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"we recognise that unless the current problems in this area are resolved, then there will continue to be dissatisfaction and a sense that the House is failing to perform one of its core duties. In those circumstances, we will have failed one of the primary parts of our mission."
Ms Harman: Well, I agree that we should do everything that we can to make sure that all aspects of a Bill are scrutinised at all stages, but to some extent that is in the hands of the House. One thing that I will never understand is why people who justifiably complain about the lack of time to debate substantive issues use up loads of time on procedural motions. If we used that time to debate the substantive issues, we would reach more conclusions.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): This is normally a session for complaints and demands, so may I simply say that I welcome what the Leader of the House has said about a secure date for the House to consider the report from the House of Commons Reform Committee? In addition, I endorse her hope that the House will want to operate on a consensual basis, and that there will be a mechanism enabling it to come to some firm decisions.
Ms Harman: I am glad to have the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his very important work in proposing the Committee. His effective leadership has brought the Committee very quickly to some profound and radical solutions. I think that Members of this House can have major arguments, debates, disagreements and rows about the economy, public services and the sort of society that we want in the future, but I hope that we can at least agree on a non-partisan basis about how to ensure that the House works better in future.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My concern about the Wright report is that the consensus will be between the Executive and the shadow Executive, and that it will not take the views of Back Benchers into account. The consensus must be across the House, and not just between the two Executives.
I hope that we can build a consensus across the whole House based on the proposals made by the Wright Committee, which is a Back-Bench Committee.
I do not think that any of its members would say that they were responding to pressure from either the Executive or the shadow Executive, and they would give anyone who suggested that a dusty answer. The Wright Committee is made up of Back Benchers, and we have responded to their proposals by saying, "Fair enough, let's get on with implementing a great many of them."
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Do the Government intend to bring in a stand-alone Bill to deal with non-doms in Parliament, or will the Government rely on amending the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill?
Ms Harman: We are determined to make sure that people who are not prepared to be registered as taxpayers domiciled in this country cannot purport to represent taxpayers in constituencies or legislate in the House of Lords in ways that affect taxpayers. The only real question-my hon. Friend has adverted to it-concerns the right vehicle for bringing the matter to the House. We expect to reach a conclusion on that shortly and to bring it to the House.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Notwithstanding the fact that there will be a defence review in the next Parliament, whoever wins the general election, may we have a debate on future defence policy in the light of the thought-provoking speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards? We need such a debate not least because of the profound implications for the three services, and for procurement in particular.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I, too, welcome the announcement of a debate on the Wright Committee report on 23 February. Normally, honourable parliamentarians on both sides of the House would share my disdain when changes are introduced to legislation or to the procedures of the House on a nod and a wink and under the cloak of consensus, but that does not apply in this case. I was a member of the Committee and I was not part of that consensus. Will my right hon. and learned Friend guarantee that none of the proposals will be introduced without a full debate on every issue? I do not share the consensus on electing the Chairs and members of Select Committees, or on the establishment of a House business committee. I have deep concerns about those proposals, and I want a full debate on them. I am not part of this consensus.
Ms Harman: There will be a full debate, and I hope that there will be reassurances on my hon. Friend's concerns. I know that she played a full part in the Committee, but following its majority decisions, we would like to see changes made in the four areas that I have identified.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con):
The Infrastructure Planning Commission is about to receive an application from Hinkley Point in Somerset. Everything is going well, and I am very grateful for the Government's support, but we have hit a snag. The relevant Department also has to do its own consultation, and it is not doing it
properly. Can we please have time to debate that? Unless the IPC gets the application right, the application could be knocked back or, worse still, undermine the whole IPC system. Can we have time to discuss that?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman could raise that issue in Communities and Local Government questions next week and obtain an answer from the Secretary of State or one of the Ministers in that Department.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): May we have an early debate about debt, debt collection and, in particular, the activities of bailiffs? I have received an increasing number of complaints from constituents, many of them young single mums, about the intimidating and bullying behaviour of debt collectors. Although people should pay back their debt, they should not be subject to such behaviour. One of the big issues is that people do not understand their rights in terms of access to their homes, so can we have a debate as soon as possible about that issue?
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May we have a statement from the fire services Minister about the tremendously good work that British firefighters, who are specialists in urban search and rescue, are doing in Haiti? I had the privilege of visiting their state-of-the-art training facility at Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, and their tremendously good work really should be commended.
Ms Harman: I am sure that everybody agrees with those sentiments. If the hon. Gentleman wants a further chance to question Communities and Local Government Ministers, he should take up the opportunity next week at Communities and Local Government questions.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): There has been a further welcome fall in the unemployment figures for Wales this week, but many of my constituents will suffer from the announcement that Bosch, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), will close with the loss of 900 jobs. When can we have a debate not only about the very welcome measures that the Government have introduced to help people who lose their jobs, but to discuss what more can be done?
Ms Harman: We remain very concerned about the jobs question, which is very much at the top of our agenda, and I shall refer to the Business Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the points that my hon. Friend has made. I agree with her about how important it is that, for the first time, unemployment has gone down-based not only on the claimant count, but on the International Labour Organisation unemployment rate. That is in marked contrast with previous recessions, when unemployment went up dramatically and continued to rise long after the economy had returned to growth. That shows, in a reversal of the Tory election slogan, that Labour is working.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware of increasing public concern at excessive bank charges and the Office of Fair Trading's decision to throw in the towel. Can we have a debate, in Government time, about the Government's failure to extract a voluntary agreement? They promised that they would extract one from the banks, but they have so far failed.
Ms Harman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need strong regulation and regulatory bodies to protect consumers. We have no doubt about that; it is his party, generally speaking, that regards such measures as the nanny state, as a burden on business and as a surfeit of regulation. However, if he wants to support our stance of leaving no stone unturned to protect consumers and ensure the right regulations, he can work with us to achieve it.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): May I reinforce the request for a debate about married couples' tax breaks, a policy that contrasts starkly with the concerns of my constituents, who have benefited hugely from child tax credits and the child trust fund? My constituents are greatly concerned by such "back to basics" Victorian standards. The real worry is that the Leader of the Opposition is becoming more and more a captive of the right-wing of his party, which, as I have said, contrasts very much with this Government's approach to tax breaks for the family.
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. It is a modern-day version of "back to basics"-it is "back to basics" with an open-necked shirt. People want good support for families, which come in all shapes and sizes, and we rightly have child tax credits, child trust funds and Sure Start centres. Those are the practical measures that help families make their way in life, and it does not help families to be told by politicians of any Government that they should get married and stay happily married. No Government's Ministers have all been able to manage that, so how can we tell people, through tax relief, that they should be able to do so?
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I am grateful to you for calling me towards the end of these proceedings, Mr. Speaker, which saves my having to go to the gym, which I need to go to because I have been eating too much chocolate. Everyone keeps referring to chocolate, but that is very dangerous. Fudge is obviously the chocolate of choice for us here; the Leader of the House obviously has a soft caramel centre; and I have a close connection with Frank Muir's and Cadbury's "Fruit and Nut Case".
To be serious, I must say that we can benefit from more people visiting the Palace of Westminster, but unfortunately, as we tell visitors, it has a habit of burning down. Bearing in mind that there is now a different line of route, through Westminster Hall, what can be done to ensure that there are proper facilities to advise people of any emergency, and that we are able to detect fires as early as possible?
That is an important issue not just for Members, but for those who work for Members, all other staff and, as the hon. Gentleman has said, people who visit. The House has a detailed programme of
works to make the whole parliamentary estate compliant with fire safety legislation. That programme is based on an assessment of fire risk and is planned to be completed over a number of years. It includes the installation of automatic fire detection and voice alarm systems, fire compartmentalisation and detailed services. I shall ask the House authorities to write to him with further information.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I strongly support the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer). There are also serious concerns about the feeble performance of the rail franchise companies-especially First Capital Connect-about the ordering of new rolling stock from foreign producers rather than British-based producers and about the future, given the inadequacies of, and cuts in, rail freight capacity. We need a wide-ranging, general debate about the whole railway industry.
Ms Harman: Transport questions take place next week, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), but my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) has raised broader issues that go beyond an oral question to the Minister during that session. I shall therefore consider the issues that my hon. Friend has put forward, possibly for a topical debate.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): It should come as no surprise to the Leader of the House that immigration is one of the British people's top concerns, having had 13 years of our immigration system's shambolic mismanagement by the current Government. Will she make time for a debate about the subject? If we do not tackle it, the gainers will be those on the far right, whom none of us wants to succeed.
Ms Harman: The House considers immigration regularly, not only in statements but in questions, and the Prime Minister answered a question about it from the hon. Gentleman yesterday. However, I shall keep under review the question of whether there should be a full and further debate.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Clause 1 of the Equality Bill gives legislative backing to my right hon. and learned Friend's words a few moments ago about the impact of socio-economic class in our society, and the importance of making not simply a statement about but a reality of Britain as a nation where no child is limited by, among other things, their socio-economic class, which has disfigured this nation for so long. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether the Equality Bill, which is now in the Lords, will come back with that part intact, so that we can say to the British people that it is a Labour Government who have put that legislation into practice?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We considered the Equality Bill in the House of Commons, and we included in it clause 1, which requires all public authorities, when taking big decisions and taking action, to consider how they play their part in narrowing the gap between rich and poor and making for a more fair and equal society. Despite the fact that the Tories voted in Committee against that measure for social mobility
and for people to achieve their aspirations, the Bill has gone to the House of Lords, and I fully expect it to come back to the House of Commons with that clause in it. We want to see a more fair and equal society. We have made a lot of progress, but more progress needs to be made.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): May I underline the calls for a debate on Haiti and British involvement and support there? Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that a decision has been made to send the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Largs Bay to the Caribbean. It will take three weeks for that ship to arrive. We already have a ship there, HMS Iron Duke, which has marines on board, helicopter support and so forth. It could provide assistance immediately instead of waiting for three weeks. I urge the Leader of the House to allow us to have a debate on Haiti immediately.
Ms Harman: As I have said, we have had a statement and the Prime Minister's response on this. I would hate the hon. Gentleman to give the wrong impression to people who care so much about the fact that we should do everything we can to help people faced by the devastation in Haiti. We are providing immediate assistance with our search and rescue teams out there. We provided immediate additional resources to the international aid effort, so we are not waiting three weeks. However, we recognise that the effort to help people in Haiti will need to go on for much longer than the immediate crisis period. Therefore, we will be fully engaged with the need to plan not only for the immediate term but for the next months and, indeed, years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for an urgent debate on the role of the Governor of the Bank of England? Will the board-that is, the Cabinet-consider giving him the football manager's vote of confidence, so that we can get someone in who actually knows about the economy such as David "Danny" Blanchflower?
Ms Harman: We all heard David Blanchflower's comments. Labour Members support the idea that there should be public investment to ensure that the recovery in the economy takes root, so that we do not take any risk with the recovery and threaten it by pulling the plug on public investment.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am pleased to tell the House that after the exchanges between the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House, 27 Members from the Back Benches who wished to contribute to business questions were able to do so in the period of 28 minutes occupied by those Back-Bench exchanges. That shows what can be done when the spirit is willing, both among those Back Benchers and, indeed, very creditably and fortunately, on the part of the Leader of the House. I am grateful to the House for its co-operation.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your advice about the conduct of business for the rest of the day? I see from the Order Paper that the next debate is going to run for one and a half hours, which would take us to about quarter past 2, but the business after that does not start until 3 o'clock. Will you advise the House on why the Leader of the House and the appropriate authorities have not made appropriate provision for the efficient conduct of business today?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I think that I am right in saying that the requirement that the private Bills set down for debate this day should begin at 3 pm is a requirement of the Standing Orders of the House. That is, I hope, the conclusive answer to question posed by the hon. Gentleman.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House tabled a motion to vary that requirement for today, so that we would have been able to start that business as soon the topical debate had finished, but Conservative Members objected to it. That is why we will have to suspend the House, wasting time on procedural matters, which relates to the point that the Leader of the House made earlier. I hope that we will not be doing too much of that in future, because we could have got on with this afternoon's business more promptly.
Mr. Speaker: I am very grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House. Obviously, it is not a matter for me to say anything about wasting time; I would not dream of making such a partisan remark. However, I think that I owe the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) an apology, because I suggested that my own response to his point of order might be considered to be conclusive. Clearly, it was not, but it is fair to say that the response by the Deputy Leader of the House was indeed conclusive.
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