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Those terms of reference also require Sir Thomas to consider any representations in respect of his preliminary findings on claims. That is why there is a three-week
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period in which hon. Members may respond to Sir Thomas. If they believe that there are any inaccuracies or that they are not being judged by the rules and standards that obtained at the time, they will no doubt point that out. We obviously have to judge things by the rules and standards that obtained at the time; doing anything else would be arbitrary.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): This has been an appalling week in which MPs have been besieged as a result of the letters from Sir Thomas Legg. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on the commencement of the democratic renewal process? She can have as many reviews, reports and inquiries as she likes, but until this weak and insecure Parliament and this weak and discredited Government seek a new mandate from the people, we will never draw a line under the expenses issues.

Ms Harman: It is for us in the House to take responsibility for ensuring that the public can have confidence that the allowances issue has been dealt with. Given that the system has been discredited, we need to take responsibility now for setting up a new one that will be independent and one in which in future we play no part; and we need to take responsibility now for setting up a system of payback. Then, when we get to the general election, people can put themselves forward in the knowledge that they are standing for a House whose allowances system has been put on a footing in which the public can have complete confidence.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I speak further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) and the sentiments of early-day motion 1057, tabled last year, and early-day motion 1677:

[ That this House congratulates the Unite 1/427 branch on its quarter century of representing staff of hon. Members; and asks the House of Commons Commission to recognise the branch for the purposes of collective bargaining.]

It recognises that the Unite branch of staff who work for MPs has been in existence for more than 25 years and it is high time that it was recognised for collective bargaining. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there is a meeting of the House of Commons Commission at 5 pm on Monday and that she will raise this issue then, because we need good employee relations in this place and doing so would be a good step towards them?

Ms Harman: We do need to recognise the important work done on behalf of the House and Members of Parliament by their staff. The legal situation is that the relationship between employer and employee is at issue. The employer is the individual Member, but that does not mean that there should not be arrangements for informal recognition and union involvement when issues affecting Members' staff come up for discussion. There is indeed a meeting of the Members Estimate Committee on Monday and I undertake to ensure that if the issue is not already on the agenda, it will be.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the proposals by the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust to close the A and E ward
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and the paediatric unit at the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency? Is the Leader of the House aware of the size of the county of Shropshire and that if that closure goes ahead, the lives of the young and people of all ages will be lost as they are transferred to the west of the county?

Ms Harman: We have just had Health questions and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman sought to raise the issue there. If he did not, I will ask the Minister responsible for hospitals to respond. The main concern is to ensure that people who need A and E services after an accident or an emergency get the best possible expert care and make the fullest recovery. That is a matter of specialisation as well as accessibility.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): If the postal strike goes ahead, it will be disastrous for many small businesses and will be complete suicide for Royal Mail itself. Will the Government get both sides of the dispute together and hammer out an urgent settlement. May we have a statement from the Business Secretary on this matter?

Ms Harman: The Business Secretary and the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as the Government, are very concerned about the effect of the strike not only on individuals and small businesses, but on the future of Royal Mail itself. If there is a strike, customers such as Amazon and the House of Fraser might take their business elsewhere and it would be very difficult for Royal Mail to get that business back. Royal Mail increasingly depends not on our all sending individual letters to each other, but on individuals ordering goods on the internet, which are then delivered by Royal Mail. There are a number of very big customers and if they were lost, it would be very bad news indeed for the future of Royal Mail.

It is for the unions and the management to get around a table to resolve the issue in the interests of the future of Royal Mail. I know that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are keen for them to do exactly that, and are keeping in close touch with them.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the South West Regional Grand Committee met in Exeter at the beginning of September. She will also be aware that the Government were heavily defeated on the motion that was on the Order Paper. That was a result of the frustration felt by Members who were present about the fact that after we had heard the speeches of the Minister, the Opposition spokesman, the Liberal Democrat spokesman and the Chairman of the Select Committee, there was time for only two Back-Bench speeches. Would it be possible in future for the regional Grand Committees to set their own agendas and their own timings? If not, can the Leader of the House make alternative arrangements?

Ms Harman: This is a constitutional innovation, and we need to keep it under review. We shall have to learn from experience as the regional Grand Committees and Select Committees embark on their work. The hon. Gentleman has made a specific critique of the South West Regional Grand Committee. We shall have to examine the way in which it is working, and take on board any suggestions that he makes. We want to ensure
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that all Back-Bench members of the Committee have an opportunity to have their say as well as an opportunity to listen to the presentations of Front Benchers.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Annual health checks have revealed certain weaknesses in the NHS in Havering, including the measurement of childhood obesity. Surely responsibility for childhood obesity lies with parents, as does responsibility for antisocial behaviour and under-age sex, drinking and smoking. May we have a debate on parental responsibility?

Ms Harman: I think that childhood obesity is a public health issue, and that although the primary responsibility lies with parents, responsibility also lies with schools. It is a question of nutrition in schools, as well as education. Responsibility also lies with health authorities, as it is a public health issue. I do not know whether the hon. Lady sought an opportunity to raise the matter during Health questions on Tuesday, but in any event I shall bring her point to the attention of Health Ministers.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Director of Public Prosecutions recently presented proposals to amend and clarify the law on assisted suicide. As it happens, I approve of the direction in which he is going, but does the Leader of the House agree that it is not for public prosecutors to decide the criminal law of this country? Will she arrange a debate, on a substantive motion, to ascertain the will of the House before the consultation period ends?

Ms Harman: The will of the House is expressed in primary legislation which already exists and has not changed. The court decision required the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify the criteria that he would apply when deciding, on the basis of the public interest test, whether to bring a prosecution. The code for prosecutors requires the DPP, or the public prosecutor, to take account of two issues, the sufficiency of evidence and whether there is a public interest in the prosecution. There had been no guidance on how the prosecutors would apply themselves to the public interest test in deciding whether to bring a case in respect of assisting a suicide. Following the court case, the DPP has issued draft guidance, which is being consulted on. When that guidance is concluded, it will be issued to prosecutors.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in this matter. Perhaps he will look at the draft guidance and respond to the consultation.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate in Government time on the issue of policing and public security in Northern Ireland, given the rise-as we have been warned by the Chief Constable-in the dissident terrorist threat to police officers and others, and the considerable concern throughout the community about the ongoing closure of police stations and the withdrawal of personal protection weapons from ex-members of the security forces? A debate would allow us to raise all those issues which are of such great public concern in Northern Ireland at present.

Ms Harman: I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of those issues to people in Northern Ireland, and I think that all of us, throughout the United Kingdom, want to see the peace process
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make progress in that respect. I note that the minority parties have secured an Opposition day for the week after next. It may be possible for the hon. Gentleman to find an opportunity then to air those issues on the Floor of the House.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): May I suggest that the right hon. and learned Lady break precedent, as it were, and insist that a Minister come to the House this afternoon to make a statement on the Territorial Army? The Government have insulted our voluntary army. Having been reassured that it is part of one Army, and having fought side by side with regular soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is now being told that although it can continue to train, it will not be paid until next March. Try that on the retained firefighters!

Ms Harman: If the hon. Lady feels sufficiently strongly about the matter, she may wish to ask questions in the debate that will follow business questions, rather than asking questions of me as Leader of the House.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The Government's Prevent programme has always been based on threats to public safety. It was expanded during the summer to take account of racist extremism as well as extremism claimed in the name of Islam. There can be no objection to that change in principle, but can the Leader of the House confirm that it was accompanied by a security assessment? If she cannot do that, can she tell us whether a Minister plans to come to the Dispatch Box to give such confirmation?

Ms Harman: Perhaps I should ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to issue a written ministerial statement, if he has not already done so. I am sure that he has taken account of all the relevant factors mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but this is an important expansion of a valuable and important programme, and the House may wish to see further details of the criteria if they have not already been put on the Order Paper.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): In his statement on Afghanistan yesterday, the Prime Minister stated categorically:

Many Members have been to Afghanistan and have seen the job that the TA and our reserve forces are doing there, and many of our constituents will find it incomprehensible and, indeed, contemptible that the Government are not prepared to allow a debate exclusively on the TA and our reserve forces, so that we can pay tribute to them and find out what is happening in regard to what is effectively a training freeze.

Ms Harman: I take it that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, in addition to the defence debate, there should be a specific topical debate on the Territorial Army. If other Members have been suggesting that and I have been missing the point, I apologise. Obviously the full afternoon debate on defence will deal with broader subjects than the TA, such as the mission in Afghanistan, troop deployment and procurement. The
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hon. Gentleman has asked for a separate debate on the Territorial Army, and I will take that into consideration when choosing the subject of the next topical debate.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Could the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on the sometimes excessively rigid visa system that is currently being applied? During the recess, a pipe band from Pakistan was not allowed to compete in Glasgow, and there have also been cases of speakers at Christian conferences and youth workers from north America being turned back at the airport.

Ms Harman: The UK Border Agency and our commissions overseas have a difficult balance to strike. They must be absolutely sure that visa applications are genuine and that those who seek to come to this country are really coming for the purpose specified in the visa, which requires them to make certain checks, but they must also exercise flexibility in allowing entry expeditiously to genuine visitors who come here to attend celebrations such as weddings, or funerals. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise an individual case with the Minister for Borders and Immigration, the staff of the UK Border Agency and those manning the Minister's hotline in the Home Office will always assist. I pay tribute to those people: I have always found that they work very hard on behalf of Members wishing to raise emergency questions about visas.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I think that the right hon. and learned Lady is overlooking the anger in the House about the issue of the TA. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised a specific case with the Prime Minister, who failed to deal with it adequately. It now transpires that many more service personnel are affected. As the Secretary of State for Defence is in the Chamber to hear my question, can we ensure that, without anyone having to question him about the matter, he will be prepared to come to the Dispatch Box to deal with it comprehensively to the satisfaction of Members? It is not acceptable for our armed forces to be sent on operations to Afghanistan without the appropriate training. The Leader of the House has a responsibility to ensure that members of the Government come to the House adequately prepared to deal with the issues of the day.

Ms Harman: This is becoming a bit surreal. The Secretary of State for Defence is present and no doubt will be able to respond to Members who seek to put questions about the Territorial Army to him, rather than to me. I have not missed the substance of the points that hon. Members have been making; I acknowledge that I might have missed the procedural point, but I certainly do not miss the point about the importance of the Territorial Army-far from it-and nobody in the Government does.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the damage caused by the Human Rights Act 1998? Over the summer recess, we read reports of paedophiles and rapists winning the right to have their names removed from the sex offenders register in what was described as a landmark human rights ruling. I have no idea whether this is what the Government had in mind when they
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championed the Human Rights Act, but is it not another example of the human rights of rapists, murderers and other criminals being put before those of decent law-abiding people in this country?

Ms Harman: There is no question of the Human Rights Act putting the rights of criminals ahead of those of victims; far from it. Most of the reports about what has been done in the name of the Human Rights Act are extremely misleading and downright wrong. I think the Human Rights Act has been a very important piece of legislation. The Government are proud of it, and one very good reason for stopping the Tories getting into Government next time around is their commitment to abolish it.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The contract to run the Eccleshill independent sector treatment centre, used by both NHS Leeds and NHS Bradford, is currently out to tender, and despite the fact that in 2006 it emerged that operations that were not being carried out were still being paid for and also that, tragically, in 2007 my constituent John Hubley unnecessarily died owing to the woeful safety practices there, we are being told that there will be no public consultation whatever about this contract. Frankly, that is a scandal. Will the Secretary of State for Health come to the House to explain this to the people of Leeds and Bradford? Also, when will we finally get a debate in Government time about the use of independent sector treatment centres in the NHS, which I have asked for again and again and again?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have had reason several times in recent days to say that questions must be brief. That question was too long.

Ms Harman: The Government are concerned that any work that is done, either directly by the health service or under contract to the health service for NHS patients, should be done to the highest possible standards of patient safety and care. Those standards must obtain in independent treatment centres as well as in direct provision by the NHS. I know there have been recent reports on this, and I will draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I appreciate that unemployment across the country is higher now than it was in 1997, but in my constituency it has doubled since 1997. I am not trying to make a political point, but two more companies in my constituency are closing which will result in even more people becoming unemployed. May we have a statement or a debate on those constituencies where there has been a disproportionately high rise in unemployment and what the Government could do to help in those constituencies?

Ms Harman: There are about 2 million more people in jobs than there were in 1997. As I have said, although there is still growing unemployment, the rate of increase is down. The regional Committees provide a very important opportunity to scrutinise the work of regional development agencies and Government Departments within a region to ensure economic prosperity in that region. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman pursues this issue on the regional Committee.

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Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Notwithstanding the progress of the Autism Bill, which is, of course, a hugely important step forward, the National Autistic Society has launched its "Don't write me off" campaign, which seeks to raise issues to do with making the system fairer for people with autism. Given that only 15 per cent. of adults with autism have full-time jobs and nearly 80 per cent. of those who are on incapacity benefits want to work, does the Leader of the House support the campaign and agree with me that it is time that the House found an opportunity to debate the important issues it raises?

Ms Harman: There may well be an opportunity to debate it on Thursday 29th when we discuss social care generally, as I am sure it will be within the terms of reference of that debate.

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