approach that should be taken; we should work across the parties and with the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned remuneration, both pay and bonuses, of people on non-departmental public bodies. We agree that we have to keep a careful eye on not only the pay but the bonuses of chief executives and top managers of NDPBs. This is public money, and we do not want people feeling that there has been a race to the top, following the excesses in the finance industry, that has affected pay and remuneration levels in the public sector. I agree with the sentiments that lie behind the question and reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government and all Departments and Ministers are looking at it. He will know that we seek to take action in the finance sector, not only internationally through international agreements on remuneration to tackle risk taking and excess, but also with work through the Financial Services Authority to make clamp-downs on remuneration part of its work on corporate governance.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which we regard as a very important measure. It will guarantee education up to the age of 18, and apprenticeships in the future for all those who are suitably qualified. That is very important indeed. The Bill contains more than 200 clauses and insufficient progress was being made in Committee. Extra time was made available for scrutiny, with many extra hours for Committee sittings, and after those extra hours progress was indeed made.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): School league tables have just been published and yet again we see wide dispersion of performance between schools and a fairly wide dispersion between schools with similar social composition. I am absolutely convinced that the crucial factor for success in schools is teaching methods and classroom regimes, yet we still seem reluctant to address them directly. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make space for a debate on teaching methods, to make sure that all our children have the best possible advantages when in school?
Ms Harman: The skill level of children is a question not just of fulfilling their individual potential, but of the future prospects of the economy. No doubt, education will come up in the Budget debate and perhaps my hon. Friend and other Members on both sides of the House will be able to raise those issues then.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On 3 March, secondary schools in Hertfordshire were notified by the Learning and Skills Council of their sixth-form funding settlements. On 30 March, they received another letter saying that their funding settlement was to be cut by £2.1 million, or on average £40,000 per school. May we have a statement about that from a Minister so that we can understand what is going on?
Ms Harman: I would have been able to give the hon. Gentleman a more substantive answer if he had let me know, even five minutes beforehand, that he was going to raise that question. I would then have been able to give him the information he requires. I am not fully across all the detail, so I cannot confirm whether that is our understanding of the situation. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues in the Department concerned.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Does my Friend have any sense of when the Postal Services Bill is to come here from the Lords? May we have an early debate on the very important report from the Business and Enterprise Committee on the Postal Services Bill, which is hugely controversial on the Labour Benches?
Ms Harman: As my hon. Friend knows, the Lords set their own timetable, so it would not be proper for me to say when they will be finished with their considerations or when the Bill will come to the House. When it does, it will no doubt have full scrutiny and full debate.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May I reiterate the calls for a debate on the Learning and Skills Council building programmeor lack of one? In Hemel Hempstead, the head of West Herts college has told me that her programme, which is part of the town centre redevelopment, is under threat. The teaching of young people is under threat because of the chaos in the funding programme. We cannot just dismiss that; we must have a debate and thrash out what the hell has gone on that is undermining the building programme in the sector.
Ms Harman: We acknowledge that there has been mismanagement, and it is disappointing for all those who have been affected by itindeed, the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council has resigned. However, if the policy of the hon. Gentlemans party was pursued [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, but from my point of view those complaining about the further education colleges in their constituencies do not have a shred of credibility when their policy is to cut the programme by £600 million. I am concerned about West Herts college and I would not dream of subjecting it to the equivalent of £600 million-worth of cuts.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): May we have a debate on the importance of the tourist industry to the UK economy? Visit Wales suggests that the contribution from Wales alone is in the region of £3 billion. At a time when small businesses need a stimulus, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we should be taking advantage of the relatively low pound to encourage visitors to come to the area? As a further stimulus, may I invite her, as Leader of the House, Members from all parts of the House and you, Mr. Speaker, to visit the jewel in the crown of the UK industry, the Isle of Anglesey, in the not-too-distant future?
Ms Harman: I visited the beautiful Isle of Anglesey in the not-too-distant past, so I know what my hon. Friend is talking about. It might be worth having a topical debate on tourism as we approach the summer. I will definitely consider that suggestion.
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): In recent days, European Commission officials have been briefed by Scottish fishing leaders about the impact of the reduction in effort days at sea on this years fishing, particularly as it affects my constituents in Berwickshire. Given the seriousness of the situation, there is now an issue about the financial sustainability of the industry, quite apart from the issue of the sustainability of fish stocks. Will the Leader of the House make urgent provision for a debate on the Floor of the House about this years fishing arrangements, so that we can bring our concerns to the attention of the Minister concerned?
Ms Harman: I think that what the hon. Gentleman is talking about comes within the purview of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; am I right? There were Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions earlier this morning, so I think [Interruption.] I am sorry; he had two issues to raise. I will raise the point with the Ministers concerned.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Did the Leader of the House receive a copy of the report from Parliament First, an all-party group, many of the members of which are in the Chamber? The report suggests that there is a better way of running our business in this House. We could have a business committee, to which Members from all parties would be elected. The House could create commissions of inquiryfor example, to look into the causes of warand there should be a petitions committee, so that people in this country have a channel through which they can bring legislation before the House. Will she meet a delegation from Parliament First to discuss those issues, and the next issue in which it is interested, which is the election of members of Select Committees by Members of Parliament?
Ms Harman: I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and those involved with Parliament First. He will know that the Procedure Committee is doing ongoing work on petitions. On people being able to bring legislation before the House, he will know that we have opened up the legislative programme process, so that people can see our intentions. That offers people the opportunity to add their proposals before we get to the Queens Speech. We will be carrying out that process again this year. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and the other hon. Members involved with Parliament First.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): In the Leader of the Houses reply to the shadow Leader of the House on the question of privilege, she indicated that the Attorney-Generals view implied that there should be some action in the courts. Does the Leader of the House understand that the question of what constitutes privilege is a matter for the courts, but the question of whether a matter is privileged is for the Committee on Standards and Privileges? In those circumstances, will she make certain either that the Attorney-Generals opinion is placed in the Librarythe Attorney-General is adviser to the House of Commons and the House of Lords on these mattersor that the Attorney-General comes to the House and explains exactly what her reasoning is?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a good suggestion that the Attorney-Generals advice be placed in the Library. She is, as he says, adviser not just to the Government, but to the House. As the Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges has asked for that advice, it is advice to the House. That affords us the opportunity to place it in the Library, so that all Members can see it. I think that that is a good idea.
Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the reports of the discussions yesterday between the United States of America and Russia about their nuclear arsenals. She will also be aware that the review conference on the non-proliferation treaty is due to take place next year. Does she agree that we need to move the issue higher up the political agenda over the next year, and will she say when we might get a debate on nuclear disarmament in Government time?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend, who has a long history of campaigning on these issues, brings an important matter to the attention of the House. Often, it is possible to lose sight of the progress that has been made in working towards non-proliferation. I will definitely take up her suggestion and consider how we can bring the matter before the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As the right hon. and learned Lady is the Leader of the whole House, will she recognise that there is support throughout the House for Members from the regions to meet once or twice a year as a Grand Committee to examine issues and to hold people to account, but that there is no such consensus on the Regional Select Committees? Will she not therefore move away from the current situation, in which we see the ludicrous spectacle of two or three Labour MPs purporting to be a Select Committee acting on behalf of the whole House, when they are no such thing?
Ms Harman: There would be more Members from the regions, and not just two or three Labour MPs, on the Regional Select Committees if Members from Opposition parties decided to go along to those Committees and ask questions of regional development agencies and other agencies that are important in the regions. That is a matter for them. Opposition Members cannot complain that there are too few Members on a Committee if they themselves do not turn up to it. I am sorry, but that is not a justified complaint. As far as Grand Committees are concerned, discussions are under way in respect of the different regions, and where the Committees would hold their first meeting. No doubt that information will be forthcoming.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the equality Bill, and I congratulate her on all the work that she has done in that field. Yesterday, young people from a number of voluntary groups came up from Wales to lobby Welsh MPs to extend the scope of the Bill to the under-18s, drawing to our attention groups that are particularly discriminated against, such as young fathers, young carers, and black and minority ethnic young people. What opportunity will there be to discuss those issues?
Ms Harman: Perhaps I could have a meeting with my hon. Friend, and any other hon. Members who would want to attend, about protecting young people. I know that she is a great supporter of the programme to eliminate child poverty and improve child health. There are many other initiatives across government to improve the situation of children and young people. I thank her for her support for the Bill. She will see many of the measures that she has championed over the years in the Bill when it is published.
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): On 2 March, the Learning and Skills Council notified my council, the London Borough of Sutton, that it would receive sixth-form funding of £19,161,103 for the coming academic year. Just yesterday, the LSC issued a revised figure of £18,226,694a 5 per cent. reduction in the allocation for sixth-form education in my borough. May we have a statement or a debate, when we get back, so that we can explore how the cut can be reversed, and how the Government square it with their commitment to three-year budgets, which avoid such shocks? At the very least, will the Leader of the House let her ministerial colleagues know about the problem?
Ms Harman: I will draw the points made to the attention of my ministerial colleagues, but I think that they are scrutinising the issue in considerable detail, so I hope that they will already be aware of the matter. Despite there having been major investment, which has produced 600 projects that have gone ahead in more than 300 colleges, and which has made a massive difference, we make no bones about the fact that there has been mismanagement. That obviously needs to be looked at.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that one of the outcomes of the G20 is a crackdown on tax havens. However, is she also aware that the Swiss are now saying that they might change their law to bring in a British trusts system? Using that system is one of the best ways of hiding money and its source from the Inland Revenue. May we have an early debate on the secrecy of the British trusts system? Furthermore, can we change the rules of the House so that all right hon. and hon. Members have to declare any beneficiary trust from which they get money, or any trust that they may have set up?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that, behind the global credit crisis, lies the problem of a lack of transparency, which meant that financial things were bought and sold without those who were buying and selling them knowing what it was all based on. Lack of transparency and secrecy have led to this global problem, which Treasury Ministers, working with colleagues internationally, are determined to sort out. There will be a further statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 5 oclock.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
I fully support the Leader of the Houses statement that there should be cross-party discussions on Members pay, allowances and expenses. Will that also include details that she gave in a ministerial statement on the parliamentary pension? The Government are recommending that there should be a 1.9 per cent. increase in Members contributions
to the pension fund. That will equate to an additional £60 a month out of Members pay. Bearing in mind that, as of the first day of this month, we have been given a salary increase of 2.33 per cent., which equates to £68 a month, is this not a most unfortunate situation? We should bear it in mind that the deficit on the pension fund is not due to Members, although it is a little bit due to longevity. It is mainly due to the fact that the Treasury, as the employer, has had a contribution holiday for 14 years.
Ms Harman: In January, the House agreed by resolution that we would keep a cap on the Exchequer contribution. Like other people in this country, Members are living longer, so the Government Actuarys Department expects an imbalance between the contributions being paid and the amount that needs to be paid out. We all agree that we must protect the Exchequer from having to take the strain of that and having to increase its contribution to our pension fund. Therefore we have either to reduce Members benefits or increase Members contributions.
The Government Actuarys Department report has been published by way of written ministerial statement and is available to colleagues this week. We will have a debate in the House on the matter, and there can be a resolution and a statutory instrument. We are determined thatand it is important thatwe all stick with the principle that we do not allow the Exchequer contribution to rise. There are a number of ways in which we can protect the Exchequer contribution from rising and obviously we will consult hon. Members on whether they think the best course of action is to increase the contributions, or, for example, to delay the retirement age at which the pension is available. We are concerned to listen to what hon. Members say on how we should address the issue, and I am happy to discuss their proposals before we bring our proposals to the House for debate. We have to be absolutely clear: at this time, it would be quite wrong to put more money from the Exchequer into our pension fund. I do not think that we should do that.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): As my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, manufacturing is on its knees at the moment, and it needs real support. Employees are either losing their jobs or are unable to claim working tax credits because they are not putting in enough hours. Will she consider holding a debate on my early-day motion 1182?
[That this House calls on the Government to introduce subsidies to employers moving workers to short-time hours or making temporary lay-offs as a result of the economic difficulties caused by the recession; believes that such support would enable employers to avoid immediate redundancies and retain essential staff and skills, preventing unnecessary job losses; further believes that if linked to training, it would also enable longer-term workforce investment; further believes that such a measure is a quick and effective way to target support to struggling employers and providing financial support to employees during these difficult times; notes that similar subsidy packages have already been introduced in Wales, which has been welcomed by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, as well as in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy; welcomes the support of business organisations and trades unions; and calls on the Government to work with business representatives and trades unions to introduce
a targeted subsidy package to support the sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, that are in greatest need.]
Seventy-three Members have already signed it. It supports the short-time working subsidy that we need to bring in to protect and help manufacturing jobs in this country. It would make for a good debate, whether a topical debate or any other that she believes suitable.
Ms Harman: No doubt my hon. Friend could bring the issue to the attention of Treasury Ministers. His support for manufacturing industry in his region and the country as a whole is very much appreciated.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The Leader of the House is well aware that the nuclear industry is incredibly important in my area. However, we have hit a problem with the building of the nuclear academy within Bridgwater collegewhich, I am glad to say, is a superb further education college. The problem is that the funding from the Government is being cut. We desperately need engineers and safety technicians for the future and unless we start building the hub-and-spoke system now, the necessary people will not be in place for the start of the civil nuclear building programme. It will take three to four years to train those people, and EDF wants to get its first application in by next year to start the building programme. May we please have a debate on the nuclear issue and especially on the training of the future graduates and others who will run the stations?
Ms Harman: The Government are committed to the future of the nuclear industry in this country as part of a balanced and self-sufficient energy policy. We have increased the budgetabout £200 million, for exampleon projects such as the nuclear development college at Workington. We are putting in a great deal of investment, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): If the Government have already agreed that there will be a debate on Members pensions, does it not follow that there ought to be a debate on Members allowances? Given the importance of the meeting between the party leaders and of the early report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, would there not be an advantage in having a debate on allowances without there being a requirement to have a vote at that point? In that way, we could build consensus on the basic principles.
Ms Harman: We have had many hours of debate in the House on the basic principles of Members allowances, both at the beginning of this year and, on occasions, last summer. We have to consider the balance of issues that need to be discussed in the Housethe global financial situation, climate change and education for people in this country. We have committed to a debate on pensions because we need a statutory instrument to cap the Exchequer contribution to our pensions, so we will have that debate. However, we had a free-ranging, in-principle debate about Members allowances in January. No doubt we will return to the issue once the party leaders have met and once we have the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am sorry, but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that we need a general talk about the issue now. I do not think that it should be a priority for debate in the House now.
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