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market conditions have made it impossible to conclude the process to identify a partner for the Royal Mail on terms that we can be confident would secure value for the taxpayer. There is
therefore no prospect in current circumstances of achieving the objectives of the Postal Services Bill. [ Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 222.]
The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. There is nothing surprising about my not yet being able to tell the House about the form of a statement that will be made to the House. It would be quite unusual to announce a week or so in advance whether something will be made by way of a written or oral statement. Obviously, I will convey to the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers the strength of feeling in the House. I raised the issue with the Chancellor this morning and keep him well aware of the concerns expressed by Members on both sides each and every week.
On ID cards, it is not a question of wasting money. Money has not been wasted on biometric passports, because the people who take out such passports have to pay for them. Public money is not wasted on biometric ID cards for foreign nationals; they are a thoroughly good thing that will help us to have secure borders. We can be clear with people that once their identity is established, they will be entitled to a visa and to come here without any problems. Airside ID cards will be proceeded with if Manchester and City airports choose to proceed on a consultative and voluntary basis, instead of the Government laying down how it should be done. We do expect that to proceed, so there will be no waste of money. If the hon. Gentleman is not clear, he can ask about it at Home Office questions next week. It is not too complicated to understand, even for him, challenged though he is on these issues. We are going ahead with the proposal on foreign nationals and his party has now, reluctantly, agreed with it. We are having biometric passports anyway and we are rolling out on a voluntary basis [ Interruption. ] I will not repeat it, as the Speaker will rightly stop me. It is clear.
We had a programme motion on the Parliamentary Standards Bill. It is always difficult if we have to take action to deal with an issue of public concern. If we do not conclude the Bill by the time the House rises, we will not be able to return to it until October. We should use the summer recess to set up the authority, to recruit to it and to get it up and running, so that in the autumn we will no longer set or administer our own allowances, which will be done independently. There will be further time to discuss the Bill in this House if there are further amendments.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I have a list of 27 Members seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate as many as possible, so, once again, I appeal to each hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question, and, of course, to the Leader of the House to provide us with a pithy reply.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab):
Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating Katrina London, Jason Addy and Paul Glanville on undertaking the mesothelioma awareness ride? It will cover 12,000 miles from Glasgow to
Southampton, and today they arrive in London. The intention, of course, is to raise awareness of mesothelioma cancer, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, and at the same time to raise funds for the victims and to support the establishment of a national centre for asbestos-related diseases. Will my right hon. and learned Friend support the setting up of that centre?
Ms Harman: I congratulate Katrina, Jason and Paul on their mesothelioma awareness ride, and I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has probably done more than anybody in this House to raise awareness of this cruel disease, which mostly affects people through their workplace.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): May I take the right hon. and learned Lady back to a point made by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), which I fully support? The right hon. and learned Lady is meant to be the defender of this House, yet, rather shamefully, yesterday and the day before we allowed an unfinished and very untidy Bill to go through to an unelected Chamber with no further debate here at that point. As she will have seen when clause 10 was knocked out, some of us on both sides of the House were ashamed of what this House was presenting to an unelected Chamber for it to make decisions on our part. On that basis, will she ensure that when the Bill returns we do not have this guillotine, and we have one final chance to debate the measure in full with time to get it right?
Ms Harman: I make no apologies for what I hopeand expect, and will take action to ensurefor this Bill. It sets up an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority so that our allowances are set independently rather than by ourselves, which is what the public want and expect and we all in principle agreed to. The Bill needs to be in and out of this House by the time the House rises. We listened to all the points made in the debate yesterday, and, indeed, acceded to many of them and voted on many others. The Bill was, therefore, changed as it progressed.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time next week for those of us who disagree with the Justice Secretarys decision to overrule the Parole Board on the Ronnie Biggs case to discuss that, given that we allowed hundreds of terrorists and murderers to go free in Northern Ireland, and we also allow murderers who have done much worse things than Ronnie Biggs to go free? The Justice Secretary overruled the Parole Board, which he could not do under todays law. Will the Leader of the House find a way for us to discuss this matter and bring it to the Houses attention?
Ms Harman: The Justice Secretary was acting in compliance with the law as it relates to people who were sentenced at the time of the Ronald Biggs case. My hon. Friend is right that the system has changed for future cases, but it has not changed for cases of that age. The Justice Secretary made his decision based on the evidence in, and facts of, the case, and on legal advice and his own judgment acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. This is not a question of policy; it is a quasi-judicial judgment in the public interest on a particular case, so I do not think it is an appropriate issue for debate in the House.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Bedford unitary council is preparing a bid for the improvement of its schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme while not knowing what the financial future of the programme will be because of the failure to provide a spending review. Crucial decisions that have to be made about the structure of schools are being made in the dark because of the absence of these figures. Will the Leader of the House use her position to convey to the Chancellor how important it is to have a spending review, so that these crucial decisions can be made in the full light of what the spending by the Department will be, as opposed to there just being empty political rhetoric about the future of schools spending?
Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, not only has there been unprecedented investment in schools over the past 10 years, but that investment is continuing this year and next year despite the fact that his own party has said it wants to cut spending this year and next year. He will also be aware that we are bringing forward capital spending across the two-year period up to April 2011. That is not only important for schools. It is also important for the construction industry to have that injection of public investment at a time when private sector construction has ground to a halt. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman can look forward to improving schools in his constituency.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I, with great respect, take my right hon. and learned Friend back to the question of ID cards? It is a scheme that will cost £4.9 billion, and this week the Home Secretary announced a shift in policy. Would it not have been better for the Home Secretary to have made an oral statement to the House, rather than relying on the Opposition providing some of their time to discuss what is a very important issue that requires consideration not just by a Select Committee and individual Members during Home Office questions, but by the whole House?
Ms Harman: I have to say to my right hon. Friend, with respect[Hon. Members: Oh!] Well, he was respectful to me, and I am returning the favour. The situation is that we are proceeding with biometric passports and with ID cards for foreign nationals. The only change, which I would not call a shift in policy, is for airside staff at two airports; instead of the Government putting a requirement on airside staff in this respect, it should be dealt with airport by airport in consultation with the people who work there and those running the airport. Therefore, the figure my right hon. Friend announced is not right at all, and we have always said that if we want to make them compulsory for people aside from foreign nationals, we will have to bring primary legislation before this House. Therefore, as my right hon. Friend can see, there is a small change in one part of the policy, but there is not a fundamental shift in the policy at all.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con):
I rise to request a debate in this House on behalf of the farmers of Exmoor on the digital mapping system that the Rural Payments Agency uses to allocate money to farmers. The agency has got it wrong for the third year running. This is now becoming beyond a joke. Why can we not get this mapping correct? We can read papers from space, so why can we not get field outlines right?
Farmers are getting sick to the back teeth of this. Please may we have a debate on it? It is a disaster across the United Kingdom, but especially in places such as Exmoor where fields are not openly defined.
Ms Harman: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman tried to ask that question in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, but if he was not able to be present for them I shall draw his comments to the attention of Ministers.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My Friend told us that we can expect to have the Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill on Monday 13 July. When will Third Reading be held in the Lords, and will the Government seek to reverse the amendment that would stop tax exiles bankrolling political parties?
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I want to thank the Leader of the House for the answer she gave me at last weeks business questions, when she said my point about the scrutiny of Government Bills being House business was valid; I am grateful for that. She also said she would do two things that I asked of her. First, she said she would consult proposed members of the Wright Committee about the terms of reference before re-tabling. As I understand it, agreement has been reached, and it would be useful if she indicated when she is likely to do this. It would also be good if she could go through the motions of consulting those of us who are on the Committee, although I do not think there is a controversy. Secondly, she said she would consult people about her plans
Dr. Harris: The other thing that the right hon. and learned Lady said she would do was consult on how she would handle the Report stage of the Equality Bill, to ensure that we fully debate all the matters that the House would wish to debate.
Ms Harman: For the Wright Committee, the House will recall that we put forward terms of reference and amendments were tabled by those in all parts of the House expressing the view that those terms should be wider. As we wanted to go about this business in a consensual way, we withdrew the resolution and we have drawn up some new terms of reference that incorporate the spirit of the amendments. We will not be going through the motions of consulting those who will play an important part in this process by serving on the Committeewe will actually consult them. As with the question of privileges, I hope that we will be able to reach agreement and not need a debate on this. I am also aware that once it is established, the hon. Members on the Committee will want it to sit in September, and will want to get the work under way before the House rises, so I shall get my skates on.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I give a warm welcome to the consumer White Paper, which contains proposals on consumer credit and debt that are very important to our constituents. Can my right hon. and learned Friend understand the frustration that some of us feel at the fact that the lead Minister on this important subject is in another place? When will this House get an opportunity to question Ministers about these important proposals that affect our constituents so closely?
Ms Harman: A written ministerial statement on that matter was tabled in the House this morning, and I thank my hon. Friend for her words of welcome. Of course, there are Ministers responsible to this House as well as Ministers responsible to the other place, so I will draw her points to their attention.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Would the Leader of the House find it helpful to invite her Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement next week about her policy on equality, bearing in mind the speech that he gave to the Fabian Society yesterday?
Ms Harman: The Equality Bill is in Committee, and what it will do is very important indeed. It will ensure that we tackle age discriminationdiscrimination against older people on the grounds of their age will be outlawedand pay discrimination against women. It will ensure that we make progress on a range of other issues, and it will also ensure that all public authorities, be they local government authorities, health authorities or Departments, and indeed Ministers, play their part in ensuring that this country is a more fair and equal society. That Bill has the support of the whole Government, albeit not the support of the whole House. Unfortunately there is a division on the Bill [Interruption.] It is not between those of us in the Cabinet; it is between us and the Conservatives, who declined to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): In the light of the Governments welcome announcement yesterday about the National Express east coast franchise, will the Leader of the House make time for this House to debate and reflect on the many issues arising out of that decision, which I believe have relevance to the national railway network as a whole?
the Government hopes that time will also be available in each House to debate this document.
As responses have to be in by 21 September, can the Leader of the House tell us when we will have an opportunity to debate the White Paper? We were promised such a debate in the White Paper itself. That substantive document contains a lot of detail and I hope that we will have a two-day debate on it. If not, all we shall get is, as it says,
Ministers...taking part in regional events.
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister made an oral statement on this, and thus provided at least an opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions not only on the broader document, but on the draft legislative programme. I believe that this is the third year running that instead of keeping the Queens Speech completely under wraps and springing it on people towards the end of the year, we have set the contents of it out so that people can join in the debate, respond and give their comments. As for discussion of the White Paper in the House, if there is anything further to be announced I shall bring it forward when we next have business questions.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether she will find time for a debate on changing the procedures of this House? Can we have a debate on allowing Secretaries of State who are Members of the House of Lords to come to this Dispatch Box to make statements and answer questions? Yesterday, a statement was made in the House of Lords about the east coast main line and four hours later it was made in the Commons by a very able but junior Ministerthat cannot be right.
Ms Harman: The timing of that statement was dictated not only by the difference between the Lords and the Commons timing and scheduling of business on Wednesdays, but by market sensitivity and the need to say something before either the House of Lords or this House was sitting, because of market information. Obviously we try to ensure that we bring information to the House as soon as possible. This was a question of balancing the need to ensure that very important and controversial House business was not interrupted by the need to ensure that the House had an opportunity to question the transport Minister. I understand the concerns, but I do not think that there was any easy solution to the situation yesterday.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Havering sixth-form college has received the devastating news that it will not receive any Learning and Skills Council funding for its capital project, on which it has already spent £6 million on enabling works. Could we have an urgent debate on how Haverings college and the many others up and down the country can be helped to reverse the enabling works and to be able to operate efficiently from the beginning of the autumn term?
Ms Harman: Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been keeping the House up to date with the concerns about the LSCs administration of issues relating to sixth-form colleges and further education colleges. Despite a substantial increase in capital investment, there has been uncertainty where there should not have been any, and some plans have been interrupted. Work is under way to ensure that we can take forward the important higher education programme as speedily as possible; no doubt that will apply to Havering college too.
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