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As for Sir Christopher Kelly's report, I, too, deplore the fact that it has been leaked. We have not seen the report and do not yet know what he proposes or the proposed timescale. We recognise that it is not appropriate for this House to set our own allowances-we know that the public do not want us to set or administer our
allowance system. This summer we voted not to do so anymore when we voted to establish the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Future changes to the allowance system following the Kelly report will therefore be carried out by IPSA. The House will have an opportunity to put forward its views when I make an oral statement next Wednesday, but there will not be a vote to decide on our allowances system because the House has already voted that that will no longer be a matter for us to decide. Decisions on allowances will be made by IPSA.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the date for the pre-Budget report and I will announce it in due course. He mentioned the lack of a written statement and the complaint made by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). Nobody thinks that what happened was acceptable, and the Secretary of State has apologised.
On the Gray report, there was an issue about ensuring that that very large report was the subject of an oral statement to the House as quickly as possible. It was a very large report, however, so, rather than delay the statement while colleagues considered the report, the idea was to make the oral statement as quickly as possible. That situation was different from the one raised by the hon. Member for Meriden, which was a mistake and for which an apology has been made.
On the arrest and detention of the British embassy employee in Iran, the Foreign Secretary has deplored the arrest and asked for an appeal to be heard as soon as possible. He regards the situation as totally unacceptable.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on data handling by the Government? We have just had a mini-statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, informing us that material has been lost from the Rural Payments Agency. This is hardly the first time that the Government have lost sensitive material, but meanwhile they continue to collect, by means of the police forces, material that a court has held to be unlawful-in terms of the DNA samples of innocent people. May we have a debate on that issue?
I, too, deplore the fact that Sir Christopher Kelly's report was partially leaked, but a statement on the report will not be sufficient, because a number of Members from all parts of the House will wish to have their say on the issue. I accept that there will not be a definitive vote, because that power has been given to the independent authority, but the House should have the opportunity to debate the issue. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange for a debate to take place once the report has been published?
May I return the Leader of the House to the vexed issue of the presidency of the European Union Council? There seems to be at least two schools of thought on the president's exact role: whether it will be "chairmanic", to use the apparent term, or traffic-stopping. The House should have the opportunity to debate what the exact role of any such chairman would be, were the Lisbon treaty to be finally ratified in all states, and who might be a suitable candidate. Members from all parts of the House have strong feelings about not only who might be a good candidate for that post, but who might not.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Lady responded to the question from the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about
how we might be kept updated on the postal strike. May we also be kept updated on the conflict in Afghanistan? We must never forget that we have troops in the field in Afghanistan, and that is a matter of importance to the House.
Finally, I note that, on Thursday 12 November, there is no indication of either a topical or a general debate. May I suggest that, rather than wait around for Prorogation as we normally do, we use the time profitably? May I repeat my request, therefore, that we have a debate on the military covenant? It would be particularly appropriate on 12 November and an opportunity for Members from all parts to raise issues of importance about not just servicemen and ex-servicemen, but their families.
Ms Harman: I did omit to respond to the point about Royal Mail, so let me say that we are obviously very disappointed that yesterday's talks did not reach a resolution that would have averted the strikes; however, the TUC is willing to continue to facilitate talks, and the Government are urging both sides to continue them. We have been in frequent contact with management and the union, and our message to them has been clear: both sides need to work to resolve the differences through dialogue, via ACAS if necessary, so that we can reach a solution.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the loss of data by the Rural Payments Agency, but that was dealt with in oral questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so I do not have anything to add to what my right hon. Friend said. I see no connection at all between that loss and the collection of bio data on the DNA database. Think of all the murders that have been solved through the use of DNA data, all the offenders brought to justice, and all the sexual offenders who went unpunished before DNA evidence was available. I really think that the Liberal Democrats should get off the fence on this. The collection of DNA is a proportionate measure to ensure that offenders do not go unpunished. Any link between that and the RPA is tenuous.
Colleagues will have an opportunity to have their say on our allowances following my oral statement to the House. Again, the hon. Gentleman should make up his mind: does he really think it right that this House should pick over the question of our allowances when we have already decided to make that the responsibility of an independent authority? He cannot be on both sides of the argument; he either wants that decision reached independently, which is what this House has voted for, or he wants it to be picked over again in the House. The public want a transparent, fair arrangement for allowances, and-you know what?-they do not want us to be doing it. I do not think that extended debate, whether followed by a vote or not, helps the situation.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Europe. We are very clear on our position on this. I thought that the Lib Dems, too, felt that it is important that this country is in the mainstream of Europe and that Europe is effective in safeguarding the interests of all European countries in a globalised economy and in terms of the globalised challenge to tackle climate change and the globalised efforts to ensure security. We want to be at the heart of Europe and for Europe to be strong on those issues. Of course, it is in Britain's interests, if, as we hope, the Lisbon treaty is ratified, that a Briton-Tony Blair-should
take up the post. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] That is what the Prime Minister said yesterday in Prime Minister's questions, in case anybody thinks there is anything novel about that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Afghanistan. We constantly have at the forefront of our mind the task of our troops, the price that is paid by our troops, and the importance of their work in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Prime Minister referred to that yesterday. We had a defence debate that covered the military covenant a couple of weeks ago. As I reported to the House last week, it is very important that we recognise not only the work that is done by our troops but the support given to them by their families. Part of the military covenant also relates not only to our troops, and to veterans, but to Army, Air Force and Navy wives.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Twenty-eight Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to accommodate as many as possible, but I am looking, particularly today, for single, short supplementary questions without preamble, and for brief replies.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Tomorrow is an historic day when you, Mr. Speaker, will preside over debate on these green Benches by the UK Youth Parliament. Will the Leader of the House grant us a statement or a debate when we can mark this historic occasion and perhaps discuss some of the lessons that we will learn?
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): My constituent, Mary McKie, is about to be repossessed next week, even though the Treating Customers Fairly regime should apply to her. Her mortgage debt has been sold to a company that is totally outside the Financial Services Authority's remit-Webb Resolutions-and even though her mortgage is a third of her property's value, she is not being given a chance to sell her home and pay back the debt. Can the Leader of the House allow us to have a debate on Treating Customers Fairly so that thousands of constituents in a similar position can have their concerns heard?
Ms Harman: On the general issue of repossessions, there will be Treasury questions next week, when it will be possible to question the Chancellor and the Treasury team about the Treasury's approach to the protection of people who lose their job or suffer a fall in their income because a family member loses their job or someone is working on short time.
As to the hon. Lady's constituent, I will get back to her when I have worked out which would be the best Department to approach to see whether some assistance can be given. We do not want anyone who finds themselves in financial difficulties to have to lose their home if arrangements can be made for them to defer the payment of their mortgage interest. We want to ensure that every help is given to them.
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House tell us whether a bribery Bill will be included in the Queen's Speech and receive a Second Reading soon afterwards? She will recall that it was considered in draft in April and received widespread support from all parties. Will she find time for it to be concluded?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will know that it was included in the Government's draft legislative programme, which we published earlier this year. Of course, the Queen's Speech will announce on 18 November which Bills have made it into the legislative programme.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Will there be a follow-up statement on the lessons of the Nimrod disaster, and how many of the named individuals do the Government expect to accept responsibility and resign?
Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Defence made a statement to the House yesterday, and there will be Defence questions next week if there are any further points that the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): We are surrounded by leaks, both in the House and outside, and we will never carry the public with us on data-sharing issues unless we can demonstrate that we can look after things properly ourselves. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on information assurance?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): When my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) quite reasonably asked the Leader of the House whether the Prime Minister would make a statement about the European summit on Monday, she replied, "That is usual". Would it not have been better to have said "Yes", or is the Prime Minister dithering again?
Ms Harman: The custom and practice is that the Leader of the House does not announce on a Thursday the statements for the following week, because they are often subject to change at the last minute. I announce the fixed programme of business for the week, and all that I have done is remind the House what is custom and practice. The right hon. Gentleman's point is bogus and spurious, and I cannot see why he bothered to make it.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): It is painfully clear to the whole country that the two sides in the postal dispute cannot reach agreement. Will the Minister with responsibility for postal services come to the House and explain why he will not instruct Royal Mail to go to arbitration so that we can stop the dispute?
Ms Harman: The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills made a statement a week or so ago setting out the Government's position that we want to ensure that further disputes are avoided, as no doubt everybody does, above all in the interests of Royal Mail's customers but also in the interests of its staff and the organisation as a whole.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that it emerged yesterday in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee that the rules and procedures of the proposed European presidency are being fashioned in secrecy, and that the European Council proposes to adopt them straight away without the opportunity for scrutiny or debate in this House? Might we have some debate at least about the proposed new presidency?
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend organise an early debate on insolvency fees and solicitors' fees? Many individuals who lose their businesses and homes find themselves taken to the cleaners by those fees, which are as high as £400 an hour.
Ms Harman: We want to make absolutely sure that we leave no stone unturned as the country and businesses face the current difficult economic situation. My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will bring it to the attention of Treasury Ministers. It might be one that he should raise at Treasury questions next week.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): In August, in reply to a letter, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole), told me that the Government were reneging on the promise of extra rail carriages on busy west Yorkshire lines in favour of electrification between Manchester and Liverpool and between London and Swansea. When will a Minister come to the House and give a statement to tell the people of Yorkshire about that, and when can we finally have a debate on the poor deal that this Government give public transport in Yorkshire?
Ms Harman: The reality is that more passengers and more freight are being carried by train than ever before and the trains are more on time than ever before, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's general proposition that the situation on the railways is poor or will be in future. That is far from the case, but I will draw his specific points to the attention of the transport team, who will write to him.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Portcullis House has a G rating for energy use, the worst rating that any building can have. May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to enlist the advice of Green2Go, a company in my constituency that has developed a biofuel based on waste cooking oil, on how the energy rating of Portcullis House can be improved?
The G energy rating from 2008 recognised that although the initial design of Portcullis House received an "excellent" rating under the Building Research Establishment's environmental assessment method, significant changes in function-specifically increased
catering and more intensive occupation, with more people using the building-have resulted in significant energy consumption. That is why it now has a G rating. An estate-wide environmental assessment is under way and will identify improvement options for the future, and no doubt Green2Go from Stockport ought to feed into it. Meanwhile we must all play our part in helping the parliamentary estate to reduce its carbon footprint by turning off our televisions and ensuring that we do not use heating and air conditioning excessively.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate on the next steps in the Lisbon treaty saga? It is clear from Members of all parties that such a debate would be a matter of great interest, not only in relation to the EU presidential issue but because it would allow each party in the House to spell out to the British people in advance of a general election where it stands on a referendum. The parties could make it clear, as they go to the people, that there will be a referendum come what may, so that the people of the United Kingdom will have their say as promised by the Government and the Opposition.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The postal workers are back on strike because they are frightened about job losses, bullying management and the future of a vital public service. It seems extraordinary that Ministers do not have more hands-on involvement. May I repeat the calls made by other Members for a special debate to be held, as urgently as possible, on the future of the Post Office and the situation facing postal workers?
Ms Harman: Ministers are hands-on, with the intention of getting the management and the union to agree to settle their differences for the sake of the people who use Royal Mail and those who work in it.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday the Paymaster General confirmed, at column 273 of Hansard, that the Government rank ministerial Departments. The Ministry of Defence is ranked 21st out of 23. That is unacceptable, especially when we are fighting a war in Afghanistan. I genuinely ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a proper statement on the matter next week, so that we can question that priority.
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