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22 Oct 2009 : Column 1067

Ms Harman: I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of the TA, both overseas-and especially in Afghanistan-and in all aspects of the work of the armed services. Next week's Opposition day on Wednesday 28 October will give the House an opportunity to debate the Territorial Army.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): There have been 212 British dead, yet the House has never voted on the Afghan war. Is it not time that we did?

Ms Harman: There have been numerous debates and questions on the matter in the House of Commons. The mission in Afghanistan is a multilateral effort that is important for the people of that country. It is also important for making sure that we prevent Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming areas that breed terrorism that could threaten security in this country.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Could the Secretary of State for Defence be asked to come to this House to give an urgent statement assuring us that members of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers and other TA units being called up to go to Afghanistan will continue to be paid for their drill nights?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman's party has chosen the Territorial Army as the subject for its Opposition day next Wednesday. No doubt he will be able to speak about the work of specific regiments in the Territorial Army then.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): A debate on the social impact of the internet and on digital rights would allow hon. Members to consider the profound changes to how UK citizens access goods and services online. For many people, the internet is now an essential service. Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider proposals to cut people off from their internet connection a challenge for the Government? Should the people who are threatened with being cut off not have the right to prove their innocence in a court of law?

Ms Harman: I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on these issues. Increasingly, we recognise that internet communication is a vital and basic service. I note that it is one of the subjects that could be raised in this afternoon's debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Back Benchers in all parts of the House are sick and tired of not being consulted more about the business of the House. A business Committee would go a long way towards solving the problem. If the Committee considering the reform of the House were to bring forward a proposal for such a Committee, would the Government support it?

Ms Harman: We have proposed the establishment of the Wright Committee to the House, and we expect a response shortly. It would be rather odd for the Government to explain their position on a House issue before the Committee involved has even reported, let alone before we have had an opportunity to consult widely across the
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House. The Committee will make an important contribution: we will consult and, if need be, bring forward resolutions for the House to debate and decide on.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Royal Mail's decision to bring in 30,000 extra staff in the current dispute is an act of provocation? May I renew the call for a debate on the matter next week, and will she assure the House that the Government are doing everything possible to assist in securing an early resolution of the dispute?

Ms Harman: I will take my hon. Friend's comments as a suggestion to add to those from other hon. Members that there should be a topical debate next week on the Royal Mail dispute.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the right hon. and learned Lady recall that she welcomed the Procedure Committee's report of July 2008 recommending the introduction of a system of electronic petitioning? A debate was anticipated that autumn, so is it not an absolute disgrace that, 12 months on, we have still not had it? Does she accept that this should be a matter for the House, not the Executive, and can we have the debate soon?

Ms Harman: I pay tribute to work that the right hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Procedure Committee, has done on this matter. It is important that we take forward the option of e-petitioning. I know that people get exasperated by multiplicities of Committees and great descriptions of process, but the terms of reference set by the House for the Wright Committee include giving the public the opportunity to choose the subjects for parliamentary debates. That could be done by means of e-petitions, so the work that the right hon. Gentleman's Committee has done will no doubt be considered by the Wright Committee. Ultimately, and I hope sooner rather than later, the matter will find its way to the Floor of the House. I understand his concerns, but assure him that he will not have too long to wait.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): May we have a debate on the treatment for wet macular degeneration? I particularly want the Secretary of State for Health to explain why my constituent Mrs. Wilson, who has lost almost all sight in one eye, is unable to get treatment for her other eye until its sight has degenerated to 6/12. When that happens, she will lose her independence and her ability to drive.

Ms Harman: I will draw that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I know that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence approved very important treatment for wet macular degeneration, but I am not familiar with the criteria, under the NICE regulations, that govern the availability of medication. I shall ask Ministers to look into the matter.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a topical debate on global food security? If the current harvests in the horn of Africa and east Africa fail, what is a crisis now will become a catastrophe in 2010. It would be
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sensible to have a debate to consider how the international community can ensure that the World Food Programme and other agencies have the contingency to prepare for what could well be an extremely difficult situation next year.

Ms Harman: That is another matter that can be discussed when the House debates climate change. It is one reason why it is very important that we make progress in Copenhagen, and the hon. Gentleman might find an opportunity to raise the issue in the debate on 5 November.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Like other colleagues, I was lobbied by yesterday by firefighters in my constituency who are concerned about the regionalisation of control centres. Not only has the fire control project gone hundreds of millions of pounds over budget, but the Fire Brigades Union has said that financial resources have been stripped away from front-line services. Will the Leader of the House find time in the House for this much-needed debate which, according to her criteria, is more than topical?

Ms Harman: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate next week, but it is not the case that front-line services are being stripped back-far from it.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have an early statement from Treasury Ministers to explain to the House what they intend to do to resolve the current dispute between the directors of Lloyds TSB and the directors of the bank's charitable arm, the TSB Foundation? The foundation's chief executive reckons that if the dispute is not resolved, there are seven weeks to go before she has to wind up the organisation, with a massive loss to charitable and voluntary organisations across the country. Surely that is not what Ministers had in mind when they put £20 billion of taxpayer's money into Lloyds TSB.

Ms Harman: I shall reflect on which ministerial team should look into that question. I am not sure whether it should be Cabinet Office Ministers, who are responsible for charities and the Charity Commission, or Treasury Ministers, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and let him know.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the direct payment of housing benefit? Although it is right for some, for a few people who, through no fault of their own, are disorganised, it is causing chaotic finances, which is especially problematic in the centre of a recession.

Ms Harman: I know that the issue is directly connected with the availability of privately rented accommodation for those on benefits. It has been suggested that it has caused a decrease in the quantity of private sector properties available for rent by those on benefits. We have Department for Communities and Local Government questions next week; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): In the light of the Office for National Statistics figures showing that this country's population will grow by 10 million in the next
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25 years, and that two thirds of the increase will be the result of immigration, may we have an urgent topical debate on immigration? It is not the BBC's fault that the BNP is on "Question Time" tonight; it is the fault of this Government, who have allowed uncontrolled immigration and will not even debate the subject.

Ms Harman: We have not allowed uncontrolled immigration. We have implemented new border controls through the work of the UK Border Agency and introduced a points system and new biometric visa processes. It is the case that between now and 2035 the UK population is set to grow by 16 per cent., but that compares with world population growth of 24 per cent., so our population growth rate will be lower than the global rate. People are living longer and the context is that of global migration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in recognising the major contribution to this country that immigrants have made over the centuries and are making now. He can ask his question again during Home Office questions next Monday.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): This is the time of year when all three emergency services and local accident and emergency units prepare themselves for the thousands of cases of harassment, alarm, distress and physical injury caused by the sale and inappropriate use of fireworks. May we have a debate in Government time on fireworks nuisance? If not, will the right hon. and learned Lady support my application for an Adjournment debate on that very subject?

Ms Harman: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take forward his application for an Adjournment debate, and I wish him success with it.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): May we have a statement on who will be in the delegation to Copenhagen? In particular, will Scottish Ministers be represented, given the fact that Scotland has very high climate change targets?

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister of the UK will attend Copenhagen, as well as UK Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers. We will have a top-level delegation at that very important conference, whose agenda we played a major part in setting.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May I take the Leader of the House back to her answer to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) about the BNP? I am sure that every Member of this House shares her dislike of that party, but the fact is that it managed to get nearly 1 million people in this country to vote for it. If we are to change that and defeat the BNP, do we not have to take on its representatives, deal with their arguments and beat them in debate? Is not that the democratic way to defeat that evil party?

Ms Harman: We must make sure that the criminal law that protects people from racial attack and racial hatred is properly enforced, that we tackle the myths and lies about immigration put out by the BNP, and that we celebrate the role that immigrants have played in this country. We have to reassure those communities who feel that they are not listened to that their concerns, particularly about jobs and housing, are on our agenda.

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Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on education and the impact of retrospective funding arrangements on areas of high growth, such as Milton Keynes? This year, record numbers of parents have contacted me about being unable to get their child into a local school. Is it right that children should have to travel across a whole city just to go school?

Ms Harman: I shall bring that to the attention of Ministers at the Department for Children, Schools and Families and ask them to write directly to the hon. Gentleman.

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Points of Order

12.15 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you are looking at making arrangements for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come here to answer questions. Will you include in your consideration the Secretary of State for Transport, as well? He does not answer questions here and does not come to our constituencies, so there is no way in which we can hold him publicly accountable for a major public service.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The question of the accountability to this House of Ministers in the other place is indeed under active consideration. As the House would expect, if and when there is anything to report on that matter, the House will be the first to hear.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be happy to allow the noble Lord Mandelson to answer questions here, but standing beyond the Bar and not in the House?

Mr. Speaker: Far be it from me to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to inveigle me into a wider exchange than would be proper. I can only refer him to the exchange I have just had with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble). The matter is under active consideration; a view will be reached; the House will learn what that view and conclusion are; and therein will lie the answer to the detailed question posed by the hon. Gentleman.

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Economic Recovery

Topical debate.

12.16 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): I beg to move,

The world economy is forecast to shrink by 11/4 per cent. in 2009-the first time it has contracted in 60 years. To fight the global downturn, we, with countries around the world, have stepped in to support our economy. In the 1930s, Governments failed to act, with disastrous consequences. Unlike the Bourbon monarchy and today's Conservative party, we have learned the lessons of the past, which is why we took unprecedented action to put more money into the economy, to help to support families and businesses now, to protect jobs and to ensure a sustainable recovery.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): When the recovery starts-I hope it is starting even now-one of the principal difficulties faced by small businesses will be the need for working capital. The Economic Secretary will be aware that the Chancellor has already announced means by which small businesses' cash-flow difficulties can be addressed during the recession, in particular, through the deferment of taxes. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that that included national insurance and other payroll taxes, but I can think of no other payroll tax than pay-as-you-earn. Is PAYE included in those provisions?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that more than 150,000 businesses have already benefited from the flexibilities operated through the business payment support system. That system, which covers payroll taxes and deferment of VAT payments, has been widely welcomed by industry and is a major success.

In the terms of today's debate on securing the recovery, the fact that the downturn is global has meant that we need global action, as well as action on the home front. That is why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have led the G20 in taking action to stop banks failing, agreeing to strengthen the international financial system, and taking other measures to help to secure the global recovery. Politics is about judgment. Government is about taking decisions. As a Government, we could have allowed Northern Rock to fail; we could have decided not to take powers through the Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 to manage the crisis and not saved Bradford & Bingley; and we could have made the political judgment that what was needed was the complete deregulation of all mortgage markets. They would have been the wrong decisions to make in order to protect jobs and people's savings, yet they were the exact policies that the Opposition advocated at the time.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Ian Pearson: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to justify his party's position, which has been completely wrong.

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