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I urge the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to have faith and confidence that we are determined that the matter should be put before the House before it rises. We will seek an opportunity for such a debate; having made the proposal, we would like the House to have an opportunity to put it through. We have put the matter before the House on a number of occasions. There was all-party agreement and we sought to address the issues put forward in amendments when we first tabled the motion. We accepted all amendments, but that is still not good enough for some Members, who want a debate. Even when their amendments are
accepted, that is up to Members: they are perfectly entitled to insist on a debate, however annoying everybody else might find it.
We will therefore find time for that debate to take place before the House rises, because the Committee will have work to do during the summer. I detected a note of scepticism in the voice of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome; I do not know whether it is just that he needs a holiday, but he sounded a bit irascible and unlike his normal, avuncular self. I reassure him that we intend to get there on this issue, and we will.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Defence Committee's report. There will be a general debate this afternoon. As he will know, we originally scheduled the topic of climate change in advance of the Copenhagen conference for the general debate and had planned a shorter, topical debate on defence. However, because of the importance of that issue, particularly given our troops in Afghanistan, we have made defence the topic of the full, general debate this afternoon. Obviously, there can be an initial response to the Select Committee's report then, and there will be a further opportunity to respond to the Committee's report not only by action during the summer recess, but in the debate when we get back to the House in October.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Twenty-seven Members are seeking to catch my eye; as ever, I want to include as many as possible. Members will be conscious that there is very important business to follow. I therefore look to each right hon. or hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question. I look to the Leader of the House for characteristically succinct replies.
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): The Leader of the House has asked us to have confidence that she will schedule the debate, which so many Members on both sides of the House want, on the Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We do have confidence in her, of course, but it is extraordinary that she should announce the business for next week without having announced when that debate is to be scheduled. Does that not emphasise the need for a business committee that can organise these things?
Even a business committee would have to deal with the eventuality that I have faced: finding that there is an objection even when something appeared to have consensus, and needing to find time for a debate
in the short period before the House rises. Whatever arrangements result from the Committee's proposals, such a problem could happen. I certainly hope to deal with the issue before the House rises.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for assuring us that the Committee on the reform of the House will be debated before the summer recess and will be established. That is important. May I draw her attention to one point that she made? There is a tendency for her and her counterparts on the Front Benches of the other two parties to feel that if something has been agreed between them, there is no need for it to be debated. There are far more Back Benchers than Front Benchers in the House, and that tendency underlines the need for a business committee to look into such issues and make sure that Back Benchers get our fair share of input. I disagree with the continued intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), blocking the motion, but it is his right to make it. I hope that we will debate the motion before the House rises.
Ms Harman: I have acknowledged that it is the right of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) to make his intervention. We did not consult only Front Benchers; indeed, we had extensive consultation with Back Benchers who showed an interest in the topic by tabling amendments. We have accommodated all the amendments, including those from the hon. Member for Christchurch, but there is still a desire for a debate-so we will have it. I am glad that there is so much support for it, and I hope that all hon. Members will show up and vote for the motion when it comes before the House.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Labour's minimum wage, but non-UK seafarers sailing on British ships and going to British ports are still exempt from the Act. Now that the new Shipping Minister is considering that loophole, and others, what can the Leader of the House do to help amend the Act and bring some fairness into the system?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a good point about when what is sometimes called "red tape" is actually protection for people who could otherwise be vulnerable to exploitation. I shall bring his comments to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Mr. Chope (Christchurch): A journalist told me this morning that on Monday the Government were going to give time for a debate of one and a half hours on the setting up of the new Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House confirm that it will indeed be of one and a half hours' duration and on Monday? Why did she not say that in her initial statement today, and why was the motion taken off the Order Paper last Thursday, when there would have been time for such a debate if the Government had wanted it?
The motion was taken off the Order Paper because we wanted to table it again, having accepted the hon. Gentleman's amendment. We were trying to be helpful. Whoever gave a briefing to the media about the business of the House has not done so
with my authority or that of anybody from my office. I take a very dim view of such briefing. I shall have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman after these questions so that he can grass up the journalist and I can get the journalist to grass up whoever it was who gave out that information. Until information is announced by me at the Dispatch Box, it is not confirmed and is not to be relied on by hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman has brought to my attention something that is extremely annoying, and I shall get on to it.
John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): As Members of Parliament, we probably all regularly visit schools in our constituencies, but is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we will now personally need Criminal Records Bureau checks and certificates to do so? I have been informed that we cannot apply individually-our place of work needs to sponsor and reference us. I know that locally elected councillors, for example, are automatically put through and get certificates. Will she and the House authorities sort this matter out for us, preferably before September?
Ms Harman: This is something about which my officials and I need to have discussions with officials from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We should all agree that if people are going to be on their own with very young children, whether they are councillors or Members of Parliament, we need to ensure that that does not put at risk the safety of those children. I am afraid that in the past there have been cases where people have been elected as local authority councillors and then child protection issues have been raised. I do not think that we should turn away from the idea that we want to ensure that children are protected. This must obviously apply only where there is unsupervised access: somebody who speaks to an assembly of 600 sixth-formers will not need to go through a vetting process. It will have to proceed on the basis of common sense. If people are to be left alone with children at a sports event, the parents need to have the reassurance of knowing that those who are in a responsible position with vulnerable children are properly vetted. I will ensure that my officials liaise with the appropriate DCSF Minister and we get a common-sense, workable solution.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The House will know about the capital funding crisis in further education colleges, with 150 colleges being encouraged by the Learning and Skills Council to devise expensive schemes. The House may not know, however, that tomorrow a Select Committee report on that subject is to be published. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement or debate on that report? Members will want to know where the buck stops. Was there insufficient scrutiny, oversight and risk management by those on the Treasury Bench as well as at the LSC?
[That this House considers that the Donaghy report on the construction industry, entitled One Death is Too Many, sets out in its 28 recommendations the necessary structure required to improve health and safety; and calls on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to accept and implement the report's recommendations as the basis for putting in place a durable health and safety architecture for the industry to drive down numbers of fatal accidents and serious injuries.]
The motion draws attention to the Donaghy report that was produced for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The report is about the construction industry and contains 28 recommendations that would put in place a health and safety architecture to help to end the increasing fatalities and serious injuries in that industry. Will the Leader of the House consider making that report an item for a topical debate when we come back after the recess?
Ms Harman: It would be good to find time to debate the Donaghy report. I should like to place on record my thanks to Rita Donaghy for the good work that she has done. This is another example of where Government action is not red tape but provides protection to people who might otherwise be exploited or find that their safety, or indeed their life, is at risk. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has helped to protect vulnerable migrant workers and others in spheres such as agriculture. Donaghy's suggestion that it should be extended to the construction industry would ensure not only that taxpayers do not lose out through tax avoidance in that industry but that, importantly, the safety of workers can be protected. It would be a good subject for a debate in the autumn.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Much has been said about the importance of the recent allegations about the tapping of answerphone messages. I note that it is not just celebrities with huge amounts of money or politicians like yours truly who are the victims, but our constituents who are much less able to defend themselves in public or likely to have the resources to challenge journalists who break the law. Could the Leader of the House ensure that in the first week after the recess a Home Office Minister comes to the House to report on the three inquiries that have now started-by Committees of this House, by the Director of Public Prosecutions and by the Information Commissioner-so that if the law is not tight enough, it is tightened, and if people ought to be prosecuted, they are prosecuted?
Ms Harman: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We should not just wring our hands and say, "It's just one of those things. We expect powerful newspapers to be able to evade the law, and we'll just put up with it." People should not think that they cannot challenge the newspapers because they are so powerful. The work being done by the Information Commissioner, the DPP and the Select Committees is very important, and the House will want to see the results when we return in the autumn.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House welcome, as I do, the news that Nissan of Sunderland is to move into the mass production of electric vehicles? Is she aware of the wider involvement in this field of north-east companies, not least Sevcon in my constituency, which produces the control systems that make electric vehicles an attractive and practical proposition? May we have an early debate on how these developments might contribute to Building Britain's Future and the fight against climate change?
Ms Harman: This is a very important part of our manufacturing agenda. More jobs are going to be green jobs. The automotive industry has a strong future, especially with environmentally friendly cars. I strongly endorse the points that my hon. Friend has made and will look for an opportunity for us to consider the matter in the autumn.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): May we have a debate on the BBC as we try to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and on public sector pay? We are now told that its viewers are going to be consulted on whether its so-called top talent are worth the money they get. The only way that viewers can really come to a judgment on that is if they are told exactly how much those people are earning, but the BBC refuses to tell us. We are told that transparency may now lead to a 40 per cent. cut in Jonathan Ross's £6 million-a-year pay; how he can possibly survive on £3.5 million we will never know. Surely we need transparency on top talent pay at the BBC.
Ms Harman: I share the concern that there should not be lavish spending at the top of the BBC, whether it is on managers, governors or celebrities. However, I am slightly concerned that while we hold the BBC to account for licence payers' money, we should not tip over into BBC bashing, which has started to colour some of the Opposition's comments.
I would also like to place it on record that I think it absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is no longer going to be a judge on "Strictly Come Dancing". As the Minister for Women and Equality, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there, so I should like to take this opportunity to say to the BBC that it is not too late-we want to see Arlene Phillips in the next edition of "Strictly Come Dancing".
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Stockline inquiry report is due to be published today. May we therefore have a debate as soon as possible on this terrible disaster, as the families of the victims who lost their lives or were seriously injured are extremely anxious to find out what lessons, if any, have been learned from it?
The bereaved families do of course have our sincerest sympathy, as do the injured survivors. The Government hope that that report will provide some comfort to the families seeking answers to questions about this terrible accident. We thank Lord Gill for the recommendations in his report and for the very thorough inquiry that he has undertaken. We have taken his recommendations very seriously; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently
met him to discuss them. In particular, we support the recommendation to develop a sharper, clearer safety regime. We will now fully assess the implications of the recommendations and how we can take them forward. We intend both Houses to have an update in October, with a full response to the report in January next year.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Leader of the House knows that I strongly support her Equality Bill, but I support even more the need of Members to scrutinise it-those who support it and those who have concerns about it. Given the widespread concern about the treatment of Report stages, including the lack of time and the number of groups of amendments not reached, and given that she said three weeks ago that she recognised that the Equality Bill needed full scrutiny, will she explain to the House how she proposes to take forward the discussions that she promised with Front Benchers and beyond on how we will deal with that Bill so that it is not added to the list of Bills not properly scrutinised on Report?
Ms Harman: My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who has taken the Bill through Committee, will discuss with Members such as the hon. Gentleman who were on the Committee how we should handle it on Report. She will discuss that with me, as Leader of the House, and we will want to ensure that we make the Bill an exemplar of how the House should scrutinise Bills on Report, especially as the hon. Gentleman is so assiduous on that point as well as being supportive of the Bill.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time for a debate on Lord Archer's report on the contaminated blood and blood products disaster, as a result of which 2,000 people died and thousands more were infected with hepatitis C and HIV? There is huge concern about that in my constituency, and we would like a debate on it.
Ms Harman: This has been discussed on a number of occasions, including in a statement to the House about the increased compensation levels available and the wider remit for people to get compensation on the basis of having suffered from contaminated blood. This is one of those awful situations in which we need to do as much as we possibly can for people whose lives have been blighted and who need to be helped to get on with their lives, having suffered through no fault of their own. I will raise my right hon. Friend's points with the relevant Minister.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give me and the House an assurance today that the motion on the reform of the House of Commons, which is to be debated on Monday or Tuesday-we do not know which-would give the House and the new Committee an opportunity to ensure that responsibility for Standing Orders was handed over from the Executive to a Committee of this House?
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