HC Deb 26 June 2003 vol 407 cc1201-19 12.32 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

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

The Leader of the House of Commons (Peter Hain)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 30 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Hunting Bill.

TUESDAY 1 JULY—Motions to approve Ways and Means Resolutions on the Finance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 JULY—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on "a fair deal for passengers and motorists", followed by a debate on "a fair deal for small businesses". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 3 JULY—Debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2002–03 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 4 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 7 JULY—Opposition Day [13th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 8 JULY—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, followed by Commons consideration of Lords Amendments.

WEDNESDAY 9 JULY—Debate on the Convention on the Future of Europe, on a Government motion.

THURSDAY 10 JULY—Debate on economic and monetary union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 11 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 17 July will be a cross-cutting questions session on domestic violence.

Subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 17 July and return on Monday 8 September. The House will rise again for the conference recess on Thursday 18 September and return on Tuesday 14 October. The House will recall that, in last week's business statement, I gave a commitment to outline the provisional dates for the Christmas recess. Again, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise no later than Monday 22 December and return on, or during the week commencing, Monday 5 January.

Mr. Forth

I thank the tax-raising Leader of the House for the business statement.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me, if I may, to pay my own tribute—on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, myself and, I hope, all Members—to Sir Denis Thatcher and to express our profound condolences to Lady Thatcher and to Mark and Carol. I am sure that we all agree that we will probably never know the full extent of Sir Denis's true contribution to our nation, but I simply wish to record that he will be sorely missed.

I should like to refer to early-day motion 1469, which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, refers to the retirement of Sir Nicolas Bevan, whose last day this is with us in the House. The early-day motion rightly records our thanks and gratitude to Sir Nicolas for his service to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House over a long period, and we wish him the very best in his retirement.

[That this House notes the distinguished and committed service to Parliament of Sir Nicolas Bevan CB; thanks him for his wise counsel and unfailing courtesy to honourable Members from all sides of the House; and wishes him and his wife, Christine, many happy years in retirement.]

Does the tax-raising Leader of the House recall saying, last Thursday, I very much share…his great respect for Parliament"— he was referring to one of his predecessors— I have fought for democracy and liberty all my political life"?—[Official Report, 19 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 501.] That is what he said. Is that the same person who had previously said, as quoted in the Morning Star, We cannot achieve Socialism through Parliamentary channels alone"? I hope that he has thought better of that, but we will suspend judgment until we see what happens.

The tax-raising Leader of the House has announced today that three major, controversial Bills will be given only one day each for their remaining stages. I am talking about the Hunting Bill, to which a very large number of amendments have been tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House and which is very controversial, and the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill—which, again, has been given only one day, even though we have still properly to consider GP contracts and foundation hospitals—to say nothing of the Finance Bill, to which I suppose we must expect an amendment to be tabled in the name of the tax-raising Leader of the House to hold with what he said, or perhaps did not say. Perhaps we will hear from him about that later.

There will be only one day in the House of Commons to debate those enormous Bills with very large numbers of amendments. That cannot be satisfactory. It cannot be the way in which the House should seek to hold the Government to account. So I simply ask the Leader of the House this: why do we not sit on Friday 18 July and Monday 21 July, for example? There is no reason whatsoever—he has also said that such things are subject to the progress of business—why we cannot linger just a day or two longer. Their lordships are doing that to fulfil their duties, and there is no reason whatsoever why the House cannot do so too. I hope that he will give that serious consideration.

When will we have a further statement on Iraq? I believe that the House will have to be told not only about security—certainly in regard to the tragic events of just a few days ago, on which more facts are still emerging—but about post-war reconstruction. I hope that the Leader of the House can assure us that, some time before the recess, we will have a proper, comprehensive statement on Iraq, so that the House may be updated on developments there and can hold Ministers to account for what is happening there.

Does the tax-raising Leader of the House recall the Prime Minister saying, on 23 June. The reason why we have said that we will have a referendum on the single currency… is that it does represent a fundamental change in our constitutional arrangements"?—[Official Report, 23 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 721.] That is what the Prime Minister said, so this question must arise: if the Government have finally recognised what we in the Conservative party have known all along—that the euro raises profound constitutional as well as economic implications—and that is the reason that the Prime Minister has given for holding a referendum on the euro, why, logically, cannot we have a referendum on the true constitutional changes that will occur following the Convention? I think that we need to hear that, and be told why that link has not yet been made in the Prime Minister's mind.

Finally, can we have a debate entitled, "Letting the Cat out of the Bag". I am sure that the tax-raising Leader of the House will recall releasing the text of a speech in which he said: I am saying we face a situation equally where the top rate of tax, the 40 per cent. band, now catches far too many middle income employees including teachers and police officers. This presents us with hard choices. I think the… rich might well be prepared to contribute a bit more. That was the original text of the speech that was not eventually delivered. He must have been aware that his right hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) agreed with him. Indeed, his right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) went even further. He said: The hyper-rich can certainly pay more. I am concerned that under this government inequality is once again growing. The Prime Minister, however, said: The government's policy is clear—we are not raising the top rate of tax. The Mirror newspaper then said: A senior No 10 source branded the Cabinet Minister"— the tax-raising Leader of the House—"an idiot". In the light of all this, cannot we have a debate on the matter to clear the air? We can now see what the hidden agenda of the Labour Party is. Since we cannot believe a word the Prime Minister says any more, should we rather not believe what his right hon. Friends are saying? Let us have a debate about it.

Peter Hain

Let me deal first with the serious part of that intervention. I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Denis Thatcher and agree with his statement that the whole House will wish to send its condolences to Baroness Thatcher and her family. The family, including Denis, have played a very important role in British public life, and I am sure that we would all want to acknowledge that.

Secondly, I agree with and join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Sir Nicolas Bevan, who has been a great servant of this House and on many an occasion has given me good advice—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

You might have taken it.

Peter Hain

I have always taken it. I have even shared the odd glass of wine with Sir Nicholas on occasion. I wish him happiness in whatever his future career or retirement might hold. I am sure that somebody of such talent will not be idle.

I note that the shadow Leader of the House has clearly changed his titles and his message. Apparently, I am no longer the part-time Leader of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are!"] No, apparently I am not. I now have another label. We will wait to see what the label is next week. I notice, however, that at least for once the right hon. Gentleman is on-message with the Leader of the Opposition, who referred to me yesterday with my full title, which is Leader of the House of Commons. I am glad that the shadow Leader of the House is for once following his leader and staying on-message with the leadership.

The shadow Leader of the House made various references to quotes from me a long time ago, and no doubt those will be a regular feature of his interventions, to which I look forward. In that case, no doubt he will also tell the House about his youth, which I am advised was spent in the Communist party. We might find some interesting things that he said at that time, too.

The shadow Leader of the House made a series of points about Bills only having one day. He knows, as everybody in the House knows, that that is fully adequate time for the scrutiny required at that stage in the parliamentary process, there having been very full scrutiny, and his colleagues on the Back Benches have had every opportunity to do that.

The shadow Leader of the House asks that we sit for longer and cut into the summer recess. Perhaps that is why he is shadow Leader of the House and will remain shadow Leader of the House. One of the decisions taken by my predecessor but one was to publish a calendar of the House in advance, which is enormously beneficial to hon. Members and their families. When possible, we will stick to that, although it was obviously not possible on one or two occasions earlier this year. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, on reflection, that his proposition was not a sensible one to advance.

On Iraq, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that there is a fast-developing situation and the dreadful news of the deaths of the six Royal Military policemen only recently just indicates that. The House will be updated, and that will happen in due course.

On the question about the euro and the European constitution, one of the interesting points about the clamour from the Conservatives and their media allies for a referendum on the European constitutional treaty is that they have demanded it before they know the outcome. We have already been through nearly 16 months of detailed negotiations—I was the Government's representative—in the Convention on the Future of Europe to create a consensus. The Convention brought together 100 representatives of national Governments and Parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission who, with alternates, formed a body of about 200 people. For the first time, a draft European constitutional treaty has been debated in the open with full transparency and scrutiny. That has given us a good basis to go to the intergovernmental conference for further negotiations.

At the end of that process, normal procedures will be followed. A report will be made to the House. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that we will want to involve the House in debate over the course of the coming months. We will table a motion on which there will no doubt be a vote. No doubt the Government will be opposed, and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may table an amendment to demand a referendum, as they are free to do, if that is what they want. At the end of the process, people will be able to judge whether the new constitutional treaty will be good for Britain, as I believe that it will be. Britain's interests will be protected in a way that is possible by being at the heart of Europe. That has enabled us to get a very good deal on common agricultural policy reform, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will announce later. That is an example of the Government being right at the heart of the Europe and negotiating a good deal for Britain, as we will on the new constitutional treaty.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to "Letting the cat out of the bag". That was a typical engagingly flamboyant statement. He is an eloquent shadow Leader of the House—much more eloquent than the leader himself—and I look forward to hearing many such statements in the coming weeks.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I first associate myself and my colleagues with the tributes to Sir Denis Thatcher and the expressions of condolence to Lady Thatcher and her family? Many would see him as a model No. 10 consort, so perhaps this is an occasion on which we should record our admiration and gratitude to all those who, as husbands, wives, partners and families, are there in the background to support those of us in public life at different levels.

May I also record my gratitude and that of my colleagues to your Secretary, Mr. Speaker, not only for his unfailing courtesy to all Members of all parties and his wise advice, but for his commitment to the good order of our business and the way in which Parliament does its job? We wish him every success in his future career.

The Leader of the House was factually incorrect to say that all matters of the Finance Bill were properly considered in Committee—they simply were not. Many of the Bill's provisions, especially those relating to stamp duty, were brought forward at a late stage and were not properly consulted on or discussed in any detail in Committee. Of course, the Finance Bill is unique because it does not get the second chance of scrutiny in the other place. It is outrageous to try to push it through this House without proper scrutiny.

That point gives me the opportunity to ask the Leader of the House about his intended plan for the debate on the future of the House of Lords. He will know that the Government have less than a fortnight to respond to the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform—the reply must be made by 9 July. I am sure he will also recall that he and all his colleagues signed up to the manifesto promise: We are committed to completing House of Lords reform…to make it more representative and democratic". The Leader of the House will be the first to recognise that in the light of the probable legislative programme in the coming Session, unless real progress is made now to fulfil that promise, it is unlikely that we will achieve it in this Parliament. A manifesto is usually a programme for a Parliament, not a long-term aspiration.

The right hon. Gentleman will also know that on 4 February, the vote in this House, which everyone keeps saying must be the predominant view on such issues, resulted in a clear majority against a fully appointed House of Lords, despite the fact that that appeared to be the preference of the then Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister. The majority was 78. It would clearly be an affront to this House if proposals were introduced that effectively made the other place a fully appointed House. It would be a direct insult to the view of the House.

Since the right hon. Gentleman voted for a considerable proportion of elected Members in the other place—100 per cent., 80 per cent. and 60 per cent.—he will also recall that a majority of this House, some 332 Members, voted for a substantial proportion of elected Members in the other place. Will there be a White Paper and will the Government introduce proposals, or will we be given a draft Bill to enable us to implement the views of this House? Finally, as the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor are now in a position to aid and abet those of us who want to reform the other place, when are we going to get it?

Peter Hain

May I first associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's comment on our families in the background who make great sacrifices? That was particularly true of Denis Thatcher and the Thatcher family at large.

I do not accept the point about the Finance Bill, and I have said what I have to say about that. On the future of House of Lords reform, when we are ready to report to the House on how we intend to proceed, we will do so. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out how I voted. That is on the record and it remains on the record. It is important to explain that there was no clear consensus.

Mr. Tyler

Yes, there was: 332.

Peter Hain

Well, I do not think that it is true that there was a clear consensus on any of the options.

Yes, there is a manifesto promise. It is often forgotten that our Labour Government have already reformed the House of Lords in the most radical way that any Government have done, or even attempted to do, not just in living memory, but throughout the last century. There is unfinished business and that will be undertaken.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

May we have a debate on innovative practices in prescription in the NHS, in particular the Cardiff book prescription scheme, which allows general practitioners to prescribe highly effective self-help books for people with mild to moderate mental health problems? It was pioneered in Cardiff by Dr. Neil Frude and Dr. Jackie Gantley. It is a world first and worthy of being rolled out across the rest of the UK.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new post as Leader of the House, may I offer him some advice? Should he require any reading himself to deal with the shadow Leader of the House and I he Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, I suggest "Arsenic and Old Lace".

Peter Hain

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion and will bear it in mind.

I applaud my hon. Friend for bringing that innovative scheme to the attention of the House. It deserves a lot of scrutiny and I am sure that my light hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will want to consider it. My hon. Friend has the opportunity on Wednesday to raise the matter again during Welsh questions. No doubt other opportunities will also arise.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

As the Leader of the House has a distinguished record, unlike some of his colleagues, on standing up to tyranny in Zimbabwe, and as he has spoken out on a number of occasions, will he give us a guarantee that there will at least be a ministerial statement, and preferably a debate, on Zimbabwe before the House rises? Those of us who were present in Portcullis House yesterday to hear Andrew Meldrum, the distinguished correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer who was thrown out of Zimbabwe, came away with a clear conclusion that it is urgent that the House takes further action.

Peter Hain

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's general sentiments. I share his horror at the atrocities committed over the years by Robert Mugabe's regime. Tyranny is running riot in Zimbabwe. It has to be stopped and checked. I think that Zimbabwe's neighbours share a responsibility for seeking to end that situation, which is disfiguring the whole of the southern African sub-continent, especially in terms of investor confidence. I also applaud what the right hon. Gentleman said about Andrew Meldrum. He is a fine and brave journalist who was kicked out by Mugabe and his thugs. He bears testimony to the dreadful damage that the regime is doing to that once beautiful, proud and effective country.

On whether there is time for a statement, I shall certainly draw the right hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of the Foreign Secretary. We will have to see what transpires.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

With regard to the Hunting Bill on Monday, will my right hon. Friend give me two assurances on procedure? First, it has been put to me that there is an intention on the part of the Government that the Bill will be recommitted to a Standing Committee at the end of the Report stage. If that were to happen, it would be an underhanded device, which would arouse intense anger in this House and elsewhere. That being so, I ask my right hon. Friend to give me an absolutely categorical assurance that there is no such intention.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend will recall that on 21 March 2002, the Minister for Rural Affairs, speaking from the Dispatch Box, gave me an assurance that, in whatever form the Bill is completed, it will proceed to the House of Lords in that form. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs said: I am absolutely clear that if the Government introduce a Bill that is amended in the House of Commons, our promise in relation to allowing the Parliament Act to obtain will apply."—[Official Report, 21 March 2002; Vol. 382, c. 462.] When, later in the year, I wrote to my right hon. Friend asking him to reaffirm that commitment, in a letter to me dated 23 September 2002, he said: I certainly stand by … my reply to your question". I should therefore like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to assure me, first, that there is no intention whatever to seek to recommit the Bill, and, secondly—

Mr. Speaker


Peter Hain

First, I associate myself with my right hon. Friend's long and honourable record of voting in the House and arguing persistently for an end to cruelty. That has been exactly my position and I have often joined him in the Lobby in echoing that. The Government have a manifesto commitment on the matter and it is one that we intend to fulfil.

On my right hon. Friend's second question on the Parliament Acts and the procedure around the Hunting Bill, I confirm that the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs on 21 March 2002, which is recorded in Hansard, stands. That is the position that we will follow and the Government stand by it.

On my right hon. Friend's first question, we share the same objectives. It is the overwhelming view of the House to end cruelty, but it would be remiss of me not to explain the procedures that are likely to occur to fulfil the will of the House, whatever that might be on Monday. We are not sure which amendments will be carried and we are not sure whether all the amendments that have currently been tabled will be the end of the story. Further amendments may also be tabled. We will have to see.

I have been advised by parliamentary counsel—I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want me to be absolutely open and transparent about this, as I always hope to be with the House—that the Bill may need to be recommitted—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Well, wait for it; it is actually helpful to my right hon. Friend. I have been advised by parliamentary counsel that the Bill may need to be recommitted for the purpose of making technical and consequential amendments, without which the Bill, as amended, may not be effective law. That amended Bill would obviously have to be debated on Report and Third Reading and, as a result, it is doubtful whether it is possible to get it into the Lords before the recess. This is not a question of seeking to frustrate the intentions—

Mr. Kaufman

Absolutely disgraceful.

Peter Hain

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend said that, as it is surely in his interest and the interest of the whole House to have a good Bill. It may be that recommittal is not necessary. Technically and in other respects, the Bill may be in good enough shape to go to the House of Lords—[Interruption.] Actually, this is quite an important point and my right hon. Friend deserves a full answer. He will understand that if a defective Bill leaves this House, it will not be covered by the Parliament Act. It is therefore in his interests, as it is in the interests of the Minister for Rural Affairs, the Government as a whole and Labour Members who want to join together in banning cruelty, to ensure that the Bill that leaves this House for the other place is not defective, not least because it would not be covered by the Parliament Act.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the tax-raising and part-time Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the subject of the Hattersley thesis on taxation? As long ago as 13 March 1995, Lord Hattersley said in The Guardian: Labour now has a clear choice. It can either be the party of higher taxation and proud of it; or the party of higher taxes which it is ashamed to describe, afraid to admit and incapable of calculating with any accuracy. Does the tax-raising and part-time Leader of the House agree that such a debate would provide an excellent opportunity to display both the divisions within the Government and the predominant opinion of the Labour party that the pockets of the British people should continue to be plundered on an unprecedented scale?

Peter Hain

The answer is no. The real choice facing the nation is between a Tory economic programme of boom and bust, unfair taxation and 20 per cent. public spending cuts and a Labour policy of economic stability, fair taxation and public investment to generate high-quality public services. That is the choice before the nation, and I am confident that it will decide in favour of Labour and reject the Tories yet again at the next general election.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As regards Monday's business, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be a genuine free vote among Labour Members, including Ministers? Arising from what he said a moment ago, does he accept both that there is an overwhelming desire among a large majority of Labour MPs for a total ban on fox hunting, and that the matter should be resolved in this Parliament, although it should have been resolved in the last Parliament? Will the Leader of the House bear that in mind? There should be no shilly-shallying to avoid making a decision which, as I have said, is wanted by the majority of us and, I believe, a majority of people in the country.

Peter Hain

I share my hon. Friend's objectives, and we all share them as a Government—[Interruption.] Well, the Conservatives do not because they do not want to end cruelty. We are united in wanting to do so. The issue is about taking the Bill forward in a coherent form—that is the only issue to arise from the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I can confirm that there will be a free vote and that the will of the House will be respected. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) on his birthday? I understand that he is 70 today, and I wish him a happy birthday.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

May I raise an important matter with the Leader of the House that is of great concern throughout Sutton Coldfield and the Birmingham area—care homes for the elderly and the policies being pursued by Birmingham council? Over the past three years, more than 120 beds have closed in Birmingham, and projections this week suggest that a further 176 will go. Meanwhile, the latest figures show that 146 people are waiting in local hospitals for a place in a care home. There is also a huge differential between what Birmingham city council pays for places in its own homes and what it pays to the private sector, which is a clear breach of the Government's best-value guidelines. It would be most helpful if we could have a chance before the recess to discuss these matters, which are of great importance, not least because there is great concern in Birmingham this week about the workings of the National Care Standards Commission and recent events in connection with that. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will try to find a slot before the House rises on 18 July.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a time for me to intervene. Questions are far too long, and perhaps the Leader of the House can bear in mind the need for brief replies.

Peter Hain

I understand the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. There will be plenty of opportunities to raise these matters, as there have been in the recent past.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

May I probe my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about the Report stage of the Hunting Bill on Monday? Given my four years' experience of serving in the Whips Office, during which time I helped to guide many Government Bills through the House, I was struck when I examined the Bill yesterday by the enormous technical difficulties that would arise if a substantial amendment, such as a total ban, were agreed. I hope that there is a ban, and I would vote for such an amendment. However, it would change the Bill dramatically. My right hon. Friend has explained some of the technical details, but could he go a bit further and clarify the timetable, if such an amendment were accepted, for example, on recommittal and when the Bill would come back from the House of Lords? On Monday, people will want to know how long the process will take. Clearly, we want a proper Bill to leave the House and go to the Lords.

Peter Hain

We do not know exactly what the timing consequences will be until the end of the Report stage, when we will know what shape the Bill is in. We do not yet know whether it will need recommittal then or not. However, on the basis of the advice that I have been given, it is pretty clear that it will not be possible to get it into the Lords, as we had intended, before the recess if recommittal is necessary. Recommittal is not something that the Government want, but it needs to be an option for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave and, as I have explained, that will depend on the shape of the Bill after Report. It does not serve any objective, even for people wanting a total ban, which I have consistently voted for over the years, to proceed with a Bill that is not technically in order. It would not be covered by the Parliament Act, so that is not a sensible way for the House to proceed.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1466, which deals with the great public debate on genetically modified crops and was tabled by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher)? [That this House welcomes the Government's decision to initiate a major public debate on GM food and crops; urges all constituents to join in this (debate through the use of the questionnaire on www.gmnation.org.uk; notes the deep public concern that has been widely expressed to date on the health and environmental implications of GM food and crops; further notes that much of the research evidence relevant to this debate will not be available within the timeframe of the consultation period; and therefore calls on the Government to extend the consultation period to enable maximum public participation on a fully informed basis.] When can we have a little bit of that public debate in the House? It may have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's notice that such a debate is going on, because in Wales, his other area of responsibility, it has amounted to no more than a handful of public meetings and a consultation, the form for which is not available in Welsh. There is nothing on the website of the National Assembly for Wales about the consultation, even though the Assembly itself says that it is a GM-free zone. Importantly, the Government will not release their contribution until the debate has ended. When can we have a debate in Parliament, in Government time, on the material substance and facts about the future of GM crops in this country?

Peter Hain

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman's request must be considered in the usual way, but he should be aware that we have already extended the timetable for the debate on GM by three months at the request of the public debate steering board. There is plenty of time for the public and the hon. Gentleman to get involved, and there will be opportunities for him to do so in the House in the usual ways. The deadline for feedback to the steering board is 18 July.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)

From early-day motion 1218, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are working towards an announcement on whether to place an order with BAE Systems for the Hawk jet. [That this House notes the decision to award the contract for the Hawk jet fighter is due to be made; recognises that thousands of jobs directly and indirectly through the supply chain depend upon this work; further notes the importance of the UK aerospace industry as a world leader providing thousands of high quality jobs in addition to supporting the UK's manufacturing sector; and calls on the Government to make an early decision in support of UK aerospace manufacturing.] Given that the workers are under precautionary notice of redundancy at the end of July, can my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement on the matter and a decision that will give the British military the very best British kit?

Peter Hain

I share my hon. Friend's objective of taking advantage of the very best British kit and welcome the fact that he raises the matter. I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Cabinet Ministers because it is important that the interests involved are secured.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The Leader of the House announced a debate on Tuesday week on the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill—a Bill that was programmed in Standing Committee, with 55 clauses and 46 Government amendments not debated at all. Does he agree that that is unsatisfactory? Will he consider reverting to the previous regime, whereby the Government indicated the date by which a Bill should emerge from Standing Committee, but up to that point there was great flexibility as to how that time should be used? Does he agree that that might enable the House to scrutinise Bills more effectively than does the current regime?

Peter Hain

Although I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's long experience of these matters, he may think, on reflection, that the procedure that we have adopted has led to greater scrutiny. Nevertheless, I shall look into the points that he raised.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Can we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about Government plans to privatise file stores? Those file stores are dotted around the country and hold sensitive information about citizens who are claiming social security benefits. The plan is to privatise the file stores by July next year, and no in-house bid is being invited—only a private sector solution. One of those file stores is in my constituency. There are good civil servants working there, and they want to stay civil servants. They do not want to be moved into the private sector. It is an important matter that affects many constituents.

Peter Hain

I understand the importance of the matter to my hon. Friend, his constituents and those of other hon. Members. I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

Some of us voted for the recent war because we were assured by Ministers that Saddam possessed a weapon of mass destruction that was a threat to our peace and security. Will the Leader of the House reconsider what he said a moment ago about an Iraq debate? Some of us would like to question Ministers very closely on those matters.

Peter Hain

Obviously, an inquiry is taking place through the Foreign Affairs Committee. No doubt it will report and the usual opportunities for consideration will follow. The hon. Gentleman joined us in the Lobby in support of the Government. Having been a Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the middle east, covering the Iraq desk for nearly two years, having been in the Foreign Office when much of the process was building up and a Cabinet Minister at the time of the decision to take military action, I can say categorically that I have seen intelligence, shown to me by the most senior members of the Secret Intelligence Service and the Joint Intelligence Committee, which was conclusive on weapons of mass destruction. I can only tell the hon. Gentleman about my own experience, which persuaded me that what we were doing was absolutely necessary.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

It has been reported that at next Monday's World Bank meeting, the US will block proposals to increase the voice and voting power of African countries there, whereas two weeks ago we thought there was the political will to achieve those proposals. Given the strong support in the House for Africa, and given that the Government have said that they want to support Africa in that way, could we urgently debate how we might influence US policy on the matter? If a debate is not possible, will my right hon. Friend get the message to Ministers that Members want them to do everything they can to achieve a positive outcome for Africa on Monday?

Peter Hain

As a son of Africa, though a British subject by birth, I obviously share my hon. Friend's desire to see a good deal for Africa. The Government have made that a priority to be achieved through the New Partnership for Africa's Development programme, which will bring enormous opportunities and resources to Africa in exchange for reform. I shall draw urgently to the attention of the Secretary of State for International Development the points that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the Leader of the House chided the Opposition for seeking a referendum on the European constitution without knowing its contents. The Government, of course, have refused such a referendum on precisely the same terms. A few moments later, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the European constitution and the change that it would bring about. Is it a constitution and is it a constitutional change? If so, why do not the same rules apply to that constitution as apply to the euro and the agreement that the last Conservative Government reached to hold a referendum on it?

Peter Hain

The only Government who have ever held a referendum on Europe is a Labour Government in 1975. The only Government who will hold a referendum on the euro if the circumstances are right to join is a Labour Government. We have a proud record of referendums on Europe and we need no lessons from Conservatives, who have never supported referendums until they opportunistically see the chance to press seriously for the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union, which the shadow Leader of the House supports. That is their objective. As for the opportunity to debate on these matters, on 9 July—as I announced—there will be a full debate on a substantive motion.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a short debate, if not next week then before the recess, on the relationship between Parliament, Government and the media, to allow us to underline the political neutrality of the self-monitoring, publicly funded BBC?

Peter Hain

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The director of communications at No. 10 spent some time on the matter before the Select Committee yesterday. There is a real issue for the political class—those of us at Westminster and the media, who together occupy a political bubble around Westminster in which messages are transmitted between us which bear little resemblance to what the public outside understand. There is a serious problem about the public's engagement with Westminster politics and the barriers put up around it by the political class to which we all belong. That is the issue that has to be addressed, in addition to the one raised by my hon. Friend.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I pay personal tribute to Sir Nicolas Bevan for his outstanding service to the House over many years and his unfailing courtesy and friendship, which I have greatly valued?

Following up the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I make a plea to the Leader of the House. If a Bill goes from Standing Committee back to the House on Report without many of the important clauses and new clauses being debated, if the Government table new clauses for the remaining stages of the Bill, and if it is an important Bill—I shall not name one, for obvious reasons—is it not obligatory for the Government to provide adequate time, which is more than one day, for the remaining stages? On behalf of the House I make a fervent plea to the Leader of the House to ensure that the House does its job properly.

Peter Hain

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman raises, from his position of expertise and authority and speaking as he does on behalf of the Procedure Committee. The outcomes of pre- programming—before the procedures that the Government enacted for orderly business—were not guaranteed either. If we could reach a better understanding with the Opposition on how to manage time sensibly, that would be a different matter.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

My right hon. Friend will know that on Tuesday the Government published the draft Bill on the nuclear decommissioning authority, which proposes spending £50 billion on cleaning up old nuclear power stations. He may also know that on Tuesday evening the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against the Government by giving Ireland the right to be fully consulted on future decisions about Sellafield. Given that the high costs of reprocessing were a factor in the insolvency of British Energy, and that British Nuclear Fuels is about to announce a £1 billion loss on its accounts for the last financial year, is it not time that we had a full debate about the future of nuclear reprocessing and Sellafield, including the economic, environmental and security implications of sitting on 100 tonnes of plutonium?

Peter Hain

My hon. Friend brings to us a very welcome expertise and interest in this area for which I think the whole House is grateful. I urge him to continue to display that interest and take it forward. Of course, there will be opportunities for him to raise the matter in future, but I am grateful that he has done so now.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Instead of cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall, please could we have a three-hour session here with the Prime Minister on cutting, cross questions—very cross questions—so that he can explain some of his recent statements? They include the suggestion that officials never give evidence to Select Committees and his previous assertion that there was no constitutional basis to the euro, when he now says that there is such a basis. We could also ask a question that I and many others have asked him in seeking to find out when he knew about the dodgy document—but he has clearly failed to answer. There are many more cross questions for this particular Prime Minister.

Peter Hain

That was a very cross question, if I may say so. The hon. Lady knows full well that the issue of the documents about Iraq was discussed in great detail yesterday in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and it will be discussed again in future. The Prime Minister is due to appear before the Joint Committee in the meeting that he has agreed to. The hon. Lady gave the impression that the Prime Minister was not willing to answer questions—he does so weekly in the House and he has given more statements in recent times than probably any Prime Minister in living memory.

Mr. Forth

He does not give any answers.

Peter Hain

Perhaps that is because the questions are rubbish.

The Prime Minister has also made himself available to the House to be questioned by Chairmen of Select Committees, in an unprecedented fashion. He is more accountable to the House than any Prime Minister in living memory, and we are proud that that is the case.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). The consultation was indeed postponed for three months, but the period of consultation on GM does not cover the whole period in which there are results to be released by the Government on this subject. Given that President Bush has made the outrageous comment that the very sensible EU moratorium on genetically modified organisms is the cause of famine in Africa, surely it is time that this House debated these critical issues, whether there should be commercialisation of GM crops in this country, and whether such crops have any relevance at all to starvation in Africa.

Peter Hain

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, like his predecessor, is aware of the public concern and he will obviously bear it strongly in mind. He will listen very carefully to the views that she expresses, but as she will be aware, in terms of the activities of the public debate steering board on genetic modification, following on from the six regional launch events, further public meetings are now being organised by local authorities, other organisations and individuals so that people can get involved. People can also participate interactively in the public debate through the website. When that process has come to an end, there will be an opportunity, as there should be, for the House to consider the outcome.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

May I add my condolences to those given to Lady Thatcher on the loss of Sir Denis? All hon. Members will have our little memories of Sir Denis. I remember that, when the doors were being closed at a British Airways reception in Blackpool about 10 years ago, Sir Denis came along with his minder and declared, "I do not know what reception I am at, but for God's sake give me a gin and tonic." He was acting as the loyal consort on behalf of the lady when she was up late writing her speech. There are some very fond memories of Sir Denis.

On behalf of the massed, united ranks of Ulster Unionists in this House over the years, may I also give my thanks to Sir Nicolas for his service to the House?

Earlier this week, half of the Ulster Unionist parliamentary party resigned the Whip because our party does not oppose the joint declaration from the British and Irish Governments. That requires two pieces of legislation, I believe, that have to be introduced into the House to allow for the possibility of an October election. One of them is the legislation relating to the new sanctions proposals. We object to it, but it must pass through the House in regard to the sanctions for those involved in a future Northern Ireland Executive being involved in non-democratic procedures. The second is legislation to allow a virtual amnesty for on-the-run terrorists and criminals out of Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House give the House some guidance? With only three weeks left before the summer recess and only two sitting weeks in September, when will those two pieces of legislation be introduced?

Peter Hain

The business managers are indeed very aware of the issues concerned and will bear in mind the consequences for the business of the House. It is terribly important that we keep our eyes fixed very firmly on the big picture. The people of Northern Ireland overwhelmingly support the Good Friday agreement, they want an end to paramilitary activity, and they want the stability of institutions for which the agreement provided.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

The people of Castle Point have lived for many years with the serious health and social problems caused by the operation of Pitsea tip. Can we have a debate to ensure that proper monitoring and contingency plans are in place to deal with any further problems caused by the operation of that tip and so that we can have an independent risk assessment of the risks associated with the odours and the materials deposited there?

Peter Hain

I will ensure that the Ministers concerned are aware of the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about that matter. Of course, there are opportunities for him to raise it in the House in future.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

May I add my tribute to those paid to Sir Nicolas Bevan and wish him all the best in future?

Further to the earlier request for a debate on early-day motion 1466, which relates to GM foods and was raised in a fairly whinging way by the Welsh nationalist spokesman, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), the fact is that it is extremely welcome that the Government have organised the debate that is now taking place, and we should not take anything away from that. However, given that it is a Government-inspired debate and that there is much public anxiety about GM crops, and given the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) asked about comments made by people in the American Administration, should not we have a full day's debate here, in Government time?

Peter Hain

Again, I have dealt with the point about GM foods previously, and I acknowledge my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. He referred to whinging Welsh nationalists. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) is a valuable Member of this House, but he should not whinge as much as he does. The chief whinger, the leader of Plaid Cymru, having resigned two months ago, has announced today that he is going to re-stand for election to the leadership that he has just vacated. What a shower.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Will the tax-raising Leader of the House find Government time to debate the future of shipping services in the light of tax-raising Government press release No. 49, which was issued after the Budget? The change to national insurance will create a direct disincentive to employ British staff on ferry services between my constituency and Northern Ireland. Furthermore, it will directly penalise services between Scotland and Northern Ireland in favour of services to the Irish Republic, inasmuch as national insurance contributions will not be payable by staff working in international waters. The change will directly put Scottish jobs at risk and further prejudice ferry traffic on the north channel route. Will he accept the need for a level playing field for British jobs on British ships?

Peter Hain

This is obviously an important constituency matter for the hon. Gentleman, and I shall ensure that the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State is drawn to it.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement about the desperate situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? There is more news this week of an offensive by Rwandan-backed rebels, which could plunge Rwanda and Uganda back into direct confrontation. Could such a statement also deal with the Government's response to the UN panel of experts' report that was published at the beginning of November last year, pointing to the direct link between exploitation of the country's natural resources and the continuation of the conflict? Nothing much has happened since then. What is the Government's response?

Peter Hain

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the European Union agreed a mission to establish a peacekeeping operation, which is now in the Congo, but the situation is desperate. It is a huge country—virtually the size of the entire European continent—that has been plunged into successive conflicts. The international community, as manifested in Europe's determination to act with the blessing of the United Nations, must ensure that stability is brought to the country.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

Given that the European constitution will prohibit this House from legislating in relation to agriculture, justice, energy, social policy, economic cohesion, transport, the environment and aspects of public health unless Brussels agrees, does the Leader of the House think that in future it will still be worth being a Member of this House?

Peter Hain

It is interesting that such questions renege on commitments made by previous Conservative Governments to agree to decisions being made at a European level in Britain's interests. I do not recognise any of the threats with which the hon. Gentleman sought to alarm the House in the draft constitution that came out of the European Convention, which I helped to negotiate.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

May I echo the calls made by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), for a debate on the integrity of news reporting by the BBC? The attack on the BBC that was made yesterday by the director of communications is but the tip of the iceberg. There has been constant pressure on the BBC from this Government for the past six years, and it is far greater than any such pressure that was ever exerted by the likes of Norman Tebbit. It is immensely important that the BBC is not only allowed to report fairly and accurately, but is seen to be allowed to do so. Following the attack made by Alastair Campbell yesterday, that is not the case.

Peter Hain

That question comes from a member of a party that complained to the BBC about its local election coverage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Conservative Members agree with that complaint. Alastair Campbell made it perfectly clear yesterday that he of course fully acknowledges the important role of the BBC and its broadcasting responsibilities, and the fact that it generally undertakes that role very well. Nevertheless, he put a series of questions to the BBC. Does it still stand by the allegation that it made on 29 May that Alastair Campbell and/or No. 10 Downing street added in the 45-minute claim? Does it still stand by the allegation made on the same day that he or they did so against the wishes of the intelligence agencies? Does it still stand by the allegation made on that day that both No. 10 and himself, and the intelligence agencies, knew the 45-minute claim to be wrong? Those, and a series of other questions, are very specific points that the BBC has to deal with. It has not answered them yet, and it should do so.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

I have a number of people in my constituency who work for hunts and are worried about losing their jobs and livelihoods, and they would like to understand the full implications of what the Leader of the House said today. Will he confirm that if there is not a Report stage on the Hunting Bill after its recommital before the summer recess, and if the House of Lords does not have enough time to consider the Bill before the start of the next Session, it can be carried over only with the permission of the Lords, and the Government will have to reintroduce a Bill at the start of the next Session? Would it not be better to admit that the Government have more import ant matters on their hands, including Iraq, the health service, education, the Extradition Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill, and consign the whole thing to the dustbin?

Peter Hain

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Conservative Benches wish to consign it to the dustbin because they do not want to end cruelty. The Government do want to end cruelty, and this House has voted overwhelmingly to do so. We shall have to await the end of the debate on Monday to see where we stand; I have explained to the House in great detail what will happen thereafter.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Could the Leader of the House clear up some of the confusion that has arisen over his role? Is he a licensed critic of the Government, or just a critic?

Peter Hain

I am a Cabinet Minister and I support the Government's policies. He can ask me another question along those lines next time, and continue to do so.

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