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I will take any issue that the hon. Gentleman raises with me very seriously. He is one of the most experienced Members of the House. I say to him, and to all Members, that my office is just down the corridor and the door is open. If hon. Members want to raise issues, they do not have to wait for business questions, they can just come in and see me. It is not my intention to interfere with what is an important opportunity for debate before the House rises in the summer. It is a time when Members of Parliament can raise wide-ranging issues of particular concern to their constituencies. I hoped that we might be able to offer Members an opportunity to raise not only their constituents concerns, but if they want to, the question of the draft contents of the Queens Speech. The debate could be divided into two slots of three hours, or we could weave both themes through
the six hours. Perhaps I will talk to the hon. Gentleman afterwards and take soundings on the best way of dealing with the matter.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): May I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her new post and wish her well? Will she hold urgent talks with the House authorities on smoking in the Palace of Westminster, and in particular, on the way in which the system is already being abused? I would be happy to show her the locations.
Ms Harman: The smoking ban in public places is important for public health and we all want to play our part in ensuring that the ban is effective. On my way here this morning, I saw somebody wearing a smoking ban enforcement high visibility jacket. So those people are out on the streets. The point that my hon. Friend raises should probably be raised with the Serjeant at Arms. I would suggest that she do that.
Ms Harman: I think that in the normal course of events it is received in July, but I cannot give any assurances as to when it will be received or published. I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I can tell him anything further, and I will place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I add my congratulations to those of my colleagues and also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who was a particularly inspired appointment. I was encouraged and stimulated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministers statement on Tuesday, and particularly by what he said about devolving more powers back to Parliament. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House expand on the issue of the Queens Speech, which I found quite interesting, and the possibility of involving Select Committees and individual Members in that debate?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome. I have suggested to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), the Chair of the Liaison Committee, that the consultation with Members and the scrutiny of the draft legislative programmethe programme will be announced by way of a statement of the Houseshould be undertaken by the Liaison Committee, and he has been good enough to agree that that is what he will do.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Since the terrible events of 7/7, I think that there has been only one debate in the House on integration and cohesion. Given recent events in Glasgow and London, will the Government find time, in their own time, for a substantial debate on integration and cohesion in Britain?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and perhaps he will allow me to reflect on it. We have had running-through debates on Bills, statements and oral questions. The issue of community cohesion has been a big preoccupationrightly sofor the House. It was mentioned by the Prime Minister in his statement on the constitution and the question of Britishness. However, I will reflect on whether we should seek time for a whole debate focused on the question of how different Departments, local authorities and voluntary organisations are contributing to the question of cohesion. It is Communities and Local Government questions next Tuesday, so perhaps he could prompt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the matter then.
Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): I add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend on her new role and commend her on the adult and measured way in which she responded to the traditional yah-boo politics offered by the Conservative shadow Leader of the House. With regard to the bids for unitary status that are being assessed by the Government, she will know that the Government intend to make a decision later this month, hopefully in the House. Does she believe that due weight will be given to the fact that, in Bedfordshire, more than 200 local employers are backing Bedford boroughs bid and that 20,000 people have supported petitions on the Bedford borough and central Bedfordshire bids?
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. As he has acknowledged, the question of unitary status will be the subject of a Government decision and announcement in due course. I know that it is an area of great concern, not just in Bedfordshire, but throughout the country. I will draw his comments about his constituency to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I congratulate the Leader of the House on her appointment. There is grave concern in Northern Ireland over the role of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and especially over how the office has dealt with inquiries into former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Pending arrests have been published to the media and have taken place in a blaze of publicity. Officers who have been detained have sometimes been denied drugs and medication while in custody. In the past, the office tried to bury a report that showed that 50 per cent. of police officers have no confidence in it. Will she allow a debate on the Floor of the House to discuss the concerns about the Office of the Police Ombudsman and to consider how some degree of accountability might be built into the office to ensure that those with grievances have some way of airing them?
There will be an opportunity during Northern Ireland questions on 25 July for the hon. Gentleman to raise those points. I am sure that the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will note his points and, especially, his concern that there should be greater confidence in the important
work that it does. Let me take this opportunity to express my support for the very difficult work that is still ongoing to build confidence on all sides in Northern Ireland following the important strides that have been made. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could seek a meeting with the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, if he has not already done so.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): May I add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend? I am sure that she will have some sympathy with my request for a debate on the womens land army, given her role as Minister for Women. Its members are the forgotten veterans of the first and second world wars. While we welcomed what happened with the Bevin boys last week, we should also honour those women, who worked very hard.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. She was a long-standing champion of women at work in the trade union movement, and she is thinking about the important contribution that women made to this country in times gone by. I will take up her point and get back to her. As Minister for Women, I will liaise with my ministerial colleague. We should take a bit of action.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): During the deputy leadership campaign, the Leader of the House called on her Government to renegotiate the Chicago convention, which has a loophole that permits extraordinary rendition: the process through which many people have been kidnapped from around the world and, in some cases, taken to places where they might be tortured. She said that we need to be
absolutely certain we dont have a situation where we are complicit in torture because our airspace is being used or planes are landing in our country and then taking off again.
Ms Harman: May I acknowledge the hon. Gentlemans record on raising such important issues? I remind him that when I was in the Department for Constitutional Affairsnow the Ministry of JusticeI gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and dealt with the question of how we can find out what is travelling through our airspace. Many people think that it is anomalous that while one must declare whether an aircraft is carrying a VIP or a dangerous substance, there is no requirement under the Chicago convention to declare whether prisoners are being carried. No doubt my ministerial colleagues will note the hon. Gentlemans point. They are already concerned about the matter and will be looking further at the possibilities.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab):
May I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her job? As someone who has rekindled his interest in Back-Bench rights in recent days, I am delighted that she will be protecting them for us. When will we debate the Prime Ministers ideas on constitutional reform? My constituents are not interested in anything that
would damage the Union and they are certainly not interested in creating two-tier MPs, but they are interested in our developing a structure that will allow the challenges that we face in England to be thoroughly debated in this place.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. Many of us felt that he did very good work as a Transport Minister, and I always thought of him as our version of Jeremy Clarkson, albeit more progressive and green. I say to all who are rekindling their interest in being on the Back Benches that Back Benchers can quite often do a great deal, while sometimes not all Ministers can do as much as they want. I will strongly support the work that my hon. Friend will no doubt do as a Back Bencher.
The House will have heard the Prime Minister talking about regional Ministers. We will have to discuss how we make them appropriately accountable to the House so that their work can be scrutinised. He has also raised the question of regional Select Committees, on which the whole House will need to work together to ensure that we have an appropriate structure that works well.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Given that UK laws and traditions specifically forbid Parliament from binding its successors, may we have a debate on the retained clause in the proposed new EU constitution that effectively gives the EU the permanent right to seize more powers from this country without any further agreement? We must address the EU democratic deficit.
Ms Harman: There is strong concern that the House should carry out proper scrutiny of EU issues, and I will shortly meet the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. There is no question of a referendum because there is no new constitution or constitutional treaty. Any amendments to an existing treaty will be subject to the proper scrutiny of the House, which is what we would all want.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): May I join the chorus of welcomes to the new Leader of the House? Is she aware of the recent collapse of First Solution Money Transfer Ltd? The company specialised in taking remittances from Bangladeshis to Bangladesh, but its collapse means that some 20,000 people have lost money that might amount to millions of pounds. I suggest that the matter is too important to be left to an Adjournment debate, so I hope that the Leader of the House will speak to her ministerial colleagues to ensure that we have a statement or, preferably, a debate in the House, about how it was possible for the company to collapse leaving such debts, the role of the regulators, and what the Government are doing to ensure that our constituents get their money back.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important issue. The situation involving First Solution Money Transfer is heartbreaking for not only the people who put money in, but those who were expecting the vital remittances that form an important, albeit largely unseen, part of the international development effort. People who come to this country
to work hardsometimes they have two or three jobsand send money back to their country of origin are the hidden heroes of international development. My hon. Friends point is important for my ministerial colleagues in not only the Department for International Development, but the Treasury. I will consult them on how we can ensure that we take up the issue and report back to the House.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I warmly congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on her appointment. I hope that she will indeed prove to be the Houses representative in the Government at least as much asof course she isthe Governments representative in the House.
As a matter of urgency, may we please have on the Floor of the House in Government time a debate on the Modernisation Committee report on the role of the Back Bencher and the use of non-legislative time? Given that the issue was sufficiently salient to merit a reference by the Prime Minister in his statement to the House on Tuesday and that, when I asked this question of the right hon. and learned Ladys predecessor three weeks ago, he gave me a reply that was encouraging but unspecific, may I appeal to the Leader of the House to give me a reply that is at least as encouraging and rather more specific, perhaps by guaranteeing that the debate will take place on the Floor of the House before the summer recess?
Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He is assiduous in pursuing the question of the role of Back Benchers in the House. I suspect that he has not only welcomed me to my position, but set me my first test. I thank him for drawing the matter to my attention and I will get on it.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): May I add my voice to the welcome that we want to give to my right hon. and learned Friend in her new postit is great to see her there? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House on the important subject of the plight of leaseholders with social landlords when major works are initiated? The Governments policy of ensuring that the decent homes standard is met in all our affordable housing is fully supported, given its importance, but it means that those who have bought their council flats are facing huge bills.
Ms Harman: I am well aware of my hon. Friends constituency work on the plight of leaseholders, who, as such, rather than as tenants, did not realise that when their flats were improvedas a result of the investment made by this Labour Governmentthey would have to pay capital charges; many of them were wholly unprepared for that. She has worked with me in my capacity as a constituency MP to try to ensure that the Government do all they can to ensure fairness for leaseholders, and she will know that under the new Prime Minister, the Government are focusing increasingly on the issues facing those in affordable housing, including the lack of it.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con):
May I set the right hon. and learned Lady another test? On Tuesday, the Prime Minister launched The Governance
of Britain, a document proposing an ambitious programme of constitutional reform that has enormous implications for the House of Commons. Should not the Government be interested in the response of the House to that document, and should we not have a two-day debate, in Government time, so that the Executive can reflect on the views of the House?
Ms Harman: The document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers sets out work for a number of Departmentson local government, on the relationship with the judiciary and on House issues. I suggest we ensure that each responsible Department, and I as Leader of the House, take forward the proposals outlined in the document, ensuring as much consultation as possible, and, on the journey on which the Prime Minister has set us, keeping in mind the overall picture. My right hon. Friend has said that we need not only to take individual measures forward, but to take an overview. We will have to consider how we do that without losing sight of the overall programme.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): May I also congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and her wonderful deputy on being appointed to their new roles? They are modernisers and great feminists, which is a great treat for us.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making time available on the Floor of the House to discuss Darfur and the recent UN resolutions? There have been many resolutions on Darfur, and it has now been acknowledged that there should be a peacekeeping force. The matter is of huge interest to Mr. David Moorhead, head of religious education in one of my local schools, Sacred Heart, and to hundreds of his pupils and of my constituents. We would like something to be done, and we want to send a clear signal from the House that we take the matter very seriously and want the action that has been promised.
Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her warm words of welcome to me and to my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. She raises an issue of concern not only to her, but, as she rightly says, across the House, and among the public. We debated in the House the progress that needs to be made in Darfur through the United Nations, supporting the African Union and the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I think that her point is that we need to hear more from the Government, so perhaps she could make the issue the subject of an Adjournment debate.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday in the House I highlighted the case of a constituent who was going blind, but who had to have private treatment because it was not available on the NHS. Yesterday evening, another constituent rang me to say that exactly the same thing had happened to her: she could not get NHS treatment and the only way to save her sight was to go private. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or statement on access to NHS treatment in north Northamptonshire for blindness?
Ms Harman: I will consider the points that he makes and will raise them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is important that we tackle as early as possible illnesses and diseases that can lead to blindness, so that people can continue to lead a full life.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): May I join in the praise recognising the popularity of both appointments to the Office of the Leader of the House? Seeing women promoted to such positions is a joy to all of us. The Parliamentary Information and Communication Technology team recently sold HTC mobile communication devices to a number of hon. Members, but the phones have proved faulty, unreliable and extremely expensive. PICT will not take them back or replace them with things that operate correctly. Given that many Members were forced into buying them because of the faulty equipment available to Members who have distant offices in the Palace system, and who cannot use the Library computers because they are not working, may we have a debate in the Chamber on the quality of services available to Members, so that we can actually communicate with our constituents and the support teams in offices at some distance from the Chamber?
Electronic communication is very important if Members of Parliament are to do their work properly and keep closely in touch with their constituents, so it is not a technical point that she raises but a point of real substance on how we fulfil our responsibilities as constituency MPs. I raised the issue with the Clerk of the House yesterday after my hon. Friend mentioned it to mein the Lady Members Room, actuallyand the Clerk told me that Kevin Tebbit is undertaking work on the provision of services to Members, so that there is a clear line of accountability and a management structure. When things go wrong, Members thereby know who to hold accountable and where to take their concerns, and something is done about them.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): May I join those who have congratulated the new Leader of the House on her appointment, and wish her well in her new job? Will she find time for an urgent debate on the proper and appropriate use of the facilities of the House, and the activities of right hon. and hon. Members in relation to the constituents of other right hon. and hon. Members? I raise the matter having discovered that an event for the Cheadle Business and Professional Group was held
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman has made the general point that he wanted to make, to which I think it is reasonable for the Leader of the House to respond. If he wishes to take the matter further, there are channels through which he can do so.
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