HC Deb 12 June 2003 vol 406 cc831-48 12.30 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I ask the present Leader of the House if he will please give us the business for next week? [Laughter.]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Dr. John Reid)

Very good.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 16 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Licensing Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 17 JUNE—Opposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on "A fair deal on tuition fees", followed by a debate on "A fair deal for community pharmacies". Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

WEDNESDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on "European Affairs" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 19 JUNE—Estimates [3rd Allotted Day]. Subject to the approval of the House, there will be a debate on the conduct of investigations into past cases of abuse in children's homes, followed by a debate on the future of waste management. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

FRIDAY 20 JUNE—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 23 JUNE—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced. Followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 24 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 26 JUNE—Motion to approve the Eighth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life "Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons".

FRIDAY 27 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. Can he tell us yet whether he will be with us next Thursday? We should all like to know that, given his well-known enthusiasm for his present job, not least his chairmanship of the Modernisation Committee.

Is the Leader aware of early-day motions 1401, [That this House deplores the fact that the Labour honourable Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Falmouth and Cambourne, Erith and Thamesmead, West Bromwich West, West Ham, Rother Valley, Leeds West, Aberdeen South, Bootle, Kingswood, Leeds North West, Sheffield Attercliffe, Waveney, Birmingham Northfield, Cambridge, Blyth Valley, Wimbledon, Gower, Morley and Rothwell, Barnsley West and Penistone, Peterborough, Cynon Valley, Putney, Islington North, Tooting, Dagenham, Keighley, Coventry South, Workington, Crosby, Linlithgow, Bristol West, Caerphilly, Llanelli, Lancaster and Wyre, Burton, Gloucester, Cunninghame South, Stroud, Monmouth, Liverpool Riverside, Sunderland North, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Birkenhead, Newport West, Stevenage, Aberavon, Ilford South, Bridgend, Midlothian, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Newcastle Upon Tyne North, Jarrow, Wirral West, Knowsley North and Sefton East, Doncaster North, Blackpool North and Fleetwood, Barnsley Central, Ogmore, Tamworth, Stafford, Liverpool Walton, Rugby and Kenilworth, South Dorset, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Edinburgh North and Leith, Brighton Pavilion, Manchester Central, Wrexham, Dundee East, Western Isles, Birmingham Perry Barr, Amber Valley, Blackpool South, Medway, Glasgow Shettleston, Calder Valley, Hayes and Harlington, Glasgow Maryhill, Kingston upon Hull North, and Blaydon voted against the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition on post office card accounts on 11th June, despite having supported the same motion when it was tabled by the honourable Member for Ochil as Early Day Motion 572; notes that had those honourable members voted for the motion then it would have been carried; calls on them to explain why they voted against a motion designed to protect the interests of vulnerable pensioners and benefit recipients and to save post offices; and condemns the Government for its dismissal of a motion which, as an Early Day Motion, secured the support of a clear majority of honourable Members of the House.] and 1403?

Those early-day motions should be entitled "Dodgy, Devious Labour MPs", because they arise from the rather disgraceful episode in which a large number of Labour Members rushed to sign an early-day motion, then, when the Opposition tabled a motion with the same wording, voted against it. How are they going to explain that to their constituents, Mr. Speaker? Perhaps you should give them another opportunity next week to explain how they can first sign an early-day motion, then effectively vote against the same motion. Does the Leader of the House deprecate that behaviour, will he do anything to discourage it, and how will he explain it to the Members' constituents?

Can we have a debate next week on the details and the consequences of the Chancellor's statement on the euro? It contained some intriguing and tantalising references, including:

interim reports on the step changes we need in the planning and supply of housing and on the market for long-term fixed-rate mortgages. It would be helpful to our constituents to know what the Chancellor had in mind on the supply of housing.

Those few Labour Members left who are sponsored by trade unions must be interested in an urgent debate on the Chancellor's statement that almost all pay remits for public sector bodies will include a regional or local pay dimension. I am sure that many Labour Members would want to participate in that debate to give the Chancellor a piece of their mind on the subject and act as legitimate spokesmen for their trade union sponsors.

We should also explore the Chancellor's statement that we will seek reform of the European Central Bank. How will the Chancellor explain himself if he gets no such reform? He made the typically bumptious assertion that, we will continue to pursue successfully our objective of tax competition and reject tax harmonisation in Europe."—[Official Report, 9 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 414.] We wish him well with that, but I admire his overconfidence. It is important to give maximum time in the House next week to explore further the references in the Chancellor's statement. I am sure That he has worried many people about their housing, mortgages, pay and many other matters that he tells us are essential to get us in the right shape, as he perceives it, for a referendum on the euro.

What is the status of the mental health Bill? It was published in draft more than a year ago and there were more than 2,000 responses to it. Most were from people who were anxious about its content. It has been suggested that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny of the measure. Will it be on the original Bill or the amended version after the earlier consultation? Can the Leader of the House guarantee adequate time not only to conduct the pre-legislative scrutiny, but between the end of that process and laying the Bill before the House?

The Leader of the House and his predecessor placed much stress on pre-legislative scrutiny and we want it to work properly and well. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give us an absolute guarantee that, on a Bill as important and, so far, controversial as the mental health Bill, the process will be conducted properly, do justice to the measure and reassure those who take a close interest in it that Parliament will do a proper job on their behalf.

Dr. Reid

We have not yet made a decision on the mental health Bill. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman said and we shall, of course, attempt to give as much time as possible to scrutiny of what is an important issue. I shall come back to him as soon as possible on that point.

The right hon. Gentleman made speculative comments on the events of the day, about which most people have already been proved wrong. I shall not attempt to second-guess my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I merely say that, in my short time in the post, I have grown to love not only the job but Opposition Front-Bench Members. I look forward to being here for a long time, in the full knowledge that, as Professor Stephen Hawking reminds us, time is relative.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the early-day motion on Post Office accounts. The Government have been trying to give not only time but maximum flexibility while modernising Post Office accounts and services to consumers. The right hon. Gentleman referred to another failed Conservative initiative to try to embarrass the Government. He gets upset when others will not join in. I shall not deprecate any hon. Friends who are consistently loyal to the Government on all issues.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the euro. That is important, as is Europe. Clear dividing lines are forming, and he can rest assured that we want to allow as much time as possible for people to discern the difference between the approach to Europe of the Labour party and that of the Conservative party. I do not believe that any Labour Member could quite match some of the views that have been expressed in the Conservative party. As one hon. Member has said, there are millions of people in this country who are white, Anglo-Saxon and bigoted, and they need to be represented. [Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman recognises his own phrase on this matter. I do not think that the anti-foreign, anti-EU attitudes of people on the Labour Benches, however critical they might be, come anywhere near the xenophobia displayed on the Conservative Benches.

Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman—rather like another charge of the Light Brigade—apparently seeks yet another debate on European matters. We look forward to every such occasion, and there will be one next Wednesday. I hope that it will be only the first during which we can discuss European affairs, the euro and the contrast between the Government's rather pragmatic approach of putting Britain's economic interest at the centre of our considerations, and the dogmatic approach that says, "Never, whatever the advantages to Britain", or the Liberal Democrat position of saying, "Yes, tomorrow, whatever the disadvantages." I believe that the British people prefer a flexible, thought-through approach to a dogmatic approach, on either side.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Assuming that the right hon. Gentleman is not about to become Secretary of State for Health or Defence, or even Lord Chancellor, may I ask him to reflect for a few minutes on his role in the House and to make a statement on that matter as early as possible? Will he give urgent thought to the primary responsibility that his title and job description confer? It is not a responsibility to the Government, to the Cabinet or even—dare I say this today?—to the Prime Minister; it is to the House.

Will the Leader of the House look into two matters of current concern? First, is it not extraordinary that the Prime Minister can dramatically change the geography—the structural architecture, if you like—of Whitehall without any reference to the House at all? We find major Departments of state changing their responsibilities with major implications for the way in which we can hold such Departments to account. Would it not be right for the appropriate Select Committee to have before it any new Secretary of State as soon as they were appointed, so that it could investigate whether its remit and objectives had changed? Is it not critical for the work of the House, of which the right hon. Gentleman is the representative, that we should be able to hold to account the Departments of state?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) yesterday, the Prime Minister said that "convention" and precedent dictated that he and Alastair Campbell could not come before a Committee of the House to explain what information had been given to the House on the war with Iraq. In the very same breath, however, the Prime Minister said that he had broken with precedent—quite creditably; I think we all welcome this fact—to come before the Liaison Committee. When is a precedent not a precedent for this Government? Why are this modernising Government not prepared to dispose of a precedent when it is in the interest of good government and accountability in the House to do so? Before he perhaps moves to pastures new, will the Leader of the House give some thought to these matters and give us a statement?

Dr. Reid

Yes, indeed. I reflect on them constantly. The first time I came to the Dispatch Box in this capacity, I tried to give the House a rough rule of thumb as to what I thought was the role of the Leader of the House. It was partly to be the Government's man in the House, because I am a Cabinet Minister, but also to be the House's man in the Government and to try to protect the rights of Parliament as a whole, irrespective of party, in terms of its balance and its scrutiny of the Executive.

The hon. Gentleman raised two specific points. The first related to the role of the Prime Minister in the restructuring of government. Everyone in the House, whatever their views on any particular piece of restructuring, would accept that the Prime Minister, as leader of the Executive of the country, has a grave responsibility to ensure the efficient conduct of Government business and of the Executive. In doing that, he has a role from which he cannot withdraw.

Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman's second point was that the Prime Minister had been prepared, in a quite unprecedented fashion, to introduce efforts on the part of the leader of this country, the Prime Minister, to explain and to be accountable to the House. Specifically. I am thinking of issues such as the introduction of debates on Iraq and the war, and his attendance before the Liaison Committee. That, of course, is complemented by his efforts to make himself even more scrutinised and accountable outside the House through the on-the-record Lobby briefings that he has done, sometimes for an hour or two hours. The one thing that cannot be said of the Prime Minister is that he has been reluctant to hold himself up for scrutiny and accountability.

I do not have much to add on the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, except that the Prime Minister has obviously already appeared before the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am sure that the more these matters are looked into, the more it will be seen that the allegation that there was some form of deceit involved here is completely and utterly untrue. I suppose that I had better answer the question, "When is a precedent not a precedent?" When it is done for the second time.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

As my right hon. Friend did not mention it in his statement of the business for the next two weeks, will he now give me a categorical assurance that the remaining stages of the Hunting Bill will be taken before the summer recess? Will he accept it from me that those of us who have gone into the Lobby to support the Government on contentious issues that were not in the Labour party election manifesto will not accept a Government failure to complete fulfilment of this manifesto commitment?

Dr. Reid

Obviously, I pay great attention to what my right hon. Friend says, as I did yesterday, incidentally, when he raised the matter in another forum. Today, I have announced the detailed and specific business for the next two weeks. I cannot give a guarantee on detailed and specific business beyond that, but I can assure him that the points he has raised are not ones that I or others in the Government have missed.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

At the time of independence for Zimbabwe, a clear pledge was given in the constitution of that country that public service pensions would be honoured. Many Members have constituents who are Zimbabwe public service pensioners. They have been put in a position of extreme difficulty, because the Government of Zimbabwe have suspended payment of those pensions. Can we have an urgent debate on the plight of those pensioners and, in particular, a Government response as to why we are continuing to pay international development funds to Zimbabwe when that country is depriving our constituents of their income?

Dr. Reid

I am aware of the general problem that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I do not know of the specific measures that have been taken on it. This matter is important not only to the potential beneficiaries of such payments, but as a general principle. I shall certainly see that it is brought to the attention of the relevant Minister.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

Could it be that the night mail will no longer bring Letters for the rich, letters for the poor, The shop at the corner, the girl next door."? Given that the Strategic Rail Authority has a specific duty to promote the carriage of freight by rail, can the House have an early opportunity to debate Royal Mail's decision to switch from rail to road?

Dr. Reid

I have some sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend makes, largely because my father was a sorter—a PHG, or postman higher grade, to be precise. I take the view that some of those things would have been better left unchanged. Nevertheless, the Government have made the commitment that we will allow the Post Office maximum freedom for its operational business. While I regret that, we have to stand by the decision.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), because the Rhodesian police pension of my constituent, Reg Vincent, is now worth nothing. May I ask the Leader of the House to consider the recent visit of the Catholic Bishop of Bulawayo. Pius Ncube? When he visited the United States, he met Mr. Secretary Colin Powell; when he came to this country the other day, he was first stood up for a meeting by Baroness Amos and then ended up meeting Liz Lloyd from the No. 10 policy unit. Surely that says a lot about the Government's attitude to Zimbabwe.

Dr. Reid

I do not think there is a great deal of difference between the hon. Gentleman's and my views on some of what is going on in Zimbabwe. As for the specific case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, I understand that it was discussed at some length during Foreign Office questions 48 hours ago, and I do not intend to cut across the answers given then.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

Has my right hon. Friend been given notice of a statement to be made next week on a consultation document on domestic violence? When draft legislation is produced, will it be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee?

Dr. Reid

As the matter my hon. Friend has raised is still under discussion, I cannot specify a day next week. That in no way diminishes the importance of a subject which, as my hon. Friend knows, has been at the centre of a great deal of what the Government have done over the past few years. I am not in a position to reveal any detailed scrutiny plans that we have, but last year's modernisation plans committed us to increasing the number of Bills that are subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. I think there were four during the last Session, and that number will be increased considerably in the next Session.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

The modernised sitting hours have effectively meant that on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays only London Members' constituents can arrive at the House in time for a tour before sittings begin. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will be concerned to know that tours to take place on Mondays, the only days on which the House does not sit in the morning, are now being booked six months ahead. Many Members appear to be taking advantage of their ability to book tours far in advance to secure bookings for constituents—particularly those from London, oddly enough. That means that many Members no longer have an opportunity to invite their constituents to visit the House.

First, will the Leader of the House investigate this? Secondly, will he consider applying the same sort of allocation scheme that is applied to tickets for Prime Minister's Question Time? Thirdly, will he come back to the House and allow us to revisit the whole issue?

Dr. Reid

I will act on the hon. Gentleman's first two requests. I am not aware of the details, but I will investigate the matter and, perhaps, write to the hon. Gentleman. As for his third, general point, I am well aware of the strong feelings that exist on all sides. I am also aware that when a change like this takes place it gives rise to a number of practical difficulties, in relation to Select Committees—some Committee Chairmen have brought those difficulties to my attention—and in relation to the visits mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. We should first consider whether the difficulties are insurmountable, or cannot be surmounted without considerable inconvenience. Then, after a reasonable amount of time—I do not think it can be done in the near future—we should establish whether, in view of the difficulties, the House has changed its mind.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East)

My right hon. Friend may be aware of early-day motions 1296,

[That this House is deeply concerned by recent reports of the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese Military Junta in Rangoon; and calls on the Government to lead the international community in redoubling its efforts to stop the Burmese regime's human rights abuses, to do more to assist Burmese refugees and to seek the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi], 1311.

The motions, signed by 259 Members from all parts of the House and all parts of the United Kingdom, express concern about the taking into protective custody of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. I know that our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has invited the Burmese ambassador to the Foreign Office, and we in the all-party Burma group are trying to arrange a visit to the ambassador to express parliamentarians' concerns.

Given the atrocious record of the military junta in Burma, the extensive cultivation of drugs to raise finance and the continued presence of British companies such as BAT in Burma, will my right hon. Friend either arrange an emergency debate or arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on a matter that is of grave concern to many Members?

Dr. Reid

I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments, which I will not repeat because he expressed them as eloquently as I could have done. We do condemn those grave offences. The Government are very sympathetic to early-day motion 1296; we fully support the call for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and condemn the continuing human rights abuses in Burma. We seek every opportunity to draw attention to those abuses, not least during foreign affairs debates and Foreign Office questions, which took place yesterday. My hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to raise the issue again today, and I will encourage others to do so on every possible occasion.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

May we have an early debate about the House's role in the ill-fated Scottish Parliament Holyrood building project? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was this House that signed the contract, it was this House that chose the wrong site, it was this House that commissioned the architect and chose the design, and it was this House that established an open-ended project with no cost-control management whatever. May we have a debate to find out why those decisions were made, and who is ultimately responsible for this shambles?

Dr. Reid

It had slipped my notice that it was all our fault. I suppose that as there are more English than Scottish Members present, we can blame them.

On any other occasion, the hon. Gentleman would be quite properly telling us to keep our nose out of the Scottish Parliament's affairs. The whole point of devolution is passing down the ability to make decisions, and I thought that the hon. Gentleman supported that. It seems that he supports it only when no one has to take any responsibility for their own actions. That is not in the Scottish national character: we face up to our own problems.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on housing? The euro support paper published on Monday proposes profound changes in the housing market, involving house price stabilisation—which will be welcome in my constituency—and interest rate stabilisation, which would mean that those who currently pay enormous sums in interest would not experience the massive increases and the misery that they suffered under the last Government.

Dr. Reid

That is an important issue. It would probably be appropriate to raise many aspects of it during a forthcoming Westminster Hall debate on affordable housing.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

May I return the Leader of the House to a remark that he made about 10 days ago, to the effect that there was an element in the security services seeking to undermine the elected Government? Assuming that the remark was made in good faith, and assuming that there was evidence to support it, it is a very serious allegation. It amounts to saying that this elected Government were being suborned by unelected officials. That being so, may we have an early debate so that the right hon. Gentleman can tell the House what his evidence was and we can discuss what we should do about it?

Dr. Reid

I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not present for last week's business questions, when we dealt with this matter in some depth. I have nothing to add to what was said then, other than to correct, yet again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's misapprehension, and the misrepresentation he is making, that I alleged that the security services were undermining the Government. What I alleged was that one or two individuals were undermining their own leadership and the intelligence and security services themselves. In other words, I was defending the security services against the calumnies that were being spread and the impugning of their own propriety with the suggestion that they were involved in acts of deception. I was on the side of the intelligence and security services; it was not the other way around.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the activities of the militant tendency in the Church of England? He will know that it is currently campaigning to overturn the appointment, carried out duly and legitimately, of Canon Jeffrey John as the next Bishop of Reading.

Dr. Reid

I am afraid that my enforcement credentials do not extend to the theological sphere, but I note the point that my hon. Friend has made. I am informed that it is a serious point, not a trivial one. There are occasions on which matters relating to the Church of England can be raised here, and I hope that my hon. Friend will use those opportunities, but I know she will accept that it would not be propitious or proper for me to express a view on such matters.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House has taken on board your comments yesterday, Mr. Speaker: I would prefer it if. on Opposition Supply days, we do not have Government statements."—[Official Report, 11 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 701.] Does the Leader of the House agree that the statement yesterday on pension funds was very important but that it was not time-sensitive and that it was wrong to have it on an Opposition Supply day? Can we have an assurance that, next week and in future weeks, when there will be more Opposition Supply days, except in extreme and emergency circumstances, no statements will eat into our time?

Dr. Reid

In general, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I ask him to accept that we try to do that. Yesterday, there was an important statement on pensions. Its importance was exhibited by the fact that the time was elongated by the participation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Let explain and give some background. We were under pressure to make a second statement yesterday. I will not go into the details, but we were also under pressure informally from some Conservative Members to make a statement on the deployment of British forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I insisted, and my colleagues agreed, that we did not have a second statement, precisely for the reason that it was an Opposition day.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept in good faith that we do not do that intentionally. We try to avoid it wherever possible. Like anyone else, we can get things wrong. We must try to balance the proper demands from the Opposition for scrutiny of important decisions such as that on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the statement on which will be made today, and, at the same time, the Opposition's right to put forward their views in Opposition day debates.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

In view of the tragic events unfolding in the middle east, where it appears that Hamas is successfully derailing the peace process, will the Leader of the House consider arranging an urgent debate on the activities of Hamas in this country, the activities of leading members of Hamas in the Muslim Association of Britain and the activities of Azam Tamimi? Will my right hon. Friend consider that in the light of the possibility that such people may be attempting to recruit British citizens to become suicide bombers in Israel and in Palestine, and in view of the fact that those same people have called the suicide bombers martyrs?

Dr. Reid

First, my hon. Friend represents the views of the whole House when she refers to the tragic loss of life in the middle east over the past 24 hours. It is a vicious circle of tragedy. It would be a double tragedy if we allowed those who wish to destroy the present peace initiative through such acts of terrorism to have their way. That leads me to the second point, which is on the activities in this country of people who are allegedly connected with terrorist organisations or encouraging terrorist activity. I will not make any specific comment on any specific case, but the Home Secretary, politicians as a whole and our intelligence services are very well aware of the need for co-ordinated appraisal of and intelligence on such matters. All hon. Members appreciate the need for that.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about the Hunting Bill, over the next week or two, the Leader of House will be finalising the shape of next year's legislative programme. Against the background of the shambles this year, with unprecedented delays between the Committee stage and Report stage of Bills, with some Bills at short notice being zoned for carry-over, and with unprecedented programme motions curtailing discussion, will he urge restraint on his colleagues and ensure that next year's legislative programme is of a manageable size?

Dr. Reid

Working backwards, I hope that I can make the legislative programme of a manageable size. There is always a combination between the importance and priority of getting business through, giving it adequate scrutiny and managing it well. I hope that the level of difficulty we have had with a crowded programme has not been unprecedented. I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman can think of previous years under previous Governments when there were such difficulties; but we are bringing in new methods. Some of them are unprecedented, including carry-oven and pre-legislative scrutiny on such a scale. That brings difficulties. Part of my job is to make my life easier by making next year's programme manageable in size as well as content.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)

With the possible exception of you, Mr. Speaker, and my right hon. Friend, very few with influence in the House or indeed the senior circles of Government can proudly say that they have been through the university of industrial life. May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to use his good offices to remind those in positions of power that people born with a screwdriver in their hand are of equal value to the country's prosperity, and that their views should be accurately reflected in the House and in the senior positions of our political structures? After all, many in our society have claimed to be under-represented and have subsequently been recognised. There is a general perception among the general public that the academics have taken over the asylum.

Dr. Reid

I admire the gusto with which my hon. Friend defends the position, which he has done for many years. I thought at the beginning of his remarks that a timely reshuffle bid was being made but, as he knows, I agree with him. I attempt to maintain that tradition, although devious and mischievous forces are at work even now, trying to pretend than I am posher than the Queen, if what I read in the Sunday Times last week is to be believed. That came as a surprise to me. I understand, although I should not reveal it, that it came as something of a surprise to her Gracious Majesty, too. I agree entirely with the points that my hon. Friend has made.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I advise the Leader of the House never to read the newspapers.

At a time when the national health service is building a new hospital in Lichfield that has fewer facilities than we currently enjoy, may I express my personal regret at the departure of the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) from his position as Secretary of State for Health? Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that he realised that structural change is needed in the NHS. May I ask that, at some time, a debate be held on foundation hospitals and their future?

Dr. Reid

On the last point, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be time for that and I look forward to it. I thank him for his comments. They are courteous and in character. I agree entirely. It was with deep regret that I found out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) decided to resign from Government. It is shocking in the short term, but I believe that in the long term it will be seen to be a correct judgment on his part. There are many reasons, had he given me them, that I would have argued ferociously against, but the choice of his family over his future career does not cause me to argue against him. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Whatever difficulties remain, and there are great challenges in the health service, the fact that there are some 50,000 more nurses and 10,000 more doctors is testimony to the work that my right hon. Friend put into the health service. In the same gracious way as the hon. Gentleman thanked and paid tribute to my right hon. Friend, I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday on behalf of the whole House.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the collapse of the Accident Group, a company that had its headquarters in my constituency and that employed and has now sacked 2,500 people nationwide? Inevitably, major issues arise from that. Employees were not paid. The claims of many people are still lodged with the company. There is uncertainty about where those claims stand. Many of the claimants are poor and seeking just compensation.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for Ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Work and Pensions to seize themselves of the urgency of this matter, so that we can have an early statement on the investigation into the company. I allege no fraud because I know of no evidence, but can we have a guarantee that, if the company went out of business because of a lack of activity by the directors, they will be brought to account?

Dr. Reid

I think we were all shocked by the scale and abruptness of the events to which my hon. Friend refers. There are provisions to make certain payments to ex-employees when businesses fail, and my understanding is that officials from the DTI have been in contact with the administrators to find out about the events surrounding their appointment on 30 May. I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I follow the reference by the shadow Leader of the House to a mental health Bill? The Leader of the House will be aware that for some time we have been seeking to amend the mental health regulations in Northern Ireland. Would it be possible for them to be subsumed into the main legislation? Will he discuss that with his colleagues, because some of us are concerned about the conditions and care of those with learning difficulties, and that needs to be looked at?

Dr. Reid

Obviously the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to give a definite yes today, but I undertake to discuss the matter with my colleagues.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

On Saturday, thousands of Luton Town football club supporters crowded into the ground to express their extreme anger, which I share, at the secrecy surrounding the sale of the club and its future. I congratulate the fans on the unprecedented move of setting up a supporters trust. Can we have an early debate on the appalling lack of accountability and powers to ensure that football clubs, which are community assets, are protected from, variously, egos, asset strippers and dodgy dealers?

Dr. Reid

I know how passionately my hon. Friend feels about this, and it has happened in a number of areas, including that of the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw). That is one of the reasons why the Government have set up Supporters Direct, which can help supporters in this situation. Perhaps the issue is an appropriate one for an Adjournment debate; I am sure that it would be of widespread interest. It only remains for me to wish Luton Town supporters and the club well for the future.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Is it possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate on the process of call-out for reserve forces? I have a constituent who is a member of the Royal Naval Reserve, and has indeed fought for his country on two occasions, who is deeply concerned about the process of call-out for the Iraq conflict. Under section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, the Secretary of State must satisfy himself that it appears to him that warlike operations are in preparation or progress". My constituent believes that there should be a parliamentary debate on the issue, and I agree.

Dr. Reid

Continual discussions and debates on military call-up have been held on the Floor of the House, specifically in relation to Iraq, but there are further opportunities for them—indeed, the hon. Gentleman has such an opportunity almost immediately, because I noticed, marching in step towards us as I was speaking, almost in anticipation of his temerity in raising such a point, two colleagues from the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that if he raises the matter, they will deal with it in their usual delicate and emollient way.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)

This year sees the 15th anniversary of the P&O ferry strike in Dover, which resulted in 2,000 seafarers being sacked, simply for campaigning for safe work practices on the channel—something that would not happen under Labour's new reformed trade union law. Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 100 Members have subscribed to my early-day motion fighting for justice for those sacked workers, many of whom are still out of work and have been blackballed for all those years; and will he find time for a debate on this important subject?

Dr. Reid

I hear has my hon. Friend says, and I know that he has been a doughty fighter for working people on a whole range of issues. I cannot promise him a specific debate on the Floor of the House, but there is a whole range of opportunities to raise such important matters. The framework of legality within which trade unions now work has been considerably strengthened since this Government came to power. I am sure that my hon. Friend has the ingenuity to find ways of raising the matter on numerous occasions.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to the timely inquiries of my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), may I beseech the Leader of the House to find time next week for a debate on the desperate and deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe? Given the appalling effects of the land-grab policy, the grotesque denial of human rights, the severe financial losses that individual citizens have suffered and the fact, which is of great importance in this context, that we provide substantial international development assistance for worthy projects in Zimbabwe, does he agree that it is time that we had a debate to highlight the fact that President Mugabe—that murderous thug—is a pariah in the international community, and to underline the importance of his either mending his ways or walking the plank, in the interests of his own people?

Dr. Reid

Forceful and robust though the hon. Gentleman's words were, I think they will strike a chord with people throughout the House. The feelings and criticisms that he expressed are entirely legitimate. Of course I will draw them to the attention of colleagues in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I cannot promise that there will be an immediate debate on that one subject, but there are regular opportunities to raise it on the Floor of the House. I know that, with his skills of advocacy, he will ensure that those ways are found.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that this is carers week. Does he agree that this is a good opportunity for us to acknowledge our debt to millions of carers throughout the country and to reflect on the long hours that they devote, for little or no pay, and often in addition to a full-time job, to caring for others? Is this not a good time to reflect on the support that they need and the help that we can give them in the wonderful work that they do?

Dr. Reid

I endorse that without hesitation. There are 6.5 million such people throughout the country, who, unheralded and unsung, do an immense amount of good work. My hon. Friend mentioned carers week, which is a national annual event run by Carers UK and other groups—Contact a Family, Crossroads and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Its aim is to raise awareness of carers' contribution. It is doubtful whether we can ever reward them enough, but my hon. Friend will be aware that we have, for example, raised the carer premium in income-related benefits from just over £14 a week to more than £25 from April 2003. That shows the importance that the Government attach to the work of carers.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

Now that the dust has settled on the right hon. Gentleman's comments last week about rogue elements in the security forces, will he be very kind and give a clear answer to the question that I asked him last week, which is, simply: have the security services launched an internal leak inquiry, what are its terms of reference, who is undertaking it, when is it expected to report, does he expect disciplinary action to ensue, and, most importantly, will he make the conclusions available to the House? A clear answer, please.

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman got upset, as did one of his favourite columnists last week, because he did not think that I gave him a clear answer. He may not know this from experience, but the intelligence services do not always come along to the House with a report on everything that they are doing. Secondly, if they did, they would do it through either the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary, or the Ministry of Defence, depending on which intelligence service we are dealing with. Thirdly, I answered the point about the allegations earlier on. My criticism was of those who were claiming that, on the basis of their sources, which they claim—

Mr. Forth

Who are they?

Dr. Reid

I do not know who they are. The whole problem is anonymous, uncorroborated reports impugning our security services. I said last week and I say again that, when we get uncorroborated, anonymous and misrepresentative stories impugning our intelligence services, I hope that, the hon. Gentleman will be on my side of the fence attacking them, rather than constantly trying to make party political mischief.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Further to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford), I respect and understand the answer that my right hon. Friend gave: that Royal Mail's decision was of a commercial nature and that the Government cannot and should not get involved in it. However, Royal Mail has indicated that it may return to using rail freight at some point in the future. Unfortunately, EWS, the rail freight company responsible for delivering this service, has surrendered the train path needed to provide it. Can my right hon. Friend commit himself to having a debate in the House which the Secretary of State for Transport could attend, explaining what pressure he—or she—could exert on Network Rail to ensure that these train paths are reinstated if and when necessary?

Dr. Reid

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to raise this issue either in an Adjournment debate or during Transport questions, which I believe will be held next week. I cannot respond in detail, other than to say that, in terms of an objective and making it a reality, the Government have had some success in transferring freight from road to rail. Anything that tends to shift it back would be deleterious not only for the Government but for the millions of motorists in this country who are trying to travel a little more freely on our roads.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)

I hope that the Leader of the House will take this opportunity to set the record straight in respect of Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions of a couple of days ago. It was Professor Welshman Ncube, the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, who was discussed, not Bishop Pious Ncumbe, who is the Bishop of Bulawayo. I hope that the Leader of the House will therefore look much more seriously into the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), and hold the debate on Zimbabwe that is so badly needed.

Dr. Reid

The answer to both points is yes. I will take this issue seriously, and I stand corrected if the hon. Gentleman feels that I have mistaken the subject under discussion; however, I think the general matter was fairly close to the point that was raised.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Does my right hon. Friend share my horror at figures released by the International Labour Organisation—on this, the world day against child labour—suggesting that 1.2 million children are being trafficked into labour across the world: in mines, in conflict zones as soldiers, and, indeed, into the sex trade? Does he agree with me that the House should take the opportunity to have an early debate on this subject?

Dr. Reid

I do agree that the protection and enhancement of children's lives is of the highest priority; indeed, I find it hard to think of any other subject that should be a greater priority for us. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are committed to helping to eliminate child labour, particularly in its worst forms, such as child slavery. The Department for International Development is supporting an entire range of programmes aimed at eliminating child labour in a number of countries. And international programmes are being assisted, such as UNICEF's work on the rehabilitation of child soldiers, and the ILO programme for the elimination of child labour. I thank my hon. Friend, on behalf of the whole House, for raising an issue that should not separate us in party terms.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

In view of the current concern about and interest in European affairs, and of the immense concern that is being expressed about European Community directive 2000/68/EC, will the Leader of the House give consideration to a debate on subsidiarity? The directive states that by the end of 2003, every horse must have a passport. Although no photograph is required on these passports, the markings must be identified in English and in French, and the form must be completed in either red or black ink only.

The forms will cost between £20 and £30 per horse, and one can imagine the immense damage that that will do to riding schools in constituencies throughout the country. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate, so that we can bring greater public attention to this ridiculous measure, which is causing significant concern in the horsey community?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue—as the wider horsey community will undoubtedly do when they discover that he has done so. Not being a member of the horsey community, I am not familiar with the details, but I will try to acquaint myself with them. However, I take the point that we must always be careful that there is no unwarranted interference and unwelcome legislative intervention at a European level. That is why I was surprised to read certain comments on the Conservative website, which I bring to the hon. Gentleman's attention. The Conservatives' simplified alternative convention and treaty is being prepared by Mr. Timothy Kirkhope, MEP. The website also says that Timothy has put together his amendments and drawn on his discussions with colleagues in the European Parliament"— Conservative ones, that is. Under article 1-19 of that alternative treaty is included the astounding opening sentence: The European Parliament shall, jointly with the Council, enact legislation". I did not know that this was the Conservative party's policy until I read that. [Interruption.] To judge by the look on the hon. Gentleman's face, I suspect that he did not, either. However, the website does make interesting reading.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 1160, on legal professional privilege? It states:

[That this House is concerned that Government Ministers invariably seek to withhold legal advice received within their Department or from Treasury Counsel under the blanket of the provisions for legal professional privilege, even in instances where the drafted legislation or regulations are designed to protect the public from unfair treatment; believes that the ending of the use of legal professional privilege over measures intended to protect the public interest would facilitate the fuller understanding of the implications of legislative and regulatory proposals so that more relevant amendments could be tabled; and further believes that such an approach would be in keeping with the general intentions of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the code of practice on access to Government information.]

Legal professional privilege is used by Government Departments to refuse to provide legal advice that they have received from Treasury counsel and others. That is done even when the legislation concerned involves protection of the public. Would it not be in keeping with data protection and freedom of information legislation, and the code of practice on access to Government information, for this advice to be made much more readily available?

May we have a debate on this matter, which would enable me to discuss a case that I have been dealing with for some time? The Department of Trade and Industry persistently refuses to give information on the non-use of the trading schemes exclusion regulations in respect of Chem-Dry, which imposed barriers in respect the operation of its franchisees. It is clear that the DTI should have taken action and prosecuted, and it is very important to my constituents that they be aware of the legal advice provided.

Dr. Reid

As my hon. Friend has illustrated, this is a very complex issue. However, my understanding is that once the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is in force, although correspondence covered by legal professional privilege will continue to be exempt, decisions on its disclosure will be covered by the public interest test and be subject to the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner. So the issue is not as black and white as perhaps some commentators have led us to believe. I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I am afraid that I cannot comment on the specifics of this case. I know that he is a dogged and determined pursuer of his constituency interests, and that he will continue to raise this case on every possible occasion.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

A multi-million pound construction and engineering project in my constituency has just been completed. The main contractor was a European firm that submitted the lowest tender. It has gone, but many small businesses and sub-contractors in my constituency that supplied services and carried out work for this company have not been paid in recent months. May we have a debate on this issue in the House, and seek legislative change to give protection to all sub-contractors? In particular, we should consider this issue in terms of our responsibility when public money is being spent.

Dr. Reid

Obviously, I am not familiar with the details of this case, but I am sure that it is an important one. I know that, like my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), the hon. Gentleman assiduously follows his constituents' interests—and, indeed, the wider interests of Northern Ireland. If he would like to write to me, I shall try to pass the information on to my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, or to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Indeed, I shall do what I can in the coming days. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing everyone next week.