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I support the view already expressed about Equitable Life. The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to make the distinction between an ex gratia payment and compensation, but she ignores the findings of the
ombudsman. The early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), which has attracted 307 signatures, shows the strength of feeling across the House. If we can get 16 more signatures, there will be an absolute majority of Members who want something to be done. May we have a proper debate and an oral statement on the issue?
The House rises for the summer recess on 22 July. Will the Leader of the House ring round all the Government offices to make sure that we do not have what we have every year, which is a profusiona plethoraof written statements in the last days before the House rises, so that people cannot examine the statements and ask questions in the House? Last year, we had 63 written statements in the last two days. The worst offender, incidentally, was the Prime Minister, with no fewer than 10 written statements on the last day. That is unacceptable. The Leader of the House has time at least to phase the statements over the next week. Will she do so?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman made further points about Equitable Life. I think 100 per cent. of Members want justice for Equitable Life policyholders who have lost out. We all agree with that, and a process is under way to make sure that ex gratia payments are made.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the custom and practice whereby loads of written ministerial statements are put out in the final days. I am already raising that with ministerial colleagues, to encourage them not to leave things until the last moment. If every Department does that, the difficulty is that there is an unmanageable amount of statements for colleagues to respond to. I shall remind all colleagues that the matter has already been raised by the House and that this time we have to try to break the habit of a lifetimeof tipping them all out before the summer recess. I will do my best, and so will my deputy and the Chief Whip[Hon. Members: Ah.] So it is sure to be all right.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned the case of Gary McKinnon. As I understand it, the matter is not for the Home Secretarys decision; it was for decision by the courts, which have decided that this man should be extradited. It is not at the discretion of the Home Secretary, but a decision by the courts.
The hon. Gentleman made the point that when a White Paper is to be produced there should be an indication to the Houseperhaps the previous weekeven if the particular day was not specified, so that Members at least know that something is coming up. In order not to give a date that then turns out to be wrongbecause something else happens that moves the date a day or two, and everybody says, Aha, somethings gone wrongwe have been deterred from announcing oral statements in advance, but actually the outcome is perverse. We are planning something and we know about it within a day or so, but we do not inform the House. When we come back, I think that perhaps for an experimental period, we will try to give a business statement indicating when oral statements about major documents are likely to be coming up. That is a good suggestion.
On the question about the revelations in The Guardian, the hon. Gentleman will have heard the responses given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to the urgent question. A number of Members have already raised with me whether
there is a question of privilege. It certainly does raise issues of grave concern. We are elected to represent our constituents and, to do our duty in that respect, to hold the Executive to account. We must not be impeded in that work by interference through the interception of our communications. That would constitute contempt of Parliament and a breach of parliamentary privilege, and it is something I shall have to consider.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Thirty-seven Members are seeking to catch my eye and, as always, I am keen to get in as many as possible, so I must ask each hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question and, of course, I look to the Leader of the House, as always, to provide a pithy reply.
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): There was a very short but excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week on the Governments response to the Archer inquiry. Given the huge importance of the issue to those affected, may I join calls made by other Members for a much longer debate on the Floor of the House on that important issue?
Ms Harman: I know that despite the increase in compensation for the victims of contaminated blood supply, there is still a great deal of concern for people who have, unfortunately, been contaminated through no fault of their own. I will bring my hon. Friends comments to the attention of Ministers in the Department of Health.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): One of my local papers, the Keighley News, recently reported that a judge who had sentenced people involved in gang violence to prison had complained that he had to give extraordinarily lenient sentences to those people
Because he was hidebound by the law.
He went on to criticise a system in which people who have spent time on bail subject to a curfew receive a reduction in sentence. Given that judges are complaining about the lenient sentences being handed out, may we have a debate on the subject? It causes a great deal of concern in my constituency.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect, with her colleagues, on the mechanisms to be used to inform the House and me, the constituency MP, when it is known how the Serious Fraud Office intends to proceed with the MG Rover inquiry? Will she confirm today that it remains the Governments intention to publish the inquiry report as soon as possible, and that the Government will do everything that they can to ensure that the former workers of MG Rover receive the money that is their due from the trust fund that has been set up?
The Government agree very much with my hon. Friend that those who are owed money should be paid as quickly as possible by the trust; my hon. Friend has championed his constituents in that regard. As far as the publication of the report is concerned, as
he said, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has referred the question of whether there should be a criminal investigation to the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO has undertaken to decide whether the matter warrants a full investigation within, I think, 20 days of the matter being referred to it. If there is not to be any further criminal investigation, the report will be published. Obviously, if there is to be a criminal investigation, nothing must be done that would prejudice it, but the report will be published once any criminal investigations have been concluded.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May we have a debate on the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus in helping people to get back into work? In 2002, my London borough of Wandsworth had five jobcentres; now we have just one. Local people are concerned about the resource ability of Jobcentre Plus to give them meaningful help to find employment again. May we have a topical debate on that?
Ms Harman: I would like to pay tribute to those who work in jobcentres and Jobcentre Plus. They do an incredibly important job. The service has been transformed from what it was during the last recession, when people sat behind grilles and paid out unemployment benefit, or signed people off on to incapacity benefit, but did not help them to get back into work. There is a whole range of work and training now available to people who face the awful fact of unemployment. I hope that the hon. Lady will support the extra investment that we put into Jobcentre Plus to make sure that it can work even better on behalf of those who face unemployment.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on health and safety for those employed in the construction industry? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of a report recently produced by the Department for Work and Pensions on the issue. Its author, Rita Donaghy, a senior employment expert, made a number of recommendations, foremost among them the extension of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to the construction industry. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that those recommendations will be given serious consideration?
Ms Harman: The Rita Donaghy report is very important, and I should like to thank her for her work. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which my hon. Friend was instrumental in setting up, has ensured that workers are not undercut by exploited labour and has protected migrant labourers from being exploited. It has saved the taxpayer money by reducing the evasion of tax, and above all, it has helped with health and safety. Rita Donaghys suggestion that the 2004 Act be extended to the construction industry is well worth considering.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Given that a clear majority of those who can sign early-day motions have signed the motion on Equitable Life, why does not the Leader of the House simply list it as the subject of the topical debate next week? Or does she think that 307 Members of this House can be persistently and consistently ignored?
Ms Harman: Everyoneall Members of the Houseare concerned that there should be justice for the Equitable Life policyholders. There has been a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall and a statement in this House. We all agree that the policyholders should receive ex gratia payments, and the Government are setting about enabling that to take place.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The House will be grateful for the statement made by the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism on the serious allegations made against News Group Newspapers today. I remind the Leader of the House that the allegations are serious. There are allegations of hacking into Cabinet Ministers private telephone numbers and the numbers of Members of Parliament from three major parties, and allegations that a parliamentary Select Committee was misled. Given all those serious breaches of our privileges and sovereignty, I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to lay a motion before the House next week, referring those matters to the Standards and Privileges Committee.
Ms Harman: Those are issues of grave concern. It is absolutely fundamental that once we are elected to this House, we are able to get on with our job without let or hindrance. Certainly, if unlawful interception of telephone communications, voicemails and texts had taken place, it would be contempt of Parliament and a breach of parliamentary privilege. Those matters are of grave concern, and I will certainly consider what issues have arisen and what would be the appropriate action for me to propose to the House.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Transport bosses from Manchester are meeting the Minister with responsibility for rail later this afternoon to discuss their concerns about the Government reneging on their promises on the number of railway carriages for Greater Manchester. May we have an oral statement to the House to assure hon. Members about the number of railway carriages that we are getting, and about when we will get them, so that we can start dealing with congestion on our railways in Greater Manchester?
Ms Harman: I am assured by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who represents a seat in Greater Manchester, that there has been no reneging on any commitments on important transport infrastructure in Manchester.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Corus in Scunthorpe has today announced a further 360 job cuts. That comes on top of 500 job cuts that were announced recently. Given the severe impact on the steel industry in Scunthorpe, and indeed nationally, will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Business Secretary to have urgent talks with Corus about its plans, to bring some stability to the company? While I am grateful for the regional development agency taskforce, which is being sent into Corus to help staff, may we have a debate about how we can use selective regional aid to help areas such as mine, which are being hit so badly by the global downturn in manufacturing?
My right hon. Friend makes important points on behalf of his constituents. There will be a Minister from the Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills at the Dispatch Box later this afternoon, responding to the topical debate on manufacturing in Britain.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Business Secretary to make a statement on the operation of the guidelines on the recently passed amendment to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998? That amendment forbids the use of tips, gratuities, service charges and cover charges to pay the minimum wage. She will know, because I gave her a copy, that it is almost the sixth anniversary of my ten-minute Bill on the subject. My proposal resulted in a change to the law recently. Confusion has reigned since the regulations have been in place, because it is not clear how one can prevent people from taking and keeping payments made by customers, so can the guidelines be published soon, as the regulations will come into force in October
Ms Harman: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done, which began even before we came into government and brought into effect a statutory national minimum wage. I congratulate him on his private Members Bill, which he introduced in 2003 and which amended the national minimum wage in respect of tips. We are very proud that we introduced the national minimum wage. It has helped millions of people. Secondary legislation will go through Parliament to address the points that he has been raising, including in his Bill, and there will be consultation.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Sadly, the motion on the setting up of a Select Committee for the reform of the House did not go through last night. It is therefore future business. In order to facilitate the passage of a measure that the Leader of the House clearly wants, will she give me an assurance that she would look very sympathetically at the transfer of the drawing up of Standing Orders from the Executive of the day to the House of Commons as a whole? That would provide the House of Commons with the independence and integrity that it deserves.
I did commit to bringing a motion to the House to establish a Committee that could look at a number of important issues to strengthen the role of the House, including the way in which we select Chairs of Select Committees and the role of the House in arranging the business of the House. I tabled a motion which was not regarded as broad enough. Having seen the amendments, I withdrew the original motion and tabled one that incorporated the spirit of the amendments. Unfortunately, an hon. Member objected to it when it was brought to the House last night, but I hope that
they will withdraw their objection and that the House will have another chance next week to make sure that the motion goes through.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend is aware that the Ashes is taking place in Cardiff for the first time ever. Does she agree that this is a good move? When may we have a debate about spreading major sporting events around the UK?
Ms Harman: Cardiff has shown how, with the Welsh Assembly and great leadership by the First Minister of Wales, it can be made the centre of a range of international events, and I am sure the Ashes will be very successful.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families rightly reviewed the progress that Haringey council had made in improving childrens services following the terrible killing of baby Peter, but there are eight authorities whose services were found wanting by Ofsted, including West Sussex county council. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for us to debate these important matters on the Floor of the House?
Ms Harman: I will raise these matters with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and look for an opportunity for further accounting to the House. My hon. Friend will know that the Secretary of State is today taking part in a programme of encouraging more highly qualified people to go into the important job of social work so that whether for old people, people with mental health problems or, above all, children, there are proper social services to take care of them.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): An unsuccessful independent candidate at the recent local elections in Cornwall has accused the Conservative party of targeting the second-home vote in particular at elections. If that were true, the Conservative party would be acting entirely legally because those people are on the electoral register, but it has stimulated a debate locally about whether it is right for people with multiple houses around the country to have votes in different places. Will there be an opportunity for the House to debate that?
Ms Harman: The Political Parties and Elections Bill is going through Parliament. It has just gone through the House of Lords and will come back to the Commons following the debate on amendments in the other place. I am not yet clear whether there would be an opportunity for that point to be raised when the Bill comes back to this House, but the hon. Gentleman can have a look to see whether there is one.
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