§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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:
TUESDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "The State of the Environment" followed by a debate on local taxation. Both debates arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.
WEDNESDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Motion to approve the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2004 followed by Opposition half-day [5th Allotted Day] (1st Part). There will be half-day debate entitled "Confusion Over the Powers of the Proposed Elected Regional Assemblies" on an Opposition motion.
THURSDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill followed by a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.
The provisional business for the week after the half term week will be:
MONDAY 23 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of a Bill.
TUESDAY 24 FEBRUARY—Motions relating the Draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2004 and the Draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2004 followed by Opposition half-day [5th Allotted Day] (2nd Part). There will be a half-day-debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Report from the Privy Counsellor Review Committee on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
THURSDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Employment Relations Bill followed by a debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.
§ Following is the information:
|PAC REPORTS 2002–03|
|Report No||Title of Report||Publication Date|
|1st||Collecting the Television Licence Fee||18 Dec. 2002|
|2nd||Dealing with Pollution from Ships||9 Jan. 2003|
|3rd||Tobacco Smuggling||10 Jan. 2003|
|4th||Private Finance Initiative: Redevelopment of MOD main Building||30 Jan. 2003|
|5th||The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease||14 March 2003|
|6th||Ministry of Defence: Exercise Saif Sareea II||12 March 2003|
|7th||Excess Votes 2001–02||19 March 2003|
|PAC REPORTS 2002–03|
|Report No||Title of Report||Publication Date|
|8th||Excess Votes (Northern Ireland) 2001–02||19 March 2003|
|9th||The Office for National Statistics: Outsourcing the 2001 Census||26 March 2003|
|10th||Individual Learning Accounts||4 April 2003|
|11th||Facing the Challenge: NHS Emergency Planning in England||16 April 2003|
|12th||Tackling Pension Poverty: Encouraging Take-up of Entitlements||9 April 2003|
|13th||Ministry of Defence: Progress in Reducing Stocks||11 April 2003|
|14th||Royal Mint Trading Fund 2001–02 Accounts||17 April 2003|
|15th||OPRA: Tackling the Risks to Pension Scheme Members||2 May 2003|
|16th||Improving Public Services through Innovation: The Invest to Save Budget||9 May 2003|
|17th||Helping victims and witnesses: the work of Victim Support||8 May 2003|
|18th||Reaping the Rewards of Agricultural Research||16 May 2003|
|19th||The PFI contract for the redevelopment of West Middlesex University Hospital||6 June 2003|
|20th||Better public services through call centres||5 June 2003|
|21st||The operations of HM Customs and Excise in 2001–02||12 June 2003|
|22nd||PFI refinancing update||13 June 2003|
|23rd||Innovation in the NHS—the acquisition of the Heart Hospital||18 June 2003|
|24th||Community Legal Service: The Introduction of Contracting||20 June 2003|
|25th||Protecting the Public from Waste||25 June 2003|
|26th||Safety, quality, efficacy: regulating medicines in the UK||26 June 2003|
|27th||The management of substitution cover for teachers||26 June 2003|
|28th||Delivering better value for money from the Private Finance Initiative||19 June 2003|
|29th||Inland Revenue: Tax Credits and tax debt management||2 July 2003|
|30th||Department for International Development: Maximising impact in the Water Sector||3 July 2003|
|31st||Report Tackling Benefit Fraud||4 July 2003|
|32nd||The Highways Agency: Maintaining England's Motorways and trunk roads||11 July 2003|
|33rd||Ensuring the effective discharge of older patients from NHS acute hospitals||17 Sept. 2003|
|34th||The Office of Fair Trading: progress in protecting consumers' interests||9 July 2003|
|35th||PFI Construction Performance||16 July 2003|
|36th||Improving service quality: Action in response to the Inherited SERFS problem||17 July 2003|
|37th||Ministry of Defence: The Construction of nuclear submarine facilities at Devonport||10 Sept. 2003|
|38th||Department of Trade and Industry: Regulation of weights and measures||10 July 2003|
|PAC REPORTS 2002–03|
|Report No||Title of Report||Publication Date|
|39th||A safer place to work: Protecting NHS hospital and ambulance staff from violence and aggression||23 July 2003|
|40th||Improving social housing through transfer||24 July 2003|
|41st||Modernising procurement in the Prison Service||18 Sept. 2003|
|42nd||A safer work place to work: Improving the management of health and safety risks to staff in NHS Trusts||15 Oct. 2003|
|43rd||Fisheries enforcement in England||13 Nov. 2003|
|44th||New IT Systems for Magistrates Courts: The Libra project||11 Nov. 2003|
|45th||Protecting public health and consumer interests in relation to food: the Food Standards Agency||27 Nov. 2003|
|46th||Ministry of Defence: Building an air manoeuvre capability: the introduction of the Apache Helicopter||18 Nov. 2003|
|47th||Film Council: Improving access to, and education about, the moving image through the British Film Institute||4 Dec. 2003|
|48th||The Public Private Partnership for National Air Traffic Services Ltd||9 Dec. 2003|
|49th||The operational performance of PFI prisons||2 Dec. 2003|
§ Mr. Heald
Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the Doorkeepers and Badge Messengers in the Public Gallery for their speedy work in dealing with yesterday's disturbances?
I was a bit surprised to see that on 23 February we are to have the "Second Reading of a Bill", particularly in the light of the Leader of the House's recent comments that the Opposition were not giving him enough notice of our business.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the anxiety faced by the many thousands of people with Equitable Life pensions. Why are we still waiting for the publication of the Penrose report on the Treasury's regulation of that insurer? The Financial Secretary has said that the report is with the Treasury and that it will be published in full. Can the Leader of the House confirm that and tell us when?
In yesterday's debate, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), a true parliamentarian, told us that although Lord Hutton cross-examined John Scarlett in public, the Foreign Affairs Committee was refused access to him; and that when the Committee requested drafts of the dossier, it was refused them, yet Lord Hutton put them on the world wide web. Is it not time for the Leader of the House to insist to his colleagues, not least the Prime Minister, that our Committees are properly treated?
Lord Birt is an adviser to the Prime Minister. It seems that he has an office in the Cabinet Office, at public expense, that is so imposing that it even has its own staircase—yet he refuses to give evidence to the Public Administration Committee about his job. If his role is to make occasional speeches in support of the Prime Minister, as he did yesterday, should he not come along 904 to the Committee and say so? Why should there be such secrecy and disrespect for Parliament? What will the Leader of the House do to strengthen our Committees?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister told us that he did not realise, even on the eve of battle, that the 45-minute claim related only to battlefield weapons. On the face of it, he wrongly believed that our bases in Cyprus were at imminent risk of missile attack, just as the newspapers reported. Yet later in the debate, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is in his place, and the Secretary of State for Defence told us that they knew that that was not true. Why did they not tell the Prime Minister? We need a Prime Minister's statement to clear that up. If he led us to war, falsely believing in an imminent risk that did not exist, and his senior Ministers knew that he was wrong, that is monumental incompetence. We are entitled and need to know what happened so that it never happens again.
§ Mr. Hain
First, I endorse the thanks of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and add those of the whole House to the Doorkeepers for the speedy way in which they acted, as they always do. I am a great fan of theirs.
On the Second Reading of a Bill, the hon. Gentleman is right that I normally try to give full details of the second week's business. However, we are considering a week after the half-term recess.
§ Mr. Hain
The former shadow Leader of the House asks, "So?" in his normal, mischievous fashion. The answer is clear. If I were in a position to provide the information, I would have done that. As soon as I am in a position to give it—I hope that that will be at business questions next week—I shall do that. There will be an interval when the House is in recess when hon. Members can take the matter forward.
§ Mr. Hain
It is not pathetic, but a sign of a Government who want to tell the House about the way in which their legislative programme is proceeding. We await news of progress in the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman would do better to start talking to his Tory friends and the hereditaries in the House of the Lords who continually try to delay Government legislation. Their record on scrutiny of Government legislation is pathetic, to use his word. The House of Commons has a much better record of scrutinising legislation than the House of Lords. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Hain
On Equitable Life, the Treasury is studying the Penrose report, as I said previously. We will present an account to the House as soon as we can because many hon. Members and constituents are worried about the matter.
Lord Hutton's report did not satisfy the Conservatives demand for blood in the Government. That is why they continue to complain about it. 905 Conservative Front-Bench Members have displayed a certain ambiguity about whether they regard Lord Hutton's report as good and whether they respect his position as an impartial judge. Do they or do they not? We ought to know.
On who was questioned in public for the Hutton report and who was questioned by the House Committees, I strongly agree that those Committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, should have access to all the intelligence. That Committee, together with Lord Hutton's inquiry, saw all the intelligence that there was to see. Both reviewed it and neither delivered the verdict that the Conservatives and their supporters in the media wanted, but that is a problem for them, not Lord Hutton or the Intelligence and Security Committee.
As for strengthening Select Committees, the Prime Minister, who leads our Government, has appeared before the Liaison Committee, which comprises all the Chairmen of Select Committees, to answer questions on a range of issues. Our Prime Minister has been more accountable to Select Committees than any Prime Minister in the history of Parliament since Select Committees were established. I shall therefore take no lessons in accountability from the shadow Leader of the House. Indeed, we have strengthened Select Committees' resources and we encourage them to continue their work.
On the question of Lord Birt, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am awaiting the report and any recommendations and representations from the Liaison Committee over the Osmotherly rules and the position of officials—whether civil servants or special advisers—in their accountability or otherwise to Select Committees. I have promised the Liaison Committee that if I receive representations from it, I will look at them. That covers that point, except in this respect—Lord Birt is a former chief executive, a former director-general, of the BBC so it is absolutely right that he should say what he believes, particularly in the wake of the controversy in the BBC. Again, there is persistent mischief making.
On the 45-minute issue, there is an unholy alliance between opponents of the war and the Conservatives and their allies in the media who supported the war. They are using the latest bandwagon to cause mischief and spread confusion on the issue. The truth is that all the intelligence, including on this matter, was available to Lord Hutton; all the intelligence, including on this matter, was available to the ISC. The Conservatives are now, through the prism of Andrew Gilligan's false "Today" programme report, trying to rewrite history. The truth is that Saddam Hussein, as we know from United Nations inspections and our own intelligence, possessed huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction over the years—[Interruption.] Yes he did, and even Leaders of the Conservative party are on record as having said that. The former Leader of the Conservative party is consistently on record as being persuaded of that, as is the party's current leader.
Finally on that matter, the key issue is whether we support the toppling of Saddam Hussein—with the destruction that he imposed on Iraq, including with 906 weapons of mass destruction—or not. We are very clear on that matter; is the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire?
§ Mr. Tyler
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
May I urge the Leader of the House to consider the need for a full statement of clarification from the Prime Minister on the real remit of the Butler committee? In answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) on Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary quite clearly said that any concern about the mishandling of intelligence
was dealt with comprehensively by Lord Hutton"—[Official Report, 3 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 631.]and must therefore be excluded from the remit of the Butler inquiry.
Last night in the other place, several very senior Conservative peers took up that point. For example, Lord King of Bridgwater, who was Secretary of State for Defence during the first Gulf war, said:The terms of reference are obviously most important. Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who is a member of the Cabinet: what do the Government intend those terms of reference should be? I hope that in responding…he will have a good, clear government answer to that question. I shall press on my colleagues the question of the continuing participation of the Conservative Party in the inquiry if we cannot be clear about the agreement we have reached."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 February 2004; Vol. 657, c. 706.]The Lord Chancellor's answer, which I must give in its totality—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members that these exchanges are on the business for next week. Also, I am expecting brief supplementary questions. Please try to paraphrase.
§ Mr. Tyler
I shall be as brief as I can, and much briefer than other participants. The Lord Chancellor said that hisright hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear that the terms of reference exclude ground already so thoroughly covered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton. I do not think that any of us wants the report to go over the ground that has already been covered. It has been made absolutely clear that it excludes any consideration of whether the Government were justified in taking military action. That conclusion, which has been accepted by the Conservatives, is not a matter for a committee".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 February 2004; Vol. 657, c. 790.]
There were further exchanges—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman should try again next week, just before we have a break.
§ Mr. Tyler rose—
§ Mr. Hain
I am not surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question, because he and his leader have been seeking to 907 distance themselves from the inquiry from the beginning, in contradistinction to the Conservative party, to which I pay credit in that regard. The inquiry's terms of reference are crystal clear. They are to study all the intelligence involved in the background to the decision. That is a separate mandate from that of the Hutton report, and the inquiry under Lord Butler will proceed as everyone has described.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)(Lab)
On days like yesterday, when we are discussing huge issues of public importance and vast numbers of Members across the House want to speak, is it sensible to curtail the debate on an Adjournment motion at 7 o'clock, when most Members would have liked it to continue for longer? If such debates are to be curtailed, surely we could at least have a system whereby people knew whether they had some chance of being called.
§ Mr. Hain
I understand my hon. Friend's concerns on this matter, but I am implementing the rules of the House, in relation, for example, to the time limit on speeches. which the Speaker imposed in order to allow more people to participate. My hon. Friend is saying that we should go past the moment of interruption in certain debates—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, the difficulty with that is that there will always be special pleading for all sorts of different Bills—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Hon. Members must give the Leader of the House the courtesy of being allowed to reply. Please bear in mind that I have the power to stop these questions if this goes on. We must allow the Leader of the House to answer the questions put to him.
§ Mr. Hain
I am grateful to you for that, Mr. Speaker, although frankly, Opposition Members' heckles are easy meat to deal with.
The difficulty for a Leader of the House, as I am sure will be understood more widely, is that there will always be pleas for extensions to debates on this or that issue. Of course I acknowledge that the Hutton report is a very important issue, but exactly the same representations were made to me in respect of the Higher Education Bill—[Interruption.] They were, and lots of people wanted to get in on that debate but were unable to do so. There could be another Bill like that next week. I see the Conservatives nodding vigorously, as they usually do on these issues, but when they were in government they faced exactly the same prospects. Under the new hours—if that is the issue here—we have more time to scrutinise legislation and more time when the House is sitting than we had under the old hours.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
Can we have an urgent debate on ministerial accountability to the House? I was fortunate enough to secure a debate on roads in Tiverton and Honiton at 5.30 last Thursday evening, when the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), the Minister responsible for roads, in responding to my request for the long overdue south-west area multi-modal study—SWARMMS—report to be produced, said: 908The work has taken longer than we expected but it is nearing completion."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 28 January 2004; Vol. 417, c. 134WH.]The very next morning, I was informed by the BBC, who had phoned the Department for Transport, that the Department had given the BBC the answer and the report is now out. However, I have heard absolutely nothing from the Minister. That is outrageous. It is a contempt of hon. Members for a Minister to come to the Floor of the House at 5.30 in the evening and give me, a Member of Parliament, that kind of response when, the very next morning, he was able to tell the BBC that the report would be out the following week, which it was. That is quite disgraceful.
§ Mr. Hain
The Minister will obviously want to look very carefully indeed at the statement that the hon. Lady has made to the House. I congratulate her on securing that debate last week on this important issue for her constituency, and I understand that there is another debate next week in which these matters could be addressed.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)(Lab)
May I invite my right hon. Friend to tell me when it might be appropriate for us to explore the exchanges in the winding-up speech last night, which came at the end of the debate? In the light of those exchanges, I want to tell the House that I knew that Iraq had only battlefield weapons because I asked the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I have the highest respect for his professionalism. Is it not hard to credit that, at no point between the September dossier and the March debate, did he explain to the Prime Minister the crucial distinction between battlefield weapons and medium-range weapons? Is it not equally difficult to believe that the Prime Minister's security adviser, Sir David Manning, never thought to ask? When I was Leader of the House, I sometimes found it necessary after these exchanges to consult a Whitehall Department and advise it that it should clarify a public statement. May I urge my right hon Friend that, today. it might be helpful if he were to give that advice to Downing street?
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD)
The Leader of the House will be aware of the problems caused in Wales by flooding, but is he aware of the chaos that was caused in the city of Hereford last night by the River Wye flooding? It caused gridlock on the roads. Roads had to be closed, a bridge had to be closed, OAP homes had to be evacuated and many homes were flooded. Given that we have been campaigning for a flood defence scheme for the Wye for many years, and that the Government expect a report fairly soon, when may we have a debate in Government time on the Government's flood defence programme generally, and specifically for the city of Hereford?
§ Mr. Hain
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns in respect of his constituency and in particular that city. The devastation wreaked by the flooding has 909 been dreadful. In my own constituency, in Pontardawe in the Swansea valley there has been the same impact, which for local residents has obviously been a nightmare. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is monitoring the situation closely, together with the Environment Agency. All steps necessary are being taken to improve the situation. and lessons will be learned. If the hon. Gentleman has further representations, I know that my right hon. Friend will welcome them.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and s Shepherd's Bush)(Lab)
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to look at the proposals I made to hint some weeks ago to continue the reforms in this place and to build on the success of the Westminster Hall forum—a success about which I am particularly pleased? Those proposals include using it in such a way that Members of this House could question Ministers who are in the House of Lords, but in a forum in this part of the House, and also question European Union Commissioners? Those are just two more proposals that we should be considering to improve our procedures.
§ Mr. Hain
I say to the former shadow Leader of the House, tell that to all the Members—including the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who has just raised such an issue—who have had opportunities to have their constituency issues addressed and to hold Ministers accountable. It has been a big success, notwithstanding the anachronistic comments from the right hon. Gentleman.
The questions of European Union Commissioners and House of Lords Ministers are matters that the Modernisation Committee will look at very carefully. However, precedents could be set by such appearances, which we would have consider very carefully, not just in the Modernisation Committee but doubtless with the Procedure Committee and others involved.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
In a reflective interview with The Times last Saturday, entitled "Perma-tan Hain sees light at end of dark days", the Leader of the House expressed bitter disappointment that No. 10 had scuppered his party's policy on the House of Lords. In relation to the business of the House, he is quoted as saying:But I think there is a head of steam on this which will enable us to look forward.If there is that head of steam, surely we need a debate in order to build on the momentum.
§ Mr. Hain
As for the perma-tan, I am afraid If cannot do anything about that, but I shall pass on my African roots and see if that helps the right hon. Gentleman.
With regard to No. 10 scuppering policy, that was the spin by The Times on the situation. The truth is that, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, I voted for a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber, and then subsequently down the steps until the whole issue fell. 910 However, the House did not agree on any option. I would like to see—and the Government are consulting upon, as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has made perfectly clear—a later stage of reform. In the meantime, we have an absolutely crucial job to do, which is to get rid of the hereditary peers from the second Chamber and have an independent system of appointment.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are now in a position in which we have fewer votes in the House of Lords than Cross-Benchers—
§ Mr. Hain
We also have fewer votes than the Conservatives.
The right hon. Gentleman says "Good", because he wants to use an unelected Chamber to defeat the policies of an elected House of Commons, acting on the mandate of a general election manifesto—and a landslide mandate at that.
What will be interesting in the whole debate is to see where the Conservative party is on this matter. The Conservatives in the Lords voted overwhelmingly for a fully appointed second Chamber, but the Conservative leadership in the Commons appears to support an elected element. There is an element of hypocrisy and opportunism here, but as the debate unfolds we shall find out more.
§ Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)(Lab)
My right hon. Friend will know that this year we celebrate 10 years of the Fairtrade Mark, and we have a Fairtrade fortnight coming up, from 1 March to 14 March. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to let us discuss the very practical and important ways in which the Fairtrade Mark can help the poor countries of the third world?
§ Mr. Hain
I acknowledge my hon. Friend's work on this issue. It is important now that the House recognises Fairtrade goods. I should like to see them marketed and sold as widely as possible. The Government are strongly behind the whole Fairtrade movement and are pressing for trade justice. We have promoted and supported it in the World Trade Organisation negotiations, and we shall also continue to press within the European Union against protectionism by the EU.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)
May we have an urgent debate on the question of safety at sea, given that the new fishing regulations mean that for boats caught on 15 days there is no allowance for force majeure, so that if a boat goes to help another boat it loses fishing time and if a boat heaves to in a storm it loses fishing time? Before every fishing debate we pay tribute to those who lose their lives in the most dangerous profession of all. We have never before passed legislation to jeopardise safety at sea. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate? Will be contact the appropriate Minister and have this situation changed?
§ Mr. Hain
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to fishermen, who, as he says, do a most dangerous job. We depend enormously upon them.
911 The hon. Gentleman has raised some very important issues, which I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to study very carefully before deciding how to proceed in respect of discussion in the House. The hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to apply for a debate in the normal way.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)(Lab)
Has the Modernisation Committee given any consideration to moving private Members' Bills to Tuesday evenings? That would make them much more accessible for those of us who have fairly active constituency engagements on a Friday.
§ Mr. Hain
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which has been put to me in the extensive consultations that I am undertaking on the review that the Modernisation Committee will be conducting on the hours. Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, are putting quite a strong argument to do precisely as she says, and have all of the Fridays as constituency days and deal with private Members' Bills on Tuesday evenings. That would meet some hon. Members' concerns about the matter.
I hope that over the coming months we can reach a consensus on the hours issue. I do not want to see the clock rolled back. On the other hand, I want the House to be in a position in which it is comfortable with the arrangements, rather than there being a deep division on the hours question. If we can find a way through this, and if people can talk to each other and—dare I say? —even negotiate with each other, I am confident we can deal with the problem.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)
At Foreign Office questions, I asked about unrestricted immigration from the EU accession states after 1 May, and whether the Government still stood by their estimate of between 5,000 and 13,000 a year. In reply, the Minister for Europe ignored my question and launched into a rant about rancid hate campaigns—but since then the Prime Minister has announced a change of policy. Will the Leader of the House first, inform the Foreign Office about what No. 10 is now thinking on this matter, and secondly, organise an urgent debate, because it is getting very late in the day to make difficult and sensitive changes about entitlements to benefits before 1 May?
§ Mr. Hain
I appreciate the points that the right hon. Gentleman makes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister addressed them very directly yesterday. Our decision on the whole matter must be within an overall policy of managed migration, keeping a firm control on illegal migration, wherever it is from, and illegal workers, while welcoming legal migrants, whom our economy needs, as the right hon. Gentleman will recognise.
There are many safeguards in place already, including safeguards on benefit entitlement. We are looking at these matters afresh, to see how we can best protect our national interests, but in a way that allows key workers to be recruited to fill urgent skills gaps in the economy.
§ Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)(Lab)
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see the recent report on unemployment published by the Library, which shows sharp falls in unemployment since 1997, and in the case of Alyn and Deeside, a fall of more than 36 per cent? Can he arrange for an urgent debate on unemployment, and in particular, contrast our record with the appalling record of the Conservative party?
§ Mr. Hain
That is an excellent idea. The truth is that not only in my hon. Friend's constituency, which I have had the privilege to visit on a number of occasions, including with him, but in the constituencies of every Member of the House, unemployment has fallen dramatically under this Government. Employment has risen, and the economy is now in a stronger state than it has been in for generations. That is the policy that we will continue to promote, and that is why we are confident of winning an election, whenever it comes.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)
Can the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to explain to the House the policy on vetting overseas workers, particularly those entering the health field, in the light of the arrest this week of one at least in Belfast who has been linked with al-Qaeda?
§ Mr. Hain
Obviously, this matter is being closely studied and acted on by the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the security authorities. It is a very important issue. Other Members have raised such issues in the past, which is why we are seeking to promote a policy that is tough on such matters, and that ensures that potential terrorists in particular are not taking advantage of our services.
§ Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)(Lab)
Will my right hon. Friend arrange an urgent debate on the significance in shaping opinion both inside and outside the House of the intelligence about the 45 minutes launch capacity? If so, we will be able to consider why, between the publication of the dossier and the Gilligan broadcast—an eight-month period—it was mentioned only once on the Floor of the House, why in 43,000 oral and written questions it was referred to only twice, and why in the eight-month period it was referred to by the national press only 109 times, since the Gilligan broadcast, whereas it has been mentioned thousands on thousands of times.
§ Mr. Hain
As my hon. Friend knows, the Gilligan broadcast was completely false, as the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday. He has made a very important point. In all the intelligence that I saw, the much broader picture, which has been repeatedly endorsed not just by successive Foreign Secretaries, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), but by the Leader of the Opposition and the former Leader of the Opposition, is that Saddam Hussein, over the years, possessed weapons of mass destruction, posed a threat in terms of his capabilities, and had used those weapons against his own people in the Kurdish north and against the Iranians. In respect of the question of battlefield nuclear weapons and biological and chemical warfare, Members of the House will remember Halabja, where more than 5,000 people died and many more were injured and had their lives disfigured for ever by the use of precisely those kinds of weapons.
913 We should be careful before we say that one form of delivery system is not a problem but others pose an enormous threat. The truth is that Saddam was a menace to his people, a menace to the region and a menace to the world, and the fact that he has gone is good for all of us.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)
As the Leader of the House has rightly and generously proclaimed his support for the Badge Messengers and Doorkeepers, and as they are even more attached to their traditional uniform than Lord Birt to his new staircase, will he give them an assurance that he will not attempt to strip them?
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)(Lab)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my satisfaction at the attention that the Government have focused on the scourge of antisocial behaviour and the raft of measures introduced to tackle it. What of local authorities and other agencies, however, which do not use the law, which can take more than six weeks to remove an abandoned car, or which seek to hide behind the Data Protection Act 1998 rather than acting to protect poor, downtrodden members of the public? Can we have a debate to monitor the implementation of the legislation and to consider what needs to be done to hold those agencies to account and give proper redress to those members of the public who deserve protection under the law?
§ Mr. Hain
Before I answer that question, I want to acknowledge that I missed out the fact that there is a lady Doorkeeper, and I hope that there are more.
My hon. Friend raises a concern that all Members share, certainly on the Labour Benches. Our communities are disfigured by antisocial behaviour: graffiti, neighbours from hell, and intimidating yobs on estates and in the streets. The police and other agencies now have the weapons and the methods to deal with that, and often they are not being applied. That is my hon. Friend's point, I strongly support him on it, and I hope that the message goes out loud and clear that the House has passed legislation on this matter—often without the support of the Opposition, I might add—and we expect it to be acted on.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)
Can we have an early debate in Government time on air and rail transport in the east midlands? This is a matter of considerable interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and me, and to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). East Midlands airport is increasing the number of freight flights at night, which will cause huge disturbance to our collective constituents. I also draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the parlous record of Midland Mainline, the railway company, which has decided to 914 avoid calling at Market Harborough station in order to catch up on its timetable. Can we have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity, so that those two highly important east midlands transport issues can be dealt with?
§ Mr. Hain
I know that the Secretary of State for Transport will want to look carefully into the hon. and learned Gentleman's points, which are clearly important for his constituency, for those of the other Members whom he mentioned, and for the whole east midlands area. I have been to East Midlands airport; it is a fine airport, and I hope that it continues to go from strength to strength.
§ Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)(Lab)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the television viewing figures for this place are on the increase, particularly during Prime Minister's Question Time. Does he share my concern, however, about the increased number of questions to the Prime Minister, from all sections of the House, that are of a local nature and that are not directly the responsibility of the Prime Minister? Does he believe that that is a good use of Prime Minister's Question Time, a half hour per week, in which the Prime Minister should be asked questions on a national and international level and not on local matters?
§ Mr. Hain
It may well be the hours that are responsible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says. Very few people will want to watch the House at 2 am, when the former shadow Leader of the House wants us to be sitting. I welcome that, because it is good for democracy. I must disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan), however, because Members have the right to raise any question that they like with the Prime Minister, whether it is local, international or national. I must protect that right.
§ Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP)
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 553, on the future of the police reserve in Northern Ireland?[That this House notes the contribution made by members of the full-time Police Reserve to the security of people in Northern Ireland; calls upon the Government to end immediately the speculation over the future of the Reserve; and further calls for embers of the Reserve to be granted the right to lateral entry into the ranks of the Police Service in Northern Ireland.]As he knows, this is not a devolved matter but a matter reserved to this place. Knowing the tremendous contribution of the full-time reserve to policing in Northern Ireland, can he arrange for an early debate or a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern 915 Ireland to end the speculation about the future of the police reserve and to ensure that it continues for the benefit of the entire community in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)(Lab)
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 267, on the Montreal convention?[That this House notes with regret that the Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, which replaces the Warsaw Convention (1929) and came into force in 32 countries on 4th November 2003, fails to provide air travellers with the same basic rights and protection in law as any other transport users by restating the unique legal exemption given to airlines in Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention which removes any responsibility whatsoever for the health or psychological well-being of their passengers; recognises that this will do nothing to discourage the unsafe and unhealthy practice of cramming passengers into ever smaller aircraft seats with reduced leg room; and calls on her Majesty's Government to seek through the European Union to amend the Montreal Convention by replacing the term 'accident' with 'incident' and 'bodily injury' with 'personal injury' before ratification, thus placing the same duty of care on airlines as all other passenger carriers and almost certainly reducing the incidence of deep vein thrombosis amongst air travellers.If this convention is ratified by all the member states of the European Union, it will renew the unique and absurd exemption that airlines enjoy in having no liability whatever or duty of care for the health or psychological well-being of their passengers. Given that the vast majority of the travelling public are completely unaware of the uninsured risk when they board an airplane, may we have an early debate to increase public awareness of that important issue?
§ Mr. Hain
I acknowledge the persistence with which my hon. Friend has campaigned. His vigilance is welcome to all concerned. The Government look forward to the coming into force of the Montreal convention because it will significantly enhance the rights of air passengers. We have no plans at present to propose any changes.
§ Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con)
When we went to war, the Secretary of State for Defence apparently knew that there was no threat to our bases in Cyprus but the Prime Minister believed that there was a threat. Following the question of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and given that the Leader of the House says we can ask the Prime Minister questions about local matters, should not the Prime Minister come to the House today to explain, in respect of an urgent national matter, exactly what went wrong?
§ Mr. Hain:
The Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary appeared before the House yesterday to answer all the questions that could have been put to 916 them and were put to them. The Defence Secretary appeared before the Defence Committee only this morning, answering precisely that type of question.
§ Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)(Lab)
May we have a debate on the introduction to the Bradford district of the extended schools childcare pilot in April? That scheme will use mainly existing facilities and seek to provide good quality, affordable child care for pre-school and out-of-school children in assisting all parents into work. Such a debate might encourage the local authority to work with the Government on that scheme. Voluntary organisations throughout the district will help, and I know that many of my constituents welcome the scheme.
§ Mr. Hain
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that scheme to the attention of us all. I am sure that the Government will want to consider promoting that admirable Sure Start plus-type scheme elsewhere. Sure Start schemes have been among the most successful projects introduced by the Government in seeking to address the problems and hurdles faced by vulnerable and deprived children—especially in single-parent families—and by those from ethnic minorities, with whom my hon. Friend works particularly closely. I hope that the pilot scheme will serve as a model for elsewhere.
§ Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great successes of this Government is their policy of introducing draft legislation—and that its increased use in recent times might have avoided some of the little local difficulties that have occurred? What plans does my right hon. Friend have to take forward further draft legislation? Why is it that all Bills cannot be introduced initially in draft?
§ Mr. Hain
Some Bills—those relating to Northern Ireland being a classic example—arise urgently and have to be dealt with quickly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was a pioneer—and we are indebted to him—in taking Bills forward on a pre-legislative basis. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that draft Bills can be scrutinised, improved and amended. We are introducing 13 draft Bills—the highest number in the history of the House of Commons. I am sure that each of those 13 measures will be improved and that as a result, greater consent will be obtained and the views of Back-Bench Labour Members especially can be heard more than they have been in the recent past.
§ Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con)
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Highways Agency has published its technical report on the relative merits of dualling either the A358 or the A303 in Somerset. Given the sensitivity attached to the dualling of any road, particularly in an area of outstanding natural beauty, does the Leader of the House agree that there should be a debate on dualling roads?
§ Mr. Hain
I am not intimately acquainted with the dualling of the roads concerned, but I understand the importance of that matter to the hon. Gentleman, other local Members of Parliament, and their constituents. I 917 am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will study closely what the hon. Gentleman has to say, if he is successful in obtaining the opportunity to speak on that subject next week.
§ Paul Flynn (Newport, West)(Lab)
When can the House debate the tragic consequences of the use of seroxat? We know now that the manufacturers of that drug suppressed research findings. One of the awful consequences of seroxat, proved in court cases in America and in cases in this country, is that it so modifies the behaviour of its users that in a number of instances they have taken their own lives and those of their families. This is a clear case of manufacturers putting greed before safety.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP)
Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to read the exclusive article headed "Dirty Tricks" in yesterday's Evening Standard? It appears that an attempt is being made to hype up a row over Northern Ireland's participation in the Olympic games. Will the right hon. Gentleman make time as soon as possible for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to come to the House to give a reassurance that in the event of a successful Olympic bid by London, all regions of the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to share the benefits—and that Northern Ireland's opportunities will not be sabotaged by some Irish attempt to restrict Northern Ireland's participation?
§ Mr. Hain
As Secretary of State for Wales and a Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made it clear, when she announced the Olympic bid, that all regions of the United Kingdom would have the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunities—and that should apply to Northern Ireland as much as to Wales or anywhere else. After all, Northern Ireland has produced some fantastic athletes—most notably, Mary Peters.
§ Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West)(Lab)
The new sitting hours have made it more difficult for visitors from constituencies such as mine, in the west midlands. What discussions, if any, has my right hon. Friend had with the House authorities about establishing a reception centre for visitors, to improve the facilities available to them?
§ Mr. Hain
I am very much a champion of visitors to the House. When I was first elected nearly 13 years ago, I was absolutely appalled at the shabby way in which we used to treat visitors—and to some extent still do. Visitors, other than foreigners, elect us and they should be welcome here. This is their House of Commons and their Parliament. For that precise reason, I was discussing the other day with the Chairman of the Administration Committee how reception facilities for 918 visitors could be improved. I am confident that we can move forward and that right hon. and hon. Members will shortly have a chance to consider how the situation can be improved using a new infrastructure that treats visitors properly, so that they do not have to queue in the rain to see us and encounter a positive welcome instead of a "no entry" sign.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Did the Leader of the House hear the Secretary of State for Defence speaking on the "Today" programme this morning? He talked about battlefield nuclear weapons and strategic systems and said that he had not seen headlines in The Sun and Evening Standard that appeared at the time. Is there not a case for a debate on the competence of Government press officers and an argument for discussing whether or not there should be a return to old-fashioned independent Government press officers—rather than the hacks from Millbank who now advise Ministers?
§ Mr. Hain
That is a weapon of mass distraction from the hon. Gentleman. The Defence Secretary presumably answered questions on that matter in the Select Committee this morning. For the life of me, I have no idea how anybody can get uptight about a busy Secretary of State such as my right hon. Friend not remembering which newspaper he read nearly 18 months ago.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Will my right hon. Friend consider an urgent debate on the administration process and, in particular, the role of the administrator? A company in my constituency that is well known to certain people, Lister-Petter, has just been through the administration process. It appears that the administrator has chosen to favour some creditors at the cost of employees, the pension fund and other creditors. Is that matter not worthy of an urgent debate and some change in accountability?
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Will the Leader of the House be a lot more forthcoming about the Penrose report on Equitable Life? He will know, as we all do, that many of our constituents are very concerned. Will he give an undertaking that the report will be issued in full, unedited and unexpurgated, that it will be issued very soon, and—just as important—that there will be a full debate on the Floor of the House on Penrose and everything relating to Equitable Life, so that our constituents can be satisfied that everything is being done to get at the truth? That applies not least to the issue of compensation, if it arises as a result of the inquiries into Equitable Life.
§ Mr. Hain
I agree that this is a crucial issue. Having been in Government himself, the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we must get this right—it is a complex matter, especially if the question of compensation arises—and I am sure he understands 919 that we would rather take a little time to do that than rush into it prematurely. I know that people are anxious for this to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, though, and having noted that anxiety, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will no doubt want to act on it.
§ Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)(Lab)
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at a report published today by the International Development Committee on development assistance in the occupied Palestinian territories? It reveals levels of poverty in some parts of the occupied territories that are equivalent to those in sub-Saharan Africa, and mentions the particularly severe humanitarian impact of the wall being constructed by Israel. There are 176 signatures, from Members in all parts of the House, to early-day motion 407.[That this House calls on Israel to cease immediately the building of its Separation Wall deep within Palestinian territory, which, according to the preliminary analysis by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of maps published by the Israeli Government, will be 687 km long and will leave more than 274,000 Palestinians living in 122 villages and towns either surrounded by the Wall or trapped between the Wall and Israel's internationally recognised borders, some even requiring permits from Israel to continue living in their own homes; notes that the analysis estimates that a further 400,000 Palestinians living east of the Wall will be separated from their farms, jobs, markets, hospitals and schools, and that the Wall will have 'severe humanitarian consequences' for 30 per cent, of the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank; contrasts this with the fact that UN figures reveal that 54 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and 63 per cent, of settlers will be on the side of the wall next to Israel, giving Israel control over the richest agricultural land and the aquifer system which provides much of the West Bank's water resources; further notes that the Wall is made up of concrete, razor wire and electronic fences, trenches, motion sensors, guard towers and security roads, that it costs $4.7 million per kilometre and that it violates articles 53 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Britain is a high-contracting party, which forbids the destruction of property and confinement of persons by an occupier; welcomes the decision of the International Court of Justice to open hearings into the legal consequences of the construction of the Wall; further notes that, whilst Israel needs security, the Wall does not follow internationally recognised borders; insists that it does not become a de facto border for a future Palestinian state; further notes that only a reinvigorated peace process with full international support will stop the violence on both sides, not an 8 metre high wall; and calls on the British Government to bring all available pressure to bear on Israel to cease building this Wall].Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come for a debate on the Select Committee's recommendations, and also on what we in this country should do about the position in the occupied territories, not just what we should say?
§ Mr. Hain
I agree that the report published today is extremely welcome. It identifies the desperate situation 920 of the Palestinians—one of the most desperate in the world, as my hon. Friend says, and one that must be addressed. If I were a Back Bencher I would have signed his early-day motion, because it reflects a view that is widespread in the House that the injustice done to the Palestinians must end and that the wall is an abomination—and, ironically, an obstacle not just to Palestinian justice and the erection of a viable independent Palestinian state but to Israel's security, because it perpetuates tension between the two peoples. What we want is a secure Israeli state and an independent Palestinian state working together and economically interdependent, as they will always be.
§ Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Will the Leader of the House speak to the Secretary of State for Scotland about the long title of the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill, which will have its Second Reading next week? As things stand it is drawn exceptionally tightly, and will not permit discussion in Committee of any amendments relating to the electoral system employed, which is what Scottish Members and their constituents want to be discussed. Surely it is wrong for them to be frustrated in their wish because of this narrow drafting.
§ Mr. Hain
I know that there is widespread anxiety in Scotland about the electoral system there, as indeed there is in Wales: I can say that from personal experience. The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issue on Monday, and I am sure the Secretary of State for Scotland will welcome that, but I do not think that widening the long title, which is quite specific, is the best way of dealing with the question of parliamentary boundaries. I am sure the issue will arise on Monday, however, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his points then.
§ Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)(Lab)
May I press for a debate on the concessions that the Government are giving the member-designate countries that will join the European Union on 1 May? My right hon. Friend will know from his former role as Minister for Europe that Britain is the champion of enlargement. The Government's change of heart will cause concern in the applicant countries as they prepare to take the important step of joining the EU. If we have a debate, we will at least be able to clarify the Government's position.
§ Mr. Hain
As my hon. Friend's successor as Minister for Europe, I know that these issues—with which we have both had to deal—are very difficult to resolve, because the rights and interests of the applicant countries must also be borne in mind. That is why the Prime Minister has been determined to get this right and consider any concerns that have recently arisen, and why he said what he did yesterday.
We should remember that exactly the same concerns were expressed in relation to the entry into the EU of poor countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal years ago. Some 150,000 migrant workers in France went back to their homes in Spain after its accession. Spain had a chance to become prosperous, trade with Spain increased, and both Britain and Spain benefited. I 921 believe that after this interregnum we shall see exactly the same prospect for eastern and central European countries.
§ Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)
Could the Leader of the House find more time than he has allowed today for a debate on local government finance, so that we can review the performance of Castle Point borough council? Under its new Tory control it has produced a prudent, low-rise budget with strengthened reserves, which shows what a difference good Tory councillors such as Jeffrey Stanley can make.
§ Mr. Hain
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the business motion provided for extra time. As for good Tory councils—I have encountered no good Tory councils, as it happens, although I have encountered many good Labour councils—on present trends Labour councils are set to introduce smaller council tax increases, certainly a lot smaller than those of Tory councils and a lot smaller than those of Liberal Democrat councils as well. That shows the people of Britain that they are better off with a Labour council. They should think about that when they vote on 10 June.
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)(Lab)
May we have a debate as soon as possible on the extent of digital television coverage? The south Wales valleys are particularly poorly served at present.
§ Mr. Hain
As I too represent a south Wales valley, I know that this is an important issue. I have discussed it with BBC Wales, and I had a brief conversation with Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, who was keen to promote digital television in Wales because of his interest in Welsh matters. During the past year I have been fortunate enough to acquire a digital television box in the Neath valley. We need to find out how we can extend coverage to other valleys.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con)
A few weeks ago I suggested to the Leader of the House that we should have a debate on the defence White Paper. He embraced the suggestion with enthusiasm, recognising that the document contained uncertainties, especially for aerospace workers in the north-west. May I ask him to renew that enthusiasm, and tell the House when he expects such a debate to take place?
§ Chris Bryant (Rhondda)(Lab)
May we have a regular European business questions session on the Floor of the House? Ministers—not just the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe—go to Brussels and to Council meetings all over Europe every month, and sign up to things on behalf of this country. We have very few opportunities to question them directly. May we have a regular session, not just the chance to ask the 922 Minister for Europe a one-off question that may or may not end up on the Order Paper for Foreign Office questions?
§ Mr. Hain
That is an important point. I agree with the thrust of it, which is why I have asked the Modernisation Committee to look at the whole issue of how European matters are discussed, not just in Committee—although the European Scrutiny Committee does a fantastic job—but on the Floor of the House. I think we should have more opportunities to debate them there. Our constituents would benefit, and Members would be better informed and thus better able to hold to account those responsible for what is done in Brussels.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)
The Government published the Hutton report with commendable speed, but there is real and growing concern about publication of the Penrose report, which the Government received before Christmas—more than a month ago. Will the Leader of the House be a little more open with the House about when it will be published?
§ Mr. Hain
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but he will understand that the Hutton report was commissioned at the end of July and reported only recently; we are not looking at such a time scale. As I said earlier, we are ensuring that we get things right, and when we do the hon. Gentleman will doubtless welcome that as much as everybody else.
§ David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the future of low-cost airline travel—I declare at least a partial interest in this issue—in the European Union? A decision was taken this week against Ryanair—a low-cost, free-enterprise airline—in respect of the French Government's campaign, in conjunction with Air France, to take away the subsidy for regional airports. If that is allowed to happen across the European Union, it will herald the end of low-cost airline travel in the EU. This is a very serious development, which will change the face of air travel for UK regional airports such as Luton and Stansted. This matter deserves a full debate in the House.
§ Mr. Hain
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this issue. Millions of our constituents have benefited from low-cost airline flights, as have I, and I want them to continue to do so. Although the rules should not be broken, it is in the interests of Ryanair, easyJet, bmibaby or any other low-cost airline providers in Britain to have rules that are respected by competitors. It is very important that state aid rules apply in an impartial way. But I hope that in this case, the European Commission has not challenged and put a stop to the enormous benefit and opportunity that many people enjoy by paying low-cost fares to fly to their chosen destinations, and that it will not do so in future.
§ Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)
The Leader of the House will be aware of the importance of medals to members of the armed forces. They constitute official recognition of the service that they 923 give and, very occasionally, of the sacrifice that they are called on to make. Bearing in mind that the relevant Defence Council instruction was issued a matter of months after the 1991 Gulf conflict, and that members of the armed forces are now making an unfavourable comparison with members of the England rugby squad, whose awards were rightly rushed through, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to explain to the House why, nearly 10 months after the end of the Iraq war, no announcement has been made?
§ Mr. Hain
The hon. Gentleman will understand that the England team's fantastic victory in the World cup occurred a matter of weeks before the new year's honours were announced, so that presented a convenient opportunity to recognise their achievement. However, I understand the point that he makes. Many of my constituents fought not just in the previous war in Iraq, but in the recent one, and if they are eligible they deserve early recognition. The authorities will want to look closely at how that can be achieved.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
May I encourage the Leader of the House to look favourably on the request made earlier by the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) for a debate on fair trading? He will know of the devastating consequences that the common agricultural policy—and, indeed, the agricultural subsidy policies of rich countries such as the United States—have for many poor developing countries' economies. That is instanced by the dumping of food surpluses, and the keeping, in effect, of their food markets out of rich countries. This is a matter of increasing urgency. Could the Leader of the House look favourably on debating it if not next week, then shortly thereafter?
§ Mr. Hain
I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman said. We must deal with the protectionism that is rife throughout the world's richer countries, including, I am sorry to say, those of the European Union. Frankly, the iniquitous common agricultural policy, which is being reformed, needs to be abolished. We need a rich world that opens up its markets to the poor world, thereby enabling the latter to lift itself out of poverty, and to provide markets for our own companies. The hon. Gentleman has identified a virtuous circle in this regard. Fair trade and trade justice are an imperative, and there will be opportunities to debate this issue as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)
I back the call for regular European questions, which would lead to a 924 very interesting hour, but may we have a full day's debate, in Government time, on law and order and the Government's sentencing policy? Last year, violent crime in Lancashire rose by 47 per cent., and I want to get to grips with the question of whether the confusion surrounding Government policy, particularly on drugs, has led to this increase. I was also staggered to learn that last year more people received custodial sentences for motoring offences than for burglary. This is a shambles of a policy and we need to get to grips with it.
§ Mr. Hain
There is a serious problem with alcohol and drug-related crime, which the Home Secretary and the police are addressing. However, that should be seen against a background of big falls in crime since we were elected to office, compared with the steep rises that occurred under the previous Conservative Government, which the hon. Gentleman supported.
If there were great enthusiasm for tabling questions on European matters—I regret that there is not—Foreign Office questions could be flooded with such questions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and I discovered when we occupied our posts—and as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) is discovering—on the whole, relatively few European questions are tabled, compared with questions on other issues. So the solution lies in the hands of Members of the House.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con)
May we have a debate on the closure of post offices, particularly of those in convenience stores in small towns? Is the Leader of the House aware that this is a problem in Witney, as in many other towns, following the takeover of T&S Stores by Tesco, and did he read what the Prime Minister said yesterday about this issue? He said that Tescodid give us the assurance, however, that when reviewing those stores with post offices, it would work closely with Post Office Ltd." — [Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 757.]As it is not clear that that happened, could the Leader of the House find out what those assurances were and when they were given, and place a copy in the House of Commons Library?
§ Mr. Hain
The Secretary of State will want to study very carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said, because it is important that when promises are made—whether by Tesco or by anybody else—they are honoured. His constituency and constituencies throughout the United Kingdom are facing the difficulties associated with post office closures for all sorts of reasons. However, one of those reasons is not a lack of Government support. The Government have put hundreds of millions of pounds into supporting local post offices, because of the importance that we attach to them.