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Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:33 am on 18th March 2010.

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Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:33 am, 18th March 2010

Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The business for next week will be:

Monday 22 March-Motions to approve three statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland devolution, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Child Poverty Bill.

Tuesday 23 March-Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [ Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Bill [ Lords].

Wednesday 24 March-My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 25 March-Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 26 March-The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 March will include:

Monday 29 March-Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 30 March-Conclusion of the Budget debate.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 March will be:

Thursday 25 march-A debate on police community support officers.

Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess at the end of business on Tuesday 30 March and will return on Tuesday 6 April.

Mr. Speaker, you have paid your own tribute to Ashok Kumar, and I want to say a few words about him and pay my tribute as well. He was exceptional. He was a scientist who dedicated himself to the people and industries of Teesside. He was of Indian origin, and he represented the people of Teesside as their councillor, and then their MP, for 25 years. He was totally committed and hard-working, and we were proud to have him as a colleague in the parliamentary Labour party. We will miss him, and our thoughts are very much with his family.

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Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. May I join her in paying tribute to Ashok Kumar? He was a calm, courteous and decent man, but he was also an energetic champion for his constituents. He brought to Parliament an expertise in science that helped to enrich our proceedings, and the House will miss him.

Last week, I challenged the right hon. and learned Lady about the statement that the Prime Minister had made in the House and to the Chilcot inquiry that defence spending had risen every year. She strongly refuted my assertion that he was wrong, but yesterday, she was holed below the waterline by the Prime Minister. Was this a question of her loyalty overcoming her judgment? Will she now accept her error and, unlike the Prime Minister, will she now apologise to the House?

On the forthcoming business, what has happened to the traditional Easter Adjournment debate? Its absence denies Back Benchers their traditional right to raise issues of concern on behalf of their constituents. Has it been abandoned because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid sitting on the Wednesday and facing another bad day at Question Time?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady give the House her assurance that all written parliamentary questions will be answered before Dissolution? I know that she will particularly wish to impress this point on her Treasury colleagues, who have a number of outstanding questions from hon. Members.

Where are the Standing Orders that will implement the resolutions on the Wright report on reform of the Commons? Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady said that drafts would be circulated to everyone who had shown an interest in this issue. I hope that that includes me, but nothing has yet arrived. It would be a great shame if the progress that the House has made were to be undone by yet more dithering by the Government at the last minute.

May we have a debate on the Government's policy for tackling so-called legal highs? The tragic death of the two boys who took mephedrone has heightened the need for us to react more quickly to the ease with which existing narcotics can be reconstituted to form legal substances. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree with our view that we should be able to ban such drugs temporarily until there is a proper assessment of the risks that they present, and then ban permanently those that are dangerous?

May we have an urgent statement on the release of Government statistics? Yesterday, the Youth Justice Board revealed that figures on the number of crimes committed by under-18s would not be published until the autumn, six months after the normal publication date. The Government have claimed that the delay is due to the official pre-election period, but that is total nonsense, since that takes effect only once the election has been called. What have the Government got to hide?

May we have a debate on today's report from the National Audit Office on Whitehall reorganisation? The NAO has discovered that, between 2005 and 2009, the Government spent more than £1 billion on changing the structure of Departments and agencies. Many of the moves do not seem to justify the expenditure; one name change lasted just five weeks. Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been reinvented three times since 2005, and those changes appear to have been motivated more by a need to massage his giant ministerial ego than by good governance.

Finally, will Ministers keep the House in the picture on the British Airways dispute? Can the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that Ministers who are booked on flights during the period of the strike will fly with BA, if the flights are available? Does she also recognise that she might have some influence over the industrial action? Given that she is-we hope-closer to Unite's deputy general secretary than the Prime Minister is to Unite's political secretary, does she think that there is anything she can do to help?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, those issues can be raised in the Budget debate. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry to say that my notes have failed me, because, although I know that the answer is to raise the issues in the Budget debate, I cannot remember what the point was.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

No; that was the second point, and the answer to that is that the Prime Minister gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry and answered questions at Prime Minister's questions. That stands in stark contrast to the shadow Foreign Secretary, who is refusing to appear before the Public Administration Committee. The Prime Minister has been completely open and clear, and he has answered from the Dispatch Box. He has given the information, and therefore the issue does not need to be raised in the Budget debate. However, there are questions that need to be answered, and although the shadow Foreign Secretary-the right hon. Gentleman's shadow Cabinet colleague-is prepared to go on the "Today" programme, he is not prepared to show respect to this House's system of Select Committees by answering their questions.

The shadow Leader of the House asked me about progress on the Wright Committee proposals. He has stressed at length-in many cases quite justifiably-the importance of the Select Committee system. He need not worry about progress being made on the proposals that we shall be going forward with. We need to complete the process of placing before the House for its approval the Standing Orders that would give effect to the resolutions of the House, and they will indeed be brought forward. However, it comes ill from the right hon. Gentleman to talk about the importance of Select Committees, when one of his shadow Cabinet Colleagues is showing contempt for a Select Committee of this House by refusing to appear before it.

As for mephedrone and the tragic deaths of young people from taking that drug, the House will be aware that changing chemical substances are being manufactured. They are extremely dangerous, and young people ought to be aware that they should not be taking them, because they could put their health and even their lives at stake. Obviously the Government can draw on the important scientific advice on these changing chemical compounds from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but the most important thing right now is for young people to have the important warning that they should not be taking such substances, because they are extremely dangerous.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Government statistics on crime. I am surprised by that, given the shadow Home Secretary's wanton distortion of statistics in order to try to conceal the fact that crime has come down. We shall continue to produce Government statistics in the normal way, and we will continue as Ministers to draw attention to the fact that crime has fallen as a result of good work by the police, which we need to continue to improve on.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the machinery of government changes. He will know that Departments have to be changed to keep abreast of changing times. That is an important prime ministerial duty and responsibility, although most of the expenditure was incurred not in making departmental changes, but in relation to non-departmental public bodies.

As for the British Airways dispute, we have just had Transport questions, and the right hon. Gentleman will have heard the Minister of State, Department for Transport talking about it. I am not aware of anybody asking the Transport Minister about ministerial air travel, but obviously he is the person to whom that question should have been put. We hope that there will be a settlement of the dispute, for the sake of those seeking to travel on British Airways and those who work in the company.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I, too, add my tributes to Ashok Kumar, who will indeed be missed by the House.

I am not sure that the Leader of the House can quite so easily shrug aside the accusation from the NAO that £780 million has been wasted-not invested, but wasted-on fiddling around with Departments and public bodies, mainly through what amounts to a refined form of vanity publishing, so I hope that we will return to that issue.

Let me ask the Leader of the House about the Standing Order changes. She has complained several times over recent weeks that a cloud of suspicion hangs over her whenever she talks about the issue, but she has not allayed that suspicion by providing us with the text of the Standing Order changes. She has not put her name to the suggestions of the Wright Committee, and no time has been set aside to debate the motion. She may assume that it will go through on the nod, but I think that some anonymous Member will say "Object". The House rose early last Thursday, on Monday and on Wednesday, and I suspect that it will do so again today. It is not difficult to find an hour and a half. Why are we waiting?

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Friday 26 March? Some excellent private Members' Bills have been tabled for that day: the Water Tariffs Bill, the School Admissions Bill, the Live Music Bill [ Lords], the Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [ Lords], and the Council Tax Benefit (Change of Name) Bill. Not one of those excellent measures will be debated, however, because the House will not be sitting on Friday 26 March. Does the Leader of the House now regret that she did not provide more time for private Members' Bills?

I consider two private Members' Bills to be particularly important. One is the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, tabled by Andrew Gwynne, which deals with "vulture funds". Surely, given that the House is almost united in its support for that Bill, the Government have a duty to find time for it to be debated, and not to allow it to be derailed by the anonymous hon. Member for Christchurch. The other Bill is the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, tabled by Alistair Burt. That too is an excellent Bill, and the House wants it to be passed. Will the Leader of the House find time for that to happen? Will she also tell us when the Digital Economy Bill will finally be given a Second Reading?

Finally, may I return to the subject of the Prime Minister's "almost apology" yesterday? He admitted that he was wrong, but he could not quite bring himself to apologise to the House for having been wrong. Perhaps an innovation could be introduced in the new Parliament: perhaps, as well as Prime Minister's questions, we could have "Prime Minister's errors and omissions". It would be quite a long session, but it would enable the Prime Minister to apologise for those errors and omissions. In a spirit of equity-to make it absolutely fair-an equal amount of time could perhaps be allotted to the Leader of the Opposition, so that he can apologise for his errors and omissions as well.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Once again, the hon. Gentleman has sought to generate a cloud of suspicion over the progress of the Wright Committee proposals. Let me remind him, by way of reassurance, that when my hon. Friend Dr. Wright suggested that a Committee on Reform of the House of Commons be established, I immediately took up the offer and the Prime Minister immediately backed the proposal. I presented the motion to the House, so that it could approve the establishment of the Committee, and it was set up with the House's approval. It then reported, and I gave the House an opportunity to make substantive decisions on its proposals. On each occasion it has been suggested that the next step will not be taken and that process will be obstructed, but it has not been obstructed. Indeed, progress has been made, and we are approaching the final step.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that when we present the Standing Orders that give effect to the resolutions of the House, hon. Members might block them. I hope and expect that that will not happen, because the House has resolved the matter, and it would not be right for hon. Members who do not agree with the resolutions of the House and who lost the vote to seek to obstruct the will of the House by objecting to the Standing Orders that would give effect to them. If they do that, however, we shall have plan B.

The hon. Gentleman can be reassured that it is my responsibility to ensure that the will of the House is given effect. Having resolved those issues, the House will have an opportunity to approve the Standing Orders that give effect to its resolutions. The hon. Gentleman clearly has "trust issues"-he finds it hard to trust people; it must be something to do with his personal background. However, I say to him, "Rest assured, it actually will happen."

As for private Members' Bills, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill. The Government strongly support the Bill. It would limit the activities of what are described as "vulture funds", which seek to profit unfairly from the defaulted debts of heavily indebted poor countries. There is a great deal of support for the Bill throughout the House. We were led to believe that the Opposition would support it as well, so it was extremely disappointing that they objected to it on Third Reading. That was particularly concerning, because it appears that it was objected to by the Chair of the Public Bill Committee that had considered it; by convention, he would have been expected to have remained neutral. I am very concerned about that. This private Member's Bill has the strong support of the Government, and if it has the support of the Opposition it will make progress.

Points were also made about the Sustainable Communities Bill, which would amend the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. The Government strongly support that Bill as well, and, again, there is a great deal of support for it across the House. If the Opposition cease their opposition to it, as a private Member's Bill it can make progress. The question therefore is: will the Opposition let these important measures go through? They have to go through not only this House, but the other House. This is a question of Opposition support.

Finally, on the Digital Economy Bill, I will announce further business in due course.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. At least 27 Members are seeking to catch my eye. As usual, I would like to accommodate everybody, but in order to have a chance of doing so, brief questions and brief answers are required.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be more precise in respect of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill? As she knows, it was introduced by two Labour Members and has very broad support in the country, and senior Treasury Ministers have told me that they are willing to adopt it as a Government Bill. That being so, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it a Government Bill and introduce it next week, following precedents such as those set when Richard Crossman was Leader of the House, in order to make sure that, despite the wrecking tactics of the Tory Member about whom we have heard, the Bill can get to the House of Lords and become law before the Dissolution of this Parliament?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I welcome my right hon. Friend's strong support for the Bill. The position is as follows: if the Opposition agree to support its making further progress, it will be able to do so not only in this House, but in the House of Lords. It is down to the Opposition; they are on the spot on this, and they should be prepared to support the Bill.

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Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

Given that the Prime Minister has admitted that he misled the country over defence spending and has been accused by defence chiefs of being disingenuous, will the Leader of the House at least consider having a debate on the Prime Minister's honesty and financial competence?

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to find time for a debate on the announcement earlier this month by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families of a £30 billion capital investment programme in our schools? That would give me an opportunity to discuss the £430 million invested in secondary schools in Knowsley, the £44 million that is going into primary schools, and Sefton council's ambitious programme for investment in schools. Also, can my right hon. and learned Friend envisage any circumstances in which those sums might be put in jeopardy?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

That is important investment in each and every child's education and future opportunities. It is important for the economy of this country, too. Now that the economy is beginning to recover and unemployment is beginning to come down, the last thing that we should do is jeopardise the recovery by pulling support away from the economy. I assure my right hon. Friend that this investment in education will go ahead, and that we will continue to support the economy and education.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

As the Remembrance Sunday (Closure of Shops) Bill had widespread support both in the House and the country, and as the right hon. and learned Lady's office kindly informed me that a money resolution would be tabled after Second Reading, why did a Government Whip prevent it from having a Second Reading last Friday?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I will look into that and get back to the hon. Gentleman. If he had given me advance notice of his question, I might have been able to be more forthcoming, but I will let him know by the end of today.

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Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

The Warm Front programme has benefited thousands of my constituents, but unfortunately my office is spending more and more time trying to resolve disputes between Eaga and its subcontractors. One constituent of mine, Mr. Anthony Coote, has not been able to live in his house at all for many months now. Another constituent, Ken Watton, came out of hospital recently; he is 84 years of age, and he is living in appalling conditions. Please can we have a debate so that we can find out whether my office is unusual in this respect or whether other Members' constituents are suffering as well?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I will bring this to the attention of Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers. I am sure they will want to be certain that the very important Warm Front programme is being carried out effectively and efficiently.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Given that the Government are cutting university budgets, may we have an urgent debate on foreign funding of British universities? How confident is the Leader of the House that the backers who are behind this foreign investment are not promoting anti-Britishness and anti-western views?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

We have ensured that over the period we have been in government there has been a 25 per cent. real-terms increase in investment in universities and higher education, which has resulted in 24 per cent. more students. I have certainly seen that in my own constituency, where there has been a big increase in the number of young people going into further and higher education. I will look into the hon. Gentleman's specific point and respond to him on it, but so far as foreign money is concerned, we and the Public Administration Committee still need some answers about Lord Ashcroft's donation to the Conservative party, because he has managed to avoid, according to the Liberal Democrats' estimate, more than £100 million in tax. That should be going into the public purse, not into the Tory party coffers.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I want to reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that I do not have any trust issues with her. However, I remain concerned about the Digital Economy Bill, and in particular the complex technical measures on copyright reform. If the House were asked to consider this in the wash-up, the law of unintended consequences might kick in. I know that all three Front Benchers are in favour of these measures, but may I just gently warn them all that it would be very electorally unpopular if we were to go down this route?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I know that my hon. Friend is a great expert on these matters and understands how important this Bill is for the future. We obviously need to make sure it has proper scrutiny before it passes into legislation, and I shall make a further business statement when the House returns after the recess.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May we have a debate on the detention of asylum seekers, with particular reference to the Dungavel detention centre? I and many other people are concerned about the atmosphere among detainees there, and especially about the removal last Friday of the Baptist pastor from Guinea, Seth Ganley, after he was deemed to have led peaceful protests about the conditions in Dungavel.

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Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

The Leader of the House has referred to the shadow Foreign Secretary's refusal to appear before a Select Committee despite being prepared to answer questions on BBC radio. Does she agree that we need to have an urgent debate about the powers of Select Committees to summon Members before them to answer legitimate questions-particularly questions about their knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the appointment of a Member of the House of Lords? Does she also agree that it is a gross discourtesy to this House for a Member to fail to appear before a Select Committee?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I also believe that Select Committees should not need a power to compel Members of this House to appear before them. Select Committees are Committees of this House, and all Members of this House ought to be prepared to comply with their requests. A flagrant contempt for the Select Committee in question has been shown, and there can be only one explanation for that: the shadow Foreign Secretary is afraid to answer questions about when he knew Lord Ashcroft was not paying tens of millions of pounds in tax despite the fact that he was paying millions of pounds to the Conservative party. There is a connection between these two things. The shadow Foreign Secretary is not prepared to appear before a Select Committee of this House because he is not prepared to acknowledge that he knew that Lord Ashcroft was a non-dom but kept quiet because he wanted to carry on taking the money.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The question has been asked and the point has been made very strongly, but I do think that we should not have any further focus on what really is a criticism of a Member of the House who is not present today, in relation to a matter about which I do not think a business question has been asked.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Prime Minister made it clear at the Chilcot inquiry that the military had got all that it wanted and that defence expenditure had risen in real terms year on year. Given that we now know that not to be true and that there were cuts, with troops suffering as a result, particularly from a lack of helicopters, will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the Prime Minister to this House so that he can apologise and explain his actions? That is the least we can do for our troops in theatre.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to squeeze in a debate in the next few days on how monopolistic supermarkets squeeze the life out of communities? Could we not have a 5 per cent. tax on supermarkets, with the money dedicated to investment in social enterprise, the third sector and charities in the locality? In that way, something would be given back by these companies that suck the life out of communities.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which relates to town centres, monopolies, corporate responsibility and the corporate citizenship of the supermarkets. I shall bring his point to the attention of the relevant Ministers.

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Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretary To the Leader of the Opposition

The Prime Minister's main effort in the substantial preparation that he put in for his evidence to the Chilcot inquiry was to maintain that defence expenditure had increased every year, notwithstanding the evidence that had already been given to that committee. We now know that defence expenditure was cut when the nation was fighting two wars. Does the Leader of the House really not think that to be worth more than just a mention at Prime Minister's questions or in the Budget debate? Does she really think that we should not have a statement from the Prime Minister on this very important matter?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Prime Minister appeared before the Chilcot inquiry and he added to what he had said at that inquiry at this Dispatch Box yesterday. That contrasts strongly with the approach of the shadow Foreign Secretary, who is prepared to answer questions on the radio but is not prepared to answer the questions of a Select Committee of this House. When it comes to accountability-

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I just say to the Leader of the House that I know that this matter has already been covered, but what we cannot have is the situation in which continuing reference is made to a Member of the House who is not present, and in particular -[Interruption.] Order. Allow me to deal with the matter. That is particularly so when a question on that matter is not being asked. One question had been asked on that matter, but my understanding is that there is not currently a question being asked on it, and therefore it is not appropriate for there to be answers on that subject.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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?

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

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.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

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.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find time for an urgent debate on Natural England's report "Lost Life", to which early-day motion 1101 refers.

[ 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.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central

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."

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

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?

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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-

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

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.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Please may we have a debate on support for carers based on early-day motion 1126?

[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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

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?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I want to follow up the question from my hon. Friend 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.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

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