Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op):
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in three short years, the participation age for education, training and work will increase to 17 years. We have not yet had
a commission, or a serious debate in the House, on how we are going to provide for those many young people who will need training in the community or in environmental projects. May we have a debate very soon? Three years is not very long to prepare for that great change in our education system.
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a substantive and important change. In terms of the process by which the House can engage with Ministers and scrutinise their proposals, perhaps he could raise the matter at Work and Pensions questions next week.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The already stretched postal services at Putney post office face massive disruption because the leaseholder now wants to redevelop the site. All that post office managers will tell me is that they are consulting their lawyers. May we have a debate to find out how much of the post office network is at risk because the Post Office is not actually in control of it?
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May we have a debate on child protection procedures in England and Wales? I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has seen the report published today by Bournemouth university, but it says that violent deaths of young children have decreased by 40 per cent. since 1974, meaning that they have decreased consistently under all Governments. Such a debate would serve to prevent people from coming to the House with outrageous claims about "broken Britain", made on the back of the tragic deaths of young people, and it would give us an opportunity to focus on an important field of social care, celebrate some of the work that is being done, and find out where improvements can be made.
Ms Harman: It is gratifying to see those figures coming down, but my hon. Friend and everybody in the House will agree that while even one child is at risk, we want to make sure that all the services work together to make sure that preventable abuse and death is avoided.
[That this House notes the growing use of ultrasonic Mosquito de vices; agrees with the Children' s Commissioner, Sir Alan Aynsley-Green, that these are ultrasonic weapons designed to stop young people gathering, which are a powerful symbol of a deep malaise in British society and its views towards children; believes that their use in public places where children legitimately gather is wrong; and calls on the Government to urgently limit their use.]
Has she seen the comments of the Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who yesterday described the use of such devices as symbolic of a "deep malaise" in the UK and its attitudes towards children? Such devices are used on railway stations during the rush hour when young people are going to school or college, and outside shops where young mums, who cannot hear them, leave their children, who can
hear them, in distress, so may we have, as a matter of urgency, a debate on the rights and protection of young people?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On the subject of young people, the Leader of the House will remember coming to Leicester three years ago to open the nursery at the Peepul Centre, a £19 million project. Sadly, because of the economic situation, that millennium centre is facing financial problems. Will she arrange for a statement from the Department concerned, so that it knows what it can do to ensure that that wonderful nursery-which is called "Harriet's nursery" locally-can stay open?
Ms Harman: That is one nursery that we certainly do not want to see close. I am sure that reassurance can be given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, working alongside my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools. It might be a good idea for me to facilitate a meeting between the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), because I know that he is a great champion of children's services in his constituency and has done much to ensure that support services for children and parents are much better than they were some years ago.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I revert to the request that I made last week for a debate on Treasury interference in Ministry of Defence procurement? It is plain that the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, intervened so as to deny British forces the kit-in particular, helicopters-that they required. As a result, lives were lost. That was the evidence of Defence Secretaries and chiefs. We need to hear that evidence on the Floor of the House and call the Prime Minister to account.
Ms Harman: As far as evidence to the Chilcot inquiry is concerned, it is given as far as possible in public, and only in private when that is in the interests of national security. The Chilcot inquiry has yet to report, but we will have a defence debate soon, perhaps next month, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman could raise those issues then.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): May I continue with the clean-up agenda that seems to be prevalent this morning? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate on the damning report on the Ashcroft affair by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, which said that statements by senior politicians about Lord Ashcroft's undertaking were "evasive and obfuscatory". The impact of certain actions by that individual, especially as we are in the run-up to an election, need scrutiny and a debate in this House. I hope that she will make time for such a debate.
Ms Harman: I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. This is now in the hands of the Information Commissioner, who has said that this information should be made public. It is in the public interest because before Lord Ashcroft was able to take his seat in the House of Lords, undertakings were given in relation to his tax affairs. The question is whether those undertakings have been met. Has he done what he promised in terms of paying tax in this country and putting his tax affairs on a proper footing? There has never been a definitive statement from him on that point, and when the Opposition have been asked they have simply given a formulaic code, which has not revealed the situation in its true light. The Information Commissioner has said that that information must be put into the open so that everybody can be sure that Lord Ashcroft has complied with the undertakings he gave in order to get into the House of Lords.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): May we have a debate on food security, an issue that is rising up the political agenda? Bearing in mind that scientific evidence points to the world entering a 30-year cooling period- [ Interruption. ] This is true. However, to my knowledge, no assessment has been made of the effect of global cooling on agricultural output. This is an important and serious issue, and the House should have an opportunity to debate it.
Ms Harman: We have just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, and DEFRA has just produced an unprecedented report called "Food 2030", which deals centrally with the question of food security, including against a background of global warming.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I will not ask the Leader of the House to alter her arrangements for the debates next week or call for an early debate, but does she agree that this Parliament is sorry that the sad story of expenses has brought it into disrepute? Does she agree that with the 62 recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly, the publication today of the Legg review and five years of allowances, and the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which creates a new body to look at our expenses, the Government and Parliament have gone some way towards restoring public trust and confidence in this Parliament?
Yes, I believe that they have. We are in no doubt that the whole issue of expenses has damaged the reputation of the House, and public trust and confidence in Parliament. We are in no doubt that action needed to be taken, and it has. Everything to do with expenses is now fully out in the open and published. The current expenses system has been cut right back, and in future all expenses will be set and administered independently. On the basis of today's report, it is now clear which Members need to pay back and how much. Obviously, we expect all Members to make arrangements to repay and it is clear from the report that most already have. In any event, I will bring to the House a resolution to authorise the recovery from Members' salary or allowances of any amount outstanding after 22 February. All repayments will have had to be made-or firm arrangements to do so entered into-otherwise the recovery process will start after that date. The public can be confident that everything that should be paid
back will be paid back, and I agree that today is an important step on the path to restoring public trust and confidence.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am sure that all hon. Members welcome that statement by the Leader of the House. May I ask her for another statement about participation in important debates and statements by the respective parties-and I do not mean just in Divisions? As a shadow Defence Minister, I have noticed that defence debates include plenty of Government and Opposition speakers, but no Liberal Democrats. Yesterday, in an important defence statement, only a single Liberal Democrat Back Bencher asked a question. What is going on, and should not people be getting better value for money from the Liberal Democrats?
Ms Harman: I suspect that this is one of those occasions when the hon. Gentleman feels that the question was rather more important than the answer. However, I shall press on with my answer. The Government remain strongly committed to our defence forces, but the question of Liberal Democrat contributions to the issue is a matter for them.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the valuable work carried out by the vast majority of Members? That work has been undermined by the recent comments by the Leader of the Opposition comparing Members of Parliament to ciphers. That may be his view of his Back Benchers, but I am sure that it is not my right hon. and learned Friend's view of the Benches she has the pleasure of leading.
Ms Harman: If that is indeed what the Leader of the Opposition said, it is a shame and I do not agree with him. However much I disagree with hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, I would not call them ciphers. It is for each and every one of us who is elected by constituents to come to this House to represent them, either in government or holding the Government to account, and it is up to all of us to do our work properly and support the work that the House does. Denigration of the House of Commons for party-political purposes is not the way to restore public trust and confidence in this institution.
[That this House notes that the report of the National Audit Office (NAO) on dementia services found that there has not been a robust approach to implementation of the National Dementia Strategy; is concerned that the NAO concludes that the strategy has not been given the
levers or urgency necessary; further notes that there is a lack of joined-up, well-informed commissioning necessary to redirect the resources needed to pay for new dementia services; regrets the lack of progress on basic training of healthcare professionals; and calls on the Government to put in place urgently the mechanisms needed to bring about the large-scale transformation of dementia services that are desperately needed.]
Yesterday a report was published by the Alzheimer's Research Trust that found that more than 820,000 people in this country are afflicted by dementia, with countless families also affected, and that the cost to the UK economy is now £23 billion a year. There is a compelling case for investment by both charities and the Government in dementia: may we have an early debate on that case to see when the Government will make this a national priority?
Ms Harman: We make time for debate on dementia, and services and support for the elderly, but I agree that we need to ensure that we put this specific issue on the agenda for debate. Dementia is one of the greatest challenges facing our society, and we fully recognise the importance of dementia research. By 2011, we will be investing more than ever-nearly £1.7 billion-in health research. We have received the report from the Alzheimer's Research Trust and will consider its findings, and of course a year ago we launched the first ever national dementia strategy, implementation of which is underway.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Given that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health refuses to answer my questions on Bolton primary care trust, when can the House have a debate on the accountability of PCTs?
Ms Harman: Obviously, PCTs operate within a national framework, but within that framework they are supposed to be accountable to local people to deliver high-quality and improving local health services. Perhaps I can suggest that I will arrange a meeting between a Health Minister, my hon. Friend and the chair and chief executive of the PCT. Nobody should be so dissatisfied with a situation that means that they cannot get the answers they need to questions about important PCT services for constituents. He has raised an issue about which he obviously feels strongly, and I think that we need to set up a meeting to sort it out.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): With regard to what the Leader of the House said earlier about the Equality Bill, she will know that concern was expressed in the other place that her amendments were so tightly drawn that they could have encompassed even the Archbishop of York, because he spends a lot of his time working in the community, not just proclaiming the liturgy. Being positive, and now that the Government are not overturning their defeats, can we take it that the Government now accept the principle that the Churches must be allowed to regulate their own clergy according to their own conscience?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. We never sought to, or indeed even unintentionally, propose non-discrimination laws covering bishops, rabbis, archbishops or priests. In the 2003 non-discrimination
employment regulations, we explicitly allowed for an exemption for those involved in religious ministry, so I am sorry that he has taken the opportunity to spread a misapprehension. There was never an intention-and nor is there an intention-to apply the provisions to those involved in religious ministry. However, if a church, synagogue or mosque is hiring a cleaner, bookkeeper or finance officer, it will have to comply with the normal, non-discrimination provisions of employment, like all others. I hope that, instead of spreading misapprehension, he will reassure those who raised that concern with him that it never was the Government's intention to make that change. The amendment simply clarified the difference between a religious and non-religious job, and whatever the criticisms of the drafting, which I do not accept, nobody could think that it would say that being Archbishop of Canterbury was not a religious job.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will want to hear about the good work of the Royal British Legion in Chorley, which raised more than £23,000 in the poppy appeal there. However, will she now give time to have a discussion on the Royal British Legion manifesto? This is important. We are coming up to an election, and I think that it would be a worthy topical debate.
Ms Harman: I congratulate the Royal British Legion in Chorley, which is an organisation that my hon. Friend, as a Member of Parliament, strongly supports, and I will look for an opportunity to raise issues involving the Royal British Legion.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I shall not be back on 12 May, so will the Leader of the House do me a favour and give me an assurance that, as part of the debate on the reform of the House of Commons, she will negotiate with the Opposition parties about introducing a procedure preventing major parts of legislation from going from this House to the House of Lords without being debated here? That would be one way in which to restore people's confidence in the House and its responsibilities.
Ms Harman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should ask his Front-Bench colleagues whether they actually want those sorts of issues dealt with in the way that the Wright Committee suggests. We have to ensure that the Government, having produced a manifesto and been elected on the basis of promises made in it, can get their business through. Obviously, everyone wants provisions to be properly debated, and that depends also on everybody in the House ensuring that they limit their speeches and stick to the point, and then the business of scrutiny can be got through.