§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Will the part-time and redistributing 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 the first week of the September sitting will be as follows:
MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER—Second Reading of the Water Bill [Lords].
TUESDAY 9 SEPTEMBER—Opposition Day [15th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER—Opposition Day [16th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.
THURSDAY 11 SEPTEMBER—Motion to approve the Fifth Report on the Committee on Standards and Privileges, followed by a debate on defence in the United Kingdom on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 12 SEPTEMBER—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week after will include:
MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER—Commons consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill.
I hope that the whole House will join me in extending birthday wishes to the right hon. Michael Foot, who will be 90 next Wednesday. Michael remains one of our greatest parliamentarians, who served the House and his constituents with great distinction for 42 years. We salute him and his passion for humanity, and we wish him well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I would also like to wish all Members—and, more importantly, all the staff of the House—a very happy and relaxing recess.
§ Mr. Forth
I am more than happy to echo the good wishes of the House to Michael Foot, and also to all colleagues and staff for the recess.
Will the part-time Leader of the House confirm that the Northern Ireland suspension order will be reconfirmed by a statutory instrument, effectively hidden away in a Committee Upstairs? Does he not believe that that is a matter of major constitutional importance—not just for Northern Ireland, but for the United Kingdom—so it should and must be dealt with on the Floor of the House by the whole House? I hope that he will reflect on that matter, and if it is true, as I am informed, that the Government intend to hide the matter Upstairs, I hope that he will rethink and bring it to the Floor of the House—not least in view of the light business that he has announced for the first week back in September.
On the proposals to abolish jury service, we know that the Government have decided to reverse, here in the House of Commons, their lordships' excellent stand on that matter. Does the Leader of the House intend to deploy Scottish Members yet again to deprive us in England of centuries of judicial history, or will he give 440 an undertaking that, now and in future, Scottish Members will be asked for a self-denying ordinance not to interfere in English judicial matters, as we do not interfere in theirs? I hope that he can give us that undertaking.
Yesterday in PMOs—
§ Mr. Forth
Prime Minister's obfuscations. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) asked the Prime Minister whether he would confirm his commitment to reduce the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster—a simple enough question, one would have thought. The Prime Minister said:No, we made that commitment clear and we will of course carry it through."—[Official Report, 16 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 278.]Typically for the Prime Minister, he did not tell us when. Can the part-time Leader of the House tell us when the commitment given by the Government to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster will be carried through? Will it be during this Parliament, and before the next general election? That is a straightforward question and I hope that he can give us the answer to it.
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that notices of no fewer than 46 written ministerial statements have appeared on the Order Paper today. One of them is on the important and controversial issue of community pharmacies. We should be modestly grateful that the Government have responded to concern on that important issue in the form of a statement—but because it is a written statement, we cannot ask any questions on it. That statement contains some of the most obscure language that I have seen for a long time, even from this Government.
I shall give the House a small example:we will also make it easier for pharmacies to locate in areas where consumers already go, namely large shopping developments. But in doing so we must not undermine the market available to smaller community pharmacies. So only pharmacies wishing to locate in shopping developments over 15,000 square metres in size will be exempt from the control of entry requirement.I do not understand what that means, and as things stand we will not have the opportunity to ask what it means, because it is a written ministerial statement. It continues:We will consult"—that is good, I suppose—at the end of August, giving a full 12-week consultation period for comment.Will the part-time Leader of the House confirm whether the House will have an opportunity to question Ministers on the issue when we come back in September, so that we can clear up what that language means about an issue of such importance to all of our constituents?
I have been approached this morning by a representative of some of our own staff in the House about a letter that has gone out this morning—in your name, Mr. Speaker—about the Portcullis pension plan. I would like the Leader of the House to give the matter some thought and work out how we may address the issue in the House. It is of the greatest importance to our own staff, because the letter contains a compulsion date 441 of 1 November, by which time they will be compelled to switch to new pension arrangements. I am told that there has not been adequate consultation on the matter and that staff representatives—including unions—have not been given proper access to the decision makers on the matter. I hope, therefore, that it can be revisited before the compulsion becomes effective on 1 November, to give a proper opportunity for consultation, or an element of choice, to be introduced. That is the least that can be done for our staff and their representatives. I hope that in the spirit of good will that the part-time Leader of the House offered us on the occasion of our rising for the recess, he will be able to consider the matter urgently and give some reassurance to our staff, who will be directly affected.
Other than that, I wish the part-time Leader of the House a very pleasant recess.
§ Mr. Hain
It is good to see the shadow Leader of the House back at his job full-time, having taken time out to be wined and dined by members of the press upstairs last week. He missed an entertaining debut by his deputy, who was described by the Daily Mail's sketch writer asHandsome boy. Charming. Moderate. Witty without overdoing it.The deputy shadow Leader of the House described his own performance in a notable column, in which he said:Explaining what I actually do is much more complicated. In fact, I'm still working on it.
The shadow Leader of the House asked several important questions, and I am happy to answer them. First, there is no intention to hide away anything on Northern Ireland. Such matters are debated on the Floor of the House, in the proper way, or Upstairs, in the proper way.
§ Mr. Hain
That is a ridiculous comment. When the Conservatives were in government they had statutory instruments and other matters discussed Upstairs in the proper way.
The shadow Leader of the House says that the first week when we return is very light on business. There are Opposition debates on two of those four days—and if that means light business, the Opposition should consider more serious business and heavyweight agenda items for those days.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the question of the number of Scottish Members of Parliament had not been properly addressed. That is not the case. There has been much press speculation that the Government intend to delay the reduction in Scottish representation at Westminster, but it was just that—press speculation. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I will come to that. There is no need for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement to the House at this stage. The boundary commission is required to submit its report between December 2002 and December 2006, and it is a matter for the commission when, within that time scale, it does that. As soon as may be after the commission has submitted its report, the Secretary of State for Scotland 442 is required to lay the requisite order implementing those matters. We await the boundary commission's report. It is conducting important work, as no doubt you will know, Mr. Speaker. We shall see where we are after that.
On the question about jury service, there is no proposition by the Government to abolish the right to jury trial, or jury service, as the right hon. Gentleman alleged. Some reforms have been proposed that the House of Lords has voted to block. In the process, it also blocked very important measures in the very important Criminal Justice Bill. [Interruption.] Oh yes it did. Those measures deal with violent sex offenders and gun crime, and I would be very interested to see whether the Conservatives follow the leadership of their comrades in the House of Lords and seek to block those vital anti-crime measures that our constituents want implemented.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman up on the important point about the equality of Members of the House? We are all elected as Members of this sovereign House of Commons, whether we come from Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland, and I will assert to the end the equality of all Members of the House, who come from a United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman is effectively talking about dismembering the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hain
What about Northern Ireland Members? Such remarks are coming from a party that until recently called itself the Conservative and Unionist party—perhaps it still does. Is it a United Kingdom party or is it not? The right hon. Gentleman should come clean. Is he saying that Scottish Members should be debarred from equal consideration?
§ Mr. Hain
What about the English Tory Members who Imposed the poll tax on Scotland? We know all about such behaviour.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the 46 written ministerial statements. I think that it is important that Ministers have come to the House before the recess to bring the House up to date—[Interruption.] We have had a very busy time recently—[Interruption.] Indeed we have. That is why we have had to sit past the normal moment of interruption on a number of occasions this week. It is important that we have made written ministerial statements, and that there is to be a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, which will follow immediately after business questions.
The Government have laid out a clear position that will protect local pharmacies. However, the right hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to question the 443 Secretary of State on that matter after the recess, or even to hold an Opposition day debate on it should he want to.
The Portcullis pension plan is, of course, not a matter for me. However, I want to stress that it was very misleading—inadvertently, no doubt—of the shadow Leader of the House to say that compulsion was involved. There is no compulsion involved in this process, and we would respect staff rights in this matter, along with those of everybody else.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I am delighted to associate my colleagues and myself with the comments made about Michael Foot. His strong Cornish connections mean that he is especially revered in the south-west. I also endorse the comments of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on the Portcullis pension scheme. There is real concern among staff in the House about the lack of consultation.
Will the Leader of the House examine carefully the way in which the Government's overnight statement in response to the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform was brought before us? I hope that I can say that he had no part in its handling, because I hope that if I absolve him from responsibility he will take what I have to say in the spirit in which it is intended.
Clearly, after the recess we shall require an early debate on the document, which is a miserable little response to an extremely important issue. It is late—it should have been produced last week—and it is suspicious that it was released at midnight, so that no one could have the chance to consider it carefully. However, worst of all is the fact that the way in which the document has been produced seems completely to deny what happened in this House, because it is deliberately misleading in several respects.
For example, the Lord Chancellor's statement says:Those votes resulted in a clear decision in the House of Lords in favour of a wholly appointed House. There was, however, no such clear decision from the House of Commons, which voted against every one of the Joint Committee's proposed configurations.The Leader of the House knows, because he too voted, that this House voted against a fully appointed House of Lords by a large majority, despite the fact that the then Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister supported that outcome. There is the first bit of misleading information, because this House voted down that option by a majority of 78.
The Government's response continues:The Government agrees with the Joint Committee's view that the Parliamentary votes have shown that there is no consensus about introducing any elected element in the House of Lords.That is patently untrue. You will know, Mr. Speaker, as will the Leader of the House, that a total of 332 Members voted in favour of a substantial elected element in the House of Lords—more than half the Members of the House. The problem was that they did not all vote in the same Lobby at the same time—some voted for an elected element of 100 per cent., some voted for 80 per cent. and some voted for 60 per cent. It is patent nonsense to say that we did not indicate that we wanted an elected element in the House of Lords.
444 The Leader of the House knows that the following statement is misleading:The Joint Committee highlights the position of the remaining hereditary peers. It remains the Government's policy, as set out in its White Paper in November 2001, that the remaining hereditary peers should be removed from the House.However, that is conditional on the existence of a package of reforms for the House of Lords; it cannot be done as a simple tinkering exercise on its own. The Leader of the House spoke about the sovereignty of the House, and this miserable little document ignores the votes of the House, so we expect him to stand up for us.
§ Mr. Hain
Of course I will stand up for the House's rights in every respect, because that is my job. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that, which we have already started to do. May I also express my gratitude for his remarks, and those of the shadow Leader of the House, about Michael Foot? As the hon. Gentleman will understand, the arrangements for the publication of the document are a matter not for me but for the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. Copies of the document have been made available in the Vote Office in the proper way.
I shall now deal with the substance of the issue. Earlier this year, no option was supported by the House, which I regret. I voted for a fully elected second Chamber; that was my preference, and I had a free vote. However, there is no consensus in the House, and until that is achieved a sustainable long-lasting solution to the problem is not readily available.
Nevertheless, there are important issues to deal with in the short term. The Government have a manifesto commitment to abolish the hereditary peers and to deal with the question of a proper independent statutory appointments procedure.
§ Mr. Hain
Indeed, we also have a commitment to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative, which is clear. We might be able to deal with those matters in the short time and provide a solution to take us a little way forward, but a long-term sustainable solution requires consensus in the House—indeed, in both Houses, I hope—on how to move forward. I look forward to hearing views from the hon. Gentleman, and from hon. Members of all parties, on how we may proceed so that we get a democratic second Chamber.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
I am happy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you. Perhaps I may be allowed to develop my point in my own way.
I am happy to associate myself with the observation of my right hon. Friend in wishing a happy birthday to Michael Foot, one of our most distinguished leaders. Perhaps my right hon. Friend may wish to associate himself with me when I recall that one of Michael Foot's most celebrated passages of arms was when he stopped the creation of an all-appointed second Chamber in place of the House of Lords.
My right hon. Friend cannot have forgotten that when we voted on the options, the largest single majority was against an all-appointed Chamber. He cannot have 445 forgotten it because he was part of that majority. In the light of that outcome, will he explain why the Government will propose to the House of Commons that we have an all-appointed second Chamberin a stable state for the medium term"?I am sure that my right hon. Friend has not forgotten—but perhaps others in the Government have—that in our manifesto we promised a democratic second Chamber. As for putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, I remind him that two years ago the first batch picked by the Appointments Commission was such a public relations disaster that since then we have begged it not to propose any more appointments.
My right hon. Friend knows this place. He will understand that unless the Government have a perspective for democratic reform in the longer term, he will have difficulty—and will deserve to have difficulty—in getting this pusillanimous, pathetic, mean measure through Parliament.
§ Mr. Hain
I understand and respect my right hon. Friend's views. How we voted is on the record. Unfortunately, all the positions were defeated, although as he fairly points out, some more narrowly than others. We know what the House is against; the problem is that we do not know what it is for. In the meantime, we have to deal with the anomaly of hereditary peers, which no one can defend. It is a commitment in the Labour party manifesto, on which we were elected with a landslide victory, to resolve that anomaly. Making the appointments procedure more independent is part of that. We are consulting on that and will come back to the House after the recess to take that forward.
I agree, however, that a fully appointed Chamber in the long term—[HON. MEMBERS: "How long?"] I am not talking about the short-term issues that we need to confront. In the long term, a fully appointed Chamber is not, in my view, a sustainable solution to the problem.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
The United Kingdom opt-out from the euro has been deliberately excluded from the draft constitutional treaty that emerged from the Convention. The Leader of the House was, of course, the Government's representative in those negotiations. I tabled a question to the Prime Minister for that to be explained, which was due to be answered on 15 July. It was put to the Prime Minister, and he passed it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in turn passed it to the Chief Secretary. I still have not had a reply, but as the Leader of the House was responsible for negotiations, will he be good enough to explain why the arrangements for entry to the euro have been geared significantly against the UK's national interest? Why was the opt-out deliberately excluded? What are the Government going to do about it?
§ Mr. Hain
On the precise point about the EMU opt-out, a number of protocols in existing treaties have not been brought into the existing constitutional treaty because there was not time for the Convention to 446 address them. The Convention carried out serious and effective work in the intergovernmental conference, as the hon. Gentleman knows—
It was not deliberate. That is another fantasy. It is, frankly, one of those Tory porkies that are spread about Europe—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, they are. A whole lot of porkies have been spread about Europe by Tories and their friends in the media, as though we were involved in a deliberate exercise. A number of protocols, including the opt-out, will have to be introduced through the IGC. They exist and are live. There is no mystery about that.
We know what the real agenda is. The hon. Gentleman, along with his leader, is a supporter of the Bruges group, which on 24 February issued a press release that said of the European Union:It would have been better if we'd never joined.That is their agenda: withdrawal from the EU.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Harking back to the argument about the Lords started by the Liberal spokesman—the argument about what happens to the House of Lords in future—is my right hon. Friend aware that the only way in which he could have got what he wanted—a truly 100 per cent. elected House of Lords—was by having a whipped vote on the Labour Benches? I take umbrage when I hear people, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), give the impression that they want their say, but only their say. Some of us—well over 100 Labour Members—want to abolish the undemocratic House of Lords. The same thing will happen whenever there is a free vote, but even if the Government want to whip me on the proposal supported by my right hon. Friends, I will still vote to abolish the lousy place. They should come clean. Those people who want their say on the matter should admit that they want a whipped vote, because it is the only way to get it through.
§ Mr. Hain
It is great having my hon. Friend back in his inimitable fiery form. It is really good to have him putting such questions to me.
Abolition of the House of Lords was another option—for which he and a number of colleagues voted—that was defeated. That underlines my point. All the propositions were defeated. So the House knows what it is against, but it does not know what it is for. I look to a time when there is a consensus in the House for a substantial, long-term and sustainable reform. If a Government Bill is introduced in future, there will, of course, be a whip, because this is a vital matter of constitutional reform.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
The Leader of the House asserted his strong, principled belief in the equality of all hon. Members. Will he confirm that after business questions it will be in order for me to go to the Table Office and table questions 447 about schools in Scotland in the same way as Scottish Members can table questions about schools in my constituency?
§ Mr. Hain
This is mischief making again. [Interruption.] Of course it is. It is anti-Scottish. When the Opposition get round to it, it will be anti-Welsh as well. We stand—[Interruption.] English Members on the Conservative Benches, and some on the Labour Benches, quite properly ask me questions as Secretary of State for Wales. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that they should be debarred from doing so? Of course not.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
What will my right hon. Friend do about early-day motion 1579, which calls for brief questions and brief answers on the Floor of the House?
§ [That this House appreciates the regular interventions of Mr Speaker to encourage honourable Members to ask succinct questions and for Ministers to respond in similar ways, thus enabling more honourable Members to be called during question times and in response to Ministerial statements; accepts the wise words of Plato (Protagoras 3429-3436) 'that the art of framing brief taut and telling phrases is a mark of the highest culture'; and affirms its intention to now pursue the recept of Plato for 'laconic brevity'.]
§ David Burnside (South Antrim)
I rise as a Member of Parliament for Northern Ireland who hopes, for as long as I am in the House, to speak and vote on all issues affecting all parts of the United Kingdom, in the same way as English, Welsh and Scottish Members will speak and vote on issues affecting my part of the UK, Northern Ireland.
Will the Leader of the House join me in praising the peaceful weekend of the 12 July celebrations? Will he praise not only my fellow countrymen who are Orangemen like myself, but our Roman Catholic neighbours, who contributed to the most peaceful 12 July celebrations that I can remember for more than 30 years? The Leader of the House knows that we have not had devolution in an executive form since autumn last year. When we come back for the two weeks in September, will it be possible for the House to debate whether we can get a form of Government up and running at Stormont again that has both Irish nationalist and Ulster Unionist consent?
§ Mr. Hain
We are anxious to achieve that, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We wish to work together with him, other Northern Irish Members and the parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly to achieve that result. It is a priority objective for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and we share that.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's earlier statement about the equality of Members in this place. The Conservative party has become an isolated party in the United Kingdom, with no representatives in Wales, for example, and a minority representation in England. Those Conservative Members who are seeking to 448 balkanise the House are in a minority position in England, and they will continue to be so long as they advocate such ridiculous policies.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
My right hon. Friend will know that as a result of my position in the Treasury Select Committee I have received representations from credit unions over the past few years. They have expressed gratitude to both the Government and the Financial Services Authority for the progress that has been made in respect of their organisations. On a recent visit to Washington, I was informed that both the White House and Congress have credit unions, but the parliamentary estate does not. Within that estate there are thousands of workers, a number of whom are on comparatively low pay and would benefit from such an organisation. Will my right hon. Friend agree to discuss the issue with me to see whether he can take the matter forward?
§ Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)
Thousands of criminal cases that involve mandatory life sentences are awaiting the awarding of tariffs. That is causing a great deal of distress to many of the families of victims. Given the huge backlog that has emerged and is developing, will the Leader of the House encourage the Home Secretary to outline to the House a timetable for the setting of tariffs?
§ Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)
At this time of year, many hon. Members will, I hope, be considering taking British holidays at our seaside resorts, such as Morecambe, where they will see the splendour of the British coast. What they may not see is the squalor that often lies behind the promenades and facade. Will my right hon. Friend consider after the recess a debate on seaside deprivation? I can assure him that the pockets of deprivation that exist in some of our seaside resorts match anything in the inner cities.
§ Mr. Hain
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that matter. I have visited her lovely constituency town of Morecambe, which is indeed an extremely good holiday destination. She makes the important point that behind the promenade lurks a great deal of deprivation. That is why the Government have a clear strategy for seaside resorts, and we look forward to working with her—
§ Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)
The part-time Leader of the House will be aware that last 449 night we had a lively and well-attended debate on the Laming report and the continued lack of a Green Paper on child protection. Six months have passed since the Laming committee reported, and the Government have not yet made a statement or held a debate in Government time. Is it not therefore adding insult to injury to read in The Times today that a draft copy of the Government's response has been made available to that newspaper, which recommends drastic action such as the phasing out of child protection registers? Given that we have been calling for the immediate publication of the Green Paper, will the right hon. Gentleman at least publish the draft Green Paper, which, apparently, the press can have? Given that he made no mention of the Green Paper in his timetable for the week when we come back in September, despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills promised it on the first day back, will he guarantee that there will be an oral statement by the Minister for Children or by her superiors, if the hon. Lady is still in place at that stage, so that Members will have the opportunity to ask those questions that we have been asking for the past six months, to which we have failed to get any answers?
§ Mr. Hain
Newspapers are quite enterprising operations and find all sorts of drafts lying in photocopiers, and so on. The proposition is ridiculous and shows how unfit the Conservatives are for government.
On the substance of the matter, after the recess it is the Government's intention to bring forward the paper as published on children's rights. It will be the most comprehensive policy ever brought forward by any Government on children's rights and protection. Of course there will be a statement.
§ Mr. lain Luke (Dundee, East)
My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the warm welcome given to the strong statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese Government, a Government who still have close trading partnerships with a major British company. Since then, despite further pressure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British American Tobacco has not yet taken a decision to disinvest. Will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister to find time, when we return in the autumn, to bring forward powers similar to those that have been introduced in America, virtually unanimously by both Houses of Congress, to ban all trading relationships, including agreements between British companies and the Burmese regime?
§ Mr. Hain
I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the Burmese regime is one of the most odious in the world. The sanctions on it, which the Government 450 support, will continue until it frees the people of Burma and their brilliant leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. It is important that the sanctions are taken forward. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment met representatives of British American Tobacco and urged them to abide by the sanctions, and I hope that they will.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on employment rights, particularly to safeguard those workers who face discrimination based on their sexuality? Early-day motion 1585 condemns the treatment of Canon Jeffrey John at the hands of a bunch of bigots in the Church of England. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning those people?
§ [That this House condemns the appalling homophobia in the Church of England which has forced the proposed Bishop of Reading, Canon Jeffrey John, to stand down; believes that in the 21st century such open prejudice should not be tolerated anywhere; and expresses its real disappointment in the Archbishop of Canterbury for failing to stand up to this bigotry. face discrimination based on their sexuality?]
§ Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
As the newly appointed commander-in-chief of coalition forces has stated that, far from being over, the war in Iraq has moved into a classic guerrilla mode, will the House be recalled should the situation in Iraq deteriorate during the recess, necessitating the possible deployment of additional British troops?
§ Bob Spink (Castle Point)
May we have a debate on hospices, so we might reveal that Government funding of adult hospices is 28 per cent., of children's hospices it is 5 per cent. and at Little Haven children's hospice in my constituency, it is 2.8 per cent? The Government cannot hide behind primary care trust decisions. The Government should take responsibility for the palliative care of these children at a devastating time in their lives. They should come forward with a policy on this matter.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
Will my right hon. Friend find time after the recess for an important debate on what could be a far-reaching change in the practice of the House, namely the publication of the Senior Salaries Review Body's report on the payment of Select Committee Chairs? In that debate, is there likely to be 451 an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to consider whether House Chairs should be paid? I hesitate to say this, but given that I am retiring at the next general election, I have no long-term interest in whether the Speaker's Panel should be considered in this regard.
§ Mr. Hain
We all regret the fact that my hon. Friend is retiring at that next election, as he has been a valuable servant of the House and, indeed, currently serves with distinction on the Chairmen's Panel. We published this morning in the proper way the SSRB report on that matter. It is important that we value the work of Select Committees and recognise the contribution of their Chairmen. The creation of a career path on the Back Benches has been recommended by numerous academics, commentators and independent studies. The Hansard Society commission and the Conservative party's own commission on strengthening Parliament both recommended that the chairmen of investigative committees be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Minister. Indeed, Jeremy Paxman advocated that path, so the policy must surely commend itself to the House. As for the Chairmen's Panel, its members do a very good job and put in a lot of hard work, and we will have to consider the matter. There is also the question of the Chairmen of Domestic Committees, who are not covered by the SSRB report.
§ Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)
Two weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister about the implications of the Sally Clark and Trupti Patel cases. Today, he has written to me with important new details about the way in which the Government will handle the aftermath of those cases including, for example, reviewing current prosecutions, setting up a group to look at previous convictions of people currently in prison and, indeed, producing a new code of practice for pathologists. That is all welcome stuff, but does the Leader of the House agree, given the enormous public concern about those cases, that there should be a statement or debate when we return after the recess so that we can press the Solicitor-General in greater detail about some of those issues?
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)
In previous answers, my right hon. Friend seemed to accept that reform of the House of Lords is unfinished business. Will he clarify whether the Government regard their role as assisting the process of finding an acceptable solution in this Chamber and, indeed, the House of Lords? May I put it to him that both Houses and the Government should accept that a hybrid system is good for the constitution and a good way of reaching agreement, so we ought to go down that road? Will he consult on that and enable debates to take place on it?
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
This morning, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry 452 published a report on post offices and the introduction of the Government's policy forcing pensioners to stop getting their benefits from the post office. That has had a devastating impact and is causing a great deal of concern among many sub-postmasters throughout the country. Is it not time that we debated that issue yet again so that the Government can respond to sub-postmasters' concerns?
§ Mr. Hain
I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Obviously, as I have said in response to previous questions on this matter, local post offices have been under threat for decades because of the changing pattern of consumer behaviour. We must do everything in our power to protect them, and the important points made by the hon. Gentleman will be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Communications Bill received Royal Assent today, but he will also be aware that one problem that the Government had during its passage was that parliamentary counsel could not recognise that the definition of a citizen included anything outside the narrow definition relating to nationality. Will he explain why that key area of the public services remains a monopoly, and why it is denied the benefits of competition enjoyed by other public services? Will he look at that as part of his modernisation proposals?
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
Will there be an opportunity for a debate on acute hospital services in the south-west? The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that Royal United hospital, Bath, along with the Bristol hospitals have, for the second year running, received a no-star rating, despite the fact that most people agree that there is nothing wrong with their surgical, medical or nursing facilities. The problem is past management mistakes and a huge debt. Will the Secretary of State for Health come to the House and explain what he will do to put things right for the people served by hospitals in Bath and Bristol?
§ Mr. Hain
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that he has an opportunity to raise these matters in an Adjournment debate, but meanwhile I shall certainly bring his point to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. However, in the interests of fairness, he will acknowledge that there is now record investment in the health service, and that more nurses and doctors are being recruited than ever before. There are record real-terms increases in health care, reversing decades of underinvestment and underspending on health by the Conservatives.
§ Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that many Members have recently been lobbied by members of the Trade Justice Movement, who are particularly worried about 453 the summit in Cancun in September. Will he make time in the House for a statement and discussion on the debate in Cancun?
§ Mr. Hain
I shall certainly look at that. The Government attach a lot of significance to the issue, as does my hon. Friend, and share his view that the objective of achieving trade justice is an important one. We will work to achieve that objective, and shall obviously report to the House in the normal way.