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no statement can, or has been made
Ms Harman: If an hon. Member is to raise in business questions an important point on a matter of great seriousness and heartfelt concern to many individuals, it is worth giving me notice of it in advance, so that I can give a proper, fuller answer, having consulted the Minister responsible in advance. I will draw Ministers attention to the hon. Gentlemans comments.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): May we assume that the listening and consultation applies to Labour Members as well as to the Opposition? Does it explain the absence of the Postal Services Bill, which has not arrived in the House? Is that because Ministers have found the strength, having listened to scores, indeed hundreds, of Labour MPs, to ensure that the part-privatisation of Royal Mail does not go ahead? If that is the order of the day, well done!
Ms Harman: On Leader of the House issues, if my hon. Friend looks at the amendments that were tabled to my motion, he will see that they are in the names of Members on both sides of the House, including on our own Labour Benches. It is a question not just of cross-party talks with Front-Bench spokesmen but of looking at all the names of hon. Members on the Order Paper, including those on our side of the House. I shall refer his comments to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the NHS in managing its land assets? Putney hospital has been derelict for 10 years. At the eleventh hour, NHS London has pulled the rug on its redevelopment into badly needed GP premises. Clearly there is a general issue about bureaucracy. May we have a chance to debate that in the House?
It is always worth drawing such issues to the attention of Health Ministers in oral questions. Perhaps the hon. Lady will look for an opportunity to do that. It is very important that the NHS manages its assets, including its land assets, properly. That is even
more important against a background of hundreds of millionsin fact billionsof pounds of extra investment into the NHS. That is important investment to be made to help improve that vital public service, but obviously we want to ensure that every pound is well spent.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time about the provision of apprenticeship schemes when local authorities award contracts to the private sector? It should be incumbent on local authorities to ensure that when they award contracts to private sector companies, such companies have approved accredited apprenticeship schemes that allow apprentices to attend further education colleges. Dundee city council in my constituency has just awarded a contract to a private sector company, but we have yet to receive assurances from the separatist Scottish National party-led council that it will ensure that an apprenticeship scheme is in place.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Given how public services, in particular local government, procure services and engage in direct construction projects, they have a major opportunity to ensure that apprenticeships are provided. I know, for example, that that is very much at the centre of the work on the Olympics. I will bring his comments to the attention of the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to him.
[That this House strongly believes that the Government should quickly reconsider its policies regarding fishermen from the Philippines working in the waters around the Outer Hebrides and west coast of Scotland by establishing a six month moratorium on deportations; notes that these fishermen are not unskilled workers as they need several qualifications to engage in the fishing profession while filling a severe shortage of skilled fishing labour in the Western Isles; and further notes that deporting these fishermen will be yet another blow to the Isles as the Government is already planning to close the Hebrides Range which will result in the loss of almost 120 jobs.]
Fishermens leaders are calling daily to tell me that fishermen are being threatened with deportation or are not being allowed back on to their boats from the Philippines. As a result, at the time of credit crunch, boats are having to tie up. May we have a debate on the importance of beneficial immigration into the UK and, indeed, the high regard with which fishermen from the Philippines are held on the west coast of Scotland?
Ms Harman: Given that those questions cut across the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office, the hon. Gentleman might want to raise them at DEFRA questions next week.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):
On 14 January, Mr. Nicholas Mazordze, a constituent of mine, was promised by the UK Border Agency that his immigration case would be resolved within 28 days. It was not. On
2 May, he was promised by the UK Border Agency that it would be resolved within two weeks. It was not. In June, I raised a parliamentary question on the matter. It is still not resolved. Yesterday, I tried to ring the MPs hotline. That was unobtainable. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the shambolic nature of the UK Border Agency?
Ms Harman: The overall performance of the UK Border Agency has improved over the years. I know that as the Member with the most immigration cases of anyone in the House. Certainly, the MPs hotline has been very helpful to many hon. Members over the year. However, the hon. Gentleman has a particular case, which he has now raised on the Floor of the House. I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of the Immigration Minister forthwith.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): When can we have a debate on the free passage of passengers and freight vessels across the channel into Dover? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the French unions are attempting to disrupt the passage of British flagged, British crewed ships, ridiculously describing them as operating under flags of convenience?
Ms Harman: I will raise that with Ministers in the Foreign Office. Part of the importance of us working very closely with other countries in Europe, and making sure that Britain is central and at the heart of Europe, is to ensure that important ports such as Dover, which my hon. Friend champions, can flourish in the future.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): This mornings announcement by Consumer Focus that it has found that energy companies are not passing on the full decline in wholesale prices to consumers must be investigated. May we have an urgent statement from the Energy Minister to get to the bottom of that, as it appears that every consumer is being overcharged by an average of £74? Can we ensure that energy companies are forced to pass every penny of the decline in wholesale prices on to the consumer?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have a debate on the allocation of resources for the modernisation and adaptation of the homes of the elderly? My constituent Mrs. Bhanji is 86 years of age. She has Parkinsons, she is blind, she has low mobility, but she has been waiting for more than a year for the grant to be approved. I am not apportioning blame between the Government or the local authority, but is important that we have a debate on why that takes so long.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con):
The National Cancer Intelligence Network has today published alarming figures that show that the gap between the cancer outcomes of the over-75s in this country and those in
comparable countries has widened even further. May we have a debate in Government time on why it is that the Governments national cancer plan is failing our elderly constituents?
Ms Harman: We recognise that there is inequality and age discrimination in the health service. That is why we have put a provision in the Equality Bill to outlaw discrimination in the provision of health services on grounds of age, which is a major step forward. In order to prepare the way for the introduction of that new tough law, a pilot is being undertaken by the Department of Health covering the whole of the South-West regional health authority and also Bristol city council. We are piloting it in advance of the Bill coming into effect in order to tackle age discrimination in the health services. It is disappointing that Opposition Members voted against the Bill on Second Reading.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): By the middle of this century, four times as many older people will need care, and there is a growing funding gap in respect of the care needs of people with complex learning disabilities. Will my right hon. and learned Friend promise that when the social care Green Paper is published shortly, which addresses those incredibly difficult challenges, we will have a significant amount of time in the House to debate the ideas in it?
Ms Harman: Everybody should be in no doubt about the importance of that agenda for the future. It is important not only for the statutory agencies, such as health and social services, but for the voluntary sector, which plays a major role in respect of those issues. It is also important for families, because the overwhelming bulk of care is provided not by agencies or voluntary services, but by family members, who need to go out to work as well as care for an older or disabled relative. I will try to ensure that we have a good opportunity to debate the Green Paper when it comes forward.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that the situation in Iran is dire, with the Government there having rigged the presidential election and a number of pro-democracy demonstrators being either killed or imprisoned. She will also be aware that independent informed commentators feel that our Government could have been more robust in the defence of democracy. To put matters right, will she ensure that the Foreign Secretary comes to the House next week to make a further statement on the situation in Iran?
Ms Harman: I know that our Government are working with other Governments to make absolutely sure that the democratic rights of the people of Iran are recognised. That is a matter of great importance to the Iranian people. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he will have an opportunity to question Ministers in Westminster Hall on 9 July, and that the Secretary of State and Ministers will respond to oral questions on Tuesday.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab):
Business insolvency is a serious matter, and never more so than nowadays. May we have a debate in Government
time to allow us to consider how to improve returns to unsecured creditors, and also how to reduce the fees of insolvency practitioners?
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Perseverance obviously works in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I tried to catch Mr. Speakers eye earlier today during transport questions, but was unable to do so. With that in mind, may I ask for a debate on the rural roads network? That would allow me to raise the subject of Water End, a hamlet in my constituency which is being shaken to bits by the heavy traffic that goes through it. It was designed for horse and cart traffic, but it is now the main road between Hemel Hempstead and Leighton Buzzard. May we have a debate that would allow us to raise local issues of that kind?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman clearly has an existential problem. It seems that, as well as failing to be called during transport questions, he failed to catch Mr. Speakers eye during last Thursdays debate on rural affairs. Perhaps I shall be able to suggest a further opportunity for him to put himself forward.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): May we have a debate to celebrate the qualities and work of Members in all parts of the House? I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the degree of nastiness that is being directed at Members. I know that it began as a legitimate form of investigative journalism, and I have no problem with that, but it has descended into a witch hunt that is hiding from our constituents the very good work that many of us are doing, or trying to do.
Ms Harman: I think that the way in which to address the genuine public anger about the issue of allowances is to show by our actions that we are determined to put the allowances system on a wholly independent footingto ensure that the rules are clear, and to ensure that they are decided independently by the Parliamentary Standards Authority. I hope that that will not only assuage the public anger, but restore the respect that ought to be given to hon. Members and for this institution.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): The Leader of the House may remember that during business questions on 4 June I asked for a topical debate on how we could help Pakistan and its 3 million displaced people. At the time, the right hon. and learned Lady thought that that was a good proposal. I understand from her statement today that there is a space on 9 July. May we please have the debate then?
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab):
May we have a debate on corporate responsibility to our communities and, indeed, our country? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that today hundreds
of workers are on strike in power stations throughout the country. That has been caused by the action of Total, the oil company, which has brought in foreign nationals to undermine the terms and conditions of indigenous workers. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to use her good offices and ask Total to act responsibly? If it does not, others will be encouraged to vote for extreme parties such as the British National party.
Ms Harman: We can all well understand, against the background of a global economic crisis, the anxiety that people feel about their jobs. That is why the Government are taking every possible action to step in and protect businesses. We also hope that all partiesboth sides in the dispute that my hon. Friend has mentionedwill act responsibly, and talk to each other to try to reach agreement so that work can resume.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Following discussions between the Prime Minister and Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, may we have a debate in Government time on what the British Government can do to assist Zimbabweans who want to return to their country to help to rebuild it? I am thinking particularly of the professionals who have, I understand, been identified by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
Ms Harman: It seems that the House is going to be very full for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he, too, should try to catch Mr. Speakers eye on that occasion in order to ask the Foreign Secretary a question.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): A few months ago, I mentioned to my right hon. and learned Friend the plight of charities, particularly the hospice movement, and the need for a debate on the subject. I wonder whether she has heard about the problems of Derian house, a childrens hospice in my constituency that serves children from Scotland and throughout England. It has introduced a new service, which cost well over £1 million. The money was raised locally, but the VAT has not been given back to the charity, and £350,000 must now be found. May we have a debate about the hospice movement, and about the plight of Derian house in particular?
Ms Harman: I shall look for an opportunity for the House to debate the hospice movement; it is an important issue, and a number of Members have raised it. As for the childrens hospice in my hon. Friends constituency, there is no need to wait for a debate. I shall bring the matter to the attention of Health Ministers, and try to establish whether it can be resolved more promptly.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD):
The House was elected above all to scrutinise legislation, especially legislation proposed by the Government. I hope the Leader of the House will accept that, while the Government have specified a date when a Bill will be introduced and there will be an opportunity for them to table amendments and new clauses, the scrutiny of that Bill is the business of the House. I welcome her wise
decisionwhich is not a U-turnto think again about the terms of reference of the Wright commission. I have two requests. First, will the Leader of the House consult members of the commission, who will have been elected by all parties in the House, on the terms of reference before returning the motion to the Order Paper? Secondly, will she open negotiations with the Opposition parties and interested Back Benchers on how her Equality Bill will be scrutinised on Report? It is an important Bill, and scrutiny of it is therefore also important.
Ms Harman: I will do both those things. The hon. Gentlemans point has some validity. It is usual for Government to divide the Houses work into Government and non-Government business, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that Government Bills are House business and the distinction is therefore somewhat artificial. I hope that the Wright commission will be able to examine those issues.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): About 15 minutes ago, Corus issued a statement confirming its proposal to cut more than 2,000 jobs in its long products section, including 500 white-collar managerial jobs. Most of those jobs will be lost at the Scunthorpe works in north Lincolnshire. Given all that the work force have done to try to weather the storm and stay together during the recession, will my right hon. and learned Friend organise an urgent debate on Government support for the steel industry? Will she also ensure that the Business Secretary meets Members from the affected constituencies, along with the trade unions, so that we can do what we can to keep intact a first-rate competitive British steel industry?
Ms Harman: The matter is of great concern to, above all, my hon. Friends constituents and people in neighbouring constituencies, but it is a matter of national importance as well. I shall draw what he has said to the attention of Business Ministers, and will expect them to meet him and other Members immediately to discuss this important issue.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a further statement to the House on the circumstances that led to the collapse of the Dairy Farmers of Britain co-operative and on what has happened since? Across the north of England and throughout Wales, more than 1,500 farmers are suffering as a result of not having received their full milk cheques for May. That demands a further statement from the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House urge him to make one as a matter of urgency?
Ms Harman: The Secretary of State will be answering questions in the House next week. Given that this has been such an important issue in many regions, I am sure that he will be able to account to the House for the situation then.
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