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The hon. Gentleman asked about what the House will be asked to support. The motion for debate will be tabled in my name, and I hope that it will set out the situation with sufficient detail and clarity that the House will vote for it. This is obviously a House matter, and we
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will table the motion in enough time for hon. Members to consider the propositions that it contains. They will also be able to table amendments if they wish.

The written ministerial statement did deal with the issue of the status of staff. I can confirm that the Deputy Leader of the House will meet staff members’ union representatives, because we are aware of the very important work that staff do in helping us to serve our constituents and perform our duties in the House. They should not feel insecure or uncertain about how the proposals will affect them.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Constitutional Renewal Bill, and he will be aware that it has been discussed by a Committee of both Houses. It proposes putting the civil service on a statutory footing, and will be introduced into the House when time allows.

The hon. Gentleman asked about investment in broadband, and I can tell him that Lord Carter is in the process of producing his second report on the matter. The post-recovery economy must be green and family-friendly, with a big emphasis on high skills and digital communications, and that is why investment in broadband is central to our proposals. Finally, I remind the hon. Gentleman that he will be able to ask further questions on the matter at Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills questions next Thursday.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): There is undoubtedly public disquiet about the second homes allowances, although hon. Members are absolutely justified in claiming for the accommodation that is essential when they are away from home. However, if the new proposal is put forward, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that people are bound to think that hon. Members are being paid extra money just for turning up to do our job? If a flat-rate payment is established, no documentary evidence will be required to show how we have spent the money, so what are we supposed to do—pocket all the money that we do not spend legitimately within the rules? The proposal needs much more explanation. I hope that there will be a vote next week to reform the system, but it is open to question whether the proposal as it stands is the sort of reform that will reassure the public that all is well.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend reiterates a criticism that has been made of the proposal, but the extra money would not be given just for turning up. Instead, it would go towards the costs of having a constituency away from London, but it would not be right for people to claim that money if they did not turn up here. They would not incur those costs if they never came to Westminster and only stayed in their constituencies. The proposal recognises the extra costs incurred by having to be in more than one place.

The system would be transparent because, as I said, evidence would have to be supplied showing that an hon. Member had attended Westminster or performed parliamentary or ministerial duties. Otherwise, claims for the extra expense incurred by having to do both constituency and Westminster work at the same time could not be justified.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Although it was most welcome to hear the Chancellor announcing £50 million in the Budget yesterday to upgrade the
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homes of our armed forces personnel, I understand that that is an acceleration of money and that there is probably only £500,000 of new money in that announcement. What he did not address, and what the House has not addressed, is our responsibilities to members of our armed forces returning to the communities in which they grew up, particularly when they have been medically discharged or disabled in some way. The Leader of the House may be aware, because it has been in the national press, of the case of a constituent of mine, Lance Corporal Paul Baker, who has been unable to find accommodation in East Devon. He says:

The problem is that the Government have changed the responsibility in that respect. Although Lance Corporal Baker is based at Bulford camp, from which he is about to be evicted, under the current legislation it is Bulford’s responsibility to find him accommodation, not East Devon council’s. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time so that we can look at allowing local authorities additional resources to provide accommodation for our returning armed forces personnel who have been discharged in that way?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before we go any further, I understand that these matters are very important, but supplementaries should be brief, not mini-Adjournment debate contributions.

Ms Harman: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seek a meeting with one of the Ministry of Defence Ministers about his constituent’s concerns. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he follows these matters closely, that we have given priority in the NHS to returning members of our armed forces. We are reviewing the provision in primary care for former members of our armed forces. There are major issues relating to housing, which he touched on and which were raised in our recent debate on the armed forces. However, perhaps he should seek a meeting with a relevant Minister to try to help his constituent further.

Mr. Speaker, I forgot to answer the important point about the home owners mortgage support scheme that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised. I think that there is a genuine misunderstanding. Eighty per cent. of lending for mortgages is covered under the scheme, because those who lend into 80 per cent. of the mortgage market have signed up to it. That means that we will back those lenders so that they can allow people who get into difficulty with their mortgage interest payments to defer them, either in whole or in part, for up to two years. That means that those people will not face repossession, which is very important indeed.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that 80 per cent. of mortgages are covered by the scheme, but it is not the first thing that we have done. We have also brought forward the point at which people can claim payments through social security benefits for their mortgage payments, from 39 to 13 weeks, and we have increased the amount for which people can claim in interest. We have also issued rules for the courts, so that repossession ought to be the last resort and not the first, and agreed a moratorium with all building societies and banks, so that they should
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not take any repossession proceedings for at least three months. The home owners mortgage support scheme is not the first thing that we have done; it is one of a number of things that we have done, and it covers 80 per cent. of the mortgage market.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): If my Tamil constituents who are demonstrating in Parliament square were in the House today, they would be the first to apologise to everybody here for the disruption that they may have caused. However, it is their anxiety, fear and terror for their families and friends in Sri Lanka that have driven them to these actions. They look to the Government to be a world leader in fighting against a Sri Lankan Government who spend 20 per cent. of their GDP on arms to use against their own people. We have to take a lead for our citizens who are protesting outside, so will the Foreign Secretary come to the House at the earliest opportunity to lend his support to the recent words of the American and Indian Governments?

Ms Harman: As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, there will be an opportunity to debate the issue next Wednesday on an Opposition motion. However, my hon. Friend makes some heartfelt points. The primary concern for the Government and for us all is the safety of the civilians caught in the conflict area. The Prime Minister has taken a leading role and was one of the first to call for a ceasefire. Although large numbers of civilians have been able to leave the conflict area, a longer pause is needed. We have to work internationally. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) has also been playing a leading role, along with the Foreign Office, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What assurance can the Leader of the House give me, as someone who supports the principle that Members’ staff could be employed by the House centrally, that we would be voting on the general desirability of that and not on a motion that precluded proper consultation with all the staff affected or failed to recognise their rights? Members’ staff are diverse, they work in many parts of the country, some part time and some full time, and they are not subject to the political restraints that hon. Members’ House of Commons staff accept.

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman makes some important points, all of which I want to take up. Hon. Members make many diverse arrangements because of their different constituency work patterns, and they might not fall neatly into the working arrangements of, or the demands on, those who work for House. We need to put on a proper footing public recognition that the money is not part of our income, but financial support for work that we have done on our constituents’ behalf. However, we do not want to precipitate a load of unintended consequences—the point the right hon. Gentleman rightly raises. We will perhaps talk to him further about that before we table the resolution.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend was quite right when she said that speed can kill. However, I hope that the proposed restrictions on rural roads do not take a blanket approach but are based on risk assessments. I also hope that the Department for Transport will look at some anomalies.
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For example, on the A15, which is one of the most dangerous roads in the whole of Britain, there is a 40 mph restriction on lorries over a certain weight. The restriction relates to their braking capacity and goes back years, but the design and technology have moved on. Lorry drivers tell me that the restriction leads to big queues, tailbacks and people taking risks, thereby causing accidents; it is also not good for optimal fuel consumption. Those are issues that should be addressed as well.

Ms Harman: I know that Ministers in the Department for Transport will take on board the point that my right hon. Friend makes. I was just responding to the general point that the shadow Leader of the House made, but there are also specific points about individual roads, such as the A15. That is why there is a consultation, so that the issues can be addressed not only in their generality, but area by area.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Bearing in mind that the Leader of House’s statement on allowances specifically excluded Northern Ireland Members, five of whom never take part in the proceedings, but each of whom draws £20,000-plus on average, and as Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee will almost certainly have to look at the proposal, does that not underline the need to avoid the extraordinary cost of interim measures that may well not meet with his committee’s approval?

Ms Harman: I think that it is the case that, depending on how it is validated, a flat-rate daily payment would be cheaper to administer than processing the myriad receipts that come with the current additional costs allowance system. There have been further discussions about the situation for representatives in this House from Northern Ireland parties, but it will be possible to address that matter in the resolution.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the positive contribution that trade unions make to our society and, in particular, the magnificent contribution of the late Jack Jones? Jack had many achievements, not only as a trade unionist, but as a campaigner for pensioners. I suggest that he deserves the proper recognition of this House.

Ms Harman: I very much welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend has given me and all Labour Members to pay our warmest tributes to Jack Jones, who has passed away. I knew him personally for some 30 years. He represented all that was best about trade unionism. He fought for his members in the Transport and General Workers Union up and down the country and, when he retired, he went on to fight for trade union retired members and all pensioners. He was absolutely tough and ferocious in the interests of his members, but he was also a kind, gentle and warm-hearted man. We are proud of him in the trade union movement; we are proud of him as a supporter of the Labour party; and we are proud of him in south London, where he lived.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House consider issuing a statement to the House on the way in which Members should expect to receive replies from Ministers? I received a letter the other week from the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health, which is signed off:

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As far as my constituents are concerned, the Minister never even looked at the correspondence. Can we have a position in which Ministers in the main sign off letters personally rather than electronically?

Ms Harman: If the House is in recess, an interim reply to an hon. Member by a private office might well serve until the Minister can reply. We all accept the situation in which the reply is approved by the Minister and signed in their absence, but a reply signed by the private office in the Minister’s absence is a step further that I have not cognised before. I will look into the matter. Either the reply is from the private office or it is from the Minister. It can be from the private office on behalf of the Minister, but it cannot be from the private office instead of the Minister.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Every Member of the House will have in their constituency a number of war memorials and so will appreciate the sensitivity about any proposal to move the location of one. In my constituency there is some controversy surrounding the decision by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to move the historic memorial designed by Sir Edward Lutyens. Several thousand constituents have signed a petition asking for the memorial to stay where it is, but the regiment has a good argument for moving the memorial to a new site outside the new Fusiliers museum in Bury. May we have a debate on war memorials in which the case in my constituency and many other issues can be fully explored?

Ms Harman: If my hon. Friend has already pursued the matter by raising it with the Fusiliers, the local authority and the relevant Ministers, perhaps he might pursue it further by initiating a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate. I know that hon. Members will understand—for some reason my deputy has written me a note saying:

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): It is very funny and I agree it was worth pausing, but let us now return to the serious issue of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I put it to the Leader of the House that the accusations made by Mr. Ken Boston to the Select Committee were immensely serious; he is a man who held a considerable job, so he cannot just be ignored. I further suggest to the Leader of the House that just saying that departmental Question Time is on Monday will not be satisfactory. It is vital, in the interests of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools and Learners and of good governance, that the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box and makes a statement and answers the serious accusations, and that he does so next week.

Ms Harman: Without transgressing the objective of my deputy’s note, which I have now worked out was telling me to shut up, perhaps I can try to engage in answering the right hon. Gentleman’s point. There were serious delivery failures by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and they caused delays to the release of results for 11 to 14-year-olds. That was unacceptable. Ministers had pressed on several occasions
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for reassurances that delivery was on track, and the Government acted swiftly to respond once it was clear that there would be unacceptable delays. We announced Lord Sutherland’s review. There was an error, which was put right, and we await the Select Committee’s report. If agencies are running something and it goes wrong, they must be called to account, an investigation must be conducted and action must be taken. That is the responsibility of Ministers.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Further to the reply that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), of course we appreciate greatly what the Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have done, and the statements by the Indian Government and Hillary Clinton yesterday. However, it remains the case that thousands of innocent Tamil people are being killed in Sri Lanka. A young man has been on hunger strike in Parliament square for three weeks. The situation is not getting better; it is getting worse.

The UK is a permanent member of the Security Council. Could we please take a resolution to the Security Council as quickly as possible? May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the current situation before the debate on Wednesday? The point of being on the Security Council is that we can have an influence. This is our opportunity to influence what is happening in Sri Lanka.

Ms Harman: The British Government are working to influence the action taken throughout the world to mobilise the concern and press for a peaceful outcome for civilians. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has been to New York to discuss with Sri Lankan and UN officials how the matter should be taken through the UN, and a Department for International Development Minister is going to Sri Lanka later this week, so action is being taken. We want to reassure the Tamil community here, who play a big part in this country and who are very concerned about what is happening to their friends and relatives back home.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Reverting to next Thursday’s business, how committed is the right hon. and learned Lady to a 1 July start date for all the propositions, which seems to me extremely challenging? If there is some flexibility, does that not strengthen the argument for allowing Sir Christopher Kelly to complete the job that the Prime Minister asked him to do? How on earth can the House sensibly vote next Thursday for a new proposition when we do not know what the daily rate is going to be? There are public expenditure consequences, and we should not sign a blank cheque.

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