Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Challenging David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week I challenged David Cameron his plans to water down the Human Rights Act, the fall in the number of people participating in sport since the Olympics, and his failure to consult on proposals for English votes for English Laws. The full text can be found below:

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Ten years ago, the 7/7 bombers cruelly took 52 precious lives. We remember them, the families’ courage and the injured, and we defy the terrorists.

Last month the Prime Minister celebrated Magna Carta, which set out that those who govern must be constrained in their exercise of power to protect those they govern. Our Human Rights Act is the very embodiment of those values. If he accepts that in a democracy there needs to be an effective check on Executive power, even though at times it can be uncomfortable for Government, will he abandon his plans to water down the Human Rights Act?

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The Prime Minister: First of all, may I very much agree with what the right hon. and learned Lady said about the 10-year anniversary of 7/7 and about the bravery and the dignity of those families that lost their loved ones? She, like me, took part in the commemorations yesterday, which I thought were fitting and a permanent reminder of the threat we face and the work we must do to face down the evil of these terrorists and their narrative of extremism.

The point that the right hon. and learned Lady made about Magna Carta demonstrates that there were human rights before the Human Rights Act. The point I would make is that our proposed reform is to have a British Bill of Rights, so that more of these judgments are made by British judges in British courts.

Ms Harman: It is very important that we are unhesitating in our compliance with international standards on this; otherwise it gives a strong signal to other countries that we want to undermine those standards. However, there have been mixed messages from the Government. Last week, senior Government sources briefed the newspapers that the Prime Minister’s view was that withdrawal from the European convention on human rights

“is not going to happen”,

but the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Leader of the House have indicated that they want to leave. So can the Prime Minister make it absolutely clear that Britain will be staying in the European convention on human rights?

The Prime Minister: As I have said to the right hon. and learned Lady before, there is a danger in believing everything that you read in the newspapers. Our intention is very clear: it is to pass a British Bill of Rights, which we believe is compatible with our membership of the Council of Europe. As I have said at the Dispatch Box before—and no one should be in any doubt about this—issues such as prisoner voting should be decided in this House of Commons. I think that that is vital. So let us pass a British Bill of Rights, let us give more rights to enable those matters to be decided in British courts, and let us recognise that we had human rights in this country long before Labour’s Human Rights Act.

Ms Harman: If, as the Prime Minister reassures us, we are staying in the European convention, we might as well keep the Human Rights Act, which at least allows us to enforce it in our courts.

Ten years ago, the United Kingdom was awarded the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics. When he took office, the Prime Minister promised that the games would result in an increase in participation in sport. Will he tell us whether the number of people taking part in sport has gone up or down since the Olympics?

The Prime Minister: Participation in sport has gone up since the Olympics, and it has been a success. We should all remember what an excellent Olympic games that was. We have also seen a real success in primary schools, where there is more PE activity, and the primary school sports partnerships are working very well.

Ms Harman: I do not know what it says in the Prime Minister’s briefing folder, but he is completely wrong. The number of people taking part in sport has gone 

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down since 2010, and children at school are doing less sport too. Does the Prime Minister agree that what we now need is a proper national strategy for sports participation, so that we do not miss the golden opportunity presented by the Olympics—an opportunity that his Government have so far squandered?

The Prime Minister: Right. Are we sitting comfortably? There are 1.4 million more people playing sport once a week than there were when we won the bid to host the Olympic games. The recent Active People survey—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Mr Bryant, you are now an esteemed member of Her Majesty’s Opposition’s shadow Cabinet.[Interruption.] Order. Whether he is esteemed or not, he is a member of the shadow Cabinet.

The Prime Minister: He may be esteemed by you, Mr Speaker, but some of us take a different view.

As a result of the PE and sport premium for schools, the average time spent on PE at primary level has increased to over two hours a week, 91% of schools have reported an increase in the quality of PE teaching, 96% of schools have reported—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not like facts, but when they ask a factual question, they should welcome a factual answer. [Interruption.] I have got all day, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order. However long it takes, the answer will be heard.

The Prime Minister: There is not much else on today, Mr Speaker.

More than eight in 10 schools are seeing a rise in the number of children taking part in sport. The Olympics were a success for Britain, sports participation has gone up, more is now happening in our schools, and we will build on that legacy.

Ms Harman: The fact that we do not like is the fact that since the Olympics, participation in sport has gone down, especially among children. The Prime Minister should get out and sort that out.

In the English manifesto that was published by the Conservative party, the Prime Minister promised that before making changes in the constitution on English votes for English laws, he would

“Consult the House of Commons Procedure Committee prior to seeking approval from the whole House to the proposed Standing Order changes.”

When did he do that?

The Prime Minister: There have been consultations with the head of that Committee, and there is plenty of time—[Interruption.] I have to say to Labour Members that at least we published an English manifesto.

I think that there is a very simple choice for the House. For once, why do we not talk about the substance rather than the process? Post-devolution, we have a problem of unfairness: English MPs have no say on Scottish issues, yet Scottish MPs have a say on English issues. That is the problem. We are proposing a very simple measure, which is that legislation should not be passed on English matters against the will of English MPs. It is a very 

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modest proposal. Is the right hon. and learned Lady really saying that the Labour party will oppose that proposal?

Ms Harman: We agree there is a problem and we agree there needs to be change, but it has got to be done properly—constitutional change has got to be done properly. Indeed the Prime Minister said at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions:

“We will publish our proposals shortly and Parliament will have plenty of time to consider and vote on them”—[Official Report, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c.1471-72.]—

and he cannot have consulted the Procedure Committee because it has not even been set up yet. The Prime Minister should recognise the strength of feeling in all parts of the House about the proper processes to get to this change. He should consult properly, or he will be breaking a promise he made in his manifesto.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady talks about proper processes: we have published proposals, we are having a debate in Parliament, and there will be a vote in Parliament. The Labour party has got to get off the fence and tell us: “Do you support this modest proposal or not?” We are still waiting for an answer.

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