|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
I was pleased with what the Leader of the House said about the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill. Is there any way that she can ensure that special time is made available in the last few days that we have left to ensure that that Bill gets through and is not obstructed
by some arcane procedure in this House whereby anonymous people can make anonymous objections and prevent the will of the House from being carried out?
Ms Harman: I appreciate my hon. Friend's support for the Bill. I share in that support, as do the Government and hon. Members from across the House. He will recognise that we need to make progress on that Bill and on the "vulture fund" Bill not only in this House, but in the House of Lords. The House of Lords does not have the same timetabling arrangements as this place and we do not have the same Government majority in the House of Lords. This is private Members' business, not Government business, so in order for progress to be made the Opposition need to ensure that they will not block it and will ensure that it can progress. This is really a question for the Opposition: will they withdraw their opposition so that these Bills can make progress?
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): When the shadow Leader of the House asked the Leader of the House last week when she was going to table the remaining motions of the Procedure Committee, which were not debated two weeks ago, she failed to give a response, no doubt inadvertently. As these were her motions, and as there is obviously plenty of time, will she explain to the House when she is going to lay these motions for voting?
Ms Harman: The House had an opportunity to consider and make decisions on the substantive motions that I had tabled in response to the Wright Committee's proposals. I tabled them long in advance of the debate, so that if hon. Members felt that the motions did not cover certain things in the Wright Committee's report, they were able to amend the motions to add certain issues. We then came to the House to debate not only the motions, but the amendments to them. Now, the House has resolved them and it is a question of putting them into Standing Orders.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Given that the respected and noble Lord Whitty has attacked the undue influence of producer interests, such as the British Phonographic Industry and its lobbyists in securing amendments to the Digital Economy Bill in the other place, would it not be completely unacceptable for this Bill to be rushed through this place in a few hours in the wash-up? Would it not be far better to drop the controversial clauses regarding web blocking and file sharing, so that a future elected House of Commons could consider this matter carefully?
Ms Harman: Obviously there will need to be further debate in this House. A lively debate is taking place outside the House involving everybody who is interested in, and concerned about, this Bill, and all those comments are being noted and drawn upon.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
Tension remains high in the south Atlantic because of the hostile and illegal actions of the Argentine regime, which is now seeking to deprive the Falklands fishing fleet of its fuel supplies. Can the Leader of the House
arrange for a Foreign Office Minister to come to the House to make a statement about the situation in the south Atlantic?
Ms Harman: In respect of the particular point that the hon. Gentleman raises about the Falklands, I will ask the relevant Foreign Office Minister to write to him and place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library so that other hon. Members can see it.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate about business rates? I appreciate that many businesses are getting a rate cut as a result of a revaluation, but many also face rises and the transitional relief scheme still allows some businesses to pay as much an 11 per cent. increase in their business rates. In difficult economic times that is an awful lot of money for a small business, and this needs to be reconsidered.
Ms Harman: We recognise that, because of the global economic recession, things have been very difficult for business. That is one reason why we have allowed all businesses to apply to have their tax liabilities postponed under the time to pay scheme, which has helped 200,000 businesses up and down the country. My hon. Friend mentioned the transitional relief scheme, and I will ensure that the whole situation is kept firmly within the sights of the relevant Ministers, to whose attention I shall draw his comments.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): On the most unfortunate industrial action at British Airways, will the Leader of the House guarantee that a Transport Minister will come to make a further statement next week? Will she also give an undertaking that Ministers will be flying with British Airways when this strike is going on and will not be fearful of the wrath of the Prime Minister, who clearly was not prepared to cross a picket line, as his lack of answers to the oral questions that were put to him yesterday showed.
Ms Harman: As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we hope that the strike will not go ahead because a settlement will be achieved. That is very much the position that we take: we hope that there will be a settlement.
[ That this House notes with grave concern the report entitled Lost Life published by Natural England which details the huge loss of plants and animals native to England, with the scale of extinction most marked in the past 200 years when most of the recorded loss of nearly 500 species has occurred including 24 per cent. of all butterflies, 22 per cent. of amphibians, 15 per cent. of dolphins and whales, and 12 per cent. of land mammals; is alarmed that the report shows that 943 English species are under threat, with most of those disappearing being the victims of intensive farming, pollution and pesticides, coupled with the loss over the past six decades of most of England's wildflower meadows as well as a huge reduction in ponds, chalklands and peatlands, with changes in agriculture practices resulting in birds and insects being deprived of
food; is further alarmed that the loss of woodlands and the neglect of forests and woods has also hit many species, as has the introduction of alien wildlife; congratulates Natural England on producing the first ever audit of native wildlife; acknowledges that urbanisation has also been a major contributory factor in the decline in England's wildlife habitat; and calls on the Government to lead a national campaign, based on Natural England's dire warnings, as set out in the Lost Life report, to halt the decline of wildlife, to protect environmental sites from planners, and to introduce policies to restore the health of ecosystems across the entire landscape.]
The early-day motion refers to the huge number of wildlife species that are becoming extinct, noting that 500 species have already become extinct and a further 943 are under threat. If the Leader of the House is trying to find time when such a debate could take place, may I suggest Wednesday 31 March? That would allow the Prime Minister to come to the House and it would enable upwards of 20 Back Benchers to speak in the Easter Adjournment debate-in addition, it is my birthday then.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time is next week. He can ask the Secretary of State about those important issues.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The House began the Adjournment debate yesterday at about 3.30 pm, and there is plenty of time for a debate on the impact on our economy that the strike at British Airways will have. Will the Leader of the House give time for such a debate so that we can examine how Unite permeates right to the heart of government in 10 Downing street, and see how it is bankrolling the Labour Government and bankrupting Britain?
Ms Harman: When it comes to bankrolling, the point about trade union funding to the Labour party is that it involves hundreds of thousands of individuals at work-people who have signed up to pay the political levy. Those people pay the political contribution out of taxed income, unlike the contributions from Lord Ashcroft, which come from not paying the tens of millions of pounds of tax promised by the shadow Foreign Secretary. An urgent question about the British Airways dispute was asked earlier this week, and we have just had Transport questions. We hope the strike can be averted.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The Leader of the House will know that I had cause to send her a Valentine's card-my only Valentine's card, in fact-but does she agree that the pretend Valentine's card put out by Croydon NHS in an attempt to communicate on the issues of poor sexual health is inappropriate? Should we perhaps have a debate on the best way to promote good sexual health? After all:
"Harriet is Red,
I am no longer Blue,
Sexual health is black and white,
But you've got to get the message right."
I saw the Valentine's card that the hon. Gentleman received, and I think it was hard-hitting in sending the message that chlamydia can seriously damage
people's health, particularly that of young women, and the effects can last a lifetime. It is important that young women and men are warned about the effects of sexually transmitted diseases. This is the point: if the Valentine's card, which was sent out by way of public information, works, that is the most important thing. We should do everything we can to help young people to protect their own health, including from sexually transmitted infections.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): I understand that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is due to publish its list of allowances in two weeks. Why has the Fees Office produced another list today? Is not that rather confusing?
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I report to the Leader of the House the considerable disquiet in the Defence Committee, on all sides, since the Prime Minister finally admitted that he had cut defence expenditure during wartime? Can she imagine how difficult it is to conduct proper scrutiny through Select Committees when the Government are in constant denial of the truth? Will she arrange time for a debate on the Osmotherly rules, which determine how Ministers field civil servants, chiefs of staff and, indeed, themselves in front of Select Committees-how they conduct themselves? Will she confirm that a new report is being compiled by the Cabinet Office for the civil service and Ministers? Should not that be debated as a vital part of our constitution?
Ms Harman: The Osmotherly rules have recently been reviewed, but I think it is true to say that no member of the Government-indeed, no Labour Member-has refused to appear before a Select Committee. Such a refusal is a complete snub to a Select Committee and shows contempt for it. That is what the shadow Foreign Secretary-
Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not need any help from the hon. Gentleman. I have the greatest affection for him, but he should not tell me how to do my job. He is a very able fellow, but I am not sure he would know where to start. What I want to-[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] I am not sure he would.
What I want to say to the Leader of the House is that it seems to me that this matter, to put it bluntly, has been done to death. I have been willing to hear people's questions and what she has said by way of reply, but we must focus on the business of the House for next week and the provisional business for the week thereafter.
[That this House notes with concern research by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care, which has found that, of the £100 million the Government has committed through the NHS to provide support for carers in 2010-11, only 26 per cent. is planned to be spent by primary care trusts to increase support for carers and
alarmingly that approximately one quarter of primary care trusts in England are planning to reduce spending on carers' services; and calls on the Government to take immediate action.]
The Government pledged £100 million to support carers for 2010-11. Research by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers has found that only about a quarter of that money will be used for helping carers. Horrifyingly, about a quarter of primary care trusts next year propose to reduce the amount that they spend supporting carers. Please may we have an urgent debate on how we ensure that the money the Government have committed to support carers actually gets to the carers who need support?
Ms Harman: We would all agree that support for carers is very important indeed. The fact of the matter is that, over the next couple of decades, the number of people aged over 85 is set to increase dramatically. That means support not only from social services, domiciliary services and residential care, but from family members, which is why we have increased support for families-for example, through the right to request flexible working-and why we think it important to provide more access to respite care.
The finances have been made available to primary care trusts to support carers and to improve the care of older and disabled people. While allowing for local autonomy and flexibility, we must ensure that those national standards are met, which includes, I have to say, a measure of targeting. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that sometimes we need national targets to be set out and enforced, because we cannot have a postcode lottery.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I think that we are making progress on the Standing Orders for the Back-Bench business committee, and I welcome what the Leader of the House has said today about plan B, but does she agree that if she tabled a Standing Order to be taken under remaining orders of the day and an amendment was tabled, whatever its merits, she would have either to accept that amendment to enable the proposal to remain under remaining orders, by definition, or consider the proposal, as opposition would have been expressed? Will she give us a clue about the time scale for tabling such a proposal, the consultation on it and plan B?
Ms Harman: The resolutions of the House required for things to be done in time for the next Parliament, so that is the timing that we have to comply with. We were able to get so many of the Wright Committee recommendations through under remaining orders of the day, and there is even less justification for anybody to object to proposals under remaining orders when they simply implement a decision that has already been made by the House. If that is done, in a spoiling or wrecking tactic, we will have plan B, because I am under a duty and a responsibility to ensure that this happens before the next Parliament so that the Standing Orders are in place.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con):
The Prime Minister has admitted that he misled the inquiry over the issue of defence expenditure. Will the Leader of the House
arrange for him to come and make a statement to the House next week, so that Back-Bench Members of Parliament with an interest in those matters have the opportunity to question him and hold him to account over this very serious matter?
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister has been held to account and answered questions from this Dispatch Box yesterday. The person who has not been prepared to answer questions and has not been prepared to be held to account is the shadow Foreign Secretary. This is a question of double standards because Conservative Members are asking for transparency and accountability while themselves showing contempt for transparency and accountability.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Given that the Wright Committee business is still going through the House, will the Leader of the House give time to discuss the politicisation of Select Committees? I am a member of the Public Administration Committee. We feel that we cannot attend because it has become a mouthpiece for the Government and that devalues the whole basis of Select Committees. Our papers are political; our discussions are now political. Will she please give time for this place to discuss the future of the Select Committee system?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong about that. Select Committees have to be able to do things that are sometimes controversial in all parts of the House. Whatever the Select Committees decide to do, any individual Member can decide whether they want to participate as an individual member of that Select Committee in the proceedings of that Committee. If they do not want to, they can decide not to. As for a Select Committee, on behalf of the House, calling a Member to give evidence, once that call has been made, it should be responded to and respected.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I want to follow up the question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer). The letter from the Fees Office today sets out in detail the allowances for Members in the forthcoming financial year. Why is the letter being sent to Members two weeks before IPSA publishes its scheme? This is the type of confusion and chaos that brings this House into disrepute, and puts Members' reputations at greater risk.
Ms Harman: Those are the allowances that will apply until the new Parliament. It is the Fees Office's responsibility to make clear the provisions for the new financial year. That regime will cease after the next general election, and the IPSA regime will apply. The IPSA regime will be published but it will not apply until the new Parliament. Until then, the Fees Office is responsible for giving the information and running the allowances system.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, the Table Office told me that the 2009 annual report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on human rights would be laid before the House and made available to Members during the day. In the event, the report does not appear to have been laid before the House, although it appeared online yesterday evening. I also understand that it was made available to members of the media and others who attended the FCO's launch event yesterday evening. I hope that this is no more than an unfortunate oversight, but that you will use your good offices to ensure that it is not repeated.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for giving me advance notice of it. I understand that the document referred to was indeed published online without being laid before the House, which should not have happened. I have instructed that the matter be taken up at once with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-a representative of which, in the form of the Minister for Europe, is with us. He is poised to respond.
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I think that this is a very unfortunate oversight, and I do apologise to the House. We will make sure that it is rectified as soon as possible.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise two related issues on which I seek your guidance. On Monday 1 March, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary visited my Reading, East constituency. Neither contacted me, but the Prime Minister's office did inform the press, the council, the police and the neighbouring Labour MP. I seek your guidance first about whether that lack of courtesy is acceptable.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|