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We get used to people being appointed tsar of this and champion of that, but we actually have a rather important post of that kind: the Rural Advocate. The current Rural Advocate is Dr. Stuart Burgess, and his post is important because each year he can send a report about what is happening in our rural areas directly to the Prime Minister. He has done so today, and he has pointed out that, as a consequence of rural areas having no services, phones, internet or transport,
they are losing young people, who are finding that they have to move away in order to have any hope of getting jobs. In rural areas, 40 per cent. of those aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed. I want to know what happens to these reports once they have gone to the Prime Minister, because I do not hear him talking about rural issues. I would like this House to do so, however, so may we have a debate on rural issues in the near future?
I have just listened to Business, Innovation and Skills questions, and there is clearly great concern about the difficulties facing small businesses and the opportunities open to them, so may we have a debate on small businesses? We might include in it a discussion of the future of the cheque book-a subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter)-because that issue also means a great deal to small businesses.
I note that there will be a debate on alcohol on 10 March, and hon. Members rightly feel very strongly about alcohol abuse. Some would argue that there is a case for hugely increasing the duty payable on alcohol, but may I ask-this is special pleading on behalf of my constituency-that artisan cider-makers are not forgotten in any such discussion, because they will be put out of business if there is a substantial increase in alcohol duty? Perhaps we could address that issue in our debate.
Yesterday during Prime Minister's Question Time, the Leader of the House managed to cause a great deal of excitement in the House every time she mentioned a certain Member of another place, which she did with great frequency. May I suggest today-in a rather quieter, more sensible and less hyperbolic way-that the issues to do with that have been conflated? There are, in fact, two issues, one of which is the quite extraordinary sums of money being given to political parties and then being spent in marginal constituencies. We have yet to grapple effectively with that issue, so may we have a debate on it?
The second issue is to do with appointments to this Parliament: commitments that are given, the way in which people are appointed to the House of Lords, and the proper principle that people should not make laws for this country if they do not pay taxes in this country. Can we have a separate debate on that? Perhaps we could tighten things up so that we do not have, as The Daily Telegraph put it today, the shadow Foreign Secretary being
"kept in the dark...for 10 years".
The shadow Leader of the House said that he had been "rebuffed" on an issue. I was not rebuffed but ignored by the Leader of the House last week when I raised what I thought was a perfectly proper matter. I am referring to one of the Prime Minister's ideas, which he set out in the "Governance of Britain" Green Paper as follows:
"The Government believes that the convention should be changed so that the Prime Minister is required to seek the approval of the House of Commons before asking the Monarch for a dissolution."
I am sure the Prime Minister would not say that if he did not mean it, and he would not mean it and then not do anything to bring it into effect, so when are we going to have the debate? When is the Leader of the
House going to table the motion? When are we going to have the vote for the dissolution of this pretty awful Parliament?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the Rural Advocate. Department for Communities and Local Government questions will take place next week, at which he will have the opportunity, if he so wishes, to raise the question of housing. It is very important to have affordable housing in rural areas, and it is important that planning authorities-not just Tory councils, but Lib Dem councils-ensure that they allow the planning of housing only if it includes affordable housing. Everybody should look closely at their own party's policies on that.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have pressed forward on good health provision in, and on improving education in, rural areas, and that one of the reasons why we brought forward our "Digital Britain" paper was precisely to ensure that enterprise and economic initiative can go into rural areas, with high-speed broadband covering all areas. So there are further opportunities to debate that issue.
On small businesses, we have, as the hon. Gentleman said, just had Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions. He will have an opportunity to raise the issue of artisan cider-makers again in next week's debate about alcohol.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to be less hyperbolic about the question of Ashcroft-[Hon. Members: "Lord."] He asked me to be less hyperbolic about Lord Ashcroft and his breach of his assurances on tax. May I say, Mr. Speaker, that I welcome the decision announced this morning by the Public Administration Committee that it will carry out an inquiry into this matter? I am afraid that I cannot offer to tone down my views on this, because the truth is that this is sleaze on a multi-million pound scale and the-
Mr. Speaker: Order. I absolutely understand that the right hon. and learned Lady does not want, in any way, to qualify or compromise her views, but I should make two points. First, we are making references to a Member of another place and that has to be done with considerable care. Secondly, from now on-the right hon. and learned Lady has said what she has said-we must focus our remarks on the business of the House.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)-[Hon. Members: "Withdraw it."] No, I am not going to withdraw it. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked me a question about this. I am entitled to answer that question and I am entitled to put forward my views. I hope that when the Select Committee holds its investigation it will call the
shadow Foreign Secretary, and I hope he will be more honest and forthcoming with the Committee than he has been over the past eight years.
Mr. Speaker: Order. A particularly large number of Members-more than 40-are seeking to catch my eye today. The record shows over a period of many months that ordinarily I have sought to accommodate and been successful in accommodating everybody. I would like to be so again, but I think that it is extremely unlikely when more than 40 Members wish to contribute. The requirement for short questions and short answers is greater than ever. I call Celia Barlow.
"We are on the target list. Lord Ashcroft is a supporter of target seats".
In addition to the Select Committee investigation, will the Government carry out an investigation and report, so that Members with marginal seats can work out exactly how much of the £15 million of central American money has been spent in each seat?
Ms Harman: I think that what my hon. Friend has shown is that there is deep disquiet about this-about the fact that the Conservative party has completely sacrificed its integrity for money and is trying to buy seats with the Belize dollar. I think we are entitled to feel that that is not acceptable.
Sir Peter Tapsell: Whatever the strength of views of the Leader of the House on any particular issue, does she not accept that, as the Leader of the House, she has a particular duty to observe the long-standing conventions of the House, and that one does not accuse another Member-either of this House or of another House-of an offence where, if the accusation were made outside this House, it would undoubtedly lead to an action for slander? Will she take this opportunity to withdraw the allegation that she made against the noble Lord?
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman entered the House first in 1959 and has served without interruption in his present constituency since 1966, so he will know that business questions is the occasion to ask a question requesting either a statement or a debate the following week. That did not quite happen, but if the Leader of the House wants -[Interruption.] Order. I require no help from Back-Bench Members. If the Leader of the House wants briefly to respond to what has been asked, that is fine but thereafter I would ask that we move on and, in particular, that questions and answers relate to the business of the House next week.
Questions on the business of the House is also an occasion to discuss what is going on in the House of Lords and in Select Committees-I am sure you would acknowledge that, Mr. Speaker. This morning, the Public Administration Committee announced that
it is going to look into this issue. I have not said anything in this House that I can say only in this House under cover of parliamentary privilege-what I have said is fact. It is actually a fact that Lord Ashcroft was only allowed to be in the House of Lords because he gave an assurance-that is, is it not, a fact? Is it not also a fact that it is now clear that he broke that assurance? That is a fact, and-
Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me just say to the Leader of the House and to all Members of the House that criticism of Members of the other place should be on a substantive motion. The points that have been made have been made extremely clearly, but I think it is reasonable and proper for me now -[Interruption.] Order. It is reasonable and proper for me now to ask hon., right hon. and right hon. and learned Members to focus on the business of the House next week. The Leader of the House has responded and I am grateful to her.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): In a busy week, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for the Prime Minister to come to the House to make a statement on the principles of universal jurisdiction and, in particular, to explain the serious and, indeed, colossal error contained in the article that he wrote in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph, where he maintains that arrest warrants for crimes against humanity and for war crimes may be obtained on the "slightest of evidence"? Nobody knows better than my right hon. and learned Friend that a district judge must find a good prima facie case for such crimes, as indeed happened in the case of Tzipi Livni. This is an important issue, so will she find time for such a statement?
Ms Harman: No one should be in any doubt about the fact that we remain strongly committed to the universal jurisdiction for the enforcement of international war crimes. The only question at issue is what the gateway to enforcement of those issues is and whether they should be able to be enforced by a member of the public, or whether enforcement should be carried out on the basis of a motion brought to the court by the public prosecution service. Let no one be in any doubt about the fact that we strongly support the universal jurisdiction-the question is just about the gateway to its enforcement.
Ms Harman: Because we are taking forward, in this afternoon's business of the House, issues that were raised by the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, which was chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). If we can agree by the end of the day on the election of the Chairs and members of Select Committees and on a new Committee of the whole House to agree not only Back-Bench business but Government business, and if we can, in addition, improve the procedure for getting Deputy Speakers, we will have taken great steps forward. We changed the rules when we elected our Speaker, which was the first election by secret ballot, so we have recently addressed that issue by introducing a new procedure for electing the Speaker.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): The teaching of English as a foreign language is a vital business activity in my constituency, but it is under threat because of proposed changes to visa rules, which mean that students who want to upgrade their language skills before going to university would have to return home and apply for another visa to come back again. Can we debate this matter? Failing that, will my right hon. and learned Friend nudge her colleagues in the Home Office and ask them to rethink those proposals?
Ms Harman: I will ask my colleagues in the Home Office to write to my hon. Friend about this matter. Obviously, foreign students are very important not only for the revenue that they bring into this country but because they increase and foster our global connections, which are important for our trade in a globalised economy. However, we have to make sure that the visa system, particularly the student visa system, is not abused and that people do not come here intending not to study but to work and to be students only as a secondary activity. That has to be cleared up, and that is what the Home Office is doing.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the scandalous amount of money being paid in medical negligence claims across our country? I have requested such a debate before, but it is vital, at this time, that we look into the scandalous amounts of money being paid, which have totalled £250 million in London in the past three years.
Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman, a member of his family or one of his constituents were the victim of medical negligence and suffered as a result, they would expect to be compensated for their pain, suffering and loss of earnings. The important thing is to improve patient safety. Certainly, if there is negligence, the NHS should settle to avoid paying high lawyers' fees. I do not think that we can say that people should put up with medical negligence, which can cause terrible pain and suffering, and that it should not be compensated. The answer is to improve patient safety, not to clamp down on litigation.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Having spent a great deal of time trying to clean up Parliament-I am in favour of the reforms and changes that have taken place-is it not important to have a statement early next week on the position regarding Lord Ashcroft, how he got his peerage, what promises were made on his behalf and what promises he made about paying UK tax in full? Could all the documentation on his peerage-correspondence and the rest of it-be placed in the Library as quickly as possible?
I think that everybody would like to see the documentation relating to this matter. It is the responsibility of those who assert that Lord Ashcroft was given approval to go back on his assurance to put evidence in the public domain that that was the case. I will think about whether there is some way of making a statement that will allow this issue to be aired in the House, but the problem is that this is not actually a matter for government. The Government do not dictate who goes into the House of Lords: that was done through an independent process, but it involved assurances
given by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who is now the shadow Foreign Secretary. As I have said, a statement in the House is not needed for those who have the documentation to put it in the public domain, which they have signally failed to do.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): May we have a debate on the effectiveness of youth intervention programmes such as the one in Teignmouth, which saw a 40 per cent. reduction in antisocial behaviour? Perhaps we could then get an explanation as to why the new Tory county council has cut the funding for that programme.
Ms Harman: That is a warning to people about what would happen if the Tories ever got back into government-we would see very important projects that are important to local communities being cut. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of antisocial behaviour in business questions. No doubt, he can raise it in questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government next week. However, I note that antisocial behaviour orders, which I am afraid that his party voted against, are also important in this area.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider scheduling a debate on the effects of public service cuts on local communities? As well as cutting meals on wheels, Tory-controlled Dudley council voted on Monday night to cut children's services, including those for children with disabilities, and drug rehabilitation services. The Conservative party is always asking us to judge it on how it treats the most vulnerable and how it runs its councils, and such a debate would allow us to make that judgment.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises important issues for people in her constituency and in Dudley-meals on wheels, children's services and drug rehabilitation services. The evidence coming forth from Conservative councils is that the Conservatives just cannot be trusted with vital public services. Indeed, they seek to use the undeniable need to pay back the public deficit as an excuse to cut services. We would make sure that we paid back the deficit by halving it over four years, but while protecting front-line services.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Many people feel that the Government's slavish obedience to the United States has corroded and undermined the special relationship. Can the Foreign Secretary make a statement to the House next week on the special relationship, given the unwelcome intervention of Secretary of State Clinton, with whom he wishes to have a special relationship, in the affairs of the United Kingdom regarding Argentina and the Falkland Islands?
Ms Harman: I do not think that the Foreign Secretary needs to return to the House on this issue. He made the position absolutely clear only this week regarding the Falklands and the right to self-determination. There is no question about their remaining part of the United Kingdom. I made that clear yesterday, and he has made it clear this week that they will remain in charge of their self-determination. There is no need to clarify the issue because it is absolutely clear.
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