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Will the Leader of the House consider the way in which the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
has been timetabled? That constitutional Bill is in Committee of the whole House, and 16 clauses and one schedule have already gone through without any debate, simply because of timetabling by the Government. That is simply unacceptable. Will she ensure that the following days of Committee will not be curtailed in that way and that we have full and proper discussion of the very important matters that should be under scrutiny?
The whole country is debating, almost on a daily basis, the grim news from Afghanistan. The only place where there has not been a recent opportunity to do so is in this Chamber. It is time that we had a full day's debate on the policy being pursued in Afghanistan, not simply from a military point of view, but from a foreign affairs point of view too. We need to ask some serious questions about the position in which we are putting our very brave and professional troops in Afghanistan. It is time for the House to have that debate.
May we also have a debate on the Government control of IT systems? The computer system for criminal justice managed to waste £41 million through delays and cost overruns, and £161 million cannot be accounted for in the management of that project. Two years ago, it was abandoned. We are used to appalling IT procurement, but that really is a humdinger. It is time that we had a debate on the matter.
Finally, may we also have a debate on consumer protection? I am concerned that many trading standards departments, including mine in Somerset, seem no longer to give consumer advice. That is wrong. It means that consumers are not provided with protection from being ripped off over shoddy goods, false claims or cast-iron guarantees that prove worthless.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman stole a march on me and the shadow Leader of the House in thanking you, Mr. Speaker, and everyone else who took part in helping the Youth Parliament. It was a brilliant occasion, and I hope that we will do it again. It was fantastic.
All proceedings of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in Committee are being taken on the Floor of the House, and it was agreed without Division that we should have four days in that Committee of the whole House. Then it came to dividing up the subjects for each day. The day before yesterday-or was it yesterday?-25 of the 27 groups were gone through. The Bill was, of course, subject to detailed pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses, but in reality there is discussion across the parties about how to organise the debates. It is not possible to predict with complete accuracy how many speakers will be attracted to each debate; it is not an exact science. However, we have no interest in anything other than ensuring that the House has as much time as it needs, and that it is apportioned properly across each section of the legislation.
We all remain deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. It is always addressed at Prime Minister's questions, and I think that we will need to return to it. As I have announced, we have no space for general debates before the Queen's Speech, because we have all the Lords amendments coming back from the Lords prior to the House proroguing before the Queen's Speech. There will be the debates after the Queen's Speech, but I will need to look for an opportunity for us to have a debate on Afghanistan shortly.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): While the Kelly report is to be welcomed, some aspects of it need clarification. Can my right hon. and learned Friend help us by explaining the transitional arrangements for the communications allowance?
Ms Harman: There are a number of transitional issues, including the communications allowance. We have put in place transitional arrangements, following the decisions of the House in April, May and June. We now have the Kelly report, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will come into place for the next Parliament. Colleagues will want to be sure that they are aware of how they should be doing things in the post-Kelly, pre-Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority transitional period that we are now in, particularly in respect of the property valuation date of 4 November that Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Committee on Members Allowances, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who has undertaken to identify the issues that hon. Members are asking about and to liaise with Sir Christopher and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, as well as the House authorities, to ensure that the House authorities issue clear guidance to Members on the matters of concern to them in the interim period. Members will therefore receive proper guidance right away from the House authorities on the decisions that they will have to take.
On the communications allowance, the issues are the use of communications expenditure and the regulated period for election expenditure under the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, under which new expenditure limits will come into force. There is also the ceasing of the use of the communications allowance in an election period. There have been discussions across the parties, and, having reached an agreement, the Justice Secretary has indicated that he will sign the order bringing into effect the new financial limits for election spending, which will start from 1 January. The proposal is that the use of the communications allowance should end on 31 December, after which the new election expenses limits will come into force.
I know that hon. Members will be concerned about how they advertise their advice surgeries, for example, once the communications allowance has ceased. We will have to have some guidance on that from the Members Estimate Committee. Indeed, it might be possible to deal with that under the office cost allowance.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Leader of the House look into holding a debate on the cuts to accident and emergency services at hospitals such as King George hospital, which serves my constituency?
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend shares my concerns about the position of women in the financial services industry, but does she share my concern that the Government mandate for the Walker review on banking governance does not refer specifically to the position of women in banking? Will she organise a debate on that important subject, so that we can ensure justice for women in the financial services industry?
Ms Harman: The important thing is that the financial services industry should work properly and draw on the best talents and abilities of the country as a whole. It clearly is not doing that if it continues to operate as an old boys' network, as it is now. Although my hon. Friend is a great example, as she is a member of the Treasury Committee, I am afraid that the Committee itself is setting a bad example, because she is the only woman serving on it. Good governance requires a meritocracy, and an old boys' network is certainly not a meritocracy.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Will the Government find time soon to debate the proposals that I am publishing today on behalf of the all-party group on extraordinary rendition, to try to get a clampdown on extraordinary rendition and give the public confidence that Britain will no longer be used, either directly or indirectly, for that practice?
Ms Harman: The Government have made it absolutely clear that we will not allow this country to be party to, participate in or be used for the process of kidnapping and abduction, or illegally transporting detainees across borders. That is not something that we accept or endorse, and all of those are already criminal offences.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I tempt the Leader of the House to have an early debate on the nature of childhood, and on how we protect children and prescribe certain legislative guarantees that make children and childhood safe in our time?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, makes an important suggestion. Perhaps we can consider holding a topical debate on that subject, as it involves a number of issues about safeguarding children and the registration of people involved with them. Several of those issues have been raised recently, so perhaps we could do with having a debate on them on the Floor of the House.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):
As of this week, the footage and clips of what is going on here in Parliament are easily available to search and view on the excellent BBC Democracy Live website, so that the people out there can see the business of the House. The ability to share those clips with their friends or on their own websites is available for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly-in short, everywhere but
Westminster. Will the Leader of the House take steps to ensure that the public have equal access to footage of the business of this House?
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My early-day motion 2237 on the question of the referendum on the treaty of Lisbon was approved by the Table Office last night and subsequently gutted by a senior official to remove the names of Members who said two years ago that they wanted a referendum even if the Lisbon treaty were ratified.
[That this House calls on those hon. Members who have previously expressed the view that a referendum should be held on the Lisbon Treaty before or after ratification to clarify their position now that the Treaty has been ratified by all Member States.]
May I ask my friend on the Front Bench whether we can have an early debate on the whole question of the referendum, to allow the 45 Opposition Members who said that they still wanted a referendum even after ratification to debate the issue?
Ms Harman: I can give my hon. Friend a cast-iron guarantee that I will look into these issues. It is clear that we have had a cast-iron U-turn from the Opposition, who would put us on the margins of Europe and make it more difficult for us to pursue this country's objectives on the economy, climate change and security. The content of EDMs is a matter for the House officials; it is a matter for them to ensure that EDMs are expressed in appropriate language.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On the subject of cast-iron guarantees, may I remind the Leader of the House of one that the Government have given on many occasions to hold a debate on the pre-Budget report? May I push her for an early indication on that-it will be a particularly important pre-Budget report-and for a commitment on such a debate, please?
Ms Harman: We will look to have a proper opportunity for ensuring that there is a possibility of a debate on economic issues following the statement on the pre-Budget report. I am aware of the points that have been made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and many others about this issue.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May we have a debate on the work and track record of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, and, in particular, on its consistent refusal to recognise khat, a root that is chewed primarily by people in the Somali community and that has a dangerous and damaging effect on mental health in such communities? The committee keeps claiming that there is insufficient evidence from a broad population base that it should be a proscribed drug.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House apologise to my constituents for saying a moment ago that there had been no cuts in the NHS under Labour? My acute hospital has been decimated: the accident and emergency unit has been closed, as have the maternity unit, the intensive care unit and the high-dependency unit. All the beds have been closed. The diagnostic unit has stayed open, along with the out-patients and minor injuries units. Is that really what the Leader of the House meant by "no cuts" in the NHS under Labour?
Ms Harman: There has been increased funding and improvement in services, resulting in fewer deaths from preventable diseases. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to say that the health service has got worse, he is not engaging with the reality. There has been more funding, more doctors, nurses and staff, and more equipment, and there are better outcomes for people's health and for saving lives. That is the same in his constituency as anywhere else across the country.
Ms Harman: We are all concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and about what happened in relation to the Afghan police, with the terrible loss of our soldiers' lives. I will look for an opportunity to debate that as soon as we can after the Queen's Speech has been concluded.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I assist the Leader of the House by giving her an opportunity now to answer the question about Lord Sugar? Will she tell us whether she will apologise for his outrageous remarks. If not, does that mean that she endorses them?
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Now that the House looks set to adopt the Kelly review in full, will my right hon. and learned Friend introduce a similar review of all taxpayers' money, whether it is spent by quangocrats, senior civil servants or retired civil servants, or whether it applies to the recipients of Government money through contracts, so that businesses-including newspapers that take Government advertising-can also be brought into this regime of openness and transparency?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has made a wide-ranging point about transparency, and he makes a good point about the higher echelons of public sector pay. That subject is currently being looked at by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We can all recognise that the top of public sector pay has got completely out of hand, with many people being paid more than the Prime Minister. We need to get a grip on that and sort it out. I also think that pay transparency is very important in the private sector, and that is one of the things that will be in the Equality Bill.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Given the greater attention that the House is now, rightly, paying to public opinion of this House, may we have a debate on why the British people continue to be denied their say on the relationship between the UK and the European Union? Why does there appear to be a conspiracy across all the main parties to deny the people of the United Kingdom their say? It is what they want; why can they not have their say?
Ms Harman: The people of the United Kingdom have general elections in which they elect Members to this House, and we decide things as elected representatives thereafter. We are accountable for our decisions to our electorate.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The centenary year of Girlguiding UK has just commenced. May we have a short debate on the merits of that estimable organisation? It has 100,000 adult volunteer leaders and 20,000 supporters providing a framework that enables 450,000 Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to enjoy a girl-led programme that builds skills, confidence and self-esteem in a phenomenal way.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I have called for a debate on the legacy of the Olympics before, but there are now real concerns that the promise of increased grass-roots participation in sport is not being delivered. There are now 1,000 days until the Olympics. Does the Leader of the House accept that we need time in this House to debate the legacy of that event?
Ms Harman: There is going to be a fantastic Olympics and a fantastic legacy in many, many respects. We shall have Culture, Media and Sport questions on Monday, at which time the hon. Gentleman can put his questions to the Minister.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said about the Lisbon referendum, which proves that some of us have not changed our minds. I also welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said in reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about a debate on Afghanistan, but will she ensure that that debate is on a substantive motion?
Ms Harman: As I have said, I will consider how the House is able to participate in a debate on Afghanistan as soon as we possibly can. It is a matter of great priority for those on both sides of the House.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The all-party save the pub group has received evidence to show that the Office of Fair Trading decision to ignore the super-complaint from the Campaign for Real Ale is deeply flawed and represents a dereliction of duty by this public body. May we have an investigation and an urgent debate in the House about this very serious matter?
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