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As my hon. Friend will probably know, Sir Christopher Kelly's report for the Committee on Standards in Public Life asked for pre-election disclosure by candidates of their financial interests. My right hon.
Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is in discussions with the Electoral Commission and will issue guidance on the matter, as suggested by Sir Christopher Kelly, in advance of putting that into legislation. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not good enough to say, "Well, I haven't been paying my taxes up to now, but if I manage to get elected, I'll probably change my tax status." That is unacceptable, and the issue is particularly acute for Members of this House, because it is this House that passes the Finance Bill and decides to raise taxes. We therefore cannot have people who expect just the little people-everybody else-to pay their taxes.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that sections of the media are covering the issue of libel tourism, which is something that Ministers will have to judge on its merits. [ Interruption. ] Yes, Libel tourism. However, has she noticed that the issue of no win, no fee methods of compensation for lawyers involved in such cases has been added to the wish list? Does she agree that we are talking about a system of justice that vast swathes of people are entitled to have access to? Will she agree to a debate on the issue, to ensure that the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater?
Ms Harman: No win, no fee was introduced to alleviate pressure on the legal aid budget and to ensure that those with a good case were not prevented from going forward because they did not have the finances. I will look into the hon. Gentleman's point about libel tourism and raise it with the Secretary of State for Justice, although I thought that he was talking about "library tourism", which I thought was another marvellous step forward for the tourist industry.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The reign of King James I was not exactly studded with too many glittering achievements, but he did make a major social, spiritual and cultural contribution to our nation with the authorised version of the Bible, which was first published in 1611. Does the Leader of the House know whether the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport aims to make a statement on how we will mark the 400th anniversary? The 2011 Trust is working hard, the BBC has said that it will mark the occasion, online and on TV and radio. We as a nation expect our Government to do so as well.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to find out why the Christmas tree fell down on Monday morning? Did the contractor put the Christmas tree in properly, and should we expect some compensation for the new contract that had to be put in place to put it back up again?
Ms Harman: I am sorry, but I was not aware that the Christmas tree had fallen down. I would say to hon. Members that, if they are going to ask such questions and expect informative answers, perhaps they could at least let me know in advance. My room is just around the corner from the Chamber, so it is easy to find me and report any emergencies such as falling Christmas trees.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Any recession impacts severely on young people and school leavers, particularly unskilled school leavers. The Government have been focused on providing a series of measures to help young people in this recession, but for one group it is almost impossible to get a job or even an apprenticeship place. That group is young people in supported housing, where the level of housing benefit makes it not worth their while to go into work. Can we have a debate about the impact of the September guarantees that the Government provided for this year's school leavers and, in particular, about the remaining anomalies in the benefits system that make it hard for young people in supported housing?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for acknowledging the mass of concerted Government action that has gone into protecting this generation of young people from the effects of the recession. If a recession hits people at a certain stage in their lives, it can have lifelong effects on their prospects. That is what happened in previous recessions, which is why we were determined not to let it happen to this generation of young people. It is Department for Work and Pensions questions next week. I suggest that my hon. Friend raise his important point about the interaction of benefits and other programmes with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when she answers at the Dispatch Box then.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Last week in business questions the Deputy Leader of the House, ably coached by the right hon. and learned Lady, listed the achievements of the Modernisation Committee as, inter alia, topical debates and deferred Divisions. Could the organ grinder explain how non-controversial topical debates, the subjects of which are chosen by the Executive, help to hold the Executive to account, and how deferred Divisions contribute to better scrutiny? Can she also say when we will have a debate on parliamentary reform and the Wright report?
Ms Harman: The Deputy Leader of the House has tabled a written ministerial statement today setting out the requests that we received for topical debates and the subjects of those debates. The hon. Gentleman will see that, by and large, virtually all topical debates were chosen as a result of requests from Back Benchers or Opposition Front Benchers, so the idea that we sit there deciding what to discuss in topical debates is frankly wrong. Just one debate had not been the subject of such requests-a debate about carers-and that was because the outside carers' organisations had put in a request for a debate. I also think it very rude and unwarranted of the hon. Gentleman to make disparaging remarks about my hon. Friend, who is an excellent Deputy Leader of the House, so he can say sorry to her afterwards.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Ofsted gave three stars to Haringey just before the tragic news of the baby P case; the rating was dropped to just one star on a further inspection. The same goes for Basildon hospital foundation trust, although how it got that rating we do not know, because the Care Quality Commission then dropped it. May we have a debate in the House on how to inspect the inspectors?
Ms Harman: Investing extra money in public services, having high standards and holding services to account for those standards lie at the heart of our commitment to those services; we are making investments, setting targets, giving guarantees and requiring public services to be held to account for them. The inspection regimes across health, social services and education are very important. I will look into how best to ensure that the House can scrutinise them.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Can we have a debate on the unintended damage caused by school league tables? League tables give a perverse incentive to schools not to stretch the people at the very top properly or focus sufficiently on those at the very bottom, but instead to concentrate all their resources on the borderline students. Surely schools should be encouraged to allow children to reach their full potential irrespective of their ability.
Ms Harman: It is important that school-by-school information should be collected, so that parents can see how schools as a whole are progressing. It is also right that the results for each child are regularly communicated to their parents. All those are regimes to improve education that we have put in place. We are in favour of that accountability and in favour of extra investment in education. However, we are also in favour of ensuring that schools are held to account for improving children's results as a consequence of that extra education, which is exactly what they are doing. Indeed, those on the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench are also in favour of league tables and holding schools to account; they are just not in favour of putting in the investment that we have put in.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): This country has unique responsibility for Zimbabwe. I have requested a topical debate on that subject on many occasions, so will the Leader of the House provide time for such a debate before Christmas?
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Leader of the House used the Personal Care at Home Bill to deflect the very reasonable request made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). Does she not share my outrage at the finding of the Care Quality Commission's report, published today, into the state of some of our care homes and the fact that thousands of elderly and frail people are left in truly squalid conditions? Does she not think it should be a priority to debate this specific issue in Government time?
Ms Harman: I think that it is important that this issue be subject to discussion, debate and scrutiny. I will consider how best to do that, but as far as the individual authorities are concerned, they will certainly need to look at how they can improve their services. There are a number of occasions-two next week, an Opposition day and an estimates day-when the question of local authority provision and the work of local authorities, which touches on the issue, can be debated.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Yesterday, the Prime Minister yet again damaged his serious message on terrorism by insisting on referring to something he always calls "Alky-Ada". Today, he is in trouble again over a botched letter of condolence to a bereaved service family. Given that the armed forces serve the Crown and not politicians, may we have a statement from a Constitutional Affairs Minister, confirming that it would be more appropriate if the Prime Minister kept out of letters of condolence to bereaved service families and this were left, as it traditionally has been left, to the monarch?
Ms Harman: As well as being the Prime Minister of this country, the Prime Minister is a human being who understands the dreadful bereavement of those who have lost a child. Indeed, when he has written to those families, he has written privately and has not sought to put those letters in the public domain. I really think that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I generally speaking have a great deal of respect, should not have put that question in that way. It does not help our troops, it does not help the terrible loss of bereaved families-and it does not help his party either.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I echo the calls of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) for a debate on the Care Quality Commission. Only this week, a report-a secret report on the Eccleshill independent treatment centre-was made public, yet the Care Quality Commission is now saying that this very meticulous and damning report is wrong. I am afraid that the credibility of the CQC is seriously undermined, and with all the cases that we have now heard, we need to debate it.
Ms Harman: The question of caring for people at home and in residential care is important, so I hope that we can find an opportunity to debate these issues over the next week and the week after that. I will keep under review the question of whether we need a topical debate, and decide at the appropriate time.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Could we have a debate on Iran? While media attention has focused on the fate of the recently detained British sailors-I congratulate the Foreign Office on helping to secure a positive result-what has not been widely reported is the fact that President Ahmadinejad of Iran has effectively withdrawn all co-operation with the United Nations on working to resolve the nuclear issue. Given that the US Administration have given until the end of the year to try to move forward in a positive way, we are now running out of time to ensure that measures are put in place to bring this to an end. Could we please make this a priority and have at least a statement from the Foreign Secretary before we rise for Christmas, because time is running out?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman. We all agree with his welcome for the release of the British sailors and with his thanks to the consular officials
involved in bringing that about. We would all also share his concern. Iran has been offered the opportunity of positive international engagement, as the hon. Gentleman says, but if it does not take that opportunity and it continues to pose a threat, the international community will obviously have to act on that concern, which could go as far as toughening up sanctions. As I said, I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Government must not give in to the demands from the directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland for well- cushioned bonuses. Most of my constituents would say good riddance to them if they decided to resign in protest. Will the Leader of the House ensure that if the Chancellor caves in, he will make a statement about it on the Floor of the House?
Ms Harman: I find it striking when I hear such sentiments, with which I can only agree, from the hon. Gentleman, as his party is the party of no regulation and of giving extra money to those who have already got shedloads of it.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Flooding has seriously affected not just parts of Cumbria and other areas of England, but areas in Northern Ireland, particularly in County Fermanagh, which does not have a voice in this House on account of the abstention of its Sinn Fein Member of Parliament. Speaking on behalf of people living there and in other areas represented by Sinn Fein, may I ask the Leader of the House for a debate or a statement on the possibilities of assistance from the EU to help areas affected by the flooding? What additional help can be given?
Ms Harman: We are having a debate on EU affairs as soon as business questions are concluded. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in his place on the Front Bench waiting to start on that. There is also a debate on the Flood and Water Management Bill on Tuesday 15 December. Let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), who has worked with the Government, local authorities and the emergency services on behalf of the many families in his constituency who have had an absolutely terrible time. Even though they are no longer at the top of the news, we are all thinking of them, as it is cold there and the rain has started again. They are very much not forgotten. We are working to support them.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Last night, we had the unedifying sight of the Liberal party trying to delay the setting up of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority by using a parliamentary procedure to delay debate and stop a vote. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week entitled "The Liberal Democrat party: neither Liberal nor Democratic"?
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.
Having spent eight years analysing its innards and obsessing about its own rule book, Europe now needs to focus all its energies on the needs and concerns of its citizens. Next week's Council meetings will do precisely that, with key discussions on jobs and growth, on climate change, on European co-operation to tackle crime, on the enlargement of the Union and on external relations, especially with Iran.
On the economy, I know some Members, particularly Conservative Members, would like to pretend otherwise, but no country in Europe has escaped the effects of the global economic downturn. Three things, I believe, have become apparent through this extraordinary period. First, every country in Europe has faced the same set of problems because no economy is a hermetically sealed unit. Italy's debt is now 115 per cent. of gross domestic product, while Greece's is 113.4 per cent. and Belgium's is 97.4 per cent. Unemployment across the EU is currently at 9.4 per cent.-its highest level since the recession began. In Latvia and Spain, it is at its highest, at 20.9 and 19.3 per cent. respectively.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming Minister for Europe, a subject about which he is passionate and knowledgeable? May I also take up the issue of the economic situation in Europe? Given that next year is the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon agenda, will my hon. Friend recommit the Government to achieving the goals that were set in Lisbon in 2000-certain and precise benchmarks for European countries to follow, rather than a vague "We hope everything is going to be all right"?
Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I cannot remember whether he was number six or number seven-or, perhaps, number five or number eight-but I know that some Ministers for Europe have not remained in post for long, and I intend to remain for a long time.
My right hon. Friend has raised an important point about the Lisbon agenda. He is right to suggest that we must work hard in the coming months, especially as we move into the Spanish presidency. I know that the Spanish intend to take up the task with keen endeavour. We need to move towards a compact on jobs and growth, which is one of the subjects I am about to discuss.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May I make a point about jobs and growth? Michel Barnier has been appointed as the single market Commissioner, and yesterday a new regulatory body was set up in Europe to regulate the financial services industry, which is critical to this country's success. Is the Minister as worried as we are, along with those in the City of London, about the possibility that both developments will damage our financial services industry and reduce the number of jobs in this country?
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