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10 Dec 2009 : Column 508

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): And us?

Mr. Heath: And all Members of the House, including even the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Robathan: Thank you very much.

Mr. Heath: I, too, welcome the fact that there is to be a debate on the pre-Budget report. I fear that it is unravelling at such speed that we may have to have an alternative pre-Budget report before the original is even debated to correct some of the errors in the first one. Nevertheless, that debate is welcome.

On private Members' Bills-here, I declare an interest- I am very keen, obviously, that time should be set aside for private Members' Bills and that the resolutions should be considered. However, that is one of the matters discussed in the Wright Committee report, which suggests an alternative arrangement for dealing with private Members' Bills. I cannot for the life of me see what the problem is, given that the Committee has produced a draft resolution, on page 94, to be put before the House. It is not for me, or the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) or the right hon. and learned Lady to decide what is appropriate; it is for the House to decide. The Wright Committee has set out its draft proposals. Why cannot they now be put before the House?

There will be a debate on universities after today's statements. No doubt, the issue of the fiasco and chaos of the Student Loans Company will be considered, but it would be appropriate to have a statement from the Secretary of State to tell us just what has been happening. More importantly, what is being done about the company's senior management and chief executive? They have let down students across the country, who now find themselves in extreme difficulty. Will there be a statement to that effect?

May we have a debate on what I can only term abuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 by police? It is not satisfactory that people up and down the country are being stopped and told that they cannot take photographs-and if they have taken photographs, they are asked to delete them from their cameras-apparently on the whim of police officers. So far, people have been told that they cannot take a picture of Christ Church in the City, St. Paul's, railway wagons, Christmas lights-and of Mick's Plaice, a fish and chip shop in Chatham! Such photography is not prime terrorist activity. I honestly think that the police need some education about the very strong powers that we in this House give them, to make sure that they are not used improperly.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): You didn't say that during the miners' strike.

Mr. Heath: I did, actually.

Lastly, I know that the Leader of the House is committed to the use of plain English in enactments and Government pronouncements. She has said so many times and has gone to great trouble to provide easy-to-read translations of what might otherwise be opaque in the Bills under her own control. However, may I draw her attention to the statement made earlier this week about smarter Government? I shall read out one of the conclusions of the attached paper. It states:

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Does that make any sense at all? I do not believe that it does. This management-speak is nonsense, so will the Leader of the House eradicate it from Government business?

Again, happy Christmas!

Ms Harman: On the pre-Budget report, there will be a debate when the House returns in the new year, but there is also Treasury questions next week and hon. Members can ask questions and raise issues then.

On the Wright Committee report, I think that it is perverse of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to object to being consulted. I will bring the proceedings before the House, but I am consulting the Opposition Front-Bench teams. Of course it is a matter for the whole House, and for Back Benchers on all sides as well as for those on the Front Benches, but it is not unreasonable to give the Front-Bench teams an opportunity to give their views as to what should be brought to the House. However, if they do not want to be consulted, they do not need to respond. I have given them until 16 December.

The debate this afternoon on students and universities will provide an opportunity to discuss the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about terrorism, and I can tell him that there are Home Office questions next week when they could be discussed. He also made a point about the smarter Government publication and plain English. If he could pass me a copy of what he read out, I shall work out a translation for him before the end of business questions this morning.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. No fewer than 23 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I would like to get everybody in. Members will be conscious that there is a ministerial statement to follow, and that underlines the importance of short questions and answers.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): May I add my voice to those hon. Members calling for a debate on the parliamentary reform Select Committee, of which I was a member? I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to read the minority report submitted by myself and the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), which at least indicates that there was no consensus on the Committee. I think that a debate would show that, although we were a minority on the Committee, we would be in the majority in the House.

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her work on the Committee. The issues that she teased out in her minority report show that although the principles and objectives are clear and shared by everyone, how we put them into practice is far from straightforward and needs proper consideration.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Given that the country is bust and there is now no money for anything, that the recent local government reorganisation in Cornwall trebled in cost from £20 million to £60 million and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said that any legislation enacted by this Government to reorganise local government,
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particularly in Devon, would be changed by legislation by an incoming Tory Government, will the Leader of the House have a word with her colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask him to come to the House before Christmas to make a statement to end the uncertainties surrounding local government reorganisation in Devon and elsewhere?

Ms Harman: We have had a debate on local government this week, but I shall ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that we have an early debate on defence procurement, so that Britain's world-class defence industrial base will get the full benefit in these difficult economic times of the Ministry of Defence's substantial budget?

Ms Harman: This is of importance to not only the MOD, but the regions from which our procurement is obtained and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I shall raise my hon. Friend's comments with the Ministers concerned.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Would the Leader of the House ensure that the Wright report and the minority report are debated side by side with the report on the election of Deputy Speakers? Could we have a full day for that, not one that is delayed by statements, so that many people can take part in the debate?

Ms Harman: I take note of those points, which are seriously made. I should say that we often decide that we really want to protect a day, and on such days, for example, Opposition days, we never want to put on Government statements. That is because our doing so encroaches on the Opposition's time for the subject that they have chosen for debate. Sometimes statements are made because of a genuine emergency and we have to bring them to the House. Obviously, I want to ensure that there is a full day's debate on the Wright report, but I cannot guarantee that a statement will not need to be made to the House.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): People from Toyoda Gosei, the Japanese car parts factory in my constituency, wrote to me recently saying that they had 30 different nationalities employed there. Could we have a debate on hiring practices, because although I am sure that its hiring practices are completely non-discriminatory, there is widespread concern in south Yorkshire that employers are perhaps not giving a fair crack to local Yorkshiremen and women, and we need to discuss with employers how to bring more of the local work force into active work?

Ms Harman: It is important not only that we have training, high skill levels and the appropriate skill levels in the local community for the jobs that are available, but that those jobs are made available through the jobcentres and that the regional development agencies work with employers to make sure that agencies that do not just choose workers from abroad are used. My right hon. Friend makes an important point and it is being taken forward.

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Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): May I welcome the Leader of the House's assurance that the debate on the Wright Committee's proposals will not be delayed by Front-Bench discussions? Does she intend that debate to take place before the end of January?

Ms Harman: As I told the House at last week's business questions, there is a time period within which it is expected that the Government would respond to Select Committee reports, and we expect to respond within that time period. In this case, I believe that that more or less finishes at the end of January, but we are not waiting until the last moment and we will respond when we can, after we are satisfied that there is a reasonable consensus as a basis on which we can then debate the report and reach agreement.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the report that was published today about the health needs of children in immigration detention centres. I know that the Government have improved the situation, but recently a child in my constituency was badly emotionally damaged by the experience of going into a detention centre. When can we have a debate in which we can consider ending the practice of families with children being put into immigration detention centres?

Ms Harman: We want to make absolutely sure that children do not suffer just because their parents have not abided by the immigration rules and regulations. Perhaps my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise her question during Home Office questions next week.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Leader of the House is wrong in her choice of karaoke song-surely the appropriate Smiths song for my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House is "This Charming Man".

Could the Leader of the House organise a debate in Government time on immigration policy, specifically so that the House can debate the Home Secretary's interesting remarks last night? He said that the Conservative policy of an immigration cap was a "legitimate option" within the debate. I am glad that the Home Secretary is coming to recognise the wisdom of Conservative immigration policy, as all reasonable people do. If he is going to do a U-turn, the whole House would want him to do so in this place so that we could welcome it warmly.

Mr. Speaker: That question was, frankly, too long, albeit that it was amusing in parts. I hope that others will not seek to imitate the Green model.

Ms Harman: The Home Secretary has certainly not done a U-turn. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise that point with the Home Secretary in Home Office questions next week. I am going to look at the hon. Gentleman in a different light after he has shown himself to be a true Smiths fan.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in this very rich city of London this Christmas will be a hard one for many people. Is she aware that the centre for runaway children run by the St. Christopher's charity is in danger
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of closing down? Could we have a debate on this? The fact is that we should keep this precious resource going and that St. Christopher's does a wonderful job for runaway children-not only those from London, but those from all our constituencies up and down the country.

Ms Harman: Obviously everybody is concerned at all times of the year, but particularly at Christmas, about children who are not with their family and about whom their family are desperately concerned, and about what provision exists for such children. I shall raise the point about St. Christopher's with the relevant Minister.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The future integrity, independence and authority of this House depends upon the implementation of the proposals of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee and the Procedure Committee. Will the Leader of the House give me and the House a firm commitment that these proposals will be decided on a genuine free vote, unencumbered by the Whips on either side of the House?

Ms Harman: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should foster any sense of apocalypse about this. We should all seek to work together to maintain the integrity, independence and authority of the House. Of course we will have a debate on the Wright Committee report, and it will be on a free vote. Members should jealously guard their free vote on House issues.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) (Lab): On the Wright report, may I point out that it is important to remember that this is a political institution, that political parties exist for a reason and that this House would never ever survive a day's business without the workings of the usual channels and the Whips Offices? Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear that in mind in her deliberations?

Ms Harman: It is also worth our reminding ourselves that we are all elected on a manifesto, whereby we make promises to our constituents that if we get elected we will strive to keep our promises. One thing that would undermine our democracy is if we got elected to this House and then did not deliver on our manifesto commitments. That is why we have a majority Government, rather than a minority Government, and why it is the job of the Government to deliver their business in order to keep their manifesto promises.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): On environmental protection, is the Leader of the House aware that today the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, statutory instrument No. 3042, come into force? They have not been consulted on or scrutinised by this House or issued to all the relevant parties. Will she issue an apology to the House? Will she castigate the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for this? Will she assure us that these regulations will not come into force today, and that they will be properly scrutinised and properly consulted upon? They form part of the Flood and Water Management Bill-she just announced that it will have its Second Reading next week. The DEFRA Whip on the Treasury Bench-

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I think that there was a request for a statement next week somewhere in her remarks, but I did not readily identify it. I call the Leader of the House.

Ms Harman: We have just had DEFRA questions. I can reassure the hon. Lady, if she did not manage to raise her question with DEFRA Ministers, that all procedures were followed. Anyway, there is a debate on flood and water management next week, in which she might seek to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and to make her comments.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Leader of the House pass on my thanks to the Chancellor for making a statement on getting serious about tax avoidance? One can hear the breaking of glass in News Corporation and the Telegraph Media Group. With that in mind, there is no better place to start than media groups to ensure that they pay an appropriate amount of tax in this country. Will she ensure that that is taken forward?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important for companies and corporations to pay their taxes in this country and for individuals to do so, too. There is a particular issue for us in the House of Commons and for people who seek to come into the House of Commons. It used to be said that there should be no taxation without representation. We raise the taxes-we pass the Finance Acts-and so we should turn it around and say that there should be no representation without taxation. The idea that someone should purport to come into this House to make other people pay taxes while saying for tax purposes that they do not live in this country is bizarre.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Will the Leader of the House, in her busy schedule before Christmas, take the time to draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to early-day motions on the situation in Kurdistan, and particularly the adversely altered imprisonment arrangements for Abdullah Ocalan? If he were to pass away in Turkish custody, the security of us all would be greatly compromised.

Ms Harman: I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter. There will be an opportunity next week in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, if he thinks that it is appropriate, for him to set out those points in more detail.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the wonderful Christmas party in your apartments yesterday. It was much appreciated by my granddaughter.

May I ask for an early debate based on early-day motion 346, on organ donors?

[ That this House notes that 10-year-old George Higginson, who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident, donated his organs as gifts of life to five other people; wishes to pay tribute to the courage and selflessness of his parents who continue to support and promote organ donation; and supports Mr Higginson ' s suggestion that arrangements be made at polling stations to give people an opportunity to register as an organ donor whilst voting at the forthcoming general election. ]

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