Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have a debate next week entitled "Evidence to the Chilcot inquiry"? This would enable right hon. and hon. Members to express the view that the Prime Minister should give evidence to the inquiry before the general election, so that the electorate may know the extent of his personal responsibility for what is clearly
14 Jan 2010 : Column 853
an unlawful war and for the underfunding and under-resourcing of British forces when they went to war and in the reconstruction period thereafter?

Ms Harman: I would have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would recognise that Chilcot is independent, and that it is not the job of the House to breathe down the neck of an independent inquiry before it has even reported. The time for the House to debate the Chilcot inquiry will be after it has reported.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): May we have an early debate on the globalisation of homophobia as politics, the ugliest example of which is in Uganda? Why is DFID sending so much money to countries that promote anti-gay politics? When will our faiths-including the Church of England, the Church of Rome and the Muslim Council of Britain-condemn the new international politics that seeks to oppress gays in many parts of the world?

Ms Harman: I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend that tackling homophobia has to be at the heart of our concern for human rights for every individual in every country in the world. Perhaps he could raise the specific point about DFID at DFID questions next week.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): The Calman commission has recommended that certain extra powers be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. There is cross-party agreement on a lot of those powers, including the one relating to the drink-drive limit. We have a problem of deaths caused by people who have drunk too much alcohol, and I believe that tomorrow is the deadline for the Government to make moves towards transferring the powers. Will they do that?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to write to the hon. Gentleman about that issue.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the free offer scam on health supplements such as the acacia berry free offer, which, unfortunately, involves a company that has its base in Linlithgow in my constituency. Although people cancelled the free offers, they still had money taken from their credit cards for up to four quarters. I am told by the police that a solution would require a change to the banking regulations, because they have no power to deal with such arrangements when people take up these offers using their credit cards. Can the Leader of the House do something about this?

Ms Harman: It is very important indeed that consumers are protected from that sort of scam, and I will raise the matter with my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Mine is a western Southampton question. Given that the Prime Minister himself said that the people of Southampton and Totton would decide whether their water should be fluoridated, and that both the Labour Southampton MPs, including a member of the Cabinet, have said that
14 Jan 2010 : Column 854
it should not be fluoridated-for the time being at least-because of the 72 per cent. opposition to the proposal, may we have a statement from a Health Minister explaining why a health spokesman in the House of Lords said in a written answer on behalf of the Government:

Ms Harman: If hon. Members want to make a point in business questions, that is obviously fine, but if they actually want an answer to a specific, detailed question, it is probably best to let me know what they are likely to ask, so that I can give them a better informed answer than the one that I am about to give, which is that I will ask the Health Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an early debate on the long-term effects on our constituencies and our country of foreign takeovers of UK companies? In Yorkshire, we have had Walmart taking over Asda with disastrous results, and Nestlé taking over Rowntree. Now, Cadbury is possibly to be taken over by Kraft or Hershey. These events can have a considerable effect on our constituencies and our country. Let us have a serious debate on the long-term effects of foreign ownership of British companies.

Ms Harman: We have just had Business, Innovation and Skills questions, but I would like to assure my hon. Friend that the Government are acutely aware of the strength of feeling generated by the takeover bid in respect of Cadbury, which is a major UK company. Today, Lord Mandelson will be holding a round-table discussion with shareholders and companies to ensure that shareholders play a full part in corporate governance, including by taking a long-term view of their investments. We need to ensure that the work force and British manufacturing are protected.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): May I draw the House's attention to early-day motion 42, which deals with carers?

[That this House notes that in the National Strategy for Carers the Government pledged that by 2018 carers will be supported so that they are not forced into financial hardship by their caring role; believes that carers cannot wait because too many are living in poverty and financial hardship now, struggling to afford the basic costs of living, unable to study or work without their benefits being cut off, or facing the removal of their allowance when they start to claim their pension; further notes that the UK's six million carers save the country an estimated 87 billion per year, and that in return, the main carer's benefit is the lowest of its kind, paid at only 53.10 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring, equivalent to 1.52 per hour, far short of the national minimum wage of 5.73 per hour; supports the Carer's Poverty Charter signed by the Alzheimer's Society, Carers UK, Citizens Advice, Contact a Family, Counsel and Care, Crossroads Caring for Carers, Every Disabled Child Matters, for dementia, Mencap, Macmillan Cancer, Motor Neurone Disease Society, National Autistic Society, Oxfam, Parkinson's Disease Society, Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Rethink, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and Vitalise; and calls on the Government
14 Jan 2010 : Column 855
to set out an urgent timetable of action to improve carers' benefits and income that protects carers from falling into poverty or financial hardship, reflects carers' different circumstances, helps carers to combine caring with paid work and study and is easy to understand and straightforward to claim.]

May I ask for a debate on the evidence produced by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care, which shows that, in many parts of the country last year, the NHS siphoned off millions of pounds that was meant to have paid for the breaks and other support that carers need? We need to have that debate, so that we can establish whether Ministers have learned the lessons in the first year of having money made available for that purpose, and ensure that all the money-£100 million in the coming year-actually gets to the carers.

Ms Harman: Obviously, we have made sure that additional resources are directed to supporting carers. We also want to ensure that the money reaches those who need it. In addition, we are giving greater protection to carers who are also at work, because most carers hold down a job as well as caring for an elderly or disabled relative. There will be new, stronger legal protection in the Equality Bill to protect carers from being discriminated against by their employers.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The Post Office is a much-valued, much used and much loved brand. When can we have a debate to ask the Government to put more services through the Post Office and Royal Mail, to ensure that there are no more closures? Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow us an early debate in order to support the post office network?

Ms Harman: I will look for an opportunity for that sort of debate. We have a strong, ongoing commitment to the post office network and we are looking for opportunities to provide new services through post offices.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to return to the subject of the national dementia strategy? She said earlier that it was on track, and I hope that she is right. She will know, however, that the National Audit Office this morning suggests that it is not so sure. The Government were right to make dementia care a priority last year, and to produce the dementia strategy. Given what has been said this morning, however, may we have a proper debate-the first in Government time-about the strategy, to ensure that this important priority is being effectively implemented?

Ms Harman: Of course we all want to ensure that the strategy is kept on track. It was drawn up following a wide consultation involving primary and hospital care as well as the voluntary sector. I know that the hon. Gentleman chairs the all-party parliamentary group on dementia. The Government are not complacent. We regard this as long overdue action, and we will be taking it and working with Members on both sides of the House to ensure that it happens in every constituency.

14 Jan 2010 : Column 856

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on taxi legislation, to discuss the legal loophole that allows some private hire firms to register in one local authority area but operate almost exclusively in another, as is happening in Milton Keynes? They normally do this to avoid the higher charges made by urban authorities and the knowledge exams required. This is bad for business and very bad for customers.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. This is also a question of the standards being enforced equally across different authorities. I will discuss the matter with Transport Ministers and get back to him.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When citizens from other EU countries come to reside in the UK, they are allowed to bring their vehicles with them, and to drive them on British roads for up to six months before getting the necessary MOT and so on. There is no effective mechanism to enforce that six-month rule, however. May we have a statement in the House from the Transport Minister on the measures that the Government intend to introduce to ensure that these vehicles can be appropriately registered and MOT-tested?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Transport Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman on that matter.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): A lot of us enjoy watching soccer in the lower leagues of the English league system. What can I do to raise this subject with Ministers in the House? One of my local clubs-Croydon football club-has been having abortive discussions with the council about gaining support. How can I best raise this issue?

Ms Harman: I think the hon. Gentleman has done a good job already, but he can reinforce it at Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions next week.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May we have a statement from the Home Secretary about my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who was given the green light yesterday by the High Court to challenge the Home Secretary's decision to allow his extradition? Surely the Home Secretary should see the writing on the wall from the court's decision that he was wrong to ignore the compelling medical evidence and wrong to allow the extradition, given my constituent's perilous mental state.

Ms Harman: This is now going forward for judicial review.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): May we have a debate on the Government's failure, after more than three weeks, to issue travel documents to Mr. al-Sirraj, who was wrongly detained in the US Camp Cropper in Baghdad, that would allow him to come back to the UK to be reunited with his British wife?

Ms Harman: I will raise that point with the Minister for Borders and Immigration. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has tabled a written question,
14 Jan 2010 : Column 857
written a letter or asked for a meeting; if those steps have already been taken but have not succeeded, I will raise the matter with my ministerial colleague this afternoon.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): My area is well covered by two excellent local hospitals-Stepping Hill in Stockport and Wythenshawe in south Manchester-but I am concerned about new rules under which Department of Health officials are interpreting new regulations for NHS charities, whereby donations to individual hospitals and charities would have to be consolidated into general NHS funds, thus undermining the independence of the said charities, potentially damaging the level of income from donations. May we have an urgent debate on this extremely important matter, which is also the subject of early-day motion 518 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott)?

[ That this House is alarmed at the manner in which the Department of Health and Monitor are applying International Accounting Standard 27, which will come into effect from April 2010, to NHS charities; notes the serious concern amongst the Association of NHS Charities and the Charity Commission that this could lead to the consolidation of NHS charities' funds, worth over £300 million annually, and assets, worth over £2 billion, into the public accounts of their parent NHS bodies; believes this would seriously undermine the independence of those charities and damage their level of income from donations; further believes that the manner in which these accounting standards are being applied is entirely inappropriate for NHS charities; and calls on the Treasury and the Office of the Third Sector to take action to ensure that the existing independence of NHS charities from public sector bodies is maintained. ]

Ms Harman: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to respond to the hon. Gentleman about the issues raised in the early-day motion and to place a copy of his response in the Library.

14 Jan 2010 : Column 858

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Business questions are, especially for Back-Bench MPs, one of the most important parts of the parliamentary week, and not only because the deputy Prime Minister answers those questions so excellently. Will the Leader of the House-sorry, I mean the Deputy Prime Minister-explain why the February recess starts on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday, which means that we will miss the opportunity to hear her on Thursday 11 February?

Ms Harman: Well, I have nothing at all to say in response to that. I just have nothing to say-sorry!

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Wright Committee was elected by all parties, so it is only logical that the House should have a chance to vote on the result of its recommendations. Why not, then, just put the resolution proposed by the elected Wright Committee and invite the colleagues of the Leader of the House, including anyone who disagrees with it, to amend it? Why not just do that at the appropriate time?

Ms Harman: The Committee itself acknowledged that there were very complex issues at stake, some of which required further work and some of which were ready to bring forward. Indeed, we have already dealt with the question of electing the Deputy Speakers. We will make progress, but it is not a simple, straightforward issue on which there was unanimity. We are as concerned as anyone else, if not more so, to ensure that the reputation of the House should be held in high regard. We will make sure that these measures can be taken forward.

Mr. Speaker: I am very grateful for the House's co-operation, as no fewer than 36 Back-Bench Members were able to get into the debate in a session lasting 46 minutes. I am extremely grateful to colleagues for that.

14 Jan 2010 : Column 859

Thalidomide Survivors

12.24 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Mike O'Brien): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about help for thalidomide survivors. Between 1958 and 1961, the drug thalidomide was used by expectant mothers to control the symptoms of morning sickness. Tragically, this led to many babies being born with often severe physical disabilities. There are currently 466 thalidomiders, as they refer to themselves, who are beneficiaries of the Thalidomide Trust. The Government wish to express their deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected. I will say more about that in a moment.

I am pleased to report that the Government will now fund a £20 million, three-year pilot scheme to help meet the health needs of thalidomide survivors in a more personalised way. Funding has been found from existing departmental central contingency budgets. The scheme will be operated by the Thalidomide Trust, which will use its considerable expertise and knowledge of its members' needs to distribute money to survivors. They, in turn, will invest the money in adaptations and other preventive measures that are likely to reduce long-term demands on the NHS.

In recent months, I have met the national advisory council of the Thalidomide Trust on a number of occasions, and it impressed on me its concerns about the continuing and increasing health needs of thalidomiders as they approach older age. This additional funding will help to meet their complex and highly specialised needs, and to reduce further degeneration in their health.

There will be clear principles for the use of the money. It will be used to explore how the health needs of thalidomide survivors can best be met in the longer term. It will also be used to look at the effectiveness of the scheme and how this approach-of working through an expert national body-might be applied to other small groups of geographically dispersed patients with specialised needs. The evaluation will be focused on thalidomide survivors in England. However, as the Thalidomide Trust has discretion in how it uses its funding, we expect that survivors living outside England will also benefit.

It is important to acknowledge that this announcement builds on work done with thalidomiders in past decades by Lord Morris of Manchester and by Lord Ashley of Stoke. Lord Morris, appointed as the first Minister for Disabled People in 1974, made Distillers, the then owners of the thalidomide drug, establish a trust fund for affected children. Lord Ashley has tirelessly campaigned for greater recognition of the effects of the drug and the needs of thalidomiders, which has also led to improvements in drug safety. The work of Harold Evans and The Sunday Times should also be acknowledged, as should the campaigning by a number of current Members of this House.

While the Government are taking positive steps to help thalidomide survivors, the contribution of the Thalidomide Trust to supporting survivors and their families cannot be overstated. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the trust, its officers and, in particular, to the members of the national advisory council, which has worked tirelessly to champion the cause of thalidomiders.

Next Section Index Home Page