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7 Jan 2010 : Column 282

Business of the House

12.7 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for the week commencing 11 January will be:

Monday 11 January-Second Reading of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Tuesday 12 January-Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Personal Care at Home Bill.

Wednesday 13 January-Opposition day [2nd allotted day]. There will be a debate on education, skills and training opportunities for young people in the recession followed by a debate on energy security. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 14 January-Topical debate, subject to be announced. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 January will include:

Monday 18 January-Second Reading of the Crime and Security Bill.

Tuesday 19 January-Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 3).

Wednesday 20 January-Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill.

Thursday 21 January-If necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments to the Video Recordings Bill. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed Private Business for consideration.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 and 21 January will be:

Thursday 14 January-A debate on supporting young people in the recession.

Thursday 21 January-A debate on violence against women.

You, Mr. Speaker, have paid tribute, on behalf of the House, to David Taylor, as did the Prime Minister and the leaders of the Opposition parties yesterday. I should like to add my tribute as Leader of the House. There is an empty space up on that Back Bench today. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] We will miss his contributions, not least at this time every Thursday. The good that he did as an MP will endure in the improved lives of the many, many constituents he personally helped. More widely, the good that he did in this House will endure-for example, his private Member's Bill, the Management of Dementia in Care Homes Bill, laid the basis for, and lives on in, our national dementia strategy. He is a big loss to his family and also to the House.

Sir George Young: May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for next week's business, and also for what she said about David Taylor, which I strongly endorse? In an age in which the standing of the Chamber has
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diminished, and in which the Chamber lies empty for much of the day, he was often assiduous in his attendance and he was an independent contributor to our debates, including, of course, in his regular appearance at business questions. He was a good parliamentarian and will be much missed.

May I thank the staff of the House for ensuring that this place has continued to run smoothly despite the bad weather that is continuing to disrupt the whole country?

Now, when will the right hon. and learned Lady give us the dates of the Easter recess? Those who work in the Palace of Westminster can take a holiday only when we are not sitting, and they need to make their plans for the months ahead. I have been asking for the dates almost every week since October. When will she announce them?

Can the Leader of the House untangle the Government's muddle about the Budget? In a television interview on Sunday morning, the Prime Minister said:

Given yesterday's devastating report from the Treasury Committee, which eviscerates the Government's current plans to reduce the deficit, will she confirm that there will be a Labour Budget in March, and that it will spell out the details of how the Government intend to deal with the financial crisis? Hopefully that will generate more interest among Government Back Benchers than the Second Reading of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill on Tuesday, during which not one Labour MP spoke in support.

When will the House debate the report from the Commons reform Committee? As we saw yesterday during the debate on private Members' Bills, the House is impatient to discuss these issues. During the recent debate in Westminster Hall both main Opposition parties set out their position, but we had no such transparency from the Government. When will the Leader of the House set out the Government's position, and will she now confirm that the debate will be held on a substantive motion ending in a vote?

If the Government intend to amend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which is due to be debated next week, to implement proposals from the Kelly report, and, as some newspapers have suggested, to include a provision for a referendum on voting reform, will the right hon. and learned Lady give the House an extra day in Committee to consider what is already a large and sprawling piece of legislation?

May I repeat my call, and that of many colleagues throughout the House, for a proper debate in Government time on Afghanistan? The conference on the future of Afghanistan has been scheduled for the end of the month in London. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that Members should have their chance to debate the matter in full before that conference, so that they can bring to Ministers the thoughts of their constituents ahead of it?

Finally, looking at the weeks ahead, does the Leader of the House agree with me, and indeed with some of her right hon. Friends, that we cannot go on like this? The right hon. and learned Lady, who is the deputy leader of the Labour party, finally issued a statement of
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support for the Prime Minister at 6 o'clock last night, saying that Ministers were getting on with the business of government. She was so involved in her own business that she could not even vote yesterday afternoon for a House motion that was tabled in her own name. Is not the truth that instead of a secret ballot of Labour MPs for a new leader, what the country really needs is a ballot of the whole country for a new Government?

Ms Harman: I would like to add to the right hon. Gentleman's comments thanking the staff of the House. The House did not rise until about 11 o'clock on Tuesday, which left it very late for Officers and staff of the House to get home. We ought to pay tribute to them for the fact that the House has continued to operate, not least so that we could hear the urgent question answered today about the efforts that need to be taken to help people carry on with their work as usual during the cold weather.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the announcements about the recess, which will be made in the usual way. He also asked about the management of the economy. There will be a pre-Budget report debate after business questions, and there will be further stages of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, allowing all such issues to be debated. We heard the Prime Minister reassure the country again at Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday that we would ensure that we have a secure recovery, that we do not pull the plugs on the recovery, that we tackle the deficit by having fair tax measures and that we make sensible and fair choices about public spending. The public can be reassured that that is the Government's position, even though there is something of a muddle about the matter on the Tory Benches.

As far as the Wright Committee report is concerned, the Prime Minister said yesterday that he welcomed it and that there would be an opportunity for the House to debate and decide on the issues in question. As the right hon. Gentleman reminded the House, we have already had a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall on 15 December, in which 17 colleagues participated. We made some progress in the motion that the House adopted last night, which he mentioned. We have not stood still, and the direction of travel is clear. It was I who tabled the motion to take the matter forward on behalf of the Government. It is a complex matter on which the Government will have to take views, but it is not for us to dictate to the House on it. It is for us to facilitate progress on a consensual basis, which is what we will do. We want further progress to be made.

As far as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is concerned, we will have to consider whether extra measures should be brought forward to ensure that the House has enough time to debate it on the Floor of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the important issue of Afghanistan. I said before Christmas, and reiterate today, that we want to be absolutely sure that the House can hold Ministers to account and that there can be debates so that views can be put forward. A lot of concern was raised in business questions in December about the need to have a substantive debate on Afghanistan in January. Although I have not been able to announce it today, I am aware of the time scale that the shadow Leader of the House pointed out. I reassure colleagues that I am determined that we will have a substantive debate on Afghanistan before the end of the month.

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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): One of the Members of Parliament who participated in the debate in Westminster Hall that the Leader of the House mentioned was David Taylor. He intervened when I was making my comments, and within a few moments of having made his intervention he passed me a note thanking me for allowing him to contribute. That was typical of the courtesy of the man and his ever-presence and value to the House. He will be very much missed.

On the Wright Committee report, this simply will not do. There is only one thing that the Government have to do: take the page of the report that contains the draft motion and put it on the Order Paper. Nothing else is needed. The Leader of the House says that she is facilitating matters, but she is doing so exceedingly slowly. I ask her to hurry up and simply put that motion before the House, and then I hope we can make progress.

When can we expect a debate on the special report from the Information Commissioner following the veto by the Secretary of State for Justice of the release of Government papers, in contravention of the Information Commissioner's decision and prior to a tribunal hearing? That is unprecedented, and it is necessary for that report, which is to the House, not the Government, to be debated, and for the Secretary of State to justify his actions. When will that happen?

May we have a statement from the Health Secretary on the intention from the beginning of the next financial year to consolidate the assets of hospital charities into the general NHS budget? That is very much resented by those who work tirelessly to raise funds in support of their local hospital. It cannot be right that it is going to happen, and I hope that the House will have the opportunity to express an opinion on it.

May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course on the supervisory review of the failed banks by the Financial Services Authority? There is some suggestion that it will not even published, which I hope is not the case. I hope that the Government can assure the House that it will be published and that a statement will be made in the House about its contents, because it is of absolute importance that we understand why the banks got this country into the mess that it is in and that we can assign responsibility appropriately.

Lastly, may we have a statement in due course on bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Iceland, because there is clearly a full-scale constitutional crisis in that country as well as an economic one? That has huge ramifications for the United Kingdom, not least for the £830 million of taxpayers' money from local authorities that is still to be recovered from that small country with its enormous debts. May we have a clarification from the Government as to what the position is at the earliest opportunity and an opportunity to debate the matter?

Ms Harman: I can assure the hon. Gentleman, as I have the shadow Leader of the House, that we intend to make progress on the Wright Committee's report. I reiterate that that Committee's work was not foisted on us: we actually welcomed the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) to set up the Committee and swiftly brought forward the resolution to establish it. We are grateful for the work that it did, including over the summer recess, and we want to ensure that it is built upon and taken forward.

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As far as the freedom of information request and the veto is concerned, there was a full statement on that by the Justice Secretary on-I think-10 December.

Mr. Heath: A written statement.

Ms Harman: I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon-he is right that it was a written ministerial statement. I think I remember that that statement contained the information that there were something like 16,000 routine FOI requests, of which only two have been vetoed, so it was a very exceptional occurrence, which is why things were spelt out in a written ministerial statement. The framework that is set down by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 was followed as part of that process. [Official Report, 13 January 2010, Vol. 503, c. 7-8MC.]

As for charities, resources and the health service, there are Health questions next week, so the hon. Gentleman could look for an opportunity to raise that issue. If his question goes wider to include the funding of charities as part of the contribution to our health services, he might find an opportunity to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the debate on the pre-Budget report, which will happen immediately after business questions.

On financial regulation, the hon. Gentleman will know that the House has devoted a considerable amount of time-and rightly so-to the question of the regulation of financial services since the global credit crisis was precipitated in the United States. That has meant more work to toughen up the regime of the Financial Services Authority, the Financial Services Bill and international action so that we can work with other countries to ensure that this contagion of a lack of confidence in financial services does not spread with such devastating consequences as it did before. He will know that such things are constantly on the Treasury's agenda, the business Department's agenda and the House's agenda.

On the UK and Iceland-as it happens, the Netherlands is also involved-the UK Government stepped in. That was part of the action that we have taken so that people have not been left to sink or swim during the recession. Just as we have taken action to protect people who are at risk of losing their jobs, protected small businesses and protected people from losing their homes, we have taken action to protect people with deposits in Icelandic banks. That is all part of the action that has necessarily resulted in an increase in the deficit. Who would say that it was not worth increasing the deficit to make sure that we protect not only people's deposits in Icelandic banks, but confidence in financial services by the action that this Government have taken? All those things are part of what has built up the deficit. The next time anybody says that we should not have allowed public debt to rise, they should say where they think we should not have taken the action that has been so important. We will carry on with our bilateral work between not only ourselves and Iceland, but our European colleagues, to make sure that Iceland plays its part in paying back what it owes to the Government and people in this country.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. Twenty-five right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to be able to accommodate everybody, but short questions and short answers will be required if there is any chance of doing so.

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Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen early-day motion 72, on A1 Techsol Ltd, Stockport Road, Manchester, standing in my name and the names of a number of other hon. Gentlemen?

[That this House condemns A1 Techsol Ltd, Stockport Road, Manchester, for having failed to return to a constituent of the right hon. Member for Gorton his UK passport, driving licence, bank statements, security officer's badge and photographs, which they required from him on taking up employment with them, and for ignoring repeated requests from the right hon. Member to return this material to his constituent; regards A1 Techsol's retention of this material as both theft and a breach of employment legislation; calls on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the police to investigate; and meanwhile calls on the public to have nothing whatever to do with A1 Techsol, either as employees or in any other way.]

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Work and Pensions Secretary to investigate the employment practices of that rogue company, and the police to investigate it for possible larceny?

Ms Harman: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on raising this issue, which is obviously of importance in his constituency. I will do as he suggests and raise the matter with the Work and Pensions Secretary, but he will no doubt have the opportunity to refer it to the police.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Over the Christmas recess, the Yorkshire Post reported that the chief constable of West Yorkshire police, Sir Norman Bettison, criticised the fact that burglars were being released from prison early owing to the lack of prison places. May we have an urgent debate about sentencing for burglars and prison places, given that it is causing West Yorkshire police lots of trouble that they otherwise would not have had, and completely unnecessarily creating extra victims of crime, owing to the incompetence of this Government?

Ms Harman: There has actually been a fall in the level of crime since this Government came to office and an increase in the number of offenders brought to justice. No one is released from prison on the basis of a lack of prison places. We have increased the number of prison places- [ Interruption. ] Actually, we have done that with finance that the party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs would have opposed. I will not raise his points with the Home Secretary or the Justice Secretary because I think they are ill-founded.

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): Returning to the Wright Committee, do we take it that when the Leader of House says that the House will have the opportunity to decide on its report, she is saying that there will definitely be a substantive motion on which the House will have the opportunity to vote? I hope that that substantive motion will be, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, on the draft resolution in the back of that excellent report. My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right that the Government can take credit for introducing the Committee, but we now want to see its report put into action.

Ms Harman: Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said:

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