Questions on the Business of the House of Commons are often fascinating. Harriet Harman is Leader of the House and is shadowed by Theresa May for the Tories. The latter is afforded the chance to raise a number of political issues at the same time, which she did yesterday.
As readers will see, the Leader of the House dodged a question about Quentin Davies in a less than admirable manner, and was unable to resist yet another dig about all those years of "Tory rule". When will Labour acknowledge that the buck stops with them now?! And is it now the policy of the Government that select committees negate the need for public inquiries?
"Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. Today the Home Secretary is making a written statement, understood to be about the cost of the identity card scheme. She is also making a speech today announcing that the Government have backtracked on plans to issue identity cards to workers at all UK airports; it has been heavily trailed in the press. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make an oral statement on the status of the ID card scheme?
Will the Leader of the House give us a date for the pre-Budget report, or at least a date when she will give us a date for that report? Given the current economic climate, and the state of public finances, it will be a very important statement. Given that we have not had a debate on the economy in Government time, will she take up the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) that we should have one or two days’ debate on the pre-Budget report?
On Monday the House of Lords had a debate on the economy. During that debate, my noble Friend Lord Forsyth called for an inquiry on the leaking of information about the banks’ bail-out package. The noble Lord Lea of Crondall suggested a wider public inquiry, including the banks. The City Minister, Lord Myners, said—I quote from Lords Hansard, column 16—“My Lords, I agree”. But yesterday, the Prime Minister said, in Hansard , column 247, that the City Minister “said no such thing”. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister’s statement in the official record is corrected, and when will we have that public inquiry?
Shortly, the Bank of England is expected to cut interest rates, but today it is reported that Northern Rock, the nationalised bank owned by the taxpayer, will instead raise some of its mortgage rates. Businesses and home owners are already struggling, as banks are not passing on interest rate cuts, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor on why a state-run bank is blatantly defying the Government?
Yesterday Labour MEPs voted to abolish the UK’s opt-out on the European working time directive. At a time when businesses across the country are struggling to keep going and families will probably be looking for more work, not less, that just goes to show how out of touch Labour MEPs are. It is time that the Prime Minister got a grip on his party. May we have a statement setting out the official Government position on the working time directive?
In the House of Lords this week, Lord Darzi said that patients have a right to three cycle treatments of IVF. However, guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence only recommends that patients have three full cycles of treatment; it is not mandatory. May we have a statement from the Health Secretary to clarify official Government policy on IVF treatment?
Finally, there has been widespread condemnation of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) for his remarks blaming a commander in the Special Air Service for his choice of vehicle prior to the deaths of three troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that there was no choice. The Minister, when in the House on Monday, refused to apologise to that commander, so will the right hon. and learned Lady assure the House that she will press the Minister to give an unreserved apology to Major Morley and to UK commanders in Afghanistan?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the question of ID cards and argued that there should be an oral statement, but she is aware, as she said, that there has been a written ministerial statement, which simply updates the House about our progress. As we have previously announced to the House, ID cards with biometrics are being introduced for foreign nationals and piloted at airports, so that people who are airside have biometric ID cards. The written ministerial statement simply announced the progress that we are making with the pilot scheme as we roll it out.
On the date for the pre-Budget report, we have chosen a number of opportunities for the House to debate the important issue of the economy. We have had debates about energy and employment and a statement about small business, in addition to numerous statements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As for the date
of the pre-Budget report, we will announce it, as I said last week, in the normal way. I suspect that Donald Rumsfeld would have called it a “known unknown” as far as this week is concerned, and I am not announcing the date this week.
The right hon. Lady asked for a public inquiry into the global financial crisis, but may I take this opportunity to commend the work of the Select Committee on the Treasury—I should have thought that she would take that opportunity too. The Treasury Committee has asked the public to suggest questions for its evidence-gathering sessions, and the Committee is bringing before it not only the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, no doubt, those various people who used to be described as the masters of the universe. I pay tribute to the Committee’s work and look forward to receiving its report.
On Northern Rock, the right hon. Lady rightly said that there will be an interest rate announcement from the Bank of England shortly, and, subsequent to that, other banks and building societies will make it clear how they intend to respond to it. She will know that Northern Rock is managed at arm’s length, as we would rightfully expect it to be, but the business Minister will make it clear to chief executives of building societies and banks in a meeting this afternoon that the Government have put in a considerable amount of public money directly, with £37 billion of capitalisation for banks, and made available through guarantees a further £250 billion, and that we expect from them some response to ensure that the interest rate cut is passed on not only to mortgage holders but to small businesses. I am sure that that is the view of the whole House, and the Minister will make it very clear.
The right hon. Lady asked about the European working time directive, and we have always been clear that it is right to give employees legal protections at work. The Opposition have not been in favour of such protections, whether the minimum wage or the working time directive, but we are in favour of people not being forced to work long hours that they do not want to work, or that can impede health and safety. That is why, when we came into government after many years of Tory rule, we introduced a legal prohibition on requiring people to work very long hours. Following a European Court judgment there have been some changes, to which other Governments across the piece are now agreeing, about how on-call time is calculated for the purposes of the working time directive. [ Interruption.] I must say that I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition, who are chuntering away about working time, are now in favour of guaranteeing minimum standards and the protection of working hours. Our position is clear, and we are getting on with things.
As for our troops in Afghanistan, I should say that Remembrance day offers us all the opportunity to remember not only those who lost their lives in the great wars, but those who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will continue to increase investment in equipment for our troops and to work with the other countries around the world who share the important work that our troops are carrying out in Iraq and Afghanistan."