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19 Nov 2009 : Column 133

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her report on the forthcoming business of the House, in which she mentioned Christopher Kelly's report. May we have an early debate on the findings of both the Legg and the Kelly inquiries? I am asking not for legislation, but just for a debate. Will the shadow Leader of the House encourage his friend the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to attend such a debate, and explain whether his enthusiasm for the retrospective aspects of Legg and the Kelly report's eventual ending of all claims for mortgage interest repayments could be combined by his offering to repay all his substantial claims for interest over many years, which would, in turn- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think we have the thrust of it, but I say to the Leader of the House that I know she is sufficiently dextrous to be able to answer the question without trespassing on territory for the Opposition. She is responsible, of course, for the position of the Government.

Ms Harman: It is important that Sir Thomas Legg can get on with his work. It is also important for the public to be able to see that every single claim made by Members of the House over the past five years has been gone through with a fine-toothed comb and to see that any overpayments, even those made by mistake, are paid back, so that we can turn and face them and say, "Any over-claiming has been dealt with and it's all been paid back."

As far as Sir Christopher Kelly's proposals are concerned, I have said on previous occasions that I do not think they should come back to the House for us to pick and choose between them. They should be looked at as a package and accepted as a package, and sent forward to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to implement. I do not think the public want to see us going through the proposals and deciding which allowance will go, which will stay, which will be raised and which will be lowered-I think they want to see that done independently and any overpayments paid back. We are accountable to the public in the House of Commons and we should recognise that that is the feeling of public concern.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that the City of London, which lies at the heart of our economy, with 15 per cent. of gross domestic product, is absolutely crucial? The debate she has proposed for 1 December is going to be crucial, as the European Scrutiny Committee has said. Does she accept that it is absolutely essential that we have a proper, substantive motion that is capable of amendment, so that we can ensure that majority voting and co-decision arrangements, and the power and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, do not dictate to us the manner in which our financial services are run in future?

Ms Harman: It looks as though the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise the points he wants to raise on 1 December and next Monday in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office debate. He can also raise the importance of financial services in the Treasury debate.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In the blizzard of 106 early-day motions tabled yesterday, one or two are of real importance, not least early-day motion 69.

[That this House notes that the Government prohibited the use of animals to test cosmetic products and their ingredients, because it caused unjustified suffering given the nature of the products; is concerned that the use of animals in scientific procedures continues to outstrip the development of non-animal alternatives in spite of the valuable work of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research and other organisations involved in the development and promotion of non-animal alternatives, replacing the need for animal testing and offering hope of humane scientific research; and call s on the Government to implement a policy of prohibition on issuing licences to conduct scientific research and test household products and their ingredients on animals without delay.]

May we have a debate on that important topic? Despite the work of the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, the number of animals used is heading inexorably for 4 million and beyond. We can do much better. As a humane society, we have a good track record on animal welfare, despite the Opposition's attempts to roll that back. May we look at the issue of animals in such experiments?

Ms Harman: As my hon. Friend knows, because he has championed the issue of animal welfare, we have a very good record and very high standards of protecting animals in scientific research, but we also place a very high value on scientific research, which can make a massive difference to alleviating disease and saving lives. The important thing is to enable that research to proceed without causing unnecessary suffering to animals. I wonder which aspect of the Queen's Speech debate might lend itself to that-I guess it would be either the business or the Home Office aspect.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Sadly, the debate on European affairs on 3 December will not give us an opportunity to talk about the future President of the European Council because a decision on that is likely to be made today. None of us here has been given a vote, so surely there is a lack of democracy in the process. Does the Leader of the House not believe that it is rather bizarre that more people are interested in the futures of John and Edward from "The X Factor" than they are in someone who will have an impact on how we in this country are governed?

Ms Harman: I am sorry, but when the hon. Gentleman started talking about "The X Factor" I could not work out how that related to the important task of making sure that Europe has a clear and coherent voice. We must play a central part in that and we await the outcome today.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Leader of the House says that she will keep the case for a debate on Afghanistan under review, but what criteria will she use to make her final decision that there should be a debate, given that there are so many developments in that country? Will she assure the House that in her review she will make sure that the House has the time for a focused debate on Afghanistan before we rise for the Christmas recess?

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Ms Harman: It is important to look across the business of the House as a whole for each week, including statements, questions, general and topical debates and debates initiated by the Opposition parties on Opposition days. I want to make sure that the House has the time that it needs to debate Afghanistan. The country expects the House to devote a proper amount of time to debating our mission there, and to holding Defence Ministers and the Prime Minister to account for it. I want to make sure that every week there is an opportunity for those issues to be raised.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to introduce a timetable motion next week to extend the time for debate on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? Will she accept that one reason why Parliament is held in such low esteem is that it is correctly seen that we are not performing our function properly, especially with regard to holding the Executive to account and scrutinising legislation? She will know that a number of new clauses and amendments have been proposed to the Bill-some of them tabled by me-that might go some way towards addressing that problem. These are matters that this House must debate, and we need more time to do it properly.

Ms Harman: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that questions of timing are dealt with by timetable motions and that, as far as possible, we seek to reach agreement with those on the Opposition Front Bench on how we do that. Obviously, there is an element of unpredictability, as it is not always easy to identify in advance which clauses will cause an extension of the debate. I look forward to the Wright Committee's report to see whether the Committee feels that it can improve how this is done.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Leader of the House referred to the Wright Committee, so can she give greater detail about the timetable for debate on the report, once it is published? For example, can she guarantee that we will have a debate, and that resolutions will be put before the House, before the Christmas recess?

Ms Harman: It is a bit difficult to say how we will deal with the Wright Committee's report until we have seen what the balance is of substantive proposals or suggestions for further debate. Obviously, the report will be very important for the House as a whole, and no doubt decisions will have to be made by the House as a whole following the report's publication. I shall try to make sure that we have as much time as possible to debate it, and that we are able to come to resolutions and decisions on it as soon as possible, commensurate with hon. Members having time to look at the report and debate it.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that the Kelly committee has a member from each of the main political parties, although we did not take part in the inquiry into Members' expenses for obvious reasons. However, there are 11 measures in the Kelly report that require primary legislation and which cannot be dealt with by IPSA or by resolution. If Sir Christopher sends her a list of those particular items in his report, will she support or introduce amendments to put those changes into effect before the general election?

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Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion that he will send me a list of the issues that are considered to require further legislation, but he does not need to do so, because that was in Sir Christopher Kelly's report, to which, obviously, I have paid close attention. Perhaps it would assist the House if I went through some of those points and said which of them I do not believe will require legislation and which ones possibly will, in the next Session.

First, there is the proposal for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to- [Interruption.] Okay, well, perhaps I will arrange a-

Mr. Hogg: A written statement.

Ms Harman: A written statement? [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] No, what I said had a question mark-"A written statement?" I am not sure-I think that what I will do is have a meeting. I think the position is perfectly clear, but it might help the House if I could go through- [Interruption.] I know hon. Members are resisting, but it might help the House if I could go through the proposals and say very briefly which ones might need legislation and which do not. Members are calling for information, but then they are resisting my giving it.

I do not believe that recommendation 4 of the report, for IPSA to

for MPs requires legislation, because IPSA already has the power to set up such an agency. I have already said that I do not believe the proposal to have no more employment of family members requires legislation, because it can be made a condition of paying a salary that an employee is not a family member.

As for ensuring that there is no dual mandate, Sir Christopher Kelly says that that is a matter for the next Parliament, not this. I do not believe that legislation is needed for a new statutory duty for IPSA to

because it already has that duty. I do not believe that we need to legislate on the House retaining responsibility for the code of conduct and the Register of Members' Financial Interests, but we can accept Christopher Kelly's proposal and not bring into effect the change that would take responsibility for that code of conduct away from the House and give it to IPSA.

I do not want to trespass on hon. Members' good nature by going through the other page and a half of my notes, but they will get the drift. The point is that we accept what Sir Christopher Kelly is suggesting and we want to get on with it, but we do not want to legislate if that is unnecessary because the power in question already exists under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Equality Bill, as the Leader of the House will know, has 15 parts, 21 chapters, 207 clauses and 28 schedules. I raised with her the importance of full scrutiny of the Bill on Report on 11, 18 and 25 June, 2 July and 15 October, as well as on 16 July, when she said:

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As far as I know, there has been no consultation with my party or the Conservative party on the fact that only one day is being given for Report, and no consultation so far on how we are going to get through the 30 new clauses, even before Government new clauses are considered, and the 37 amendments that have already been tabled. Can she assure us that more days will be given for the scrutiny of the Bill?

Ms Harman: I will check back on whether there were discussions on that with the Opposition Front Benchers, and I will give the matter further consideration. The hon. Gentleman has been consistent in raising that point, and I will check out whether I have done what I promised him I would.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House encourage her colleague the Defence Secretary to come to the House and make a statement on the release yesterday of the second board of inquiry report into the tragic death of Captain James Philippson in Afghanistan in 2006? She may recall that the Defence Secretary made certain allegations about Major Bristow in connection with the death of Captain Philippson, which he will no doubt want to correct, particularly as the second board of inquiry and the coroner's report suggested that equipment was implicated.

Ms Harman: The Defence Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box on Monday, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to intervene to make that point and seek a response directly from him.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): The questions that have been asked about the Kelly report and the answers that the Leader of the House has attempted to give are eloquent testimony to the fact that there is clearly a need for a debate on whether we need primary legislation. The fact that the exchanges have been so shambolic today indicates that the Government appear to have been caught napping.

Ms Harman: Our approach has been consistent. We recognise the public anger and concern, and we wanted to bring forward the Legg inquiry so that every claim could be looked through. We were also concerned that Sir Christopher Kelly should conduct an independent inquiry into a future framework for our allowances. The matter should not come back to the House, but should be dealt with independently. That is why we legislated to set up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

It would be better if the whole House were able to reassure the public that the necessary work is under way. We are not out of the woods yet. We still have to do the final payback under the Legg report and to hear from IPSA what its new framework for allowances will be, and all that has to be set up before the general election. Nevertheless, I invite colleagues to recognise that we need to reassure the public that they can have confidence that the House of Commons has sorted out the abuse of expenses. That process is under way.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that many of my constituents-and doubtless many of hers and yours, Mr. Speaker-are victims of Equitable Life, and are
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anxiously awaiting a definitive statement from the Government? We have had several interim statements and we still have the ombudsman's report hanging over us. When will we hear what will happen to those unfortunate people?

Ms Harman: I cannot add to what I said last time that question was asked. In a recent debate, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury explained that Sir John Chadwick will produce a report on a framework for proceeding with ex gratia payments. The work of the ombudsman's report on Equitable Life took four years, because it is an immensely complex matter going back many years. Obviously, we want the matter to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, so that ex gratia payments can be made. However, it is not easy to work out who needs to be paid and how much. With public money, that has to be done properly, before payments to those who should be getting them can be made as quickly as possible.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I have twice debated the issue of land banking and the mis-selling of green-belt and other land on the basis of unrealistic suggestions about future development. There has been some success since then, but the Financial Services Authority refuses to intervene when the company involved is offshore, regardless of the fact that it is ripping off countless UK investors. Can we have a debate in Government time? Can we also raise the possibility of a cross-departmental taskforce, so that the Government can finally address this important and serious issue?

Ms Harman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can expand on those issues in the debate next Thursday, when the Treasury and business will be the subject of the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the Leader of the House on becoming parliamentarian of the year. More importantly, however, in the annual review of Cabinet Ministers' rankings she has shot up from No. 11 to No. 2. As the founder and, sad to say, only member of HOTS-Harriet's Official Tory Supporters-may I ask her for a statement about whether her rise is likely to continue, and whether she can break through the glass ceiling and become No. 1?

Ms Harman: Sorry, but all the time that I have spoken with the hon. Gentleman from the Dispatch Box, I had not realised that he was hot. I thank him for pointing it out.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Can we have a debate in Government time on the higher education funding review? In particular, it is important for the current funding review to have democratic student representation and be scrutinised properly so that families do not see it simply as a justification for putting up student fees.

Ms Harman: There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise those points when a Minister from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills responds to the debate on the Queen's Speech next Thursday.

Several hon. Members rose -

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