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7 Jan 2010 : Column 288

He was obviously right to talk in the plural because, as the Committee itself acknowledges, a number of decisions will need to be taken by the House. Some proposals require further work before they can be brought to the House, but there will be a number of decisions, and we expect to make progress on them and, indeed, the work that came within the remit of the Wright Committee, which arose originally from the work of the Procedure Committee on the election of Deputy Speakers and the introduction of term limits for Mr. Speaker and Deputy Speakers. Those were passed by a resolution of the House yesterday. We will make progress on this matter-not in one big bang, but we will establish the direction of travel on a consensus within this House. Steps will be taken, and the House will vote to see them put into action.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House to make a statement on "Food 2030", which was published by the Government on Tuesday morning? It is not available even in the Vote Office, let alone to Members by a statement. Quite apart from that discourtesy to the House, surely we should have a discussion in this Chamber about the document, which talks about the future of farming, food production and the food chain. When so many of our farmers are clearly in real difficulty with the current weather, perhaps we should use the topical debate next Thursday to discuss the document, and the Environment Secretary can answer some questions on it.

Ms Harman: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in what is a very important report. I will discuss with the Secretary of State whether he thinks there should be an opportunity to bring it to the House to debate. I certainly think it raises some very important issues that probably could benefit from wider debate in the House.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the prime area in which Ministers are held to account is here, in the House of Commons? Does she therefore agree that the failure by the Department for Communities and Local Government to field a Minister for last night's Adjournment debate was a basic failure in accountability? As the debate was about discrimination against minority faiths, the lack of a departmental Minister made the point forcefully. What steps will she take to ensure that Departments understand that private discussions in meetings are no substitute for proper parliamentary accountability here on the Floor of the House?

Ms Harman: I agree: if something has gone wrong, Ministers should offer a meeting with the hon. Member concerned-and I understand that that has happened in this case-but that is not sufficient. There is something unique about accountability on the Floor of the House, and that is what a Back Bencher seeks when initiating an Adjournment debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House for taking that debate so ably on behalf of the Government. She is committed to those issues, but she is not the accountable Minister, and that is why I will take this up with the Secretary of State. It should not have happened and we need to ensure that it does not happen again.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I thank the Leader of the House for what she said about David Taylor, who was such an outstanding Back Bencher?

In the light of Sir Ian Kennedy's comments yesterday, would it not be sensible for the House to make its views known on his proposals so that we do not put the cart before the horse and vote on some Kelly recommendations that Sir Ian may not wish to endorse, bearing in mind that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is now in control?

Ms Harman: There are some residual issues from Sir Christopher Kelly's report that require legislation to fix them firmly in place. We have agreed to bring those forward in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. As for Sir Ian Kennedy's document on establishing the new scheme for Members' allowances, the framework for it was laid down in the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which requires consultation with the Speaker and Members of the House, and I understand that Sir Ian has announced a wider five-week consultation with the public on the document through a website. It is now the responsibility of IPSA to take that forward independently. Individual Members can respond to the consultation and we can put forward our views, but Professor Sir Ian Kennedy is responsible for proposing the scheme as chairman of IPSA, and that is what he will do under the framework that has been laid down.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Will the Government table their own amendments to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to ban non-doms from serving in Parliament, or will Ministers rely on my amendment?

Ms Harman: That is an important issue, although I was not aware that my hon. Friend had tabled such an amendment. It sounds like a very good idea and I thank him for bringing it to the attention of the House. If he gets the chance to move his amendment, perhaps it will provide an opportunity for those on the Opposition Benches to say whether the deputy chair of the Tory party is actually resident for tax purposes.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I very much welcome the Leader of the House's warm words about the Wright Committee proposals for reform of the House of Commons, and in particular her suggestion that we will need to go even further and build on them. That is an excellent and necessary idea. As a first step, will she place the Committee's draft motion on the Order Paper for a free vote in this House-yes or no?

Ms Harman: We are consulting the Opposition parties to ensure that the motion that we table has the broadest possible agreement across the House. Of course it will be a free vote, as it is House business, not Government business.

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Can my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the Government's overseas aid policy? She will be aware that a wind of vicious homophobic oppression is blowing through large parts of Africa, including in countries to which we contribute significant sums of aid development money. Other than the routine expressions of outrage that we make in diplomatic circles, can she enlighten us as to what actual leverage we have with some of these
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countries, such as Uganda and Malawi, that will demonstrate to them the complete unacceptability of the course of action on which they have embarked, as it will see innocent men and women sentenced to life imprisonment or to death just for being gay?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. This is a fundamental, basic human rights issue of great concern to the Government and the international community. I will raise his points about overseas aid in that specific respect with the Secretary of State for International Development.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May we have a debate on benefit entitlement? We learnt yesterday that Anjem Choudary, the putative leader of Islam4UK which plans a despicable march through Wootton Bassett, is in receipt of £25,000 of benefits, compared with the average wage of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan of £17,000. My constituents do not understand that distorted sense of priorities in our benefit system. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need an urgent debate to talk about such issues?

Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the benefit system has been misapplied in this case, he can bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities. If it is a question of the structure of the benefit system, I suggest that he seeks an opportunity to raise it at Work and Pensions questions and makes his own proposals on how the benefit system should be changed.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that during the festive period a major holiday provider in Scotland, Flyglobespan, went into receivership, resulting in hundreds of job losses and thousands of families losing their holidays. Will she use her good offices to facilitate an investigation into the circumstances surrounding that company so that we may explore what lessons can be learned and, just as importantly, ensure that the workers' interests are taken into account and the families receive compensation?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be concerned to investigate the circumstances surrounding the receivership of that company. I join my hon. Friend in expressing sympathy to the thousands of families affected and the employees whose livelihoods have been so devastatingly affected.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May we have an early debate on the situation in Gaza? There is growing concern on both sides of the House about the desperate and deteriorating humanitarian situation, and a debate would allow Ministers from the Foreign Office to explain what they are doing to bring about a change of mind on the part of Egypt, which is currently blocking a humanitarian convoy.

Ms Harman: I am aware of the general intensification of concern about this issue, not least as reflected by the hon. Gentleman and by questions to the Prime Minister yesterday. I shall perhaps discuss with the Foreign Secretary the best way to ensure that the concerns of the House are properly aired and debated, so that he has a chance to respond and the way forward is made clear.

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Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) leads an impressive campaign for fashion magazines clearly to label doctored and airbrushed images of professional models. I support that campaign and, after the pre-election launches this week, I think that it should be extended to political propaganda. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the new age of parliamentary transparency there should be no role for Ken Barbie doll politicians?

Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. I fully support the hon. Lady's excellent campaign. There is nothing wrong with older women, and we do not need airbrushing. I also agree that no amount of airbrushing will conceal the truth behind the Tory tax muddle. It might be a new, airbrushed face, but it is still the same old Tories.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): It would be particularly appropriate at this time to have a topical debate on the Met Office, which costs taxpayers about £200 million a year. Surely it is time to stop treating the serial inaccuracy of the Met Office's forecasts as just a joke. It has become a scandal; it looks as if it has been hijacked by the climate change lobby. May we have a topical debate very soon on the subject?

Ms Harman: The problem is not the Met Office but the challenge of climate change. There is a micro-climatic problem on the Tory Back Benches, which perhaps I could refer to the Tory Front Benchers.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): On Monday, the Leader of the Opposition paid a visit to the Stroud constituency-a fine place to come to, if I may say so. When asked by a journalist what difference a Conservative MP would make to the people of Stroud and Gloucester, he was quoted as saying:


Given that my right hon. and learned Friend protects the rights of Back Benchers, may I suggest that she tell the Opposition, in the nicest possible way, to get some decent researchers? They could have looked at my voting record. More particularly, would she support my demand for a retraction, so that we can get some honesty back into politics and get people who are straight with the electorate for once?

Ms Harman: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. It sounds like he is suggesting something like "Ofpol" to monitor the Opposition. They say different things in different parts of the country and different things to the newspapers from what they say in the House. The one consistent thing is that none of it adds up.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): In the early days of this bout of bad weather, when the channel tunnel was closed because the trains could not run, Operation Stack was applied. That means that the M20 is closed and used as a lorry park. It happens regularly, and it
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does not just mean misery for my constituents and others in Kent; it cuts the most important freight route in the country. Given that, could the right hon. and learned Lady arrange for the Department for Transport to come to the House and make a statement? The regular application of Operation Stack is not just a local and regional problem, but a national and serious economic one. For various reasons, it is happening more and more often, and it is time for national Government to take some responsibility for this long-running problem.

Ms Harman: I can see that the issue has national implications, but it might be a good idea for the hon. Gentleman and a group of MPs for the constituencies most directly affected to get together with the responsible Transport and Business Ministers and discuss whether the framework needs to be changed. No doubt the regional development agency would also need to be involved. I suggest that he takes that forward. However, if he wants to make another suggestion, perhaps he can make it to me and I can follow it up.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend urgently arrange for lessons in GCSE geography to be made available to certain Members of the House who do not appear to be aware that when the planet warms up, warm air moves to the poles, pushing cold air down into areas such as ours? Global warming, therefore, produces extremes of weather, both hot and cold. Does she agree that the problem of global warming requires global leadership, and will she assure the House that the Prime Minister will continue to provide that leadership undeterred by recent events?

Ms Harman: We are able to play our part in the global effort to focus on climate change-obviously it has to be tackled nationally as well as globally-only because the Prime Minister and the Government are absolutely clear that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the planet, that we understand the science that lies underneath it, and that we are determined to take action to tackle it. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there was a statement in the House this week on aviation and border security. It included a section on the risk of radicalisation and extremism in our universities. The statement made it clear that

in higher education. However, it is not clear when that guidance was published. This is a dynamic subject; the risks and intelligence change, and the guidance needs to change too. May we have a statement ensuring that the guidance is updated and published so that Members can see that it is relevant and fit for purpose?

Ms Harman: The Prevent programme, preventing radical extremism, is important not only in the Department for Communities and Local Government but, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, given that it involves issues of further and higher education. There are Business,
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Innovation and Skills questions next Thursday. Perhaps he will seek an opportunity to raise the issue directly with Business Ministers.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I point out that questions are starting to get a bit long? I want to try to get everybody in. We have an important debate to follow, so I hope that colleagues will be as helpful as possible.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): May I draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to my early-day motion 259 on the east coast main line franchise?

[That this House notes with concern the timetable the Government has set for the refranchising of East Coast main line services; and calls on the Government to maintain the East Coast main line in public ownership so that the quality, effectiveness and competitiveness of public ownership can be fully demonstrated.]

May we have an early debate on the subject so that we can get a better understanding of why the Government remain wedded to the idiotic and fanciful privatisation of the railways bequeathed to us by the Conservative party? Many of us hoped that the east coast main line could be a public service comparator, so that we can judge other companies.

Ms Harman: We remain concerned to continue to improve our rail services, including the east coast main line, and I will draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Concern has been raised across the House about whether the Government actually support the recommendations of the Wright Committee report. The right hon. and learned Lady sought to reassure the House today, which I welcome. On that constructive note, may I ask whether she would be willing to meet a delegation of Wright Committee members to discuss where she feels that the recommendations need building on, so that there is no misunderstanding and to ensure that her motives, and those of the Government, are not misinterpreted in the way that she feels that they have been? Perhaps a meeting next week would suffice.

Ms Harman: The Select Committee recognised that some of the proposals needed more work to take them forward. Above all, I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will facilitate proposals for debate and decision in the House, but there is no way we expect this to become a Government issue. It is a House issue, and we will ensure that we facilitate its ability to look across the piece and make progress on those issues.

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