HC Deb 10 July 2003 vol 408 cc1371-90 12.32 pm
Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 JULY—Commons consideration of Lords amendments to the Communications Bill.

TUESDAY 15 JuLY-Second Reading of the Sexual Offences Bill [Lords], followed by Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

WEDNESDAY 16 JULY—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

THURSDAY 17 JULY—Commons consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion on the summer recess Adjournment followed, if necessary, by further Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to any Act.

The provisional business for Monday 8 September will be:

MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER—Second Reading of the Water Bill [Lords].

I should like to remind the House that we will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 17 July and return for the September sitting on Monday 8 September.

The House will rise again for the conference recess on Thursday 18 September and return for the spillover on Tuesday 14 October.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the remainder of the summer will be:

THURSDAY 17 JULY—A cross-cutting question session on domestic violence. Followed by a debate on financing development.

THURSDAY 11 SEPTEMBER—A debate On the United Nations.

THURSDAY 18 SEPTEMBER—A debate On the report from the Education and Skills Committee on the future of higher education.

Mr. Cameron

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement, but does he agree that, with just a week before the start of the recess, there are some important issues that remain to be discussed? First, when can we expect the Green Paper on children at risk to be published? It is referred to in early-day motion 1548,

[That this House is concerned that the inability of the honourable Member for Barking to carry out the duties of Minister for Children is impeding the Government's progress in presenting to the House the Green Paper on Children at Risk, as a result of which local councils are unable to implement changes which would improve the coordination of organisations and agencies involved in delivering children's services and improve accountability arrangements in response to Lord Laming's Report on the Enquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié and calls upon the Government to publish the Green Paper forthwith.] The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that it would be published before the recess, so where is it? The rumour is that the delay is due either to the Minister for Children feeling besieged or to the Prime Minister's desire to be present for the launch. Does the Leader of the House agree that neither reason is an acceptable excuse to delay such an important document?

Will there be a further statement before the end of next week on the security and humanitarian position in Iraq? This morning, the BBC reported Whitehall sources—that is sources plural, on this occasion—saying that Downing street now accepts that weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq. That underlines the need for a statement to the whole House.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to clear up once and for all the controversy about the dodgy dossiers, which surfaced yet again at Prime Minister's questions. The Prime Minister claimed that the material in the February dossier—the dodgy one— was shared with the Leader of the Opposition at briefings"—[Official Report, 9 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 1151.] by the security services. However, my right hon. Friend met the security services once in September, long before the second dossier was even considered. His only other meeting was on 12 February, which was nine whole days after the dodgy dossier was published. When will the Prime Minister come to the House and explain himself? The Ministerial code is clear about this. Page 1—or, in new Labour terms, page 1, clause 1, line 1—of the code states that any error, inadvertent or not, must be corrected "at the earliest opportunity."

May we have an urgent debate on the role of the parliamentary ombudsman? There is an article in The Guardian this morning—I have to declare an interest, as I write a column for the Guardian website—[Interruption.] I cannot repeat that comment from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but I like to think of my column as a beacon of right thinking in a sea of muddle-headedness. The parliamentary ombudsman, Ann Abraham, writes in her annual report:

I cannot be expected to carry out my responsibilities properly with one hand tied behind my back. One problem concerns getting information out of Ministers about gifts. It has apparently taken 16 months to get a response from the Government. The former Lord Chancellor thought that there was no problem. As the report says:

He did not believe that disclosing the information would do any harm. In response to attempts to get information on potential conflicts of interest for Ministers, the new Lord Chancellor issued a notice saying that disclosure would be prejudicial to the safety of the state. That is a huge difference in opinion. It just goes to show that one's old flatmate is more reliable than one's old boss. The parliamentary ombudsman plays a vital role. These are matters of great importance, and they should be debated in the House.

In the context of the Modernisation Committee, will the Leader of the House look again at the completely unacceptable way in which programme motions are used to limit effective scrutiny of Bills? In consideration of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, 60 clauses were not even considered in Committee. Will the Leader of the House publish, and place in the Library, a list of clauses and schedules for all Bills that are not debated either in Committee or on Report? That list might well turn out to be a roll of shame, but people should know if this place is not allowed to do its job properly.

The Leader of the House will be aware that at the end of a parliamentary term there has been a tendency to sneak out—to use the words of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House—awkward and embarrassing written statements, answers, confessions, corrections and suchlike. In internet terms, it is like last minute.con. Can we have a guarantee that that will not happen on this occasion?

Now that the Convention on the Future of Europe is over, the Leader of the House has given up one of his three jobs, so I hope that he will and time to launch his great debate—I think that the words he used were "open and honest debate"—on taxation. We are all looking forward to that. After 60 tax increases and a national insurance rise that broke an election promise, people have a right to know what they are in for next. When is he going to tell us?

Mr. Hain

I welcome the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to the Dispatch Box. I said last week that he was widely liked, but I did not realise that my influence extended so far into the reaches of the Tory party that he would be instantly promoted. However, I would like to know why the shadow Leader of the House, who has only one job, cannot be bothered to turn up today. I understand that he is being wined and dined by journalists in the Press Gallery. The menu is Parma ham and figs, steamed halibut and vegetables, followed by assorted deserts—I mean desserts—although the vacancy he leaves is like a desert. He is being wined and dined instead of attending to the only duty that he has in the House all week.

The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions, the first of which was about the children at risk Green Paper. We are the only Government ever to bring children's policy as it affects all Departments under one Minister. He should welcome that innovative, new and ground-breaking approach to government in respect of children's rights and protection. [Interruption.]As for the Green Paper, we will publish our strategy not when the hon. Gentleman demands it from a sedentary position but when we are ready. We will not publish according to a timetable set by the Opposition. The Tory party has never had a strategy for children.

Since the commitment was made, we have created a new opportunity to develop policy across Departments, under the control of one Minister for Children. The report will be published in due course, as soon as we are ready to do so. When it is published we will be able to show that it is being followed through in the context of a wider strategy of protecting children and advancing their rights. I have no doubt that the inquiry report, which has been published already, will be followed by local authorities. They will already be considering how to implement the recommendations, and that is the key point.

As I have explained, the report must be set in the context of a sensible, coherent children's policy that protects their rights and advances their opportunities. That is the important point. As I said, the Tory party never had a policy on children at all.

The hon. Gentleman asked when there might be a statement on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. As he knows, there was such a statement last week. If the situation changes, the Government will stand ready to make a new statement. We heard the familiar gramophone record from the Tory party about weapons of mass destruction, dodgy dossiers and so on. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained very clearly, we are confident that the evidence for the weapons of mass destruction will be found. Iraq is larger than France, and the evidence could be hidden in any nook or cranny, or any shed, anywhere in Iraq. It will be found.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to the BBC. It is very important that the BBC stops being a player in the story and starts to become a spectator. Its job is to report fairly and accurately, and not to create the news or set the agenda. The BBC should stop spinning. It should listen to its own political editor, who rightly said last night: A very senior source I have spoken to on this was absolutely sure, when British troops went into action in Iraq, they would face chemical and possible biological weapons. I think that Andrew Marr was right, and that the BBC should reflect that.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the ombudsman's report. We are the first Government to publish the gifts list for Ministers, which we did on 14 March. The list goes back to June 2001. The Cabinet Office apologised for the delay in publication, but we are the only Government ever to have published the list. We are open and accountable in such matters, and will continue to be so.

On the issue of disclosure in respect of conflicts of interest, what is being demanded is that we disclose contacts, correspondence and any communications between Ministers and their permanent secretaries. Permanent secretaries are responsible for upholding the ministerial code, and every Minister has to ensure that that is done. The Government have nothing to apologise for on the matter, and indeed we have every reason to say that we are out in the open and fully accountable in that respect.

The hon. Gentleman repeated another familiar refrain on programme motions and scrutiny. I shall certainly consider his request to publish a list of clauses and schedules that have not been debated, although as he will know, that is a matter of public record anyway. I do not think that it would be a problem to put it all together in the Library, but I shall get back to him on that.

On sneaking out last-minute statements, there is always a balance between keeping the House in formed—as Leader of the House I am anxious that the Government should do that—and overloading the House with business. [Laughter.]Hon. Members may laugh, but those on the Conservative Benches complain that too many statements are made and do not want them to be made on their Opposition days. They cannot have it both ways—they cannot have Ministers making statements at the Dispatch Box and keeping the House fully informed, if they are not prepared to accept that on Opposition days. The hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.

Finally, on taxation, the Conservative party put unfair taxes on the British people year after year, hitting the lowest-paid and affecting everyone in all income brackets. As a Government, we have introduced fair taxes that assist those at the bottom of the pile, are fair to those in the middle, and are seen overall as fair and just.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I remind the Leader of the House that yesterday was the final day for the Government to produce their response to the report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. When will he or his colleagues produce that response, or is it yet again a case of a timetable that has been set by someone else and is to be disregarded?

When will the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill return to the House? Having been through the Standing Committee, it seems to have become becalmed. We see no sign of its returning to the House for Report and Third Reading.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement that there is to be a debate in Westminster Hall on the United Nations on the symbolic date of Thursday 11 September. I remind him that since the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, the House has had a large number of statements from Ministers but we have not had the opportunity to debate the outcome or the future prospects of that country. Will he arrange for a debate on our return to the House? By then it will be urgently needed, given that so far practically none of the objectives of the military action have been achieved. Saddam Hussein has not been found and nor have the weapons of mass destruction, there is no peace or security, there is a shortage of humanitarian and medical aid, there is no oil and there are no plans for reconstruction. The House needs an opportunity to debate those matters.

Finally, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to listen to the siren voices in the House who are complaining about the siren voices outside in Parliament square. I remind him that in times past he thought that direct action outside Parliament was useful and appropriate, and it still is.

Mr. Hain

On House of Lords reform, it is my understanding that the Government will respond to the second report of the Joint Committee before the House rises for the summer recess.

The Waste and Emissions Trading Bill has completed all its stages in the Lords and is awaiting introduction in this House. I hope that we can proceed with that when the business slot arrives.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the debate on the United Nations is timely and important, and I hope that the whole House will have the opportunity to commend the UN for its international role and will seek to strengthen it, as indeed we as a Government have a proud record of doing. He pointed out the obvious fact that Saddam Hussein has not been found—obviously, he had prepared his exit strategy carefully, no doubt taking much Iraqi money with him. We intend to find him. When we do, that will encourage greater stability. However, the picture that the hon. Gentleman painted was almost as though the Iraqis would have been better off if we had not liberated Iraq. That is unacceptable. If one talks to any Iraqi who was not a Saddam supporter or one of his henchmen, or henchpersons, one finds that they are pleased that he has gone, and we ought to take credit for having achieved that.

As for protest outside the House, there is a long and honourable record of protest in Britain. I have taken part in it, as the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to remind me, and we should always uphold it.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

The Leader of the House is aware that all local authorities in England and Wales have to be compliant with the terms and conditions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 by October 2004, but is he aware that, over the past three or four years, 5,000 of the 10,000 public toilets in England and Wales have been closed? Will he get in touch with his colleagues in the appropriate Department to urge them to hold an emergency debate on this serious matter, before all public toilets are closed?

Mr. Hain

I very much welcome the fact that my hon. Friend raises that issue, which is of concern to all constituency Members, and I shall certainly draw his point to the attention of the Deputy Prime Minister. I commend my hon. Friend for continuing to raise such issues; access to toilets for people with disabilities is extremely important.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Leader of the House would expect me to support the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) for a review of programming, at an early date, by the Modernisation Committee, of which I believe the Leader of the House will assume the chairmanship next week, and I wish him well with that. Will he give an assurance that that review will be a priority?

My real question relates to Zimbabwe. It is and has been a disaster, and it is developing into a catastrophe: a country will virtually disappear because of starvation and all the horrors of a totalitarian regime. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement—I know that a debate will be impossible before the House rises—on the current situation in Zimbabwe and on what the Government would hope to do, with other countries in southern Africa, to bring about the removal of Mr. Robert Mugabe?

Mr. Hain

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about Zimbabwe. As he knows, we have stood shoulder to shoulder in exposing and attacking the brutal tyranny that exists under Robert Mugabe. There will be an opportunity to discuss that in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, and I hope that, if he is not in the Chair, he and colleagues will at least go along to make their voices heard. It is vital that we stand by the people of Zimbabwe and assist them in ensuring that a change is made to get rid of the tyranny to which they have been subjected.

The hon. Gentleman has raised with me the review of programming both on the Floor of the House and as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. I shall be happy to listen to his and others' views on the matter. It is an agenda item for the Modernisation Committee, and I am content that that is the case.

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the sensational headlines in today's Daily Express? Obviously, the control of sex offenders is important, so can he ensure that we have time to debate the issue before the summer recess?

Mr. Hain

A balance needs to be struck between gross sensationalism and ensuring that the problem is dealt with firmly. We are all aware of the need to target the problem of sex offenders and clamp down on it. The Government and the police are working together to ensure that that is done. Through the legislation and other measures that we have introduced, the problem is being targeted more systematically than ever before, but I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

The Leader of the House knows that thousands of my constituents depend for their livelihood on the BAE Systems factory at Brough that makes Hawk aircraft. The factory depends on a Government contract for those aircraft, on which it was promised a decision last month. That decision was not forthcoming and the factory sought an extension. The extension passed last week. There is fear in my constituency that this unpopular decision, which, at the stroke of a pen, will alter the future for all my constituents, is being put off into the recess. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking either that we shall have that decision before the recess or that a Minister will come to the Dispatch Box to explain why the Government are not competent enough to deliver on a promise that they made last year?

Mr. Hain

I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is, quite properly, making on behalf of his constituents. As he knows, we have a good record of support for the aerospace industry, especially on defence contracts. I realise that the contract is extremely important for the BAE factory in his constituency, and I shall certainly get in touch with the Secretary of State for Defence as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 1488.

[That this House congratulates Liverpool, and all the contenders for the title of European City of Culture 2008, on their efforts to make the UK a rich and diverse place to live; notes that many British cities could with justice have claimed the title, but that there are other strengths in cities which should be recognised and encouraged amongst which, most importantly, would be the ability to create strong local economies; calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to lobby the European Union for the creation of the title European City of Enterprise to be awarded annually, starting with a British city in 2004; and further notes that if this award were to be made, one of the strongest contenders and probably winner of the first award would be the city of Leeds, which on every measure has demonstrated a determined and successful strategy to reduce unemployment, create new businesses and develop thriving private and public sectors which has resulted in long-term economic stability for its inhabitants, whilst recognising that there is always more to doi.]? We hold many debates about the rural economy and the role of London and capital cities. Should not more attention be paid to the role that regional cities play in the country's economy?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend has identified an important point. I was a strong backer of Cardiff's bid to be the European city of culture, because it is a fine and enterprising city, as are Leeds and other cities in the rest of Britain. We should like to pursue the idea of an annual award to a European city, and if he makes further representations, I am sure that they will be listened to.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Will the Leader of the House arrange, at the earliest opportunity, for a debate on the report that the Home Secretary intends to introduce compulsory identity cards and on the implications of that in terms of both cost and the freedom and liberty that we have enjoyed for so long in this country?

Mr. Hain

There is, of course, a debate on entitlement cards in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, and Home Office questions will be held next week, so the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise those matters.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Has the Leader of the House seen the statement made by Mr. Joseph Wilson, a former United States ambassador, who investigated for President Bush the claim that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium in Africa? In February, Mr. Wilson informed the CIA that the documents pertaining to that were forged. In view of the fact that President Bush has acknowledged that he should not have used that information in his State of the Union address, may we have a statement from the Prime Minister to explain why he continues to insist that the evidence justifies the claim?

Mr. Hain

I understand my hon. Friend's concern about that matter; she has followed such questions closely. However, the Prime Minister has made more statements on the matter than most people have had hot breakfasts—[Interruption.]—or hot dinners, or hot lunches upstairs with the press. Those matters were dealt with in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee and they will continue to be dealt with, as the Prime Minister has done.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) about the Government Green Paper that will eventually respond to the findings of the Victoria Climbié inquiry, the Leader of the House said that the Government would not follow a timetable set by the Opposition. Of course, that is his prerogative, but may I draw his attention to a letter to me from his predecessor, saying that the Government would publish their response before the summer recess? That, in the middle of May, was the Government's timetable for publication of the Green Paper, yet now it is not. What has changed, apart from the Government's excuse?

Mr. Hain

I would have thought that the right hon. Lady would have understood the point that I made earlier. What has changed considerably between May and a few weeks ago is that we now have a new Minister for Children and we are able to set that important report and the action that we are taking to deal with it in the context of a wider strategy on children's issues. I would have thought that she would welcome that. I would have thought that she would say that reports on children who have been subject to abuse and the action that needs to be taken ought to be set in the context of action on children's policy right across the board. No Government have had such a comprehensive policy on children's rights and the protection of children as we have the opportunity of developing. That is a commonsense approach, and the right hon. Lady should pause and wait a few weeks, and then I think that she, and every child in Britain, will be pleased with the outcome, even if Tory Back Benchers are playing games and making mischief about the timing of the matter.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)

I associate myself entirely with the question asked by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). To follow on from it, two weeks ago at business questions I asked my right hon. Friend to arrange for a statement on the intentions of the Ministry of Defence on buying British Hawk jets. He agreed that it was important that the interests involved were secure. I listened carefully to his reply to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, and urge him not only to speak to Ministers, as he agreed to do, but also to ensure that there is a pre-recess statement. Surely it would be improper and wrong for such an important announcement to be made when the House is in recess.

Mr. Hain

I understand the points that my hon. Friend makes on behalf of his constituents, and I am well seized of the issue's urgency. It is important the Government get the decision right, rather than rushing it out, although any undue delay would obviously cause anxiety. As I have said, I will certainly speak to the Secretary of State for Defence as quickly as I can, and I am sure that he will understand the urgency as well.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

I urge the Leader of the House to find time for an early debate in the House on early-day motion 1391, on establishing an older people's rights commissioner.

[That this House believes that the human rights of older people in the United Kingdom are too often overlooked or undervalued; condemns the neglect and financial abuse of vulnerable elderly people revealed by the BBC Television series 'Britain's Secret Shame'; recognises that the majority of such cases result from a lack of understanding rather than deliberate cruelty; welcomes the Help the Aged campaign to tackle such mistreatment of older people; notes the introduction on 17th June of a bill under the 10 minute rule by the honourable Member for North West Leicestershire to establish an Older Person's Rights Commissioner to promote and protect the human rights of older people; urges honourable and Right honourable Members to endorse this proposal; notes that domestic and European anti-discrimination legislation for goods and services does not make specific provision relating to age; and calls on the Government to correct that position as a matter of urgency as part of a comprehensive effort to end the injustices endured by older people on a regular basis.] Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is still a lot of injustice and discrimination against people on the grounds of age, and that it is therefore important that the House consider this matter, establish such an office and end discrimination against older people, not only in employment, but in the provision of goods and services?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's interesting idea to the attention of the relevant Secretary of State. I am sure that he will know, however, that the Government have a very good record, especially in recent times, of ensuring that age discrimination is elevated right to the top of the agenda, along with other forms of discrimination. Successive Governments have not done that in previous years. That is a good policy, and his proposal certainly deserves scrutiny.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on prescribing anti-TNF drugs for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers? Clinicians in Sheffield tell me that about 140 people could benefit from using those drugs, but that fewer than half of those people will be receiving them by the end of this year. The Government have done a great deal to stop postcode prescribing in the national health service. We do not want it to come in by the back door. All those people who do not get those drugs will suffer further irreversible damage to their health. I hope that we can have a debate on that very important issue.

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a very important issue, and I commend him for his interest and work on the issue, as will lots of our citizens, far too many of whom suffer from that problem. The Adjournment debate on Thursday—the last business of the House before we go into the summer recess—provides an opportunity for those issues to be raised; but in the meantime, I shall draw his concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

In supporting the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), may I ask the Leader of the House whether he will also consider—perhaps when the House returns in September—holding an urgent debate on defence procurement and its effect on the aerospace industry in the north-west? There is considerable uncertainty about tranche 2 of the Eurofighter, Typhoon, about the future of the Nimrod MR4A aircraft and, indeed, about the implications of the Hawk order, to which right hon. and hon. Members have already referred. Some 40,000 jobs are dependent on the aerospace industry in the north-west, and a debate on that matter would now be timely.

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken to me about those matters in the past, and I understand his important constituency interest, which is shared by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey). We would all share their concerns if we were in the same position. Even if I have received no other message in the past half hour or so, they have made it clear that that is something of very great concern, and I shall ensure that their views are transmitted to the appropriate quarters.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Survival rates for breast cancer are improving. Nevertheless, more than 11,000 women died from breast cancer in 2002. There is evidence of regional disparities and age discrimination. May we please have an early debate on breast cancer services?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's request because that is an absolutely crucial issue, and she has a very long record of promoting good policy on such issues. Indeed, as she implies, 98.3 per cent. of patients with suspected breast cancer, referred urgently by their GPs, are now seen by specialists within two weeks, and 96.3 per cent. of patients diagnosed with breast cancer now receive treatment within a month. That is a massive improvement and a tribute to the Government's policies, but we must never be complacent on this issue.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement before the summer recess on this country's ability to control its own borders—something that was promised in the Labour party manifesto, although recent parliamentary answers have revealed that it will not be guaranteed in future?

Mr. Hain

No; I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets that idea. As far as we are concerned—whether in negotiations on the future of Europe, or in other respects—we are absolutely committed to secure borders and to retaining control over our own borders. Yes, there is a problem with illegal human trafficking; it is a worldwide problem, affecting Europe in particular, and we are suffering from it especially, but we are taking action. The issue is coming increasingly under control, and we will continue to bear down on it to ensure that our borders are indeed secure.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the time that he has provided for debates on Europe, but I wonder whether he might find time to debate the resolution of a specific European conundrum: the statement by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) that, if there were a vote against the proposed European constitution, the state would have to allow the others to go ahead, having negotiated an associate membership of some kind", and the statement made by right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) in Prague today that a vote against the proposed new EU constitution would not be a vote in any way to withdraw from Europe.

Mr. Hain

There is a contradiction, and I will certainly consider the opportunities for arranging such a debate. Of course my hon. Friend, along with other colleagues, can press for an Adjournment debate or another debate on that matter, but it is very significant that the Leader of the Opposition is still a signed-up member of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe, which advocates withdrawal. Indeed, he is also been a supporter of the Bruges group, which said only a few months ago: It would have been better if we had never joined Europe.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

The Leader of the House will be aware that, a fortnight ago during business questions, I asked him whether he could provide an urgent debate on Iraq, having earlier called for an independent inquiry. Given that Whitehall sources are now saying that weapons of mass destruction may never be found, will he provide time for a statement, since some of us are increasingly concerned that we may have been misled into voting for war without good cause and that, whether or not that is so, the Government owe us an explanation on WM D?

Mr. Hain

I realise that that is a convenient parliamentary tactic by the Conservatives, but the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee only a few days ago to answer in detail and to make himself accountable on the specifics of those matters. That is old ground, which has been crawled over ad nauseam. The truth remains that we are confident, as the Prime Minister said, that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the intelligence services did not provide accurate evidence? Is he attacking the intelligence services? If so, he should come out and say so.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the High Hedges (No.2) Bill was recently talked out. The Government are aware of that Bill's importance to alleviating the misery caused to thousands of people throughout the country by high hedges. Indeed, some of my constituents, who are members of Hedgeline, were very pleased to receive a ministerial statement with a commitment that the Government will make every effort to get that Bill on to the statute book. Will my right hon. Friend discuss how that can be achieved with colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? After all, it is a very simple Bill; apart from the odd loquacious Member, it has all-party support; and it should not take up too much time with Government support.

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with all the points that my hon. Friend makes. It was scandalous that the Conservatives talked out that Bill—the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) was specifically responsible for doing so—and I will certainly consider any opportunity to resurrect it, because all Labour Members recognise that that is an important issue to address.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The recess, which the Leader of the House has confirmed for next week, will come as an enormous relief to Labour Members—while Conservative Members will, of course, be happy to sit into August if necessary. Will he spend the recess taking a knife to next year's legislative programme? Does he agree that what has happened in the past fortnight has been wholly unacceptable, with large chunks of Government Bills simply not debated? Will he give an undertaking that there will be no repetition of that fiasco next year?

Mr. Hain

I saw the glum faces around the right hon. Gentleman when he was proposing to chop his colleagues' holidays. There would be cancelled holidays galore on the Conservative Benches. I must disappoint him, however, as there is no prospect of that happening. He will understand that the original legislative programme, which I agree has become overcrowded, became so because of Iraq in particular—and, rightly, the enormous pressure on parliamentary business from debating those matters fully—and Northern Ireland legislation. I am confident that we will get a legislative programme that is better able to be taken through the House in the normal timetable. We cannot plan for the unexpected, however, which is what happened in the past year. We are attempting to provide for the unexpected in the next year's legislative programme.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)

Would my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on schools funding? Today, there are calls from schools across Essex for the resignation of the Tory cabinet member responsible on Essex county council, because the council is still sitting on £21 million that could be allocated to schools in my area. If we had a debate, we could find out how much more money is being held by authorities around the country that should now be directed to local schools.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend raises an important charge against Essex county council, and I am sure that the public of Essex will want to know what the situation is and what the Conservative council is doing about it. He will also understand, however, that spending per pupil is up by £800 a year in real terms since 1997, with huge numbers of extra teachers and classroom assistants being recruited. That is against a background, of course, in which one in five teachers would be sacked as a result of the Tory policy of 20 per cent. cuts across the board.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has already drawn the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1548, on the Green Paper on children at risk. It seems that the Government have changed not only the timetable for the publication of this important Green Paper, but the excuse for the delay in publication. Last week, the excuse given was that the Prime Minister understandably, wants to be present at the launch of the Green Paper, and that he does not have time to do so until September. This week, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), the Leader of the House said that the reason for the delay is that there will be further policies in the Green Paper. This matter is too important to be played about with in this manner. We are not making mischief. I am genuinely concerned about the children who are at risk and who are not getting the attention that they deserve from local authorities, as local authorities are having to wait so long for this Green Paper. They cannot take action until they have it. Can we have a debate next week on children at risk? It is an urgent matter.

Mr. Hain

The report has been out for some time now. Every responsible director of social services and responsible local authority has already had a copy, is acting on it and is taking forward its recommendations.

Mrs. Laing

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hain

Perhaps there is a Conservative county council somewhere in the country that is not doing that, in which case we should be told—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) has asked a question, and the Leader of the House should be able to answer.

Mr. Hain

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The point of the hon. Lady's and her right hon. and hon. Friends' fabricated frenzy is to attack the new Minister for Children instead of recognising that there are sensible reasons, including the Prime Minister putting his personal stamp on a radical new policy to advance children's rights and to protect children in a way that has not been done before. As someone who seeks to aspire to that job, she ought to welcome that.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

Can we have a debate on Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a deadly disease that affects families from every constituency in this country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week a group of parents came to Westminster and lobbied outside the Department of Health but sadly no one was available to see them? Will he undertake to raise this matter with his ministerial colleagues and if possible arrange for a debate to build on the welcome proposals contained in the Government's White Paper on genetics?

Mr. Hain

I am well aware that my hon. Friend has shown great energy and diligence in pursuing the problem of muscular dystrophy, and it was unfortunate that that particular protest was not recognised. I hope that the relevant Department will ensure that representations on behalf of those people are fully taken into account, and I am sure that he will follow that up. In terms of House business, he has the opportunity to apply for a debate, and, with any luck, it will be heard.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

In answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), I hope that time will be found for the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill and that it will not be kicked into the long grass.

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to see early-day motion 1566, on the centenary of the young Liberal movement, of which he was at one time a leader?

[That this House notes that Liberal Democrat Youth and Students are celebrating '100 years of Young Liberals' this week; congratulates the Young Liberals on their centenary and their contribution to politics both in the UK and abroad; and wishes LDYS every success in continuing to make politics relevant to young people.] Can he speak to the Minister for Children, who I understand is also the Minister for youth, to see whether we can have a statement or a debate on making politics relevant to youth today? As he will recall, the level of youth involvement in politics when I first joined some 30 years ago was greater than it is today.

Mr. Hain

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's points. I notice that my brief on early-day motion 1566, headed "Young Liberals", says, "Be neutral", so that is what I will be.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Can we have a debate in Government time on the procedure for the closure of post offices? I have written to the Secretary of State about the closure of Humberstone post office in my constituency, which was done without proper consultation with local residents. The head of the regional office, Mr. Paul Maisey, refused to meet me or my constituents before the post office was closed. I support the Government's policy on modernisation, but modernisation should not be used as a euphemism for closure.

Mr. Hain

I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's point on behalf of his local post office. Modernisation is not a euphemism for closure. We all share the concern that a changing pattern of consumption and lifestyle means that many local post offices are increasingly coming under threat. As I have said before in business questions, my local post office has been under threat over the past year. When a local branch of Barclays bank closed, however, and I encouraged customers to switch their accounts to the post office, which they could have done to underpin its viability, there was very little take-up. We are therefore dealing with a problem of human behaviour that is wider than the issues that he raised.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Yesterday, the Prime Minister sought to implicate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in the dodgy dossier by insisting that he had been briefed on the intelligence contents of that dossier, when we now know that that was not the case. The day before, however, in his evidence to the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister, in answer to question 186 from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), denied categorically the claim that 90 per cent. of that dossier had come from plagiarised material. On 19 June, however, the author of the main article that was plagiarised gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee that 90 per cent. of the second dossier came from his article and two other articles; and a paper by a Cambridge academic submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee provided a page-by-page analysis backing that up. May we therefore have a statement from the Prime Minister analysing the contents of the dossier, because he has not only plagiarised the material of that young student but called him a liar by denying his analysis that 90 per cent. of the dossier was plagiarised and that therefore only a tiny fraction of it could have been intelligence material?

Mr. Hain

This contribution from the Conservative Benches is getting to sound like a rather scratchy old gramophone record. Let us look at the facts. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the briefing given to the Leader of the Opposition was based on intelligence. That is what he said: the very same intelligence that had gone into those two documents. The Leader of the Opposition should come clean. He should say whether he is disputing any of that intelligence, because he did not dispute it at the time. Indeed, he supported the Government's policy at the time. Now, however, he sees a chance to make mischief opportunistically, and he continually seeks to do so, with the support of the hon. Gentleman.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

In the light of the previous answers from the Leader of the House, is it still the Government's position that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will be found? Is he categorically denying the reports running on the BBC today that the Government are now saying that such weapons will not be found, either because they were destroyed before the war began or because they have been hidden? Surely we should have a debate on the issue in the House. It would not be some arcane parliamentary debate; people died on the decisions that the House made based on reports that the Government had given not only on the size of the weapons of mass destruction arsenal but on Saddam Hussein's capacity to launch them within 45 minutes.

Mr. Hain

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is relying on BBC spin rather than on the evidence. The truth is that the Foreign Affairs Committee report upheld the Prime Minister's record on this matter. The truth is that those like myself—I was in the Foreign Office as the Minister with responsibility for Iraq, then Minister for Europe, and subsequently a Cabinet Minister—who saw the raw intelligence and were briefed by the Joint Intelligence Committee and other senior intelligence sources were absolutely clear that there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction. That evidence was underpinned by United Nations inspections reports that my hon. Friend has never really accepted. That was the basis for our action. I would have thought that we ought now to put that behind us and seek to work together internationally to make sure that Iraq goes into a new democratic future, having been liberated from such a brutal dictator.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Surely it is now imperative that we have a statement from the Prime Minister on the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction, especially after senior Whitehall sources—I note that the Leader of the House did not contradict them—suggested that we would never find these weapons of mass destruction. I know that the Prime Minister has appeared before the Liaison Committee, but only the three main parties are represented on it. Does not the whole House deserve an explanation and does not the whole nation, through the House, deserve to know what is going on with WMD?

Mr. Hain

I do not know whether BBC sources these days are dodgy or not; I really do not, and I do not think the public know. If the hon. Gentleman is asking what I and the Prime Minister believe, the answer is that we believe that evidence of weapons of mass destruction will be found. I would be very surprised if it was not. As I have said before, Iraq is a huge country and we know, and we knew at the time from intelligence, that Saddam Hussein was dispersing these weapons of mass destruction for months before he anticipated the weapons inspectors would come in. It is not surprising that they are not in a shop window somewhere for us to go and find. That would be astonishing.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

May I echo the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) about post office closures? We are witnessing an incredible shrinkage of the post office branch network. In my constituency, people have been absolutely bewildered this week at the news that five branch offices are due to close. It is an important issue and we should hear from Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry about the discussions that they are having with the Post Office to maintain this valued national institution of a post office branch network.

Mr. Hain

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. All of us as local Members of Parliament value local post offices and the local communities that they serve value them even more. The picture that he paints is a very serious one and I shall bring it to the attention of the relevant Minister and Secretary of State as soon as I can, so that any action can then follow.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Only a few Members are standing, but I must have brief questions if I am to call them all before half-past the hour.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that he would not have committed UK troops to war in Iraq if he had not won the vote in the House of Commons. It is reasonable to infer that many Members supported him in the Division Lobby because they believed that there were weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes. If they knew then what they know now, many Members might well have not supported the Prime Minister in the Division Lobby.

Is it not despicable that the Prime Minister should come to the Liaison Committee and do Prime Minister's questions and, almost immediately after, Government spokesmen put out another spin on the story—that weapons of mass destruction may never be discovered? It is doubly despicable that the Leader of the House should then come to the Chamber and seek to blame the BBC for fabricating that story. Can we have a debate next week not necessarily on Iraq, but on the whole Government machinery of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call the Leader of the House.

Mr. Hain

Just for the record, I did not blame the BBC's political editor. In fact, I commended the quote that he gave on either the 10 o'clock news or the "Today" programme this morning. I blamed BBC spin—and indeed, that spin was directly contradicted, as I understand it, by the Prime Minister's official spokesman in the Lobby briefing this morning, in which he said that the Prime Minister and the Government remain confident that evidence will be found.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman, along with opponents of our action, wants to airbrush out of history the fact that United Nations reports consistently reported evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Our own intelligence services—as I have seen for myself—reported that evidence as well. He should be standing by those reports and standing by the intelligence services, and not seeking to undermine them.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have a high proportion of private rented sector dwellings in my constituency to cater for the needs of students. I welcome very much the excellent pilots that the Government carried out on the tenancy deposit protection scheme. However, I am disappointed that there is no forthcoming mention of that in the draft Housing Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an important issue that needs to be pushed forward? Will he make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

Mr. Hain

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns and the important points that she makes. I will certainly draw them to the attention of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

I join other colleagues in calling on the Leader of the House to arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box next week to explain the allegations that he made against my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. Will the Leader of the House confirm that my right hon. Friend met the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee on 12 February, which was nine days after the dossier was published? Yes or no?

Mr. Hain

The Prime Minister wrote yesterday to the Leader of the Opposition setting out very clearly—[Interruption]He did, indeed. He made it absolutely clear that the evidence upon which the Leader of the Opposition was briefed was the same evidence that went into the documents concerned. It has been the same evidence that formed the basis of the approach to conflict and that we relied upon. Again, I directly ask the right hon. Gentleman, if not the Leader of the Opposition, whether he is disputing the intelligence services' evidence. Is he—yes or no? As for the Prime Minister answering questions, he will be here on Wednesday to answer the questions that anybody wants to put to him.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Can the Leader of the House organise for a statement to be made to the House following the publication by her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons of the report on the two remaining detention, or what I think are called removal, centres for immigrants, including Dungavel in Scotland? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when the chief inspector published in April her review of the three centres that she had visited, she said that no child should be kept in such places—that applied to all five of them—for more than six days? Does he not think it ironic that while he is talking today about the children's Minister, something that I fully support, the children of the Ay family will have spent a year in detention in Dungavel come next week? Can he arrange for that to be debated on the Floor of the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Hain

I am not sure that I will be able to find time for a specific debate. My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise the issue in other ways, but I assure him that I will draw his important points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will be aware that there have been discussions about a shadow monitoring commission for Northern Ireland. Can he guide as to whether the Government are planning to introduce legislation in the coming week or in September?

Mr. Hain

There are no plans for the coming week but, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are obviously seized of the importance of Northern Ireland legislation on a number of matters. I will draw the Secretary of State's attention to his question.

Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. Robertson—I am sorry, Mr. Ian Carmichael.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

Very close, Mr. Speaker. It is Alistair actually. I am delighted to have the opportunity to ask my question.

Can we have a statement before the recess from the Minister responsible for shipping to give the Government's response to reports that we are to import a so-called ghost fleet of 94 former naval ships from the United States for decommissioning on Teesside? Apparently, they will be towed through the Pentland Firth, to the south of my constituency. My constituents wish to know why on earth we are importing these ships from the other side of the world and what steps the Government will take to ensure that these highly contaminated and dangerous wrecks do not cause the damage that they have the potential to cause to our very precious coastline.

Mr. Hain

Obviously, safety factors are uppermost in the minds of the Government and the authorities when such undertakings are considered. I imagine that the enterprise means that jobs are at stake, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will consider that as well. I shall draw his specific points to the attention of the Secretary of State, and the Scottish Parliament might want to take an interest as well.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to the Leader of the House's erroneous claim, in response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), that this country has kept control of its national borders, may we have an urgent statement to clarify the situation, because the Minister for Europe's written answer at column 735W on 8 July to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said that it was essential to scrap the veto and move to qualified majority voting on immigration and asylum policy? The Leader of the House seems to be woefully ignorant of that fact.

Mr. Hain

I always admire the hon. Gentleman's ability to recite facts one after another without consulting his notes.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

Answer the question.

Mr. Hain

I am about to. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is confusing border control with having a common asylum policy throughout Europe. Such a policy would enable us to ensure that backmarkers on human trafficking—countries in which the problem arises but that pass the buck to us—take their responsibilities seriously and have procedures for admitting such people. That would mean that we could ensure that if such people cross on to our shores, we could put them back in the European countries where they first landed. Our border controls will remain exactly the same and the hon. Gentleman should not confuse the two issues in such a way.