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Let me begin by explaining how we intend to deal with the important debate on the European treaty. The European Union (Amendment) Bill is briefit contains only eight clausesbut we know that the
treaty that it would bring into effect is of concern across the House in relation to energy, the economy, international development, the environment and cross-border crime. We have sought to arrange debates so that Members can discuss both the structure of the Bill and any amendments they might wish to make to it, and the substance of the treaty that the Bill brings into effect. The order of business is before the House today. There will be an opportunity next Monday to discuss the procedure, so there will be a full debate on the procedure before we move on to the substance on Tuesday. Of course it is possible for provisional plans to be discussedas they sometimes arewith the Opposition and with individual Members, but what is of particular importance is that the Government lay their motions before the House early enough for Members to know how the debate is intended to proceed, and for them to be able to amend those motions if they see fit. That is what we have done in our handling of the Bill.
Ms Harman: The whole House can see the dates on the Order Paper for the days allotted for the business, where it is confirmed. [Interruption.] As the business is confirmed, we put it on the Order Paper.
As for the Home Secretary and the Counter-Terrorism Bill, Members know that there has been a great deal of discussion about how we can ensure that we safeguard people in this country from acts of terrorism, while also safeguarding civil liberties. During the course of that debate, the Home Secretary has given evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, which has discussed her proposals and issued a report, and she has responded to it. It is necessary for the Home Secretary to consult Members, the Opposition Front Benches and outside organisations. The detail of the scheme in the Bill has not been made public, and will not be until it is published to this House.
The right hon. Lady talked about the economy. It is important for us to bear in mind that our economy is in a good position to weather the international economic storm. In such circumstances of international economic turbulence, I do not think the Opposition should talk down economic confidence in the British economy.
On data protection, we have had written ministerial statements from the Ministry of Justice and oral statements from the Ministry of Defence and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Government Departments and agencies collect important data so that they can do their jobs properly, and as the right hon. Lady will know, there is a cross-departmental review of how we ensure that individuals details are not put at risk by breaches of data protection rules. When that review is complete, no doubt we will report the conclusions to the House. It is right that we bring the House up to date as and when we discover that there have been breaches of data protection, and we shall continue to do so.
The right hon. Lady raised the identity card scheme and talked about a delay. Let me explain to her that there is a phased introduction of this process: first, biometric data on passports; then biometric data on
visas; and it will then include biometric data on cards for some people, such as those who work in the security industry. We have always said that there will be a phased approach and we will learn lessons as the phases roll out. Should we, on the basis of the lessons we learn, want to extend it to make it compulsory for British citizens, it would be brought back to this House for a debate and a vote. That has been the situation, and it remains so.
The right hon. Lady talked about the Mayor of London. As Londons Mayor, Ken Livingstone has revitalised the city. I am sure that Members will agree that London is the greatest capital city in the world. It is on his record, which speaks for itself, that London voters [Interruption.] The Mayor of London holds an elected post, and Londoners will decide on his record at the ballot box in May.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I missed the Home Secretary on the Today programme, as I was recovering from having attended the march protesting against the Governments decision on police pay. I welcome the fact that, as a result of the anecdotal discussions that have been taking place, the Government have accepted a number of the Home Affairs Committees proposals in their counter-terrorism proposals. May we have a debate on the Committees proposals over the next few weeksif not on Second Reading then independently of thatas that would aid a further discussion by Members on how to approach this important subject?
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Leader of the House has announced that on Monday week we will debate and vote on motions relating to the police grant and local government finance. There is huge concern in the country about the police needing adequate funding as well as adequate pay. There is also great concern across local government, of all parties, because the settlement means that council tax will have increased by 100 per cent. in 10 years, whereas if education is taken out, the money available for councils for things such as social services will have increased by 14 per cent. in real terms over 10 years. Given those concerns, may we have entirely separate debates and votes on those matters? Can we have a police debate and a local government finance debate? They are separate subjects, separate budgets are involved and the organisations are separate. We always used to take that approach.
Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the five motions on the Order Paper in the name of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government dealing with local government reorganisation in Cornwall, Wiltshire, Shropshire,
County Durham and Northumberland will each be the subject of a separate debate, so that they can be properly decided upon, as they deserve to be?
The Leader of the House has announced that at the end of the week after next, we will consider motions on the scrutiny of European Union legislation. That is a matter of considerable interest in the House, and her deputy has consulted colleagues about it. May we see the results of that consultation, and a report on it, in good time before we see motions and are asked to debate the proposals for better scrutiny of European Union matters?
Today, the written statement by the Secretary of State for Justice on the Governments long-promised review of electoral systems has been published. One of my friends said that it was more like an A-level piece of work or an undergraduate thesis than a great Government study. Irrespective of that, may we have an opportunity to debate across the board the way in which electoral systems have worked well or badly at different levels of government, so that the Government can honour their manifesto commitment in reality, rather than just in word?
Today, we learned that eight Russell group universities have underspent significantlyby hundreds of thousands of poundsthe money allocated for bursaries to improve access among the poorest and most disadvantaged families, and that four others have not even disclosed their figures. Can we have either a statement from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills or a debate to ensure that a policy on which we all agreeensuring that people get to university irrespective of their background or meansis delivered? We do not want to find, as is happening at the moment, that people are not taking it up because the money is sitting in the bank.
Lastly, terrible prevarication has taken place over whether the war veterans entitled to disability pensions who have been paid the wrong amounts will have to repay the sums, which are sometimes in the order of thousands of pounds. The Ministry of Defence said that it would repay them and would write the money off, then it said that it could not do that because the Treasury had to be consulted, and now the people involved are told that they must wait for another couple of months before those two Departments get their act together. Can we please have an announcement on this, either from the Chancellor or from the Secretary of State for Defence? I hope that such an announcement will say that war veterans who have served their country and been disabled in that cause will not have huge debts that have to be repaid because of a Government mess.
Ms Harman: On the question of the universities and bursaries, which is an important issue for hon. Members across the House, I shall ask the relevant Secretary of State to respond to the hon. Gentlemans point in writing and place a copy in the Library. I shall do the same in respect of the overpayments made to war veterans and how the MOD is proposing to handle the matter. All of us are concerned that our war veterans should be treated in the most careful sensitive way, commensurate with the duty that they have done for their country, which we all respect and admire.
The hon. Gentleman proposed a debate on the electoral systems review that has been published by the Ministry of Justice. I suggest that if he thinks fit, he could propose that subject for an Opposition day debate, or he could seek a Westminster Hall debate on it. He also mentioned this Houses scrutiny of European legislation. As he said, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has consulted widely on how we can ensure that this House gives more effective scrutiny to legislation that comes from Europe. The hon. Gentleman makes a good suggestion, so I shall consider, with my hon. Friend, whether we could issue forthwith a written ministerial statement so that people could see how we intend that the House should deal with this matter before we table the resolutions that would give effect to the determination that we have made.
Sufficient time will be given to discuss the local government situation in relation to the counties that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There will also be sufficient time to debate both police mattershow we increase police numbers as well as increasing their payand how we handle council tax. We have put those issues on one day, and we think that there will be adequate time for debate.
Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): May I let the Leader of the House know that there is growing disquiet among some Labour Members about the compressed timetable and the arbitrary selection of themes that we will be discussing in relation to the European treaty? Does she agree that our opting out of the charter of fundamental rights, as it affects working people, is at least worthy of one full days debate? That would give the Government a wonderful opportunity to prove people such as me, who feel that the EU is heading in an increasingly neo-liberal direction, wrong.
Ms Harman: On the fourth day of debate, which starts next Tuesday, we will propose to the House that there be four and a half hours debate on the very important issue of how our membership of the European Union helps our economy, and how we should ensure that everyone working in the European Union and in this country has good minimum standards of terms and conditions.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Can we have a debate in Government time on early-day motion 512, or a similar motion, that would give us a chance to vote on the Governments decision to dishonour the police pay agreement ?
[That this House is disappointed by the failure of the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Police Arbitration Tribunal police pay award; believes that the pay settlement should be backdated to 1( st) September; notes that the police are the front line in the fight against organised crime, terrorism and anti-social behaviour; recognises that their work puts them at great personal risk; further believes that this dispute over 0.6 per cent. difference is petty and needless; and calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision.]
Does she agree that we owe it to the 22,000 people who came to Westminster yesterdaythose of us who went
to the rally saw how passionately they feel about this breach of trustto have a debate and a vote in this House about such an important matter? That agreement has lasted 28 years, and it is a disgrace for the Government to break it in this way.
Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the work of the police. Their pay has increased ahead of inflation since we came into government. The Prime Minister has said that we would like to pay them even more, and I think we would all agree with that. However, we must ensure that there is no risk of inflation. We hope in future to secure an agreement with the police on a three-year pay settlementbut legally, police pay is a matter to be determined by the Home Secretary.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Can we have a topical debate on the cross-party campaign to secure a medal decoration for military personnel injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, similar to the American purple heart medal? Such a measure has cross-party support, and we need to discuss it in the House.
Ms Harman: I think that that would be a good subject for a topical debate, and I shall consider it. I think that the whole House would want the opportunity to show the admiration and support in this House, and in the country as a whole, for our troops fighting bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. My hon. Friend makes a proposal about recognition and war medals. He will know that that is a matter for the armed services to propose to the MOD, but an expression of this Houses opinion would assist in that process. I will take his proposal forward.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady arrange for the Justice Secretary to come to this House next week to make a statement on low copy number DNA? She will be aware of the judgment made at the back end of last year on the Omagh bombing, as a result of which there is considerable anxiety about the evidential value of such DNA both in past cases and in prospective cases. We need to know where we stand. May I declare an interest? I am a criminal barrister too, and I have a professional interest in one such case.
Ms Harman: On the question of low copy number DNA evidence being material to past convictions, there is a procedure for any defendant or offender who has been convicted who wants their case to be reopened or who has yet to finish the appeal process. In future, prosecution authorities will have looked carefully at that judgment and will consider how to go forward.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab):
When can we have a debate about the performance of the train operating companies? I am sure that the Leader of the House is
aware of the problems related to First Great Western, which provides the service from Paddington to south Wales. I commend the company for its efforts on Monday, when I was on the first train to go through the floods around Swindonat 5 mph. Everyone rallied together and the managers and staff produced tea and coffee. Today, the Passenger Focus report shows that First Great Western is at the bottom of the customer satisfaction league. There are particular concerns about prices and delays. Can we have a debate on that?
Ms Harman: Members of the Select Committee on Transport will have the opportunity to raise my hon. Friends important point with the Secretary of State when she appears before the Committee next Wednesday.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): On Monday afternoon, Jessica Knight, a 14-year-old girl who is a constituent of mine, was subjected to the most sickening, horrendous and frenzied knife attack in Astley park, Chorley. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that that case highlights the threat faced by members of the public from those carrying knives. Will she assure me that the plans laid out by the Prime Minister to impose stricter sentences on those found carrying knivesas well as on those who carry out such sickening attacksin order to tackle knife crime will be implemented as a matter of urgency? I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with my constituent. She is in a critical stage, hanging on and fighting for her life.
Ms Harman: I am sure that the whole House will support and agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend about his constituent, Jessica Knight, who was subjected to that horrendous attack. Of course, the Government must take serious and violent crime seriously. We must ensure that we have the right penalty, the right prevention and greater support for victims.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I take this opportunity to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House and all hon. Members a very happy Burns nicht tomorrow? Can we have a look at tomorrows business to see whether it might be possible to have a short examination of the growing concern about the possible shortage of haggis, which is of course essential to every good Burns supper? The problem was highlighted by Improve, the independent sector skills council. It is concerned that the withdrawal of European social fund support for training in the calf butchery industry will have an impact and will lead to a lack of skilled butchers who are able to produce this finest of foods. Will the Government act to protect the
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, timrous beastie?
Ms Harman: I shall draw the hon. Gentlemans question to the attention of the relevant Minister. I am sure that we all wish everybody a happy Burns night; I seem to be going to a Burns night dinner not tomorrow but next Friday.
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