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28 Jan 2010 : Column 956

Ms Harman: It does not suggest any such thing, and if the hon. Gentleman wants further information, he can table a written question.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the leniency shown by magistrates courts to celebrities? Rock star Pete Doherty recently appeared in Gloucester magistrates court on drug and driving offences. While he was there, a sack of heroin fell out of his pocket, and 13 others were found on his person in court. Yesterday, he was given a £750 fine. Does she agree that we need to encourage courts to take a firmer grip on this?

Ms Harman: I know these issues concern the public very much, but my hon. Friend will recognise that it is not right for the House to second-guess magistrates in any particular case or, indeed, in any part of the criminal justice system, which must operate independently of our elected representatives.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week entitled, "Treasury interference in helicopter procurement", which would enable previous Defence Secretaries to make the point that they made to the Chilcot inquiry: that the Prime Minister interfered with requests from the Ministry of Defence for funding, with the result that helicopters that would otherwise be available in Afghanistan are not available, and lives have been lost as a direct consequence?

Ms Harman: I strongly refute the implication behind the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. If he wants to raise those issues, he can do so in Treasury questions next week.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Gloucestershire county council is conducting a review of schools that are part of the national challenge arrangements. In my constituency, that involves the closure of the Vale of Berkeley college. There are two questions relating to that on the consultation document, which can largely be accessed on the internet. One is about closure, and the other is about a "hard" federation. The second suggestion is not viable, so we need a third question about whether the school could become a co-operative trust school. Will my right hon. and learned Friend do something to make sure that we get a fair consultation in the county?

Ms Harman: I will raise that matter with Ministers in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and ask them to see whether they can support my hon. Friend in securing a fair consultation for his constituents.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): When Robin Cook was Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, it produced a unanimous report on the election of Members to Select Committees. Unfortunately, although the measure was supposed to be decided on a free vote, the Government opposed it. Can the Leader of the House give us a firm assurance that when matters relating to the Wright report come before the House, not only for debate but for voting purposes, there will be a genuine free vote on the part of the Government and the Government Whips Office?

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Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing commitment to these issues and, indeed, his work over many years on the Modernisation Committee. I can assure him that when the Wright issues come before the House, that will be House business and it will be subject to a free vote.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May we have a debate in the House on policing and security in London? The Mayor of London was elected on a promise to provide strong leadership for the Metropolitan Police Authority, and some of us would like to scrutinise exactly what he thinks he has achieved that makes him believe he can break his promise to the people of London and not give up his £250,000-a-year job with The Daily Telegraph.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is a trail of broken promises. First, the Mayor said that he would respect the autonomy-the operational independence-of the Metropolitan police, but then he decided to grab it and try to run it himself from City hall. Now, he is saying he is too busy to do so, although my hon. Friends have rightly pointed out that he does not seem to be too busy to earn a lot of money writing for the newspapers. I will ask Ministers at the Home Office to look into the issue.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Can the Leader of the House find time in the week after next for a debate on "An Anatomy of the Economic Inequality in the UK," a report of the National Equality Panel, produced by the Government Equalities Office, which was available to the media on Tuesday but was still not available today to Members in the Vote Office? Will she link that with votes on early-day motion 343, on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation audit on poverty?

[ That this House registers its dismay that an audit undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that poverty is at the same level as it was in 2000, with two million children in low-income households, unemployment at a 12-year high and repossessions at six times the level of 2004; and urges the Government to pursue policies to eradicate poverty and promote equality.]

Will she also link it with early-day motion 297, on the Fabian Society study on poverty? Those three reports all point out the failures of the Labour Government.

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to read the extensive summary, at least, that has been published, he will recognise that the report shows that we have narrowed the gap between rich and poor, which was growing under the Conservative Administration in the 1980s, and that we have halted the growth in inequality, but that we need to do more to narrow it. We have already had a debate in the House on improving social mobility in accessing the professions, following the Milburn report. This is a constant theme in Children, Schools and Families questions and in Treasury questions as we seek to tackle unemployment. It will also be a subject in considering health issues when we get the Marmot report on health inequalities. There will not be a single debate. The topic will be a running theme of how we make sure that this country is fair, and as we do more to tackle the historic inequality that the hon. Gentleman knows has been handed down from generation to generation.

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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Why has the Leader of the House yet again, this time in replying to the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), failed to give a guarantee that the Prime Minister is coming to make an important statement next week? Clearly, it is in the interests of the House that there be a statement from the Prime Minister on the Afghanistan conference, probably on the Yemen conference and probably, if matters develop, on the Northern Ireland peace process negotiations.

Ms Harman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister was in Northern Ireland in those very important talks; that is why he was unable to be back in the House yesterday. He is engaged in the talks relating to Afghanistan, and he seeks to do all the very important work as Prime Minister of this country and internationally, and also to keep the House updated. I will look up the figures-I think he has given an unprecedented number of statements to the House. In his "Governance of Britain" statement in July 2007, he said that he would make it a priority to give statements to the House and keep the House informed, and he has done that. I cannot announce in advance what statements any Minister is to make, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister regards it as a priority to keep the House informed.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the desirability of prisoners having Sky TV in their cells? When I asked in 2006 how many prisoners had Sky TV in their cells, the answer was 1,500. When I asked the same question again just before Christmas, the figure had risen to 4,070. Many of my constituents-law-abiding people-would love to be able to afford to have Sky TV, but cannot. Why should prisoners be able to have Sky TV in their cells? May we have a debate so that we can find out how the Government justify that?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman can ask a question in Home Office questions. We have been clear in our approach to prison policy, but we have been baffled by the prison policy of the official Opposition. Last week they announced their policy on prison ships. The policy sailed on Wednesday, but it seemed to have sunk by Thursday.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I am sure the Leader of the House will share my concern about the recent crackdown on press freedom and the imprisonment of human rights activists in Kazakhstan. That is all the more ironic because this year, Kazakhstan chairs the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which of course promotes democracy. May we have a debate to discuss this worrying situation and what influence the Government might be able to bring to bear to get Kazakhstan to take its international responsibilities as chair of the OSCE more seriously?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Lady to reassure her on those points in relation to Kazakhstan.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on Somalia? Is it not the case that a small minority of Somalis are leaving the United Kingdom, travelling to Somalia, trying to undermine the transitional
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Government in Mogadishu, which the Government support, training in terror camps, and coming back to this country trained up and possibly posing a threat to our national security?

Ms Harman: Obviously, in relation to any country that is vulnerable to being infiltrated by those who support terrorism internationally, we work internationally. I will ask the Foreign Secretary to update the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Leader of the House will have seen in the press recently the fruits of the labours of the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) in trying to sell their eleventh-hour improvements to veterans health care. Given that the matter is of enormous importance to veterans and to Members of the House, will the right hon. and learned Lady try to encourage her colleagues, if it is not too much trouble, to come to the House to explain what they plan so that that can be subject to proper scrutiny here?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to talk about eleventh-hour improvements to veterans health care. There has been a sustained focus on the improvement to veterans health care, whether that is primary care, with new arrangements with the NHS, hospital care or mental health services. If he looks at the Command Paper that was issued by the Secretary of State for Defence a couple of years ago and all the work that has transpired following that, he will realise that his comments are ill-judged. If he wants to suggest anything specific that would contribute to the improvements that are under way, I am sure the Secretary of State for Defence, working with the Health Secretary, would look at that positively.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): As the Leader of the House knows, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is being debated next week. Being formidably well briefed, she will also know that my new clause 1 would remove section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which discriminates against Members of Parliament who have a mental health problem. She will also know that Mr. Speaker's Conference on parliamentary representation recommended that that provision of the Mental Health Act be abolished as soon as possible and a Select Committee report on it. She will know, too, that a Minister in the Justice Department committed the Government to that course of action this Tuesday. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, to ask his Committee to look at the matter at the earliest opportunity. If he does so and brings his recommendations forward, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the House gets an early opportunity to make a decision so that people in this country with a mental health problem recognise that Members of the House treat mental health and physical disabilities in exactly the same way and do not discriminate against one or the other?

Ms Harman: I strongly support the work that the hon. Gentleman is doing on that and the principles that
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lie behind it. It has, as he says, been taken up by work underlying the Speaker's Conference. The matter is still under consideration, but I will make sure that we get back to him as soon as possible to let him know how we intend to respond to the situation when the CRAG Bill returns to the House.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I am sure the Leader of the House and all colleagues in the House will pay tribute to our armed forces in Afghanistan, whom I had the pleasure of visiting last week. What was very sad and very annoying was that when we went through Brize Norton, Commonwealth soldiers who are fighting for this country, for our armed forces, were segregated and not allowed to fly with the rest of the British soldiers because they did not have a British passport. I can see that the right hon. and learned Lady is somewhat bemused by that. Will she contact the Ministry of Defence and find out why Commonwealth soldiers, particularly South African soldiers, are not allowed to go through the United Arab Emirates into theatre and why such segregation takes place, and come back to the House to explain why they are treated in such an appalling way?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Secretary of State for Defence to write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of his letter in the House of Commons Library.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): On the Wright report, I agree that we cannot go on like this, with suspicious minds. To allay suspicions, given what the Leader of the House said, could she reply to the Wright Committee setting out which of the 21 Wright report recommendations she plans to put, thereby helping everyone to identify which recommendations do not currently find favour with the Government? That would be open and straightforward. I commend that action to her.

Ms Harman: The issue is not just about those recommendations that do or do not find favour with the Government, but about those on which we think there is a good prospect of achieving a consensus. I ask all hon. Members, when they talk about the issue, at least to be fair and recognise that there is no House unanimity against which the Government are standing; there are different views, and we have to work out where there is a consensus. It is not just a question of what we do not find favour with; it is a question of the recommendations with which we think the House is able to move forward. All the motions will be tabled in good time so that hon. Members can consider them, and I have told the House about the four big-ticket areas where we want to make changes. They are the election of Select Committee Chairmen; the election of Select Committee members; the ability to introduce private Members' motions to the House and vote on them; and a business Committee for Back-Benchers' issues. Those are important areas, and I hope that we can move forward on them.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Child protection issues have remained prominent in the headlines since the tragic events at Edlington, and, while the Government have been in denial, suppressed reports have been oozing out of Doncaster showing what a basket-case the local authority was. One report that I have seen shows that social workers were not registered, and that children's services staff were not
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even Criminal Records Bureau-checked. Can we have a rational debate on that topical and important subject to ensure not only that other serious case reviews that are due to come out are properly authored, but that we learn their lessons properly? We will not do so all the time that they are not published.

Ms Harman: That matter was discussed in the House in 2006, when child protection issues such as serious case reviews were reformed and reviewed. I certainly think it right that all the findings from which lessons need to be learned be made public; there is no point in producing a finding and then not sharing it, because all those people who are supposed to act differently will not know and the lessons will not be learned. However, it has been agreed over the years, with the support of children's organisations and, indeed, the official Opposition, that the investigative background to the findings be not published, so that the investigation can range widely. The Opposition have not made any substantive proposals to change that; they have come forward with lots of fire and brimstone. Therefore, it would be much better to have a sensible discussion about how we bring into the public domain as much information as possible-within the purview of those serious case reviews-and then the findings. We all recognise that there were major problems in Doncaster, and they are being addressed.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): May I draw the right hon. and learned Lady's attention to early-day motion 623, which concerns First Capital Connect's disastrously-shockingly-bad service to its passengers?

[ That this House believes that the ongoing disruption to First Capital Connect services travelling into London needs to stop; deplores the severe reduction in timetabled services due to mismanagement by First Capital Connect, which has not employed enough drivers to cover the shifts needed; is concerned that commuters are having to find alternate routes into work and school, adding considerable time and expense to their daily journeys; notes the petition on the Number 10 website calling on the Prime Minister to act on this matter; calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to recognise this gross lack of competence; further notes that the current disruption is a breach of the franchise; and further calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to serve immediate notice to terminate the franchise agreement with First Capital Connect and to offer the franchise to a more capable organisation. ]

Some 4,923 people have signed the petition on the No. 10 website. In Transport questions I asked the Minister of State to set out how soon we could expect the Secretary of State to come to a view about whether First Capital Connect will have its franchise terminated. The Minister did not answer that question, so can we have a statement as soon as possible so that he can answer it and say what else the Government are doing?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise that issue on Thursday 25 February in a debate about the Transport Committee's report on rail fares and franchises.

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