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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab):
Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a topical debate on the success of the Freedom pass for pensioners? We should be able to extend it to young people. People
spend a lot of money sending their children to school and college, and we are now coming to the summer holidays, so can we introduce a Freedom pass for young people? That would make an excellent subject for a topical debate, which my right hon. and learned Friend has promised in the past, but it has failed to reach the House.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right: the Freedom pass has been incredibly important in providing opportunities for older people to be out and about all over the country. It was led by the Government and we are extremely proud of it. The extension of such passes to young people was made by Mayor Ken Livingstone in London, and other authorities can no doubt consider doing the same.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the closing date for the consultation on the Building Britains Future White Paper is 21 September so, rather perversely, we will clearly not get the debate in the House as promised on page 113 of that White Paper before the closure of the consultation period. However, is there not a broader point here? When the Government bring forward White Papers, their provisions are either otiose, in which case they are just ministerial window dressing, or they are significant. If White Papers have significant proposals, such as the Department for International Development White Paper earlier this week, it is right that we should have an opportunity to debate them properly at some stage. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that, following a reasonable period after the publication of a White Paper, the House will have the opportunity to debate the proposals in that White Paper before we get to the point when legislation is brought to the House?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is an opportunity in the debate on 21 July on the motion on the summer recess Adjournment for hon. Members to make contributions exactly to that effect.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that at the last business questions I asked a question, and I shall ask it again because we need clarity. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the issue of Secretaries of State in the other place not being able to make statements to this House and not being answerable to this House? There is great concern among Members in this place that those Secretaries of State are not answerable to the House of Commons.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The acting Prime Minister was quite right when she said it would be a contempt of Parliament for hon. Members phones to be tapped, so when the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism makes a statement later, could we have an assurance that no hon. Members phone has been tapped by the Government since 1997?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Wilson doctrine stipulates that the work of hon. Members should not be impeded by any interception by way of the security services. What my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism said in response to the urgent question is that if there was anything further to report, he would make sure that he kept the House informed. I do not think he promised to make an oral statement to update the House this afternoon, but he will make sure that the House is kept informed if there is any further action or any outcome.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): On Tuesday, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), the Minister for Housing announced that he would make a statement on Pennbury and other proposed eco-towns before the summer recess. Given that the Pennbury proposal will have a devastating effect on my constituency and the regeneration of the city of Leicester, and indeed on the constituencies of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and many others, may we have an assurance that that statement will be made at such a time and in such a way that we can have a full debate on its content?
Ms Harman: I will bring my hon. Friends comments to the attention of the Housing Minister and make sure he realises that my hon. Friends comments are supported by a number of Members across the House.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): In the light of the newspaper articles this morning about Cabinet Ministers possibly having their phones tapped, which shows that the Government are incompetent even at protecting the Government and their people from intercept, may we have a debate on information security which, as the Leader of the House knows, is the responsibility of the Cabinet, so that before we rise for the recess we can hold the Government to account for the function of national security, in which they have failed?
Ms Harman: On national security, accountability is not only to Ministers but to the Intelligence and Security Committee. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism informing the House of the actions that the Metropolitan police are taking, when he responded to the urgent question this morning.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Gary McKinnon should be tried in the United Kingdom. He suffers from Aspergers syndrome, and to remove him forcibly from the UK would be a brutal act. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that people will rightly be angry that one man involved in hacking is forcibly removed from this country, while another has a security pass to the parliamentary estate?
Mr. Speaker: Order. May I just say to the Leader of the House that the hon. Gentleman has made his point and it is clearly on the record, but that the case is, I am advised, sub judice? I know that the Leader of the House will want to be very cautious about the way in which she responds.
Ms Harman: The Extradition Act 2003 provides for extradition to the United States in respect of a number of serious offences. If the courts decide that there is a case to answer, the case will go before the courts and be considered on its evidence. There is also an appeal mechanism.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): At the time of the most recent Health questions, there had been only one fatality from swine flu. Now, there have been seven deaths and thousands more cases have been brought to light. Given the dramatic escalation in the number of cases, and with the parliamentary recess almost upon us, will the Leader of the House agree to press the Secretary of State for Health on the need for a further debate in Government time on the UKs preparations for dealing with the swine flu epidemic?
Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Health has kept the House regularly updated on action both to protect people from swine flu and to work internationally to tackle the pandemic. If any further announcements are to be made, he can make them while the House is sitting. If the House is in recess, he will obviously make sure that all hon. Members are kept informed.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): In response to two questions from hon. Members yesterday, the Leader of the House became the latest in a long list of Ministers to support the case for compensation for pleural plaque sufferers. However, she did not answer the question whether there would be a statement in the next two weeks. Will there will be a statement in the next six days, before any more suffering takes place?
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Following on directly from the issue that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) raises, I think the House will be aware of the excellent statement made in Northern Ireland, recommending a change in the law which would overturn the House of Lords decision on compensation for pleural plaque sufferers. The law has already been changed in Scotland. Is it not time that we had a statement, before the summer recess, ensuring that there is consistency throughout the country so that all sufferers can benefit from a change in the law and access compensation?
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): It is normal practice in many workplaces for an employee who is accused of a serious criminal offence to be suspended from that workplace, irrespective of where the alleged offence took place. Is it therefore not appropriate to have Mr. Coulsons parliamentary pass withdrawn?
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): With discussions on reform of the House under way, will the Leader of the House reflect on answers given during Work and Pensions questions, showing that, between 1997 and 2000, each page of primary legislation received 14 minutes of scrutiny in this place, and the most recent figures, showing that that time has halved to seven minutes? May I suggest to her that if this place is to do its job properly, either we must have more time to scrutinise legislation or we must introduce less but more effective legislation?
Ms Harman: The balance between the scrutiny of Government Bills and all other non-Bill debates, such as Opposition day debates, debates chosen by the Liaison Committee, general debates, topical debates and Budget debates, will be considered by the Committee that I hope the House will set up next week, with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) as Chairman. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) raises an important matter, and senior Members are prepared to get on and look at it on behalf of the whole House, so I hope that the friends of the hon. Member who last night objected to the Committee and prevented its being set up, will prevail upon him. I suggest that to the hon. Member for Billericay, and I shall talk to him afterwards.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a strange legal system that allows an out-of-court settlement to gag somebody from giving information that may lead to a criminal investigation? Does she think it a matter worthy of further investigation? Mr. Gordon Taylor, who is head of the Professional Footballers Association, signed such a settlement with the News of the World, and he may have been implicated in covering up criminal activity. He may also have compromised his representation of the players whom he is paid to represent, because it has now been revealed that the News of the World may have investigated the private lives of some of those people, too. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not think it a curious situation and something worthy of examination on the Floor of the House?
Ms Harman: There are a number of issues of concern. There are issues that concern the Press Complaints Commission and the operation of the press, which are the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is the issue of the potentially criminal actions, which is a matter for the police and, ultimately, Home Office accountability. Of course, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism answered an urgent question today. There are also the serious allegations of interference with hon. Members as we have gone about our responsibilities to represent our constituents, and that is a matter for the House. All those matters must be looked into, and we must have clear answers.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
On Sunday, there was an uprising in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang province of north-west China, and its suppression led to more than 150 people being killed and to more than 1,500 being detained. May we have a statement early next week about the action that the Government have taken on the issue? And may we have a guarantee that the
Prime Minister will contact Hu Jintao, if he has not already done so, to ensure the human rights of those who are being detained?
Ms Harman: I know that the Foreign Secretary has joined other Foreign Secretaries and the United Nations in calling for the exercise of restraint so that there is a right to demonstrate and there are no more injuries, but I shall ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): May we have a full-scale debate about the media in this countrynot just about the Coulson illegal phone-tapping affair, but about BBC pay and pensions, which far exceed those of Members, the vile bile that is written about Members and, paradoxically, the need to save local journalists jobs? May I put this question to the Government and ask the Leader of the House about Government policy? Self-regulation seems to have failed in the financial sector and in Parliament; why, then, is it all right for self-regulation to persist in the media?
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The Secretary of State for Health has so far ignored calls for an inquiry into the NHS using independent sector treatment centres, including calls from the family of Dr. John Hubley, who tragically and unnecessarily died at the Eccleshill treatment centre. May I say to the Leader of the House againthis is the second timethat we need a debate? I cannot call for one, because I am my partys health spokesperson, but this is an important issue, and the NHS National Patient Safety Agency has warned that such treatment should not go ahead without proper procedures in place. May we have a debate on that important issue in Government time?
Ms Harman: Safety for all patients is important, irrespective of where the NHS provides that care. I shall have go back to the question that the hon. Gentleman asked me before, and to his question today, and ask the Health Secretary to write to him.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): A number of my constituents have raised concerns about newspaper reports that Lloyds Banking Group is employing and recruiting overseas IT workers while laying off staff. Should not a so-called British bank, which is supported by British taxpayers money, support British workers? May we have a debate on that urgent matter in order to hold Lloyds Banking Group to account?
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend approach the Secretary of State for Health about the postcode lottery as regards drug treatment and the financing of individual health authorities? At the minute, it seems that one health authority has it and the other does not. It really is a dogs dinner, and the Government need to look at the issue.
Ms Harman: That is an important matter, but it is one for the individual primary care trusts; my hon. Friend will no doubt seek a discussion with his. If he is not satisfied with his PCTs response, he should raise the issue directly with Health Ministers.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): As the Leader of the House will recall, some months ago I raised the matter of Bolsover district councils need to replace 108 prefabricated bungalows, which were built after the end of the second world war. We had a meeting with the previous Housing Minister, who has now gone. We need to debate the issue because Bolsover district council had been led to believe that if it did not own its own housing stock, but had an arms length management organisation, it would get the money from the Government to replace those bungalows. Their foundations are rotting and we need a debate on the issue.
More importantly, will the Leader of the House convey to the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that we need him to meet Bolsover council representatives, to ensure fair treatment between councils that retain council stock and those that have gone over to ALMOs?
Ms Harman: I shall ask the Minister for Housing to meet the hon. Gentleman and representatives of his council, to sort out how the upgrading of that housing should be dealt with. Perhaps some of the Building Britains Future investment of £1.5 billion will find its way to Bolsover.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Until and unless we can be assured that the Leader of the Oppositions director of communications has not been involved in the surveillance of Members of Parliament[Hon. Members: Out of order!] Until and unless we can be assured that that person has not been involved in these crimes, can the Leader of House not withdraw his parliamentary security pass?
Ms Harman: I have to say to Opposition Members that the question of who has a pass to the House is a matter for the Housenot for me, personally, as Leader of the House. All I can suggest is that my hon. Friend raise the matter with the House authorities and ask them to respond on whether it is acceptable for that person to continue having a pass, allowing him to move freely around the House.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought about raising this matter at business questions, but I think that it is more appropriate on a point of order. Mr. Speaker and his predecessor have always deprecated the release of information to people outside this House before its announcement here. A few moments ago, the Leader of the House gave the future business and provisional business for October, and announced the delay of the Report stage and Third Reading of the Health Bill until Monday 12 October.
That information was given to lobbying organisations, NGOs and others long before it was discussed through the usual channels or with anybody else, including shadow Ministers from my party or, I believe, the Conservative party. It was certainly made known long before it was announced to the House. I know that this has happened before and that it is not unusual, but it seems wrong that Departments should be able to make announcements about the timing of the future business of the House to organisations that are not part of the House, before hon. Members know about it. Could not instruction be given to Departments to ensure that that does not happen in future?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman could have raised that issue during business questions rather than as a point of order. The whole House will be aware of how strongly Mr. Speaker feels about such activity. The points that the hon. Gentleman has made are on the record and will be studied by everybodynot least Treasury Benchers and, I feel sure, Mr. Speaker.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The truth is that Departments do not know exactly when their Bills are to receive Second Reading or have further stages debated until the business managers have decided, following discussions with the usual channels, and told them. Obviously Departments can make inspired guesses and put them around, but if they do that they might find one of these days that they are proved wrong. I assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that the business managers do not discuss the business of the House in advance with anybody at all. We would not do that, because it would not be right.
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