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John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD):
Under this Government, we have witnessed the gradual decay of parliamentary democracy, with Opposition Members arrested for embarrassing the Government, constituents
banned from speaking to MPs, and insufficient time allocated to important Bills such as the Policing and Crime Bill. Will the Leader of the House give Government time for the consideration of how we can get matters reported to the Standards and Privileges Committee? I have written to her previously about this.
Ms Harman: I do not accept the argument that parliamentary democracy has been eroded. It is a matter for this House to ensure that all hon. Members do their job and hold the Government to account, and it is our responsibility to be accountable to this House.
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): Members of this House are extremely concerned about this weeks shocking report on children who have gone missing from what should have been a place of safety. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for us to have a thorough debate, in order to make sure that we are protecting children who go missing and are exploitedand, indeed, that we are doing everything possible to ensure that they do not go missing in the first placeand protecting children who are being targeted by predatory adults?
Ms Harman: I know that this has been a long-standing concern of my hon. Friend, and that she has campaigned on protecting children in care. I will look for an opportunity to debate a number of such issues, including child trafficking, child protection and missing children; we might be able to have a debate on all those issues together.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I request that we use next weeks topical debate slot to have a debate on prison sentences? The Magistrates Association recently called for the end-of-custody licence scheme to be withdrawn and for early release from a custodial sentence to be earned rather than automatic. Many of my constituents are sick to the back teeth of people being let out of prison, not because they deserve to be released or are no longer a threat to the public, but simply because there are not enough prison places. May we have a debate on this subject, which is a great concern to many people throughout the country?
Ms Harman: There was a statement on prison places last week. We always take the views of the Magistrates Association very seriously, and I pay tribute to the many thousands of lay magistrates throughout the country. I will ask the Secretary of State for Justice to write to the hon. Gentleman and say what our response is to the Magistrates Association on this issue.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
May we have a debate consequent on the great events of last Monday, when thousands of migrant workers packed Westminster cathedral and then marched to Trafalgar square, as part of their campaignsupported by many Christian organisationsto advance from strangers to citizens? Part of the problem is the chaos at Lunar house, Croydon, and the inability of the Home Office to regularise the status of people who are entitled to become citizens, so that people are left languishing while they wait for their status to be determined. It is time that the Government
got on top of the issue to overcome the anxiety, frustration and poverty that accompany this problem. Thousands of people demand justice and a resolution of their status, as reflected in the events on Monday.
Ms Harman: I agree that tens of thousands of people marched in London on Monday, organised by the Churches and many other faith groups. Migrant workers play an important part in the life of this city. I do not accept that there is chaos at Lunar house. My constituency probably has more immigration cases than any other, and I can say that Lunar house is now making determinations much more quickly and fairly than it used to do.
Ms Harman: I issued a written ministerial statement on the question of parliamentary pensions. I obviously keep in close touch with the chair of the parliamentary pension scheme and we will shortly bring the matter to the House for decision. We have made it clear that we do not think that there should be an increase in the Exchequer contribution, and we therefore propose an increase in contributions from Members to protect the Exchequer from having to put more money into our pension fund. That proposal will require the view of the House and a statutory instrument, and we will debate it shortly so that it can be backdated to 1 April.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Of course I have the greatest respect for my right hon. and learned Friends views on the legal matters concerning the DNA database and I welcome the Governments decision to remove the names of some innocent people from it. However, that is not an adequate response to the judgment of the court, which found specifically that the Government were acting unlawfully. The database is growing at the rate of 15,000 names a week, and it is now the largest in the world. May we have a statement or a debate on the issue or, at the least, an extra day to discuss it during consideration of the Policing and Crime Bill? An extra day will not add greatly to the burden of the Government, but will provide us with an opportunity to explain why their position is wrong.
Ms Harman: As I understand it, the issue is not included in the Policing and Crime Bill as it is to do with earlier legislation. The court case to which my right hon. Friend refers deals with the question of what is proportionate and what individuals should have to be prepared to tolerate in the interests of justice and protecting future victims. In the case of Kensley Larrier, it was proportionate to keep his DNA on the database after he was arrested for possessing a weapon. The proceedings were discontinued in 2002, but his DNA was kept and, after a rape many years later, it was available and he could be sent to prison. The database provides a major opportunity to bring rapists to justice that previously was not available. All those who argue against the DNA database have to answer to the victims of repeat offences, and we are not prepared to fail to use that tool as a weapon in the fight against rape.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Later today a Manchester Evening News petition, signed by more than 100,000 people and urging the Government to ensure that the Financial Services Compensation Scheme fully compensates the Christie hospital for the £6.5 million loss in a UK-regulated Icelandic bank, will be submitted to Downing street and Parliament. Will the Speaker arrange for time for a debate on how the Government will fully compensate
Ms Harman: We are concerned about the Christies charity and about all the other charities doing important work that has been put at risk because they had reserves in Icelandic banks. We are working on getting the money back to ensure that creditors are protected. Ministers have met the Christie charitys representatives, and we will respond early next month to the Treasury Committees report on this issue.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time on the pensions of the bankers retiring from the banks in which we have a financial interest? I know that the Leader of the House shares my concern about Sir Fred Goodwin walking away with more than £700,000 a year, but yesterday we learned that Mr. Pell, another of the bankers who drove the Royal Bank of Scotland into the ground, will walk away with a pension of more than £500,000 a year. It would take the average nurse 20 years to earn that much. It is a scandal. Those bankers should have been sacked instead of getting pensions totalling £1.2 million.
Ms Harman: As part of the review by the Financial Services Authority of the financial services industry, it is considering questions of corporate governance including financial remuneration at the top, which has in the past rewarded risk-taking, not to mention greed. The particular RBS pensions that my hon. Friend mentions were decided by the RBS board before the Government became a shareholder, but we have now made it clear that there are to be no excessive pensions or rewards for failure.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): If I recall correctly, we were promised a debate on the Governments statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan last week, but that has been understandably replaced by the debate on swine flu next Thursday. When will we have the debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan? We may be short of parliamentary time for many of these debates, but we are not sitting for very many days this Session. We could always sit beyond 21 Julyindeed, I do not recall rising so early for the summer recess before.
Ms Harman: We had a statement from the Prime Minister last week on Afghanistan, and we had a statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year. We know that the House wants the opportunity to hear statements and hold debates on this issue, and we will continue to look for opportunities to do so.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
My constituency has the misfortune of hosting Dr. Philip Nitschke tomorrow and many of us will be outside demonstrating against him. Given the debate on who should be allowed to
enter this country, will my right hon. and learned Friend consult the Home Secretary on whether that individual should be added to the list, given that he openly encourages people to break the law and his views are abhorrent?
Ms Harman: The Home Secretary exercises her discretion on whether to allow people to come into this country and Parliament has laid down the terms of reference for the exercise of that discretion. They include the people who would incite violence or breaches of the law, but it is not intended to stop people coming here to engage in public policy debates. I will ask the Home Secretary to write to my hon. Friend to explain her decision in that case.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that her answer to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) was totally unacceptable and unsatisfactory? Bills are going to the other place with large tranches of them undebated in this place. Programming was not designed to prevent discussion on Report. If she receives a request for a second days debate on Report for a major Bill, will she give it her most sympathetic consideration?
Ms Harman: I have said that I will consider that specific point. However, Bills are scrutinised through the debates on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and in the House of Lords. Although I think that it is perfectly reasonable for hon. Members to identify particular Bills and to argue that there should be greater scrutiny, it is also important that they should not imply that this House is just rubber-stamping Bills. The public should understand the many hours that Members put into Bills, the hard work that goes into Committees and the difference that that makes as well as hearing that hon. Members want more time.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): It is absolutely right that we deal urgently with any failings in child protection, as highlighted recently by the baby P case. I recently met a group of front-line childrens social workers from Halton social services, which is a highly regarded social services department, and I was struck by their commitment, professionalism and determination to do their job. One thing that concerned them was the fact that the many good storiesthe children whom they protect and the lives that are savedare never highlighted. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House to highlight the importance of social work in child protection and to encourage people to join the profession, which is very important given the need for more recruits?
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. If we find the opportunity to debate the protection of children and children in care, perhaps it will be possible for the important work of front-line social workers to be highlighted. I also think that the opening of the family courts undertaken by the Ministry of Justice will allow people to see the important work that social workers do as they ask the courts to take children into care in order to protect them.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD):
Police reform, prostitutionbuying and sellinglap dancing, alcohol and disorder, rendition, extradition, proceeds of crime and police accountability were all
issues raised on Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill by hon. Members who were not going to be members of the Public Bill Committee. The Government added, too late for amendments to be tabled, gang injunctions and the DNA databaseclauses 95 to 97 on pages 116 and 117. It is necessary that time to scrutinise the Bill should be available for Select Committee Chairmen and other hon. Members who were not on the Public Bill Committee. I am delighted that the Leader of the House will carefully consider this request and, if she agrees, she will fulfil the Prime Ministers pledge for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive and we will all have our fair say on these important matters.
Ms Harman: I underline to the hon. Gentleman and the House that there are discussions between the parties about the time allocated to Bills. It is true that agreement can not always be reached, but there are discussions. It is not as if we sit there and make a unilateral decision. There are discussions and we try to accommodate the Oppositions views and to strike the right balance. Sometimes the Back Benchers do not agree with the Front Benchers, and sometimes that happens on the Governments side as well as on the Oppositions.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that under the European Union marine habitats directive the Spanish Government have designated as such a habitat waters including some of the territorial waters around Gibraltar? Will she arrange for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to tell us what he intends to do to reassert British sovereignty over British territorial waters around Gibraltar?
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): It has been a bad week for Education Ministers. On Tuesday, on Report on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill we had a brief opportunitybecause of the proper strictures of the Chairto debate the capital funding crisis in further education colleges, which has seen 144 college programmes frozen. Yesterday, in Westminster Hall, due to the good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), we had the opportunity to discuss a similar crisis in sixth-form funding. This all comes down to the relationship between the Learning and Skills Council and Ministers, as Sir Andrew Fosters report on the subject, which was commissioned by the right hon. and learned Ladys Government, said. However, there has been no chance to debate Andrew Fosters report and no oral statement to the House. Will she facilitate one with urgency?
Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has made a statement about the Learning and Skills Council in relation to capital funding in further education. The Prime Minister has answered questions on this subject and on sixth-form funding, and so have I. I will consider the suggestion that we should have a topical debate on the subject, along with the other suggestions that have been made today.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The Home Secretary announced this week that Greater Manchester, which includes my constituency, would pilot the Governments flawed and expensive plan for identity cards. Given the estimated £5 billion cost of the scheme and the deteriorating economic outlook since the plans for ID cards were first announced, does the Leader of the House agree that a debate to reassess the proposals, at the very least, would be appropriate before the people of Greater Manchester are once again asked to be guinea pigs?
Ms Harman: The people of Greater Manchester are not being asked to be guinea pigs. The pilot project is entirely voluntary and if nobody wants to avail themselves of the opportunity to prove their identity on a biometric basis, they do not have to do so. As far as compulsion is concerned, there is a requirement that foreign nationals should give biometric details. [Interruption.] I would say that that is working very well and it is very important. It speeds up peoples ability to get visas, because there can be no doubt about identity fraud when the biometrics are there. That has been a thoroughly good thing; it has helped people to get their visas quickly and has stopped people from obtaining visas under a false identity.
Ms Harman: I know that airport security is being debated with Manchester airport, just as it is with airports in London. Airport travellers would want to be sure that we use all the available weaponsperhaps that is the wrong word. We should use all the available means at our disposal to ensure that air travel is safe. If biometrics can contribute to the safety of air travel, then that is something on which we should press forward.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Can we go back to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) about Equitable Life? A serious constitutional issue needs to be addressed. In her report, Injustice unremedied, the ombudsman said yesterday:
I therefore see no basis on which it can be said that Parliament has approved the approach adopted by the Government.
Is it not therefore incumbent on the Government to provide not just a debate but a debate and a vote to see whether the House supports the Government or, as I suspect that it will, the ombudsman and the Select Committee?
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