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There was no new policy in the Government amendments or new clauses. The Equality Bill will now go to the Lords, who will scrutinise it, and any amendments will come back to us. I pay a warm tribute to the Ministers-the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office-who took this very important Bill through the House. The Opposition tabled
an amendment declining to give the Equality Bill a Second Reading and abstained on Third Reading. The Tories are not and never will be the party of equality.
We have not even got to the Christmas recess, so I do not know why the shadow Leader of the House keeps on asking about the Easter recess. I thought he was against recesses, yet he keeps calling on me to announce the Easter recess. It will happen all in good time and in due course.
As far as the European Commissioner is concerned, we have to work together with our European partners to make sure that we have proper financial regulation across Europe and across the world as a whole, but of course the Financial Services Authority is accountable to this House and we have our own domestic regulation. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there will be a debate about European affairs this afternoon, when hon. Members can discuss our excellent position, in having the very best Foreign Secretary we could have, the very best Business Secretary we could have, and a really excellent foreign representative for the European Commission in the shape of Cathy Ashton.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about class war. May I just say that clause 1 of the Equality Bill, which we introduced, puts a new duty on public authorities to narrow the gap between rich and poor? The Conservatives voted against that. We have put up the top rate of tax for those who can most afford to pay, to help us with the deficit as we come out of recession. The Conservatives are opposed to that and instead are just putting forward tax cuts for the richest. Theirs is truly the party for the few, and we are the party for the many.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Why is the Leader of the House not giving the House time before Christmas, given the urgency, to discuss the recommendations of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons-the Wright Committee? It is not a matter of waiting for a Government response. We are interested not in what the Government have to say about the reform of the House of Commons, but in what this House has to say. Will she consider that as a matter of urgency?
May we have a debate on the banking sector, particularly those banks that are actually owned by the people of this country? I note that members of the board of the Royal Bank of Scotland wish to resign if they are not allowed to pay extraordinarily large amounts of money to people in their company. May I say that there is nobody standing in their way, and this House should have the opportunity to say so?
I am tired of asking for a proper debate on Afghanistan, but I hope that we will have one in the very near future. May I also ask for a debate on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which worries hon. Members on both sides of the House?
May we have a statement on care homes? I was fortunate enough to open a newly refurbished home for elderly people with dementia in my constituency last week, and I am very conscious of the good work that so many care homes do. However, we should be concerned when we read reports of standards not being as good in some parts of the country. May we have a statement on that issue?
I entirely agree that we should not have a class war. When I hear people say that those with double-barrelled names should shorten them for the benefit of the electorate, it really upsets me. But we should have a debate on non-domiciled tax status, especially as it applies to Members of this House and the other place, and would-be Members. It is very important that we show that taxes are not just something paid by other people.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, for which we finally set up the board last night, is now a public body subject to freedom of information legislation?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asks about the report on parliamentary reform. That is an important report and its complexity deserves detailed consideration and a proper response from the Government, which it will get. I do not want hon. Members to get the impression that the situation is anything other than as follows: my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) proposed to me that it would be a good idea to set the Committee up and that it could make far-reaching proposals. I welcomed that suggestion and took it forward. Indeed, I brought the proposal for the Committee to the House. It has done very important work and its members can be sure that that work will be carried through.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the banks. It is important for the economy that the banks lend, and there is still too much evidence that businesses, big and small, are not getting the finances they need. The Government are going after the banks to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities to the economy and start to lend. Also, they must pay back the loans that they have been given-and that is under way-and they should exercise restraint on bonuses. The Government have been clear about that.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, in the business of the House-be it Prime Minister's questions, Defence questions, general debates or statements-Afghanistan is at the top of the agenda of this House of Commons, and rightly so.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a topical debate on Gaza, and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) asked about topical debates in general. Topical debates will be announced shortly, and I will take that as a representation. In fact, other hon. Members have asked for topical debates on issues to do with the middle east and Gaza, so we may look forward to that being a subject.
The hon. Gentleman asked about care homes and mentioned the importance of the care of the elderly. That is important not only in residential care homes, but in their own homes. He will have heard me announce the Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill, and we have all been concerned that some councils have been identified as not caring properly for adults-providing only "adequate" care, when we all want really good care for the elderly and vulnerable adults. That is what they need, and that is what their relatives want. I am very concerned that Southwark council has been identified as one of those councils providing care that is only adequate. Instead of protesting about the findings against it, it should be buckling down to address the concerns that have been identified.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about non-domiciled tax status. The old saying is "No taxation without representation." Perhaps we should turn that around and say, "No representation without taxation." People who seek to enter the House and levy taxes should show that they are prepared to pay those taxes. It is not appropriate for anybody to think that they can enter the House and make others pay taxes that they decide not to pay themselves. However, that is for the Conservative party to sort out, not me.
The chair and chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority are in place already and getting on with their work. They are getting down to it expeditiously and in a way that the House would want them to do. We passed the resolution last night, and like all other public authorities, they will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Twenty-eight hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As usual, I should like to accommodate everybody, so I issue my usual appeal for single, short questions and comparably brief replies.
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): A few weeks ago, the Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill received its First Reading in another place. Will the Minister say when it is likely to appear on the Floor of this House?
Ms Harman: Lord Morris's Bill has had its First Reading in the other place, and the Second Reading is scheduled for 11 December. I am sure that my hon. Friend will watch its progress with great interest and concern, as we all will. I know how important the issue is to her and her constituents, whom she has supported tirelessly on that important issue.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): May we have a debate on the application of Criminal Records Bureau checks and what might be the law of unintended consequences? I have a sad constituency case involving a 13-year-old boy who was found guilty of a sexual offence. As a result his ambition to become a teacher has been completely crushed, because the offence will have to be declared in any application that he makes. However wrong it was to commit the offence, it seems wrong that a 13-year-old boy should have his life chances so affected and have to face the resulting psychological damage.
Ms Harman: The situation is being dealt with under legislation passed by the House. Sexual offending is often a repeat offence, which is why we have a system of registration. No doubt cases such as that of the hon. Lady's constituent will be caught by the law, but that law was passed by the House.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement, to the House and the general public, confirming that no barriers in any shape or form will be placed before directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland who choose to resign over not getting a bonus?
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend that they already earn vast salaries, and now they are threatening to resign if they cannot indulge in largesse and the distribution of massive bonuses to top executives across the piece. I think that there will be much sympathy for what he said.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Rarely a weekend surgery goes by when I do not see at least one, if not two or three, Child Support Agency cases, even after all these years and with all the reforms. One constituent has not received any money for more than five years, and others are paying far too much. May we have a proper debate on the workings of the CSA so that we can come forward with proper reforms that will affect everybody and be fair to everyone?
Ms Harman: The CSA has such important work to do because too many non-residential parents-mostly fathers-do not show themselves willing to support their children. That is the major problem; it is not the work of the agency. The fundamental problem is men who have children but are not prepared to pay for them and resist doing so. That is why the work of the CSA is very important. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure further scrutiny of its work, perhaps he can seek a Westminster Hall debate.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): May we have an early debate on what the Government are doing to maximise British ownership and employment in the manufacturing industry, particularly in light of the hostile takeover bid of Cadbury, in my constituency, and other proposed takeovers? Cadbury is not a lame duck, but a thriving business with excellent growth prospects.
Ms Harman: I shall bring that point, which is very important to my hon. Friend's constituents, to the attention of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and ask him to liaise with her directly.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Next year will see the first application for one of the new nuclear power stations in my constituency. Under the new rules, there is not a problem with the actual power station, but I have a question about the infrastructure that feeds it-the roads, park-and-ride, hostels and the rest of it. We cannot work out-the Government are giving mixed signals-whether that is included in the application. May we have a debate to clear that up before the first application, which will be one of many, and to avoid long-term problems?
Ms Harman: I shall ask the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman with a specific reply. I am not sure which Minister will be dealing with it, but I shall find out. Next Monday, there will be an energy debate on the Second Reading of the Energy Bill, and there are Communities and Local Government questions next week as well, so he will have the opportunity to raise that point directly.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op):
Does the Leader of the House recall that when the miners went on strike in order to protect the pits, they were denounced as traitors in the press? Does this morning's action by the bankers remind her of that? Can we expect a similar condemnation? Furthermore,
those precious, self-centred people need to be brought here and cautioned for what they are saying about their position. They are blackmailing the Government.
Ms Harman: I am happy to condemn those who do not recognise that people expect banks to play their part in the economy, to lend to businesses, to pay back the money they needed because they nearly fell off the edge of a cliff as a result of recklessness and irresponsibility, and not, at the back end of it, to award themselves massive bonuses. I agree with my hon. Friend.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): In business questions on 25 June, I asked the Leader of the House:
"Will she open negotiations with the Opposition parties and interested Back Benchers on how her Equality Bill will be scrutinised on Report"?
"I will do both those things."-[ Official Report, 25 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 962.]
"We will not be going through the motions of consulting...we will actually consult".-[ Official Report, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 488.]
"we will want to ensure that we make the Bill an exemplar of how the House should scrutinise Bills on Report".-[ Official Report, 16 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 456.]
Will the Leader of the House accept that, instead of gaining a reputation as the destroyer of scrutiny, she should think about how we can have proper parliamentary scrutiny of Government Bills on Report? Will she accept the recommendations of the Wright report in that respect?
Ms Harman: We will, I think, be taking forward the Wright report recommendations. As I said, the Equality Bill had the full scrutiny of the House. It spent 38 hours in Committee, and it has been calculated that the hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 of them, so he knows that he has played his part in scrutinising the Bill. I commend him on doing so, but it is not right to say that the Bill has not been substantially scrutinised.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate on primary care trusts, such as that in Bolton, which spend huge amounts of public money? The Secretary of State for Health refuses to answer questions on PCTs, but in my view, they should be open to scrutiny by Parliament?
Ms Harman: I shall ask the Secretary of State for Health to respond to my hon. Friend's request. We are accountable for, and concerned about, the delivery to everybody and in every part of the country, and about not only first-rate hospital services, but good PCT and general practitioner services.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I reinforce the two Front-Bench requests for a debate on Afghanistan? On Monday, I put it to the Prime Minister that we should have an amendable motion, on which we can vote, to be debated before 28 January. The Prime Minister replied:
"Of course, if Members of the House want to debate these things in more detail, it is right that we should do so".-[ Official Report, 30 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 851.]
We know that the Liberal Democrats and my party want to debate that in detail and that the country wants us to do so. May we please have the debate?
Ms Harman: As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has reminded the House, the Prime Minister responded on those issues not only in Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, but in a statement. However, as hon. Members made clear, neither was a debate, and I shall look for an opportunity to hold one as well.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Is it time for my right hon. and learned Friend to speak to the Prime Minister and ensure that we hold a national jobs summit to protect manufacturing jobs? Other European countries have strengthened their support for manufacturing in their countries, and the time has come to do the same here. Unemployment is a blight on this country. We must do something about it, and we can through a national jobs summit. I look forward to her response.
Ms Harman: When the Prime Minister convened the G20 summit in London earlier this year, jobs, manufacturing and how we all work together to protect them was very much at the heart of his concerns. The National Economic Council, which he established, meets on a weekly basis and always has jobs-and particularly manufacturing jobs-high on the agenda for discussion. That includes not only jobs in traditional industries such as the automotive industry, which has benefited from the car scrappage scheme, but green jobs and jobs in new industries such as environmental engineering. Such jobs are always very much at the forefront of our concerns.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): In warmly welcoming the Leader of the House's announcement that there will be a debate on the pre-Budget report, may I ask her to clear up one query? As there is always such a debate, why was she not able to say that there would be one in previous weeks? The reason cannot be her lack of competence. Could it be that the Prime Minister micro-manages everything so much that she is not allowed to observe the obvious in advance and save us all a lot of time?
Ms Harman: The pre-Budget report is a relatively recent innovation. Although it is a long-standing practice to have such a debate after the Budget, it has not been the long-standing practice to have one after the pre-Budget report. However, we agree that there needs to be one this time round, and there will be.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): In the previous Session I introduced a presentation Bill on financial disclosure. With the announcement that there is an Opposition candidate standing who is a non-dom, and with some question marks over at least one Peer who may or may not be resident in this country, is it not time that the Government looked at the issue properly, as the Liberal Democrat spokesman said, to see whether it should be a criminal offence to stand for Parliament yet refuse to pay full tax in this country?
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