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Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con):
The Constitutional Renewal Bill was published in draft almost two years ago. It has been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny and over the past year I have asked questions about this on numerous occasions. Ministers have come
to the Dispatch Box 12 times and given a reassurance that the Bill would be published soon or imminently. We have been given that answer 12 times in the past year. The Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box again yesterday and told us of his apparent commitment to constitutional renewal, but that will appear to be just another empty promise unless the Leader of the House can give us a firm date for the publication of the Constitutional Renewal Bill and its debate in the House.
Ms Harman: Hon. Members will know from the Prime Ministers statement yesterday that certain additional measures on the constitution will be considered apart from those contained in the Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of this House and of the House of Lords. The measures in the Bill will be considered, but they will be accompanied by additional measures, the first of which being the subject of the all-party talks that began yesterdaythe setting up of a Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I have been in the Chair for only a few minutes, but I have a sense of long questions and answers. If I am to try and get every hon. Member in, I should like to request short, single questions, and, I hope, concise answers. I call Dr. Brian Iddon.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At my advice surgery last Saturday, I received two complaints about the behaviour of private parking companies. The more outrageous involved a woman who took a party of children to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in my constituency only to find, when she came out, that a hefty fine had been placed under her windscreen wipers. Similar things are happening across the land, and KFC is particularly prone to complaint. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) had an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on the matter last week, so please may we have a topical debate so that all hon. Members can bring the complaints to the Floor of the House? In that way, perhaps we can persuade the companies to behave more decently.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I gently put it to the Leader of the House that her excellent critique of the British National party was rather spoiled by the suggestion that the official Opposition opposed the Equality Bill? She knows full well that we put down a reasoned amendment and that, when it failed, we supported giving the Bill a Second Reading. Looking at the business for the next two weeks, may I assure her that she need not be worried about the Postal Services Bill not getting through on Second Reading? It has the full support of those on the Opposition Benches.
Ms Harman: I do not see how the Opposition can say that they are in favour of the Equality Bill, given that they did not vote for giving it a Second Reading in this House. They voted against it, and proposed an amendment that used the words
declines to give the Bill a Second Reading.
In any language, that means that the Opposition were against it, but I believe that there is more agreement in this House about equality than meets the eye. I do not want the Equality Bill to be one of the big dividing lines between Government and Opposition. I would appreciate it if the Opposition would support it, even though they wanted to decline to give it a Second Reading.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have a ministerial statement on the future of the Forensic Science Service? Restructuring proposals would lead to a third or more of its staff losing their jobs. As we know, the FSS provides a comprehensive, integrated and world-class service in 120,000 cases a year, from crime scene to courtroom. We really must try to protect that skill base, if at all possible.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I am not only in favour of the Equality Bill, I am in favour of giving it proper scrutiny, including at Report stage in this House. The Leader of the House will know that I welcome the moves by the Prime Minister to reach all-party agreement on how we can programme that scrutiny better. In the meantime, however, will she accept that she is in charge of the Bill and that, when it comes out of the Public Bill Committee and returns to the Floor of the House, it is up to her to ensure that there is enough time to give all the groups of amendments proper scrutiny? I hope that she will give an assurance that there will be proper consultation and enough time to ensure that all those aspects are covered.
Ms Harman: I certainly want that to be the case. We want to listen to all sides of the House and to have proper scrutiny of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has been entirely consistent in his concern to ensure that amendments brought forward after Committee stage are scrutinised on the Floor of the House. That is really important, and I hope that the Committee under the chairmanship of the Chair of the Public Administration Committee will be able to look into that, as well as the other matters that it has been asked to consider.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on industrial relations in London Underground? It appears that, before the dispute started at 6 pm two nights ago, the union signed an agreement that would have meant the suspension of the strike. Yet, 35 minutes later, members of the management told the union that they had made a phone call and could no longer abide by the agreement that had just been signed. We need a debate to establish exactly who that phone call was made to, as there is a real suspicion that the fingerprints of the Mayor of London are all over the provocation of the dispute. If the Mayor interfered and caused the suspension of the strike to be lifted, I think hon. Members ought to be made aware of that.
Ms Harman: We want the Mayor of London to play his part in bringing all sides together to make sure that the backbone of Londons transport network is working properly for Londoners. We need a proper public transport system, not megaphone diplomacy or soundbites from any side.
I know that I must try to keep my answers as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, to clear up any possible misunderstanding, I think that the fact of the matter is that George Alagiah was not born in England.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Next week, Government and Opposition peers will have a free vote on a clause inserted by this House into the Political Parties and Elections Bill that gives candidates in general elections the option of having their full home address on ballot paperswhich is what happens at presentor to have their constituency address there instead. True to form, however, the Liberal Democrats in the upper House are imposing a three-line Whip against the clause. They say that they are doing so on the grounds that they want this House to have a better opportunity to debate the matter. If the clause comes back to this House, will the Government guarantee that we will have time to debate it and vote on it again, if necessary?
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Leader of the House will share my concern and disappointment that flying the flags of the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies at the trooping the colour ceremony has once again been ignored. I refer her to early-day motion 1644:
[ That this House looks forward to the 2009 Trooping the Colour ceremony on Saturday 13 June to mark the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; notes with pride that the flags of all the nations of the Commonwealth are always displayed in and around Horse Guards Parade for this great occasion; and calls on the Government to ensure that the flags of all Her Majesty's Territories are also flown in time for the ceremony, including Her Majesty's Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, together with Her Majesty's Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Ocno Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cuhna, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. ]
Will she ensure that the Minister responsible for this great British occasion makes sure that the flags are flown and that we respect all our British territories, as well as countries in the Commonwealth?
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con):
I was very pleased that the Child Poverty Bill received its First Reading today. Will the Leader of the House say when Second Reading will be, and can she assure me
that we will not read anything about the Bill in the papers before Members have had a chance to pick it up from the Vote Office tomorrow?
Ms Harman: There has been extensive consultation and discussion already about the Bill to tackle child poverty, as well as statements about its contents. There is a distinction between statements and Bills. If a Secretary of State or a Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to make a statement, Members of the House do not expect to hear the contents of that statement on the radio or television beforehand, with TV and radio interviewers being the first to ask questions. When there is a statement, the first people to ask questions must be Members of this House, but the publication of Bills and consultation papers is a different issue.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on immigration and political correctness? I represent an area where a British National party MEP was elected, and I suggest that people voted for that party not because they endorse its nasty breed of politics but because they are frustrated that the mainstream political parties do not appear to be addressing their legitimate concerns. The way to take on the BNP is not to hire a rent-a-mob to throw eggs at its members and jostle them when they make public statements, but to address the issues that are leading so many people to vote for the party out of frustration, even though that is misguided.
Throughout history and across Europe, peoples fears about their jobs and their standard of living has always provided an opportunity for far-right parties to stir up apprehension. That is why we are so determined to step in. We will not just say that the recession should take its course, or that unemployment is a price worth paying, and we do not accept that people who lose their jobs will lose their house. Instead, we will provide real help for people in tough times and
make sure that we take every action that we can to tackle the problems of the global economic crisis. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no place in British national life or in our democracy for a party that excludes people because of the colour of their skin.
Mr. Bone: Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is closing a hospital outpatients facility in my constituency and moving it to a small town in another constituency. The matter will come before the local planning committee. The chief executive of the trust has said that unless the planning committee approves the proposal, it is likely that the whole scheme will be dropped. May we have a debate on the accountability of the chief executives of NHS foundation trusts who clearly try to blackmail a planning committee?
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on the future of the distribution industry? Cities such as Milton Keynes are, because of their geographical location, traditionally the home of many such companies. Unfortunately, as a result of rising fuel and vehicle duty, many of those companies are struggling. For example, this week, TK Maxx in Milton Keynes closed its distribution centre, with the loss of 275 jobs, and moved it to Poland. What does it say about the policies of this Government when companies feel that they have to move their businesses to Poland, rather than stay in Milton Keynes?
Ms Harman: One of the most important tasks of the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is to make sure that we get the right climate to enable businesses of all sizeslarge, medium and smallto survive, make it through the downturn, and flourish in this country, and to have a more prosperous future.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A number of hon. Members convened this morning at 8.55 am to attend the Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee to consider the draft Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2009. The Committee was abandoned and cancelled at very short noticeat 5 minutes to 6 oclock last nightcausing inconvenience not only to us but more especially to staff, who travelled long distances in desperate circumstances today, during the tube strike. Much more worrying to the wider public is the fact that the amending regulations
Miss McIntosh: Yes, and they are due to take effect on 7 July. The regulations are hugely out of date; they should have been brought into force on 1 May 2008. No explanation was given for the cancellation of the Committee; we were told that it was due to unforeseen circumstances. That means that businesses have extremely short notice of the need to implement the provisions, which, as I say, are due to come into effect on 7 July. The cost is estimated to be £95.7 million to businesses, charities and voluntary bodies, and £2 million to the public sector.
I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your good offices to ask the Leader of the House, while she is in the Chamber, when we can expect the regulations to come before the House. We are prepared to consider them and give them proper scrutiny, but it is unacceptable for the Committee to have been cancelled at the shortest possible notice. I am sure that many hon. Members, and the staff who were asked to assist us in considering the regulations, were not made aware of the cancellation. It is unacceptable to cancel at such short notice.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst):
First, I regret it if inconvenience was caused to Members and staff in the way the hon. Lady described. I am conscious
of the fact that, through a typographical error in documentation, another Committee of the House had a slight mishap in its timings, but the situation was not as drastic as that which she described. As to the substance of her point, I am sure that she understands that I cannot rule on that from the Chair, but she has had the opportunity to put her point on the record. Perhaps, if she was seeking an answer from the Leader of the House, her point might have been better put as a question during business questions. However, she has made her point. The Leader of the House may seek to pursue the matter through a point of order, but I am unable to make any ruling.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) had given me a bit of notice, and had asked a question in business questions, I would have sought the opportunity to answer her question. I am not able to give her the precise answer that she needs now, but I will look into the matter. If it appears to be helpful to do so, the Deputy Leader of the House or I might pop up with a point of order later, so that the House can know what the position is regarding that Committee.
Mr. Stephen Timms, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Ed Balls, Secretary Yvette Cooper, Mr. Liam Byrne, Jim Knight, Dawn Primarolo, Helen Goodman and Kitty Ussher, presented a Bill to set targets relating to the eradication of child poverty, and to make other provision about child poverty.
[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report of the Work and Pensions Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 485-I, o n Valuing and Supporting Carers , and the Governments response, First Special Report of the Committee, Session 2008-09, HC 105 .]
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