MPs unhappy with one day of debate on new policing bill

May 15, 2009 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

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by Tony Grew

Same-sex wards in NHS hospitals, the protests in Parliament Square and the disappearance of Chinese children were among the issues raised at Business Questions yesterday.

Alan Duncan, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, did not make any jokes, a departure from his recent appearances opposite Harriet Harman.

He called for a statement on the case of “80 or more Chinese children who have disappeared from a London care centre.”

“We were promised a report to the House two weeks ago, since when we have heard nothing,” he said.

“There are some things in life that really are important, and this is one of them.

“What will the world say about our priorities if we fail to raise in this House this scandalous, shocking and vile trade in children that is going on under our noses?

“To put it into plain English, for God’s sake what is going on?

“Victorian campaigners stamped out child prostitution and now, in the twenty-first century, it seems to be back.”

Mr Duncan said that recent protests by Tamils in Parliament Square raises a “broader issue.”

“The whole area is deteriorating into a permanent shambles. Legitimate protest is fine and important, but permanently disruptive protest is not. The Leader of the House has so far failed to take a lead on this.”

He said MPs were “somewhat exasperated by her silence” on the need for investigations into the arrest of Tory frontbencher Damian Green and on parliamentary privilege.

“What is stopping her from referring this issue to the Committee on Standards and Privileges in a motion, so that we can take time to reflect on the lessons that need to be learned?”

Mr Duncan also called for a debate on the “indignity of mixed-sex wards.”

“I have raised this issue with the Leader of the House before and she said that “progress was being made,” he said.

“The Leader of the House is a London MP and the Minister for Women and Equality, so may I ask what she intends to do about the issue?”

Ms Harman, Leader of the House, said that the trafficking of children “is a matter of serious concern” and local authorities, the immigration authorities and the police should work together on the issue.

She said that the issue of protests in Parliament Square “will form part of the discussions about the governance of Britain, including those on the Constitutional Renewal Bill.”

On the issue of investigations, she said:

“The House agreed that there would be a Speaker’s Committee to consider parliamentary privilege. I do not think it is ever worth having two Committees when one can do the job.”

Ms Harman said she “completely agreed” with Mr Duncan that “mixed-sex wards is overdue for further action, and there will be further action.”

For the Liberal Democrats, David Heath reported that “today is national dance like a chicken day, which may be apposite for activities in the House over the past week.”

“While we have been obsessing—necessarily—about what has emerged in The Daily Telegraph, the world has continued: people have been losing their jobs, businesses have been closing, and people have lost their homes. We need to concentrate on that as well,” he said.

He said that it was “clearly inadequate” that one day had been provided for the report and remaining stages of the Policing and Crime Bill. Mr Heath also called for debates on class sizes and “the state of our nation’s roads.”

Ms Harman said she had reviewed the schedule for the police bill.

“I know that there were concerns about four aspects: the definition of gangs; the use of DNA; control for gain in respect of prostitution, and its definition; and lap dancing and controls on lap-dancing clubs. Those are very important issues; I do not demur from that at all.

“However, the provisions on control for gain and lap dancing were already in the Bill when it was brought before the House on Second Reading. The Government are bringing forward amendments as concessions on issues raised in Committee.”

Conservative Sir Nicholas Winterton said one day’s debate is “damaging to the authority of the House in scrutinising legislation” and Lib Dem Dr Evan Harris raised the issue again during Points of Order.

Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack asked Ms Harman about Equitable Life.

Last December the Committee published a report, Justice Delayed, setting out its views on the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report on Equitable Life.

“Does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that the reports—and they are in the plural—from the ombudsman include criticism of the Government of an unprecedented severity?” Sir Patrick asked.

“It is crucial that we debate the issue very soon.

“We are told this week that an average of 15 Equitable Life victims die each day; that is more than 100 a week.

“The Government have a moral obligation, whatever their legal obligation, and the House expects the Government to fulfil that obligation.”

Ms Harman agreed the situation is without precedent in terms of the numbers of people affected and the amount of money involved.

“It is unprecedented in that it affects not only the well-off but people on very modest incomes. It is also unprecedented in respect of its complexity.

“We are all concerned about the people who have lost out, and we will take action to make sure that the issue is addressed. I understand that on 19 May there will be a Westminster Hall debate on it.”

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