See extract from Hansard below:
Sir George Young: The House is grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. I am sure that the House will want to return to the issue raised in the rather unsatisfactory exchanges that we have just heard. Members will have noted that in about half an hour, there was not one supportive question for the hapless Treasury Minister.
On Monday's business dealing with terrorist assets, may I ask why the Government had no contingency plan for what has just happened? Lord Newton's Committee warned the Government about the loophole six years ago, and the Government have known about the challenges to orders on terrorist assets since April 2008. Last week the Government had a 40-clause Bill, but now they have a three-clause Bill. There is no law to prevent terrorists from going to the bank between now and Monday and claiming their money back. Why were the Government so ill prepared?
On political reform and the business for the first Monday back after the recess, may I press the right hon. and learned Lady further on the Government's disastrous handling of the Wright Committee report? She is wasting time next Tuesday on the alternative vote, but putting at risk progress on the recommendations of an elected Select Committee of the House. Two weeks ago she said that some Wright reforms could be
"in operation before the House rises."-[ Official Report, 21 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 449.]
But on Tuesday at the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister admitted that if proposals were objected to, there might not be enough parliamentary time for them to be implemented before an election. Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a growing feeling that people simply cannot take this Government seriously on reform? No fewer than seven constitutional campaign groups are urging her to look again at the procedure for the debate. Will she give a firm commitment that the House will have proper time to get changes made to Standing Orders, as the Wright Committee wished, before the election? Given the approaching recess, will she ensure that the motions that the Government intend to take forward will be tabled by next Monday at the very latest?
May we have a debate on the chaos of the Student Loans Company? Many hon. Members will have had complaints from their constituents about the endless delays and inefficiencies of that body, and today we learn that two months after the Government said that the problems were being fixed, more than two thirds of students with disabilities or special needs have failed to receive the crucial funds that they need for their studies. May we have a full statement from the Government to explain what they are doing to remedy and mitigate that distressing problem?
The Leader of the House will be aware that the findings on the Government's management of the out-of-hours contracts will be laid bare today by a report to the Department of Health and by the coroner's verdict following an inquest into the tragic deaths in Cambridgeshire. Will she ensure that a Health Minister comes to the House to make a statement on the review of the out-of-hours service?
When can we have the annual debate on international development? It was postponed last November and was meant to be rescheduled for next Wednesday, but it does not appear in the business that the Leader of the House has just read out.
Given that the right hon. and learned Lady has so far failed to meet my requests for a debate on the crisis in Haiti, will she now guarantee that that important debate will be held as soon as possible on our return from the February recess?
I now turn to familiar territory. When will the Chancellor present his Budget to the House? Finally on dates, this is the last time we shall have business questions until 25 February, and there is still no news of the Easter recess. [Hon. Members: "Question 42!"] Yes, it is question 42. Let me put to the right hon. and learned Lady a scenario on which I believe it might be sensible to proceed. I suggest that the Prime Minister will visit the palace on 29 March and announce the election, that the House will adjourn for the Easter recess on Maundy Thursday and not return, that Her Majesty will dissolve Parliament on 12 April, with a general election on 6 May, and that some of us will return for swearing in on 12 May. Would the right hon. and learned Lady like to confirm or deny that?
Ms Harman: In relation to the Terrorist Asset-freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which I have announced will have all its stages next Monday, subject to the approval of the House, hon. Members will be aware of the Supreme Court's decision on the vires under which the order involved was made. Clearly we have to set the law in order and ensure that we have the powers that we need to use against assets that have been built up for use in terrorist activity. We are ready to make it clear this afternoon what those provisions are. The Bill will be introduced tomorrow, and on Monday, subject to the House's approval, it will have all its stages and then go off to the Lords.
As will be seen this afternoon, we have made it clear that the Bill's application will be retrospective. It is obviously an absolute priority to ensure that terrorists do not have assets at their disposal to use against people in this country, and we will ensure that the powers are available, and made retrospective, to deal with the issue that the Supreme Court raised, which was simply that the order was ultra vires.
I would make two points on how we are dealing with the Wright Committee recommendations. I have said at business questions that we hope the House will agree to more than 20 provisions in the report, and we intend to table them for approval after a full day's debate on 22 February. If we can approve some, if not all, of the motions that I will table then, that will be a good start. I will bring back those that, because Members object to them, are not approved. We will lay amendable motions, and then the House will vote on them.
As there are more than 20 areas of consideration on which we propose to move forward, it will be helpful if some of them, if not all, can be dealt with after a full day's debate. We can get the debate dealt with so that the House can be heard, and then if there are motions to which there is no objection, they can go through straightforwardly by agreement. On some issues there will undoubtedly not be agreement, and those will then have to come back to the House in motions that are amendable and can be voted on.
The right hon. Gentleman talks as though there were unanimity in the House on all the Wright reform issues, and as though somehow, only the Government stood in the way. He is fostering that impression, but it is a misapprehension. As shadow Leader of the House, he should know that on some substantial matters that the Government are in favour of, there is division in the House. For example, we support the idea of secret ballots for the election of Chairmen of Select Committees.
He will know that last week the Liaison Committee was split down the middle on that, and voted to support it by only seven to six. So I would be grateful if he did not purvey the view that he and the whole House are reformers, and the Government are standing in their way. That is not true and does not reflect all the progress that the House has been able to make in the past 13 years on initiatives introduced by previous Leaders of the House. Reform has happened, and further reform, with the House's support, will be forthcoming under the Wright Committee recommendations.
Inspection and tight regulation of the out-of-hours GP service are obviously important. All primary care trusts should ensure that the out-of-hours service in their area is in order.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about a day of debate on international development. One of the Wright Committee's proposals is for all Back-Bench business and general debate to be determined by a Back-Bench Committee. The Government back that. If it were agreed, the right hon. Gentleman or other hon. Members would not be asking me why we had not had a day to debate international development, because it would be down to Back Benchers to decide when to have a defence day, an international development day or a Welsh day, and to determine the subjects of topical debates. Frankly, I look forward to the day when hon. Members can ask themselves rather than me why such a decision has been made. [Hon. Members: "And in the meantime?"] In the meantime, I use my good endeavours to draw on the will of the House and ensure that we get the debates right. The answer is: as soon as possible.
As for an election date, I shall not be announcing that as part of the business of the House.