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Mr. Robathan: It is common currency that, regrettably, this Parliament is very discredited and has become irrelevant to too many of our constituents. We have the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, IPSA and the flawed constitutional reform committee, and we are only a few months away from a general election, yet today only three Labour Back Benchers are bothering to ask the Leader of the House questions. Yesterday we had empty Benches behind the Prime Minister. Can we have a debate on the relevance of Parliament, so that we can bring everything together and make this place the bastion of parliamentary democracy and democracy for our people, instead of the flawed and damaged institution that it has become?
Ms Harman: When I was in opposition for many years, I never came to this House, elected by my constituents, to say from the Opposition Benches that I was irrelevant, or that the work I did was irrelevant. I put it back to the hon. Gentleman that he has been elected by his constituents. That is a massive honour and a massive privilege. He comes to the House of Commons and he can hold Ministers to account and add to the debate. Therefore, he should not talk himself into irrelevance. If he does, he will be doing his constituents a disservice.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Pursuant to that last question, may I remind the Leader of the House that the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons was established precisely to address people's perception that this House is not doing its job of scrutinising Government business properly? Given her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope)-that she could give no guarantees about how the results of the Committee's work would be dealt with-let me return to the point made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House that it would be appropriate to make a statement on the publication of the report next Tuesday. We will have time to read it before she stands up to make it, as the report is to be published in the middle of the night. We look forward to the Government responding to proposals about how Government business can be much better scrutinised, so could the Leader of the House tell us how she will respond to the Committee's findings? I remind her that she had to withdraw her original motion.
I would never argue for complacency. We can always improve the processes of this House and modernise the way in which it does its business. Of course we should keep the issues under active review and make changes where necessary. In the meantime, however, we should not declare our work to be irrelevant, because that would be wrong. Part of the purpose of being a Member of Parliament is to do our job and continue to improve this institution. I said when I was first elected that it is a great and important responsibility to be a Member of Parliament. I came into Parliament
to change and improve it, but I certainly did not begin my work by declaring that because I was in opposition, I was irrelevant.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Thirteen per cent. of our near record prison population in England and Wales is made up of foreign nationals who can be returned to secure detention in their own countries only with their voluntary agreement. Will the Leader of the House make time available for the Lord High Chancellor to make proposals to this House for the compulsory transfer of foreign national criminals back to their countries of origin?
Ms Harman: It is very important that there should be prompt deportation at the end of sentences and, where necessary, repatriation of prisoners during their sentences. That is necessary for a number of reasons, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raise those issues next Wednesday.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Can we have a debate on the responsibilities of banks in which the Government are the main shareholder to support small businesses? For example, the Bank of Scotland has withdrawn the post of business relationship manager from its branch on the island of Islay, causing widespread anger among businesses on the island. A manager based on the mainland will never understand the unique circumstances of an island economy. Surely the Chancellor, as the main shareholder in the bank, has a responsibility to ensure that it services businesses throughout the country, so will he intervene in that case?
Ms Harman: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to raise this matter with the Treasury Minister who will be opening the debate on Thursday 26 November. Of course it is important that all our banks serve their communities, wherever they are.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Given the closeness of the date of the Copenhagen conference, and the success of the Scottish Government on the climate change agenda, is it still the Government's intention to exclude Scottish Ministers from the UK delegation?
Ms Harman: The UK delegation is as it is, and just for the moment, I cannot remember how it is- [Interruption.]-but I am sure that it is perfectly formed. I would say, however, that if the Scottish Government want to contribute to tackling climate change, they need to change their attitude to nuclear power.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Last night I viewed the film "Mugabe and the White African", which merits an Oscar. It displays the ghastly horrors that continue to take place in Zimbabwe despite the unity Government. This is a matter for which this country has a major responsibility. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on Zimbabwe and the horrors that continue to take place there against both black and white?
Ms Harman: We do not have a topical debate next week, but it is some time since we considered a number of the important issues that are arising in Africa, of which the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important example. I will keep that under review.
Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Yvette Cooper, Mr. Liam Byrne, Mr. Pat McFadden, Mr. Stephen Timms, Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to restate, with minor changes, certain enactments relating to corporation tax and certain enactments relating to company distributions; and for connected purposes.
Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Yvette Cooper, Mr. Liam Byrne, Mr. Pat McFadden, Mr. Stephen Timms, Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to restate, with minor changes, certain enactments relating to tax; to make provision for purposes connected with the restatement of enactments by other tax law rewrite Acts; and for connected purposes.
Secretary Alan Johnson, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Mr. Secretary Straw and Mr. David Hanson, presented a Bill to make provision about police powers of stop and search; about the taking, retention, destruction and use of evidential material; for the protection of victims of domestic violence; about injunctions in respect of gang-related violence; about anti-social behaviour orders; about the private security industry; about possession of mobile telephones in prison; about air weapons; and for connected purposes.
Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Alan Johnson, Tessa Jowell, Mr. Michael Wills and Mr. Wayne David, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the civil service of the State; to make provision relating to the ratification of treaties; to amend section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999 and make provision relating to the removal, suspension and resignation of members of the House of Lords; to repeal sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and to amend Part 2 of the Public Order Act 1986; to make provision relating to time limits for human rights claims against devolved administrations; to make provision relating to
judges and similar office holders; to make provision relating to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to establish a body corporate called the National Audit Office; to amend the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 and to make corresponding provision in relation to Wales.
Ms Harriet Harman, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr. Secretary Denham, Secretary Ed Balls, Secretary Yvette Cooper, Mr. Sadiq Khan, Mr. Pat McFadden, the Solicitor-General and Michael Jabez Foster, presented a Bill to make provision to require Ministers of the Crown and others when making strategic decisions about the exercise of their functions to have regard to the desirability of reducing socio-economic inequalities; to reform and harmonise equality law and restate the greater part of the enactments relating to discrimination and harassment related to certain personal characteristics; to enable certain employers to be required to publish information about the differences in pay between male and female employees; to prohibit victimisation in certain circumstances; to require the exercise of certain functions to be with regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and other prohibited conduct; to enable duties to be imposed in relation to the exercise of public procurement functions; to increase equality of opportunity; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 13 May ) ; to be considered on Monday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).
Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary David Miliband, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Liam Byrne, Mr. Stephen Timms, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, Ian Pearson and Mr. Pat McFadden, presented a Bill to make provision amending the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, including provision about financial education, and other provision about financial services and markets; and to make provision for the administration of court funds by the Director of Savings.
Secretary Edward Miliband, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Hilary Benn, Mr. Secretary Denham, Joan Ruddock and Mr. David Kidney, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the demonstration, assessment and use of carbon capture and storage technology; to make provision for requiring benefits to
be provided by holders of gas or electricity supply licences; to make provision about functions of the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority; to make provision about general duties of the Secretary of State in relation to gas and electricity markets; to make provision about electricity generation licences; to make provision about persons authorised to supply gas or electricity; and for connected purposes.
Secretary Ed Balls, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Andy Burnham, Mr. Secretary Denham, Mr. Secretary Hain, Mr. Vernon Coaker, Bridget Prentice and Ms Diana R. Johnson, presented a Bill to make provision about pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental satisfaction surveys, children with disabilities or special educational needs, school and other education, governing bodies' powers and school teachers' qualifications; to make provision amending the Education Acts; to make provision about local safeguarding children boards and youth justice; and to make provision about publication of information relating to family proceedings.
Secretary Hilary Benn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Denham, Mr. Secretary Hain and Huw Irranca-Davies, presented a Bill to make provision about water, including provision about the management of risks in connection with flooding and coastal erosion.
Mr. Stephen Timms, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Ed Balls, Secretary Yvette Cooper, Mr. Liam Byrne, Jim Knight, Dawn Primarolo and Helen Goodman, presented a Bill to set targets relating to the eradication of child poverty, and to make other provision about child poverty.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 20 July ) ; to be considered on Monday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 10) with explanatory notes (Bill 10-EN).
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Hi! It is a great honour to open this debate on Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, the fifth and last of this Parliament. This Gracious Speech is based on the firm belief that the Government have a vital role to play in securing economic prosperity and building a fair society, with measures to secure our economic recovery and financial responsibility; to renew our democracy and this Parliament through political and constitutional reform; to continue, as we are debating today, our investment and reform of public services-in health, with a new series of powerful patient rights and wider provision of free personal care as a stepping-stone to the creation of the first ever national care service, and in education, with every pupil and every parent to be guaranteed a good local school, a balanced curriculum, tough home-school agreements and discipline and catch-up support for those who fall behind.
These clear entitlements and guarantees are essential for a strong economy and a fair society in which everyone accepts their responsibilities. They are possible only now because of our sustained investment and reform over the past 12 years. They are tailored to the needs of individual families; they are led locally by doctors, nurses, teachers and head teachers, with Government stepping in only as a last resort. These guarantees are all actively opposed by the Conservatives and would not appear in any Queen's Speech introduced by Her Majesty's Opposition.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give a definition of what a local community school is when a community has a school that the Tories want to shut, but the community wants to keep?
Ed Balls: I know that there is some history behind that intervention and meetings with the Schools Minister have taken place on these matters. It is important that local authorities are leaders in their commissioning role in their local areas, but in doing so they must ensure that they put the best interests of pupils and parents first and consult widely. I have to say that no Conservative authority in the country needs to be at all embarrassed about guarantees to ensure good local schools and catch-up tuition. If local authorities are not embarrassed by matching those pledges, why is the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) so embarrassed by the idea of these pledges and guarantees? It is very hard to understand.
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