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I think I hear from the hon. Gentleman that he does not think his constituents ought easily to be able to find out what a large council, which runs
many affairs in his area, spends on their behalf. I differ from that view. I do not believe that a debate would be greatly useful, but perhaps he would like to apply for one.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a debate on how we ought to deal with habitual criminals, given that most of my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington feel that if there is not enough time during a short prison sentence properly to rehabilitate persistent offenders, rather than not send them to prison, the solution is a longer sentence?
Mr Heath: I say to the hon. Gentleman that we need a penal policy that stops people reoffending and that reduces crime. Sometimes, that will mean not prison sentences, but more appropriate disposals that work better. Sometimes, it will mean prison sentences, because those are necessary either for rehabilitation or for the protection of people in an area. I hope the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to put forward what are quite clearly firmly held views when the Justice Secretary brings forward his review of sentencing policy.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an early debate on the role and responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister? Did the Deputy Leader of the House share with me the feeling of pity for him when he was on the "Today" programme this morning talking about the scourge of grey squirrels? What on earth is going on in his Department?
Mr Heath: I do not find the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because I believe that some of the legislation introduced by the previous Government is absurd and unnecessary. Whenever a Minister did not know what to do about a subject, they came to the House and introduced a new criminal offence. The fact that we are going to get rid of some of those criminal offences will be widely welcomed across the country, because we do not want unnecessary offences and regulation. The Deputy Prime Minister is doing an extremely good job of highlighting those issues. If he wants scrutiny, he does not lack it, given that a Select Committee has been formed for that purpose and that there are regular questions to him in the House. I do not think there are any such difficulties.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will the Deputy Leader of the House agree to a debate on whether the law currently provides sufficient protection for telephone bill payers from being charged for calls made by an external hacker through their switchboard? Jolene Gregory, the practice manager of Pendle View medical centre in my constituency, has a bill for £4,700 for fraudulent calls made between September and December 2009, which to date, the telephone provider, Azzurri Communications, has been unwilling to cancel or reduce.
Many hon. Members will be shocked by what has happened to the hon. Gentleman's constituent-it is simply unacceptable. Many of us have found similar things in our constituency casework. Telecommunications companies in particular very often seem to have scant regard for the interests of their consumers. I am pleased that he had the opportunity to raise the matter today on behalf of his constituent, and I will ensure that it is
brought to the attention of ministerial colleagues and the regulator. In due course, he may feel it worth while to approach the Backbench Business Committee to ask for a debate on the wider subject of consumer protection, which probably affects a large number of Back-Bench Members.
Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Yesterday, two of my constituents travelled from Hull to lobby me on the important issue of contaminated blood products. When they came through security, they were wearing campaign t-shirts, which they were told either to remove or turn inside out. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House is committed to freedom and civil liberties, so will he make a statement on that particular practice of the House?
Mr Heath: I was not aware of that situation and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing it to my attention. I may have to refer the matter to you, Mr Speaker, in due course, for your consideration, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): May we have an urgent justice debate on the devastating impact for local justice in Skipton and rural Craven should Skipton magistrates and county court close as a result of the forthcoming review?
Mr Heath: Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have many questions to ask about the circumstances of their local magistrates courts. Far be it from me to use my position to raise the issue of Frome magistrates court-that would be inappropriate-but experience suggests that concern is felt by a large number of hon. Members. There is a genuine consultation on what should happen and legitimate questions need to be asked about court houses that are simply not fit for purpose and that cannot be brought up to the required standard economically. However, the Justice Secretary will welcome views from hon. Members about courts in their constituencies and their circumstances, particularly in relation to rural areas, where access to justice might be an issue. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but no doubt when the review has reached its completion, there will be an opportunity.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Last week, the Prime Minister said that our troops would be back from Afghanistan within five years, but yesterday he was contradicted by the Secretary of State for Defence. May we have a debate to clear up this mess as soon as possible?
Mr Heath: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are committed to regular debates on the conflict in Afghanistan and Defence questions are on Monday-there are questions on policy in Afghanistan on the Order Paper, which will give him the opportunity to raise that. It is absolutely clear that there is the intention of withdrawing our forces when the job is done, and we all hope that the job will be done at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not see any difficulty in reconciling that position.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
Last week, when I asked for a Government statement on Equitable Life, the Leader of the House
rather breezily told me that there was no need for a statement because there would be a Bill, but there was no mention in today's business statement of the Bill's introduction. Given the time it takes for legislation to go through both Houses of Parliament, is not the reality that any legislation is unlikely to be enacted until the end of this year at the earliest, which means that payments will not be made until some time in 2011? May we have not only a statement but a debate on that cruel betrayal of Equitable Life policyholders by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, given the promises they made before the election? That is also a betrayal, incidentally, of Members such as myself, who misguidedly voted for a Liberal Democrat motion on the matter a few weeks before the election.
Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman has been a doughty supporter of Equitable Life policyholders over the years, as have I and many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It does not really help if he now uses the terms that he has for this Government, who are trying to deal with the issue after year after year of prevarication from the previous Government. They set up Sir John Chadwick's review. He has not yet completed it. He is now talking about reporting in mid-July, so we have to await the end of the review. There is no question about that.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Deputy Leader of the House consider his reply to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) about the redundancies announced by the insurance arm of Lloyds Banking Group. Lloyds is, of course, largely owned by the Treasury. Of those posts, 198 are going from Nottingham. What can be done to help with retraining and redeployment of those made redundant? Many of our constituents in Nottingham are very concerned about this matter.
Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman may want to raise that in the context of the Opposition day debate, because it is clearly relevant to that. I perfectly understand the concerns that he expresses on behalf of his constituents. We want to make sure that every possible assistance is given by the Government to the individuals made redundant. We bandy around percentages, but someone who loses their job is 100% unemployed until they find another job. That is the human tragedy that we always have to have in mind.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use that opportunity. If he feels that there is more that can be done, I hope that he will seek a debate on the issue either in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. Such issues are very important. I leave the hon. Gentleman with one parting shot. He is right: this is a bank in which the UK Government have a significant holding. I wish that the previous Government had applied some effective constraints on the way banks operated when they took that equity in the banks.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the points raised during business questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), we have heard this week, 20 years on from the Hillsborough disaster, that there are still misconceptions about the tragedy, even in the Cabinet. That is precisely why I, together with my two hon. Friends, called for the full disclosure of all public documents relating to the disaster and the establishment of the Hillsborough independent panel to give the people of Merseyside the full truth and to end the misconceptions once and for all.
Together with the former Home Secretary, we signed off the terms of reference and the funding for the Hillsborough independent panel before the election. The policy was settled. Today in the Daily Mirror I read that sources in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport say that the Secretary of State is taking a new look at the issue and
"Things are not as simple as before".
Is it in order that on an issue of this significance and importance a change of policy can be dealt with by off-the-record briefings? Do the people of Merseyside not deserve the courtesy of a Minister of the Crown coming to this House to tell them exactly what they are up to?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for advance notice of it. I reiterate at the outset that if a Minister intends to make a new commitment in terms of policy or to change a hitherto understood public policy, he or she is expected to make that clear first to the House, as I hope experience earlier this week testifies.
I appreciate the extreme importance of this matter. I am not aware thus far of any intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement. It is open to the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to table questions- [ Interruption. ] Order. The request that the right hon. Gentleman has made will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and I repeat that if a new policy is planned we had better hear about it here first.
Finally, and more widely, it might be of interest to the House to know that applications have already been made for an Adjournment debate on this subject. Those applications were not successful in the ballot, but knowing the persistence and indefatigability of colleagues who are interested in this matter, I have a hunch that they might apply again and, who knows, they might be successful.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab):
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance and patience on this matter, but I know that you understand because I have raised before the great concern not only on Merseyside but nationally and internationally about what is happening. We have had a disgraceful statement from a Minister this week. We have now had briefings and rumours about the release of documents and arguments about financing. An Adjournment debate is one way of looking at this, but is there anything more you can do to
persuade Ministers to come here urgently next week to make a statement? The Deputy Leader of the House must have known about this issue because it has been in the national news all week, yet he could not give us an answer.
Mr Speaker: I appreciate the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to the matter. He has raised it before and he feels a commitment to his constituents in relation to it. Therefore, it is understandable that he has flagged it up in passionate and explicit terms with me this afternoon. I do not think that I can add anything, however, to what I have already said. If a new approach or policy is planned on a matter of great importance, which this certainly is, it should be the subject of a statement to the House first. I have now said that twice so I am sure that it has been heard in the relevant quarters.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have just reiterated that Ministers should come to the House when there has been a change of policy. The Prime Minister came to the House two weeks ago and made a statement on the important subject of our involvement in Afghanistan. He then briefed the press when he went to Canada last weekend about time limits for our withdrawal. Yesterday the Defence Secretary attended the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington. Is it not right that they should make announcements here if policy has changed in the past two weeks on Afghanistan?
Mr Speaker: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that discussion of public policy is an ongoing process. It takes place all the time and Ministers can discuss policy issues in a variety of ways, including in speeches and exchanges outside the House. The crucial point is this. When a new policy is to be announced, it must be announced here first. All that I can say is that I will keep a beady eye on this matter, not merely on a weekly basis but on a daily basis.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Now that the Deputy Leader of the House has agreed to arrange for a debate on the Government's policy on fairness, how do I find out when that debate will take place?
Mr Speaker: I think the answer to the hon. Gentleman's point of order is that that is a matter for the Leader of the House and, in his absence, the Deputy Leader of the House. It is quite possible that a cosy chat will shortly ensue between the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) and the Deputy Leader of the House.
Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This follows on from my question during business questions and may be more appropriate for you. When they came through security into the House yesterday, my constituents were asked to remove a campaign T-shirt or turn it inside out. Can you give some guidance to our security staff with regard to that policy?
Mr Speaker: I shall certainly investigate the matter and revert to the hon. Lady. I am not familiar with the circumstances of this case, other than from what she said. An overly restrictive approach in matters of this kind is undesirable. Occasionally, a bit of flamboyance is not such a bad thing. I think I can say that to the hon. Lady from personal experience.
That this House has considered the matter of global poverty.
This is the first opportunity since the general election that the House has had to debate international development and my first chance, as Secretary of State, to set out for the House how the coalition will address this vital agenda. My purpose today is twofold. First, I want to set out for the House the changes that we are making in my Department. Secondly, in the context of last week's Budget, in which the Chancellor set out the scale of the fiscal crisis bequeathed us by the previous Government-a crisis that means that of every £4 of public expenditure, £1 is borrowed-I want to make it clear why our coalition Government stand four-square behind our commitment to the world's poorest people, and why we will increase our expenditure on international development to 0.7% of our gross national income from 2013, define that expenditure under the OECD/Development Assistance Committee rules and enshrine that commitment in law.
In his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reaffirmed that development spending will increase. As the Prime Minister has consistently made clear, the coalition Government will not seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in the world. It is clearly helpful that that strong commitment transcends party politics, both in the House and in the country. It is a strength of international development that it is seen not as the preserve or the passion of any one political party, but as a British commitment in which Members in all parts of the House strongly believe.
In that context I would like to say how pleased I was to see that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has been elected-unopposed-to resume his chairmanship of the Select Committee on International Development. I am also pleased that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who have a long record of particular involvement and commitment in this area are in their places.
I should also like to express my admiration and respect for the extraordinary collection of skills and expertise in the Department for International Development, which I now have the privilege to lead. As the Prime Minister said on his visit to the Department last week, we should be very proud of the leading role DFID is taking in the fight against international poverty. The fact that in this time of great economic difficulty DFID has a ring-fenced, protected budget is not because we believe that money alone is the key to international development.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position as Secretary of State. He said that he hoped to enshrine in law the commitment that all parties in the House share. Can he give any more information on how and when that might happen?
Mr Mitchell: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. I am not able today to give final details, but negotiations continue in the usual manner. I shall make sure that the House is informed as soon as final decisions on that point have been made.
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