|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
It is important for people to understand that there is no consensus on some aspects of the recommendations. The Liaison Committee issued a report yesterday about
the election of Chairs of Select Committees, and we are in favour of the Wright Committee's proposals on that-we want the House to be able to elect those Chairs by secret ballot-but the Liaison Committee was split down the middle. It agreed to support the Wright Committee's proposals, but only by seven votes to six votes. If the right hon. Gentleman is trying to convey the view that there is consensus and that we are trying to oppose it, that is wrong. There are different views and we are trying to get consensus- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I have had to go on so long about that. I hope that people will understand that we are being completely open about this and are trying to make progress.
On the question of the material for the Chilcot inquiry, the Government will obviously do everything by the rules as laid down. On the right hon. Gentleman's question about the machinery of Government, we had Cabinet Office questions yesterday and I suggest that he should have put that question to Cabinet Office Ministers.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): On the Wright Committee, I do not think that suspicions have been entirely allayed. The Leader of the House might help the process, given that she appears to be seeking unanimity rather than consensus, if she said that if any of the motions were objected to, the matter would be brought back to the House the following week for a decision. I think that that is the appropriate way of dealing with the issue. Will she give that commitment?
The right hon. and learned Lady mentioned Cabinet Office questions. May I ask for a debate arising from Cabinet Office questions yesterday on the subject of the Government Communication Network? My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked, among other things, why 225 people were employed as communications officers in a single Department. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office said that in a typical Department 600 calls a day were made to the communications officers, so, according to my calculations, that is fewer than three a day to those individuals. I am sure that they do a lot of other work, too, but that does not seem to be an over-taxing burden. Perhaps we should have a debate on that.
We have heard a lot of talk from the Prime Minister and others about a decision on a referendum on alternative voting systems. However, I have searched the amendment papers for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and no amendment seems to have been tabled. I assume from that-of course, the Prime Minister would not indulge in idle talk-that a discrete Bill must be coming forward to implement that. Will she confirm that that will be the case? Perhaps it will be discussed in the week for which she has not yet given all the business.
We read, surprisingly, this week that Pas-de-Calais wishes to be considered part of London and the south-east for the purposes of the 2012 Olympics. This is a novelty that I do not think we have seen since the days of Mary Tudor. Lots of parts of this country would like to be considered part of London and the south-east for the purposes of the 2012 Olympics, so may we have a debate on the Olympics legacy? Two thirds of the Olympic contracts are going to London and the south-east, sports participation figures show hardly any rise-and, indeed, they record a reduction in women's participation-
and tourism benefits will be affected by cuts to the VisitBritain budget. May we have a debate on the Olympics legacy?
May we have a debate on the impending clearance of the radio spectrum and its effect on radio microphones? This is crucial to a lot of theatres and music performance venues around the country that will have to replace expensive equipment wholesale. For some, the cost will be prohibitive and I think that we could usefully have a debate on that.
Lastly, after what the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said, I guess that I just have to say, "41, with no black bean sauce." I simply want to know when the Budget is. The Leader of the House did not answer me last week, or the right hon. Gentleman this week. Please, let us have an answer.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked me for an undertaking to bring back to the House the following week those motions that are objected to. I cannot give an undertaking for the following week, but obviously we will want to bring them back as soon as possible. The view that the Government will advance to the House is that we will have a full debate on all the matters arising from the Wright report, but that we should not have to have that debate all over again if motions are objected to and have to be brought back. However, that argument would be undermined if too much time were to pass before we come back to consider the motions that are not agreed. I therefore hope that colleagues will recognise that the chance for the substantive debate on matters that the House might wish to amend will arise before we get to Remaining Orders of the Day.
I am sorry if that is not terribly clear, but I hope that the House will not be suspicious. It is quite complicated, and we should recognise that there are disagreements on this matter. We take the view that we want to make as much progress as possible on reform.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the Government Communication Network. The job of people working in Government Departments on communication and information goes beyond just picking up the phone and answering calls, as they also have the very important task of providing information. Their job is about making Government transparent and accountable to the public, so they have to look up and give out the information that people ask for. The Liberal Democrats regard themselves as supporters of openness, transparency and freedom of information, so I am sure that they will agree that someone has to provide that information. That is an important part of Government accountability.
As for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, all the issues to be discussed in Monday's debate are already on the Order Paper. An extra day would be needed if any further substantive matters were brought forward.
On the Olympics, I strongly support the motivation behind the question from the hon. Gentleman. We want to make sure that the money spent secures a legacy after the Olympics, and that that legacy is not just for London but for all the UK. No doubt he can put that point to my right hon. Friend the Olympics Minister and get the information that he requires.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the radio spectrum. I shall look into whether there should be a topical debate on the matter. [Hon. Members: "And the Budget?"] As far as the date for the Budget is concerned, we are still a little way away from arranging it. [Laughter.] It is not next week. My job is to announce the business for next week and the week after so that the House can know what is happening, and the answer is that the Budget will not be held in either.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us an early debate on pleural plaques? We need to be able to lay down a marker on any Government proposal that might allow future victims of pleural plaques in Scotland to be compensated by the British taxpayer, when future English victims will get nothing at all.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We are aware of the strength of feeling on this matter, and are firmly committed to ensuring that people suffering from asbestos-related diseases receive the help and support that they need. We hope to be in a position to give the Government's response on pleural plaques soon.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Leader of the House has said that the Youth Parliament sitting that was held here in the Chamber was a great success, so what requests has she had from other organisations? Would it be possible to have a pensioners' Parliament? If so, what would the procedure be? Would any such proposal be debated in the House, and who would take the decision about other such occasions?
Ms Harman: The Deputy Leader of the House has written to the hon. Lady and, like her, I strongly support the suggestion. I believe that, as happens in Scotland, many other organisations and not just those representing the elderly could use the Chamber when we are not sitting. It would bring people into the House of Commons and would be all to the good.
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East) (Lab): May we have a debate on London government? We were promised three rape crisis centres, but none has been delivered. We were promised low fares, and some are going up by more than 20 per cent. We were promised more police, and the latest proposal is to cut police numbers in London by up to 500. This man cannot even be bothered to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority but still takes £250,000 from The Daily Telegraph . Is not it the case that London has stopped laughing at this clown?
Ms Harman: I agree with my right hon. Friend. We get precious little support from the Mayor of London, whether it be on housing and transport for Londoners, the important local responsibility to provide help and support for rape victims or our initiative to get neighbourhood police in every area. However, the Government will do everything that we can to support Londoners.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that next week is salt awareness week? If we cannot have debate on that, will she tell the House what recent representations Ministers have made to the food industry about the desirability of reducing salt levels in its products? Does she agree that this country would be a far better place if we had less salt in our food and more on our roads?
Ms Harman: I totally agree. I think that salt awareness is very important indeed. We want to make sure that there is less fat, sugar and salt in our food. This is an important public health issue, and something on which the Government and the health authorities need to take action. That is not the nanny state, just good public health policy.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May we have an early debate on how different local education authorities are implementing the Building Schools for the Future programme? I am particularly concerned about the way that Birmingham city council and Catalyst are imposing charges on the use of schools outside core school hours. Other LEAs seem to be able to charge much lower rates, thereby allowing communities to continue to be able to use school buildings.
Ms Harman: This is a very contentious issue, and justifiably so. Public money has gone into state-of-the-art school buildings that are very important for pupils but which also should be available for the wider community. I shall raise the matter with Ministers in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and ask them to liaise directly with my hon. Friend in support of her efforts to ensure that her community can use newly built local schools.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The British Government have always played a very important role in the middle east peace process, so is the Leader of the House aware that it is now commonly held that the Government of Israel's treatment of the people of Gaza puts them in breach of the fourth Geneva convention, and that their illegal blockade of Gaza now amounts to collective punishment? Does she agree that it is essential for this House to have a debate to express its views, and to give our Government a stronger mandate to try and persuade the Government of Israel that it is not in their interests to proceed in this way?
Ms Harman: The Government are in no doubt about this issue. We are strongly committed to the course of action that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, but there are many hon. Members on all sides of the House who also have strong views and who would like to have an opportunity to take part in a debate. I shall therefore look for an opportunity for such a debate.
Mr. William Bain (Glasgow, North-East) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give consideration to holding a debate on the benefits to Scotland and the United Kingdom of the Union? Has she had an opportunity in the last week to see the helpful figures from the Scotland Office that put the fiscal benefit of the Union to Scotland at £75.7 billion since 1999? In her view, would that have happened if we had followed the advice of the Opposition parties?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he may find an opportunity to raise the matter at Treasury questions next week. The benefit goes beyond just the fiscal benefit to Scotland, because the Union allows us to stand and work together to tackle the recession and to bring the UK economy into recovery. Without that protection, the situation would have been very perilous for Scotland. He may therefore like to consider raising the point in Treasury questions, when he will be able to get further information.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): On the Wright report, will the Government give a commitment that all the Wright resolutions will be put before the House, at the very least in a form that would enable us to have a deferred Division on each recommendation?
Ms Harman: As I have said, we are going to table 21 recommendations, which is a substantial number, in four key areas that I have identified along with other recommendations. If there are further issues that hon. Members believe would secure the support of the House, they can do so by tabling amendments to other recommendations when we deal with those that are not agreed on the initial day.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Tomorrow, Friday 29 January, is SOS day, on which the Royal National Lifeboat Institution will celebrate the work of our lifeboats and their crews. I declare an interest as a member of its council. The year 2009 was the busiest year for the RNLI crews, as more than 8,000 people were rescued. Can we have a debate on their efforts and the work that they do, and on the linkage with search and rescue teams and other maritime services, as that would raise awareness of safety incidents and the perils of the sea?
Ms Harman: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of the RNLI, and I suggest that he seek an opportunity in Westminster Hall to debate it, to allow other Members who agree with him to express their views, too.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): First, may I tell the right hon. and learned Lady how well she did yesterday? Has she considered a job swap? Returning to a question asked by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), after 450 years, the good citizens of Calais have come to their senses and want to become part of the United Kingdom. What steps has the right hon. and learned Lady taken in that regard, and when we open up her heart, will she have "Calais" carved on it?
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab):
There appears to be some ambiguity surrounding the implementation of temporary and agency workers
legislation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore arrange for the appropriate Minister to come to the House and clarify the position and the impact on hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK?
Ms Harman: I will ask Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to my hon. Friend and place a copy of their correspondence in the House of Commons Library. The protection of temporary and agency workers is important not only to protect those workers against exploitation but to prevent other people from having their terms and conditions undermined by those who would exploit workers. This is an important issue, and I will make sure that he receives a letter.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I am very suspicious about No. 42. The dates of the Easter recess are not important to MPs, because I doubt whether many MPs will take a holiday over Easter, for obvious reasons. However, they are important to all the staff of the House, as they would allow them to take a family-friendly holiday. Will the Leader of the House speak to her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and tell him to stop dithering and call an election now? Afterwards, Deo volente, the shadow Leader of the House will sit in her position and can determine the date of the Easter recess.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): We are entering an era in which the mark of an open society is the way in which it guarantees access to open knowledge through the internet. It is therefore vital that liberal democracies do not send mixed signals to closed societies that seek to restrict internet freedoms for their citizens. The anti-counterfeiting trade agreement that is being discussed in Mexico might inadvertently do that, so may we have a debate in the House so that hon. Members can test that notion and find out more about our negotiating position?
Ms Harman: I will look for an opportunity to debate that issue, which may benefit from a debate in Westminster Hall. We believe that it would be helpful if there were more transparency on the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement negotiations. As is common practice in trade negotiations, the ACTA negotiations are taking place in confidence, and working documents are not disclosed without the consent of all the negotiating parties. Our officials have been asked to press for more transparency at every opportunity, and have consistently argued for that in the ACTA negotiations, and in bilaterals with our partners. We will raise the issue, as my hon. Friend requests, in Mexico where the negotiations are under way.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): The Leader of the House said it would be good if Scotland and England stood together. May we have a statement or debate on the Student Loans Company, as Glasgow will suffer as a result of the SLC redundancies? Jobs are being transferred from Glasgow to England, which suggests that the Government are anti-Scotland and anti-Glasgow.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|