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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Could we have a debate on how best we can improve sporting facilities for constituents throughout the country? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we
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have just had a very successful Olympics, but many of the successful athletes were dependent on private finance and private facilities. The same can be said of Andy Murray, who had to travel abroad to develop his skills—and I am sure that the whole House wishes him every success. Although we have made progress, there remains ample room for improvement.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will know that there has been a big increase in capital investment in sporting facilities and a big sports improvement programme in schools throughout the country and in specific sporting facilities in after-school clubs and generally in leisure centres provided by councils and others. I am sure that the whole House agrees with him about sending our best wishes and good luck to Andrew Murray.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I was dismayed to hear the Leader of the House say earlier that her response to the police incursion into my office without a warrant, and with the apparent connivance of the House authorities, was to continue to dither. I was cleared three months ago, and the previous Speaker said that he now wanted the Speaker’s Committee provided for by a motion of the House to be set up, because he wanted to give evidence to it about what had been said to him at the time. Can she at least give us a commitment that by next week she will have come to a conclusion about this matter? Frankly, this delay is disgraceful for this House.

Ms Harman: I can say to the hon. Gentleman that there would not have been a delay but for the fact that his hon. Friend, the shadow Leader of the House, asked me to include some extra issues—

Alan Duncan: Rubbish!

Ms Harman: He actually asked me to make a reference to the Standards and Privileges Committee about the privilege issues surrounding the case of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green); that was in addition. Had we gone ahead with the initial issue that the House resolved upon at the former Speaker’s request, we could have been in there, this could have been sorted out and we could have been doing it, but I wanted to listen to what the shadow Leader of the House had to say.

Alan Duncan: You should be ashamed of yourself.

Ms Harman: I responded to what the hon. Gentleman had to say, so I have been considering whether we should have two committees. There would not be any point in setting up one Committee and then needing a further House resolution to add to its terms of reference. [Interruption.] I have to say that my inclination to listen to the shadow Leader of the House in good faith is dwindling. I am trying to get this Committee set up in the terms that he wants. It was his suggestion and I acquiesced, although I did not think that it had massive merit. Because I am a forbearing and generous person, I agreed to it, but we are still trying to sort it out.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): In that generous spirit, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the impact that the recession is having on the UK tourist industry? Although it is a resilient and important industry, employment levels are suffering, and it needs support to deliver the quality product that visitors expect.

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Ms Harman: I agree that that is a concern for my hon. Friend’s constituency and for the tourist section of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I will bring his comments to the attention of Ministers.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May we have a debate on how current immigration policy impacts on widows and widowers? My constituent Nidhi Singh recently had to return to India from Perth with her two small children following the tragic and untimely death of her husband, just a few months short of securing permanent right to remain in the UK. Surely the right hon. and learned Lady finds that discriminatory and unfair. The Obama Administration recently issued an order to stop all deportation action against widows. When may we expect something similar here in the UK?

Ms Harman: Cases such as that of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Hon. Members can ask Ministers to intervene and exercise their discretion if the legal process has not produced a result that they consider fair. As far as the policy is concerned, the hon. Gentleman can raise it at Home Office questions on Monday. If his constituent remains in the country, he can seek a meeting with the relevant Minister to raise the issue personally.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I, for one, welcome the demise of the Bill to privatise Royal Mail. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to talk to the Business Secretary about some of the work practices now operating among our glorious postmen and women. It would be a pyrrhic victory indeed if they were worked to death by changes to rounds, a ban on overtime and the other vindictive practices being introduced.

Ms Harman: Obviously we want to ensure good relations between management and the work force in all areas of the Post Office and Royal Mail, as well as investment and modernisation to enable them to do their work.

I am afraid that I omitted to answer the part of the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which came out of Committee on 18 June. The Report stage will be held later in this Session, but there has been pressure on dates because of the three days that we had to spend on the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has shown great leadership in strengthening the role of Back Benchers by allowing Conservative Back Benchers in Committee to vote against the Whip. Yesterday, more than 20 Labour Members voted against the Whip in Committee of the whole House and defeated the Government. May we have a statement on whether the Government are following my right hon. Friend’s lead?

Ms Harman: That is not a matter for business questions.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on entry clearance operations? Many hon. Members make detailed representations to the UK Border Agency so that refusals of visas can be reviewed. There is a
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growing tendency for Members to be told simply that refusals have been upheld, without any attempt to address the arguments that they have made. In some cases, MPs’ representations have not even been passed on to the post for entry clearance officers to consider. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that that abuse is stopped?

Ms Harman: That would be an important point for my hon. Friend to raise in Home Office questions next week.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have a statement, or at least something in writing, from a Culture, Media and Sport Minister on the question of what duties journalists have to disclose their credentials when challenged? That would help three of my nearest neighbours, who yesterday were surprised to encounter a person purporting to be a journalist who was trying to find out information about my constituency home. That person refused to give their identity or the name of their newspaper. When asked why they were trying to contact me at home when I must be up in Parliament, they turned tail and ran from the scene. Such harassment of our neighbours, if not of ourselves, needs some attention.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman may wish to draw that issue to the attention of the Press Complaints Commission. If that was indeed a journalist, the media organisation for which they work will be subject to regulation by the PCC, and it should be prepared to look into the matter and take action.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Prime Minister’s proposal to give extra housing points for years on the waiting list? In my constituency—perhaps also in hers—sons and daughters can almost never afford to rent or buy anywhere near their parents. They may never get enough points for a transfer or a move into social housing, no matter how overcrowded their homes are. This proposal would give hope to many people who have been told time and again that they have no chance of a place of their own.

Ms Harman: Despite the billions of pounds of investment over the years, which has helped council and social housing tenants in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine live in homes of a decent standard, and despite more building of homes, there is still a great shortage across the country. That is why the programme in “Building Britain’s Future” for building more council and housing association homes is so important. As for the management of those applying for council or social housing, my hon. Friend will know of the House of Lords decision that clarified the fact that it was possible for councils to take into account not only need but length of residence in an area and time on the list. New guidance will be issued to make it clear to councils that they can do that.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the Leader of the House read the Hansard report of yesterday’s 30-minute debate in Westminster
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Hall on the Government’s response to the Archer inquiry and the victims of contaminated blood products? A substantial number of hon. Members attended the debate, notwithstanding its short duration. Will she take that as evidence of the need for a proper debate in this Chamber that can be attended by other hon. Members, such as myself, who would have attended that debate yesterday if we had not been here dealing with the Parliamentary Standards Bill? The victims of contaminated blood have been treated shabbily, and if we do not allow them the opportunity to ventilate their concerns fully we risk becoming complicit in that shabby treatment.

Ms Harman: There has been an increase in compensation for those who have had the great misfortune to be infected by contaminated blood. I will certainly read the Hansard report, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and consider how the issue can be further debated in the House.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that on Tuesday the issue of the boat carrying emergency supplies to Gaza that was seized by the Israeli forces was raised. One of my constituents was on that boat and I raised the issue with a Foreign Office Minister later that day. A total of six Britons are believed to have been on the boat when it was seized. Can she arrange for a Minister to give an update to the House, or at least to the Members concerned?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to my hon. Friend with an update, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library so that other hon. Members can see it.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Further to the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), may we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House entitled “The Government’s alienation of the middle classes”? Perhaps it could be opened by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, so that he could expand on his reported thesis that the Government’s approach to egalitarianism is badly out of step with the majority of the population.

Ms Harman: I think that the majority of the population believe that it is better to have a fairer and more equal society—one in which people’s lives are not blighted and marred by bigotry and discrimination, whether on grounds of sexual orientation or reflecting unfairness towards women at work, unfairness on grounds of race or unfairness caused by the different start that people have by virtue of where they were born. We make no apologies for that agenda. We have put it in the Equality Bill, and it is disappointing that the Opposition declined to support the Bill on Second Reading. We are pressing on with it.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): As one of 30 Co-operative MPs in this place, may I draw my right hon. and learned Friend’s attention to the fact that this Saturday, 4 July, is the United Nations international day of co-operatives? May we have a statement, or perhaps a short debate, on the value of the co-operative movement, whose objectives include
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international solidarity, economic efficiency, equality and world peace? The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is a prominent Co-operative MP in this place. May we have a debate on this issue, which is important to many people, not only in this country but internationally too?

Ms Harman: I will look and see what opportunities there might be; that could be a subject for a Westminster Hall debate.

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Speaker’s Statement

12.21 pm

Mr. Speaker: I would like to make a short statement on two matters. First, the House is served by three outstanding Deputy Speakers, but my election was an indication that the House was ready to accept change. In a modern democracy that puts Parliament first, I am convinced that the choice of such office holders should be determined not by consultation but by the process of election. By convention, and as supported by the Procedure Committee in 2002, the combination of the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers should be drawn equally from the Government and Opposition Benches. A change now is therefore appropriate. Accordingly, I am proposing that a ballot or ballots should be conducted in the House to choose one Deputy Speaker from the Opposition side and two from the Government side of the House. I have consulted the usual channels and I hope to bring that about shortly after the House returns in October.

The second matter that I wish to mention is the speed of answering written parliamentary questions, which I know is a matter of considerable concern to the House, and especially to Back Benchers. Such questions, and timely answers to them, are an important means by which this House calls the Government of the day to account. I will today be writing to all Ministers in this House to ask them to ensure that the backlog of written questions that remain unanswered is cleared before the recess. I am also setting in hand work on a system of tracking the timeliness of answers so that information will be available to Ministers, Members and those outside this place whom we serve on which questions remain unanswered and the delay in each case. I will have more to say to the House on this matter after the recess.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman that, as I think that they will know on reflection, points of order come after statements.

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Swine Flu Update

12.23 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the AH1N1 swine flu pandemic.

As of today, there are 7,447 laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu in the UK. A significant number of people have been hospitalised. Three people, all of whom had underlying health problems, have, sadly, died. Since the first UK case was confirmed on 27 April, health protection officers, NHS staff from across the UK and Department of Health officials have been leading the fight to contain the virus.

Last week we started to see a considerable rise in swine flu cases, and the emergence of hot spots in London, the west midlands and Scotland. Since then cases have continued to rise significantly. There are now, on average, several hundred new cases every day. This creates challenges on the ground and pressure on services, but the response from the health community has been tremendous. I hope that the House will join me in putting on record again our sincere thanks to staff in the Health Protection Agency and the NHS, and to general practitioners and all those who work in primary care.

Our efforts during the containment phase have given us precious time to learn more about the virus, to build up antiviral and antibiotic stockpiles and to start to develop a vaccine. We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely, and that at some point we would need to move away from containment to treating the increasing numbers falling ill. That is why last week I announced the move to outbreak management. That gave hot spots, where there is sustained community-based transmission, more flexibility to deal with the virus.

Scientists now expect to see rapid rises in the number of cases. Cases are doubling every week, and on this trend we could see more than 100,000 cases per day by the end of August—although I stress that that is only a projection. As cases continue to rise, we have reached the next step in our management of the disease. Our national focus should be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu. Based on experts’ recommendations and with the agreement of Health Ministers across all four Administrations, I can today tell the House that we will move to this treatment phase across the UK with immediate effect.

That will mean that in England the Health Protection Agency will take a step back and primary care will take the lead in diagnosing and distributing antivirals. There will be an immediate end to contact tracing and prophylaxis in all regions, GPs will now provide clinical diagnosis of swine flu cases rather than awaiting laboratory test results, and primary care trusts will now begin to establish antiviral collection points where necessary. The new approach will also mean a move from the daily reported figures of laboratory confirmed cases from the Health Protection Agency to more general estimates of spread.

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