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30 Apr 2009 : Column 1040

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has pressed on the issues of concern for patient care and safety and good treatment for his constituents. There will be an oral statement, although I cannot give the specific day at this point. When the Secretary of State is nearer to being clear on the matter, I will ask him to write to constituency Members at least to ensure that they know that the statement is happening.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): On 25 March, the right hon. and learned Lady was incredibly kind in arranging a meeting between my constituents and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Today, I have received a letter in which he says that his officials have met my constituents, and in view of that he does not feel that a meeting is necessary. Will she explain why the noble Lord Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire is so unwilling to meet people from that constituency in the county of Herefordshire?

Ms Harman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could put that point to the Ministers concerned during Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions next Thursday.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House assist those Members who wish to come to work by public transport? The pavements and roads around Parliament square have been dug up, fenced off and left abandoned, resulting in significant traffic congestion and danger to pedestrians. Will she therefore make representations to the appropriate authorities to find out how long this will last?

Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”

Ms Harman: I shall make sure that the diverse authorities responsible for all these issues are aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed, which have been supported by other hon. Members.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Why is there nothing about grace and favour homes for Ministers in the motions that the Government have laid before us for debate later today, given that that matter was included—very welcome it was too—in the Prime Minister’s original proposals?

Ms Harman: If the right hon. Gentleman waits until the next business, he will discover that I am going to address that in my speech.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Can we have a debate about early-day motion 1297, which I have co-sponsored?

[That this House, observing that the intention of the founding Act of t he Bank of England in 1694 was ‘that their Majesties’ subjects may not be op pressed by the said corporation’ , notes that those subjects have been seriously oppressed by the Bank’ s failure to control the greed, risk-taking and speculation of the banking system over which it presides; and therefore suggests that this oppression should be dealt with as the Act provides by fines three times the value of the abusive trading.]

The hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) is not in his place, but he will see that the early-day motion deals with a failure to control the
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greed, risk-taking and speculation of the banking system. When community banking is turned into casino banking, when training is in sales and not in banking, and when over-centralised decision taking has relegated local staff to box-ticking with no room at all for initiative, we need to review the ethics of our banking system.

Ms Harman: I will ensure that the early-day motion is drawn to the attention of Treasury Ministers, the Financial Services Authority and Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Can we have a debate on the National Offender Management Service and, in particular, the ongoing contract with ClearSprings to provide bail hostels in the community? I recently received conflicting replies from ClearSprings and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who is responsible for prisons. When I asked whether there were any future plans for bail hostels from ClearSprings in Crewe. ClearSprings’s reply was that it had no such plans, whereas the reply that I received from the Minister stated that

There is apparent confusion in the Government’s policy, so can we have a debate to clear it up?

Ms Harman: I shall bring the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised to the attention of Ministers in the relevant Department. He might wish to ask a written question if he is not satisfied with the answer that he has received in the letter. May I congratulate him on running the marathon, although he did not run as fast as my deputy?

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s concessions to the Gurkhas yesterday, but when they are published can we have a debate in the House? I sincerely hope that they will put the mistakes of last Friday behind us, because we will then be able to focus on the sheer naked opportunism of the Leader of the Opposition, whose party did nothing for the Gurkhas during 18 years of government.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will respond to the views of the House, and the House will be kept informed.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): It appears that the resource required in Northern Ireland to fund adequately the transfer of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland is increasingly significant. When might we have a debate in the House to discuss and consider the long-term implications of such a possible move?

Ms Harman: I will discuss that issue with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, if I may, get back to the hon. Gentleman on that point.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the important report of the Rose review on the primary school curriculum, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), amidst the enjoyable badinage in which he invariably specialises, declined or omitted to mention?

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Ms Harman: I understand that this consultation has been launched today, and no doubt the House will have an opportunity at questions and on further occasions to discuss the primary school curriculum.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): May we have a debate on the iniquitous tax, IR35, which for the past 10 years has caused chaos and confusion for freelancers in this country? The tax is ambiguous and confusing, and it does not bring any money into the Treasury, so can we please debate it?

Ms Harman: I will bring the points that the hon. Lady has made to the attention of Ministers in the Treasury, and she might find an opportunity to raise the matter in debates on the Finance Bill.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on women’s rights? The Leader of the House will know that, like her, I have been a champion of women’s rights over many years. I am not talking about the half-baked plans in the Equality Bill; I wish us to discuss, in particular, the extension of sharia council powers, which, in some circumstances, discriminate against some women in some ethnic minority communities.

Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Justice has said that when private arrangements based on sharia law are raised with the courts by way of an argument for a contract or a particular disposition in a family case to stand and those are contradicted by our laws on equality, they will not be taken into account.

May I correct what I said about Sir Jim Rose’s review? It is actually a review, which the Government have accepted, that will raise standards by prioritising literacy and numeracy and embedding them across the whole curriculum to ensure that all children leave school secure in the basics. It is not a consultation exercise—that has already taken place.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Leader of the House may know that the two reports that have just come out on Stafford hospital will not deal with the underlying lack of confidence in that hospital, welcome though they are in shedding some light on the situation. Does she accept that in order to get to the bottom of what has been going on, we need to have evidence on oath and the production of papers? Some evidence is emerging, which I am looking into, that some people in the hospital, who would be whistleblowers, are effectively being shut up by the authorities concerned—this is a very serious situation.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a set of very serious allegations, and I think that the Health Secretary will want to address them when he gives his oral statement. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should seek to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye at that point.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May I say to the Leader of the House that she cannot keep running away from a debate on Equitable Life? Her deputy is a long runner, but this is a marathon that the Government are not going to win. We need a debate on this, because thousands of people have lost out. They need the compensation that they deserve and that they have rightly been told they will get. May we have a debate on
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Equitable Life soon, before more of these people, sadly, die off and do not get the compensation that they deserve?

Ms Harman: Work is under way on the investigation by the judge that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1296, which concerns the case of Margaret Haywood, who was disgracefully struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for blowing the whistle on the neglect of older people in the hospital at which she worked?

[That this House supports nurse Margaret Haywood who raised issues of concern around poor patient care; believes that Margaret was justified in exposing the worrying conditions at her local hospital and that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) was wrong to strike her off the nursing register; notes the e-petition in support of Margaret Haywood organised by the Royal College of Nursing; calls on the NMC to reverse its decision; and further calls on the Government to take steps to ensure that the procedures and protection afforded to whistleblowers are understood and applied by all in positions of responsibility in the NHS.]

Is it not right that this House should have the opportunity to express its view about that case and the urgent need for this House to legislate to provide proper protection for frail and vulnerable older people and for those who blow the whistle on those who abuse them?

Ms Harman: There will be a great deal of sympathy with the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and I shall draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. We must also ensure that there is consistency, so that if there are stringent penalties on nurses, such penalties operate in respect of people at all levels of the system. We should not find that there are much tougher rules for, and more stringent penalties on, nurses.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Next week, will the Modernisation Committee, which the Leader of the House chairs, be meeting? If not, can she tell us when it last met? If that was some time ago, will she consider transferring its responsibilities to the Procedure Committee, so that all Select Committees of the House are chaired by Back Benchers and not by members of the Cabinet?

Ms Harman: If the right hon. Gentleman has issues that he would like the Modernisation Committee to address, perhaps he could write to me or just tell me what issues he thinks it should turn its attention to. The Modernisation Committee has worked well in partnership with the Procedure Committee and, on many issues, the Procedure Committee has taken things forward.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1190?

[ That this House notes that many firms have introduced short time working for employees during this time of
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recession; further notes that many workers who are in receipt of tax credits are facing difficulties as the reduction in hours takes them below the minimum hours required to qualify for tax credits; and calls on the Government to take action to ensure that those who are so affected are deemed to still be working for the minimum hours and that their tax credits are maintained until such time as t
heir hours are reinstated.]

This is an increasing problem during the recession. May we have a debate in Government time on the possibility of reducing the minimum hours necessary to qualify for tax credit during the recession?

Ms Harman: The early-day motion and the hon. Gentleman’s comments show a good recognition of the flexibility of tax credits in making up for shorter working hours by boosting the family income. He makes a proposal in the early-day motion, supported by other hon. Members, and I will ensure that the Treasury responds to him.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Can the Leader of the House arrange for a general debate on London so that we can raise a wide variety of London issues and highlight the successes of the first year of the Boris Johnson mayoralty?

Ms Harman: I do not know where to start on the complaints and concerns of many hon. Members who represent London constituencies. The most alarming has been the abandonment of the requirement that developments must include a minimum amount of social housing. That is a big problem when we need more social housing. Perhaps I should ask the Ministers with responsibility for housing whether we should have a debate on the Mayor of London’s sell-out on social housing.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The Christie charity, which supports the world-famous Christie cancer care centre in Manchester, stands to lose some £6.5 million as a result of the Icelandic banking collapse. As there are some 30 charities that stand to lose more than £50 million for the same reason, is it not time that we had a debate on the Government’s handling of the situation?

Ms Harman: I will consider how best Ministers can update the House on this issue. The hon. Gentleman will know that constant work is being done on the issue by various Departments and the administrators of the Icelandic banks. It is hoped that most of those caught out by the collapse will get a large portion of their deposits back.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): According to the leaked British National party manual “Language and Concepts Discipline”, the term “racial foreigners” should be used to describe black and Asian Britons, because such people “do not exist”. Given the forthcoming candidacy of BNP leader Nick Griffin, may we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on the role of proportional representation in making it far more likely that fascists, racists and neo-Nazis will get into the European Parliament?

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Ms Harman: Justice questions is on Tuesday, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise those issues with the Department with responsibility for electoral law. He makes an important point, and the message from all of us who deplore and abhor racism and division of the sort peddled by the BNP is that everybody must vote on 4 June. Anybody who does not vote is helping the BNP get into the European Parliament and it would be shameful if Britain were to be represented by racists and fascists.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): May we have a debate on the safety implications of the operation of the Calor Gas Canvey Island site in the light of the spillage on 27 October last year of 163 tonnes of liquid propane gas, the operation of the leak detection equipment and the abject failure even now to inform Canvey residents about the leak—especially in the light of Buncefield?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Ministers responsible to write to the hon. Gentleman, who is assiduous on behalf of his constituents on such issues.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): May we have a debate on the situation of the nuclear academies, the Government’s flagship method of training for the future civil nuclear programme? In the south-west, the regional development agency is holding up the funding for the nuclear academy in Bridgwater. We need an urgent debate on that because we must start building soon to provide for the future of the civil nuclear programme.

Ms Harman: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the civil nuclear programme. He highlights the important role of the RDAs, and I point out to him and to other hon. Members that they would have an opportunity to hold RDAs to account for the work that they do in their regions if they attended the Regional Select Committees.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Thousands of former council tenants in south Manchester were promised that they would be no worse off if they voted for transfer to a housing association, but they are now being short-changed by the Government’s decision not to include housing associations in the lower rent increase. Will the Leader of the House meet the Minister for Housing and make proposals for fully compensating those people?

Ms Harman: Several housing issues have emerged today, including the need to ensure that a certain percentage of social housing is included in planning permissions, the question of service charges and the housing association rents that the hon. Gentleman raises. All those issues bear examination and we may look for an opportunity to debate housing. The House will know that the housing sector has been affected by the global credit crunch, but we need many new houses.

I know that hon. Members want me to answer briefly on these points, but I shall now take a little more time. I know that the House is looking forward to the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but unfortunately he is not here yet.

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