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25 Feb 2010 : Column 451

Ms Harman: The shuffle for oral questions is of course completely random, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not suggesting otherwise. He can see the figures: Labour Members tabled questions, but they did not get called up first and that is the way that these things sometimes work. I am sure he would not wish to cast any aspersions on those who do the selections.

This afternoon, I hope that the Government will re-table the remaining motions on the Wright Committee recommendations that did not get passed on Monday. They will all be on the Order Paper as substantive motions for hon. Members to vote on next Thursday 4 March. Hon. Members will also be able to table amendments to those motions. I have looked at the proposals in the Committee's report and I am satisfied that should Members wish to table amendments to any of the remaining recommendations, they will be able to vote on them next Thursday. It does not matter how an issue comes to the House for a vote, whether it is through Government motion or an amendment tabled by an hon. Member that is selected by Mr. Speaker. The issue is whether, if hon. Members wish to vote on a Wright Committee proposal, they will have the opportunity to do so. I am satisfied that if hon. Members wish to vote on any recommendation from the Wright Committee, all that they have to do is table an amendment to the motions that we will table this afternoon and they will have that vote. I hope that that lays hon. Members' fears to rest.

I mentioned the climate of suspicion in order to say that it was unwarranted. Sometimes, people like to prove their struggle by struggling against something. If they have to feel that they are struggling against me to make these changes, they can go ahead, but that is not the reality of the situation. I can assure hon. Members that the reality is that all the recommendations by the Wright Committee will be available to be voted on, if hon. Members wish to do so, because all that they have to do is table amendments to them- [ Interruption. ] I can hear hon. Members muttering, and I understand their concern, because they are worried that the amendments will not be selected. There will be an opportunity for Mr. Speaker to reassure the House on that basis, so that hon. Members know what will be selected and that they will have the opportunity to vote. Am I really likely to say this week in and week out and then suddenly discover, on 4 March, that- [ Interruption. ] Well, as I have asked that question and got the wrong answer, I shall answer it myself. I would not be standing here saying what will happen if I thought that there was any chance that it would not. It is all going to be fine, and hon. Members just need to turn up and vote for it- [ Interruption. ] The position is clear.

On the question of the Back-Bench business committee, the shadow Leader of the House said that he would like it to be ready to be up and running after the general election. In fact, the Wright Committee proposes that we should agree in principle and refer it to the Procedure Committee, so that it can work out all the Standing Orders, so that the committee is ready to be implemented immediately by the new Parliament. Indeed, we picked up that Wright Committee proposal-it forms the basis of our substantive motion-and the committee will be ready to be up and running if, next Thursday, we pass the resolution that I have tabled. It will then go to the Procedure Committee, which will no doubt do its work in its admirable and prompt way.

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On the timetabling of business next Thursday, we have had many hours of debate on the substance of the Wright Committee report: we had a full day's debate on Monday; we have had two Adjournment debates; I have spoken about it often; and we have discussed it at business questions. We have had more than eight hours in debating time alone. In my view, we have debated the Wright Committee report enough-what we need is some voting and decision making. As I set out, we debated it on Monday, and the voting will be next Thursday.

We will have a procedural motion. When I table it, Members will see that they can spend their time either debating it or having a further discussion on the Wright Committee proposals-I am not bothered either way. [Interruption.] No, I think that we have had enough debate. I am not bothered, but I am concerned that we actually get to the voting. About 90 minutes after we start the debate on the procedural motion, we shall start voting, so that we conclude all the votes on the Wright Committee substantive motions and the amendments at a reasonable time on Thursday. Then hon. Members can return to their constituencies knowing-I hope-that they have improved how the House works.

It is very likely that we will be tabling motions arising out of the Wright Committee proposals for the election of Deputy Speakers-that issue has been in the pipeline for some time.

On the question of by-elections, I think that we have an excellent new Member for Glasgow, North-East. He is very often in his place in the House-he is not in it today, but he is an active Member of the House, as well as an active constituency MP. I think, therefore, that we had a really excellent result in that by-election. We also had the tragic loss of the Member for North-West Leicestershire. Let us bear in mind that there will be a general election shortly. [Interruption.] Surely the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is not suggesting that we go through the expense of a by-election immediately in advance of a general election- [Interruption.] Well, if he is, I do not agree with him. If that is what he really believes, why does he not come forward with an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? He has not tabled any amendments at any stage of that Bill to give effect to what he says he is so passionate about. Suddenly he has discovered that he is passionately in favour of it, but he has never done anything about it in the past, so I take that to be hot air.

On an international women's day debate, I welcome the commitment that the shadow Leader of the House has expressed to such a day, and I think that he will find that it might be topical come next week. [Interruption.] That was a hint, but I shall leave hon. Members to work it out.

On international development, there will be a debate shortly on that-I have not overlooked it. We have had many days' debate on defence-they run throughout the year-and if Conservative Members choose to table an additional day's debate on that for their Opposition day, that is entirely a matter for them.

On my announcements for House business, I announced the firm business today for next week and the provisional business for the week after, and that is the usual way of doing things.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I have a terrible memory, so I am sure that I have simply forgotten the point in the Wright Committee report
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suggesting that the Back-Bench business committee should be referred first to the Procedure Committee for consideration. However, given that the Leader of the House has asserted that it is the case, she will be able to remind me of exactly where that suggestion comes in the report.

May we have a statement from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Equitable Life? We had an extraordinarily well attended meeting on the subject yesterday, at which we learned some things to the benefit of Equitable Life policyholders-that there would be no means test and that it is likely that estates will benefit-but we failed to get any sense of a clear timetable on the Government finally resolving this important issue. What is more, we also heard from the current chief executive of Equitable Life, Chris Wiscarson, that he has repeatedly sought a meeting with the Treasury, but has received no response. That really is an extraordinary state of affairs, so I hope that the Chief Secretary will come to the House and explain himself.

While the Chief Secretary is here, I wonder whether we might have, not so much a statement or a debate, but probably more of a seminar, for those of us who are rather slow on such matters, because I simply cannot understand how the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 84 per cent. owned by the UK taxpayer, can announce, simultaneously, losses of £3.6 billion and bonuses to its staff of £1.3 billion. That is the sort of arithmetic that I simply cannot understand. Perhaps we can have it explained why the Government are such a poor safeguarder of the national interest as not to force a wholly owned subsidiary-the Royal Bank of Scotland-to do what we want it to do, which is to be fair to people across the country.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on our relations with Latin America? We are also concerned about the heightening of tension with Argentina and the support for the Argentine position expressed by many south American countries. We ought to be made aware of the Government's current view.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the shadow Leader of the House, mentioned the Report stage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Every time we point out the difficulties of Report stages, the Leader of the House tells us that everything is fine. We have had two Report stages of Bills this week-on the Children, Schools and Families Bill and the Energy Bill-when 18 new clauses and 49 amendments, of which 29 were Government amendments, went completely undebated in the Chamber and were passed, unheard and unseen, to another place. That is not how we should be doing business. How many times do we have to say that?

Lastly, let me refer the Leader of the House to that seminal document "The Governance of Britain", the Green Paper that was going to introduce substantial reforms to how this House works. Let me take her back to the recommendation in paragraph 35:

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Can we know when that motion will be tabled, and will she confirm that we shall have a debate before a request for a dissolution is passed by the Commons?

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): And a vote.

Mr. Heath: And, as my hon. Friend says, will the Leader of the House also confirm that we shall have a vote?

Ms Harman: As for the Back-Bench business committee, let me remind the House that our motion, which has been on the Order Paper for some weeks and which will be voted on next Thursday, says that

so it is not time unlimited-

We have tabled- [ Interruption . ] Indeed, it is our motion. We have therefore tabled a motion for the approval of recommendation 17, on setting up the committee, as well as for a timetable for that, so it is not as though the proposal is being kicked into the long grass.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is not the right way to frame the proposal, he can table an amendment. He does not need to look to me for any further progress; he can do something himself. That is the whole point about House business. We have tabled a substantive motion. I think that it is a good substantive motion, but if he wants to amend it, he can amend it however he likes. He does not need to worry about what my view is: there is a free vote, and, whatever he tables, hon. Members will look at it and decide whether they support it.

On the second point, I think that the hon. Gentleman is right: what I said was wrong, but I am still right as to the general- [ Interruption. ] There was a technical error in what I said, but overall I am still right. However, he might well be right that the House wants to firm it up; and if it does, he can go ahead.

Equitable Life remains an important issue-there was a meeting in the House yesterday-and work on it is ongoing.

As for the RBS bonuses, the hon. Gentleman will know that, following the international credit crisis, we are concerned to ensure, first, that all the public money that we put in-and that had to be put in-to shore up the banks and stop them collapsing, as well as stopping the disastrous effect that that would have had on depositors and wider confidence in the economy, should be paid back. Ultimately, of course, the money should all be paid back, which is why we are opposed to selling off discount shares. Secondly, those institutions should ensure that they lend to businesses and approve mortgages-that is a priority, as well as paying back-and that they have a remuneration scheme that discourages short-termism and risk.

That is why we have worked through the Financial Services Authority regime and, internationally, through the G20 and the European Union, for an international system that ensures a more long-termist approach, rather than a short-term, risk-taking approach, as well as to help with the deficit, which has been caused by the
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financial crisis. The deficit is not the cause of the financial problems in the economy; it is the result of them. In order to help pay that back, we have had to increase taxes, which we have done in two ways. First, all income over £150,000 will be subject to a 50 per cent. tax rate. Secondly, all banks thinking of paying bonuses will have to pay a 50 per cent. tax on that bonus pool before they pay out a single penny on bonuses. That is our approach, and it has been set out by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

As for the Report stages of Bills, again I say to the hon. Gentleman that he has been concerned-he has expressed those concerns consistently over the months and years-but he and his hon. Friends are in a position to table amendments to our resolutions; and, if the House approves a different way of dealing with things, that will be how we deal with them in future.

As for the Falkland Islands, we are absolutely clear: there is self-determination for the people of the Falklands. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions are next week, when the hon. Gentleman can ask more questions about the issue of the Foreign Secretary, if he would like to.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. Thirty hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so brief questions and brief answers are required if I am to have any chance of accommodating everybody.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Returning to the mundane, will the Leader of the House consider setting time aside for a debate on the gritting performance of local authorities? Lancashire county council, which failed to grit bus routes, contrasts with Westminster council, which I understand wants to know from its residents whether their pavements were gritted quickly enough. People throughout the country are bemused that, in the 21st century, snow should bring their communities to a standstill and that their lives should be put at risk on roads that are ungritted.

Ms Harman: As the weather is still bad, there is concern not only about what happened in the depth of the winter, but about what might continue to happen to businesses and to all road users. I will raise the matter with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport, which are working together on this, and get my hon. Friend an answer to what is no doubt a frustrating issue for all the constituents whom she so excellently represents-namely, the really poor performance of Lancashire county council.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House be prepared to tell us whether she would support an amendment that would prevent the programming of amendments and new clauses debated on Report? Also, as chairman of the United Kingdom-Falkland Islands all-party parliamentary group, may I request that a Minister appear before the House next week to update us on the tensions in the south Atlantic?

Ms Harman: There will be Foreign Office questions next week, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman put his question about the Falkland Islands to the Foreign Secretary at that time. As far as the-oh God! I can't remember what his first question was. [ Interruption. ] Oh, yes; amendments. Some hon. Members want more programming because they want to be sure that the
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House will reach- [ Interruption. ] Well, if hon. Members have a solution to this, they need do no more than table amendments to the resolutions that will be before the House next Thursday.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Now that Commander Ali Dizaei has been convicted and jailed, may we have a statement as soon as possible on how senior police officers in the Met are selected and appointed, and on whether the commissioner should not have a much greater role in that?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has a team in which he has full confidence, and the whole team needs to be properly accountable to the people of London. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the team of police and prosecutors who made sure that justice was done in the case of Ali Dizaei.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that the schools funding formula discriminates seriously against counties such as Worcestershire. May we have an urgent statement on the reasons for the delay in the publication of the consultation document on the funding formula review, which was expected last month?

Ms Harman: I will ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to write directly to the hon. Gentleman.

Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend, in her role as Leader of the House, to take a close look at the mptweets website, which has been set up by a group called The Year of Collaboration? It has set up an individual Twitter account in the names of every MP in the north-west, so our constituents now believe that they are twittering with us when, in fact, we have nothing whatever to do with the site.

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to public attention. This is a real problem, and I will see what Ministers might be able to do about it. In fact, my own Twitter account was hacked into this week-my hon. Friend did not know this; hers was not a planted question-and a tweet purportedly sent by me was widely circulated. I can assure everyone that it was not from me. I got a response to that bogus tweet from the former shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who is now the shadow Prisons Minister. I need to get back to him and tell him that the tweet was not from me. I would never send a tweet like that. There is a real issue here, and we need to sort it out.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We already know what too many twitters make, don't we? Moving swiftly on, may we have a debate on the future of community hospitals? At the end of 2008, the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust promised a new hospital for Clitheroe and, last May, found £15.5 million to spend on it. I am therefore baffled as to why it announced in November that the project was frozen because it did not have the money. Community hospitals are vital to this country, and Clitheroe deserves its hospital. Please may we have a debate on this issue?

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