HC Deb 13 November 2003 vol 413 cc413-29 12.31 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 17 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Courts Bill [Lords],followed by money resolution relating to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, followed, if necessary, by further Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

TUESDAY 18 NovEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, followed, if necessary, by further consideration of Lords amendments.

WEDNESDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, followed, if necessary, by further consideration of Lords amendments.

THURSDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments.

The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.

The House may like to be reminded that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just announced that the pre-Budget report will be on Wednesday 10 December.

Mr. Heald

May I begin by paying a warm tribute to my predecessor? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Apparently, several other right hon. and hon. Members wish to join in that tribute. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) brought his own inimitable style to these occasions. He apologises for not being here today, but he is at another parliamentary occasion. However, he promises that he will be back on these occasions, week after week. I cannot promise that I will tease the Leader of the House as much as my right hon. Friend did, but I will try to hold the right hon. Gentleman just as firmly to account.

Last week, the Leader of the House was asked whether arrangements could be made for the President of the United States to address both Houses of Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House has the right to expect such an event, and will he explain what is being done about that?

On a more sombre note, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the widespread reports about the handling of child abuse allegations in Islington and, more particularly, the insulting and demeaning way in which victims have been treated. May we have an urgent debate on that vital issue?

The local government settlement is a matter of great concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially following the swingeing increases in council taxes that were forced on local authorities last year. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Local Government Association has already warned that next year there will be increases of more than 100 per home. Will he tell the House, therefore, whether that statement will be given next Tuesday, so that hon. Members may prepare? Will he accept a plea from me that it should not be given on Wednesday, when the business of the House will be taken up with contentious and difficult matters?

Last week, workers who had lost their pensions and whose employers are insolvent held a meeting at the House. It was organised on an all-party basis, and workers, including workers from the former Allied Steel and Wire in Cardiff, gave moving accounts of how they had lost their life savings. On that occasion, the Minister for Pensions said that he was considering the matter. May we have a statement and a debate in Government time on what the Government are prepared to do to help them?

Finally, I want to ask about the Government's controversial identification card scheme—not the one for people, but the one for horses and donkeys. The Horse Passports (England) regulations were laid on 4 November, and are due to come into force on 30 November. I understand that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not been able to consider the regulations. What advice does the Leader of the House have for Britain's horse and donkey owners? Should they trot off to obtain a passport, or should they rein back and await further news? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor would have been extremely concerned about the problem.

Mr. Hain

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I understand that the problem is that we cannot get horses into photo booths.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I shall not offer him my full support, however, as I did that last week to his predecessor and it proved fatal. Even so, I join the hon. Gentleman in paying a warm tribute to his predecessor, who is a real treasure in the House of Commons. I look forward to him terrorising me from the Back Benches, just as he did from the Front Bench.

I should note that, these days, it is very hard not to be a Front Bencher in the Conservative parliamentary party. The sketch writer for The Guardian, Simon Hoggart, wrote earlier this week:

If you cut the ex-leaders, the very old and the certifiably insane, you need to have something startlingly wrong with you not be a Tory frontbencher these days.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) asked some specific questions. He pointed out, rightly, that the question of President Bush's very important visit has been raised before. I am not in a position to say whether the President will address both Houses. That is a matter for the palace, and the question of security must be considered, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. However, the day before yesterday was 11 November—Remembrance day. We must remember that America, one of our closest allies, stood solidly by us when this country faced one of its darkest hours in the fight against the Nazis. If it had not done so, it is possible that we in the House of Commons would not enjoy our current freedom. That is the context in which we should greet the state visit by the President of the United States.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire also asked about the difficulties of child abuse in Islington many years ago. Under the Minister for Children, in the past few months the Government have put together a policy that is the most rigorous and radical protection of children's rights that any Government of this country have ever devised. We intend to take that important policy forward.

The intention is that a statement on local authority settlements will be made next Wednesday. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will understand that all days are potentially busy at this especially fraught time of year, shortly before prorogation. Therefore, I do not accept that it would be better to have the statement on one day or another.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is right that the question of pensions and insolvencies is very serious. I know, from my personal knowledge as Secretary of State for Wales, that the plight of the ASW workers in Cardiff is very serious. The Government want to offer what help we can, and we are introducing new legislation to that end on the back of the pensions Green Paper. I hope that the proposals will have the support of the Conservative Opposition.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, earlier this week the Home Secretary made a statement on the general question of identity cards.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I warmly welcome the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) to his new post. There are now so many part-time spokesmen in the Conservative shadow Cabinet, but I notice that he is not addressing his questions to the part-time Leader of the House any more. That is perhaps a relief to the Leader of the House.

What is the position on the House of Lords reform? Last Friday the Secretary of State for Health announced that the House of Lords was not entitled to amend the foundation hospitals Bill because its Members were "unelected". When and how do the Government propose to redress that defect? Does the Leader of the House recognise that, since it was not a manifesto commitment, nobody has been elected to support those proposals in either House?

Will the right hon. Gentleman elaborate on the exchange of correspondence that was published yesterday between the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the Chairman of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform? I am sure that the Leader of the House has taken a close interest in the correspondence, and will have noted that the Secretary of State told the Committee that it could now consider not just the proposals made by the Government, including those in the consultation paper of 18 September, but any other proposals that it deems appropriate to the reform of the House of Lords. When will that take place? When will there be an opportunity for the House to discuss a motion on the remit of that Committee, if it is to continue? Is that the vote that, on 29 October, the Prime Minister referred to as a free vote on both sides of the House, or is the free vote for some other purpose? Will it be, for example, on the Second Reading of the Bill that the Government propose to introduce? When will there be an open debate on an amendable motion and a free vote on the whole subject to which the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor referred?

The Extradition Bill will come before us in a few minutes' time. Is the Leader of the House aware that the amendments have only just arrived in the Vote Office? These circumstances arise every year and the Leader of the House referred to them just now. At this time of the Session, we are given so many amendments to consider in such a short time that the business of the House is indigestible. Will he give that consideration' and recognise before this situation arises next year that there must be a review of the amount of legislation that is pushed through at this time of the year?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's last point. Obviously, the House wants an opportunity to look at all amendments carefully and give them proper scrutiny. Pre-legislative scrutiny helps generally.

On House of Lords reform, I voted, possibly with the hon. Gentleman, for a fully elected second chamber. He will have to wait with bated breath to see what may be in the Queen's Speech in that respect. I will certainly consider the correspondence issue carefully.

The hon. Gentleman should not misinterpret what the Prime Minister said about a free vote. He did not say that there would be a free vote on any forthcoming legislation to abolish the right of the hereditaries to vote in the House of Lords; he was referring to the free vote that took place earlier this year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, to my regret, there was no conclusive outcome. In those circumstances, another free vote so soon afterwards would not be profitable.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

When people have a stroke, not everyone is fortunate enough to be taken by the Speaker and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to the nearest accident and emergency unit to be treated in a specialist unit. Is my right hon. Friend aware that today the Stroke Association has launched a campaign, "Why are we Waiting?" to highlight the need for specialist stroke units to be added to hospitals throughout the country? The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), claims that next year 94 per cent. of hospitals will have stroke units, but the Stroke Association disputes that. It feels that the Government are not meeting their national service framework provision for all people. This would be a good topic to debate, when we could sort out the statistics and discover whether the Department of Health is spinning this matter too far.

Mr. Hain

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Stroke Association on its commendable and important work. I am grateful to him for raising the matter. As he implied, the Under-Secretary said recently:

"We take services for stroke patients very seriously and are working hard to improve the care patients receive in hospital…By April next year, 171 out of 181 hospitals will be providing specialist stroke services with a team of dedicated health professionals in place with expertise in this area."

Mr.AndrewMackay (Bracknell)

Why is the Minister for Children not coming to the House next week to make a statement, in the light of the serious letter that she wrote to Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC, in which she blackened a courageous whistleblower who brought to light the dreadful cases of child abuse in Islington that she so ignored when she was its leader?

Mr. Hain

I was expecting the right hon. Gentleman to raise that question, as he has pursued it tirelessly, week after week after week. What it cannot be allowed to obscure, however, is the Government's excellent record in providing additional rights, extra protection and additional investment for children: for example, the sure start programme, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children was instrumental in bringing forward; significant rises in child benefit; successful literacy and numeracy strategies; and the "Every Child Matters" Green Paper, in the launch of which my right hon. Friend was involved. That is the important policy agenda. The Government's record on a joined-up children's policy is better than that of any of our predecessors.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House may be aware that in Liverpool this morning the chief constable of Sussex made a public apology to my constituents, the Ashley family, concerning the killing of James Ashley five years ago during a bungled police raid. Will the Leader of the House ensure that both the Wilding and Hoddinot reports on that matter are given full public scrutiny and exposure? Will he take all possible steps to ensure that such an incident never happens again and that the subsequent attempts to cover it up and to discredit the people involved can never happen in future?

Mr. Hain

I welcome my hon. Friend's question. A repeat of such a dreadful tragedy should never be allowed. I commend the chief constable for taking that unusual initiative and travelling that distance to try at least to put the matter to rest and to assure the family that the police service is genuinely apologetic.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

This week, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs organised a presentation and a press conference to launch Lord Haskins' report proposing ideas for the most fundamental reorganisation of rural services for many years. In that context, the House was ignored. Will the Leader of the House look at the situation again and ensure that the Secretary of State comes to the House to make a statement, or that there is a debate in Government time, to enable all Members with an interest in the delivery of rural services to probe and evaluate those fundamental proposals from Lord Haskins?

Mr. Hain

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is always accountable to the House and would not want in any way to divert attention from or hide important reports such as that of Lord Haskins. On the contrary, she has already said that she wants to hold a debate when the Government have had time to consider the report. However, I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's expertise and interest in the matter, as, I am sure, will my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In the interests of balance, will the Leader of the House accept that not everybody in the House wants George Bush to address the Houses of Parliament? In fact, a considerable number of us—many are not in the Chamber at present —would be glad if he was not coming at all. Will the Leader of the House convey to the powers that be at the White House, and at the palace if necessary, that it would be in Bush's interests not to turn up? There are going to be some demonstrations, and that will not go down well at the White House and the Pentagon. Finally, what is the point of it, because he will not get any decent photo opportunities at the palace at present?

Mr. Hain

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, very much indeed for that question.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Answer it then.

Mr. Hain

Indeed—I am about to do so.

The state visit has been long arranged. The President of the United States is the president of an important ally, and his visit should be treated properly in that context. Of course, as my hon. Friend implies, people have the right to exercise their freedom to demonstrate peacefully. He will also understand that, in view of regular terrorist threats over the past few years, as well as actual terrorist attacks, the security around the visit is a very important matter, and I am sure that he will want to take that into account.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Leader of the House, as a Cabinet Minister, chairs an important Select Committee: the Modernisation Committee. I —one of the 49 per cent. of the main Opposition party who are not members of a shadow team—chair the Procedure Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will indicate why he believes that that is so.

What thought is the right hon. Gentleman giving to the revised hours of the House, because he is aware that important Select Committees are finding it difficult to meet when the House is not meeting or when important debates are taking place in the Chamber? I refer particularly to the fact that both the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee meet on the same afternoon. Is it not possible to make a better arrangement, whereby hon. Members who are interested in what goes on in the Chamber can also fully participate in the important work of Select Committees?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman does important work on behalf of the Procedure Committee. I well understand his point and I have it in mind to discuss it with him and other hon. Members.

I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman is not on the Front Bench, because he is most certainly not one of those whom The Guardianreported as being certifiably insane. On the contrary, he ought to be a rising star in the Conservative party, and his long experience on the Back Benches would add extra weight and extra credibility, which is badly needed on the new Tory Front Bench.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

May we have an urgent debate on the availability on the national health service of the Prevenar vaccine, which, as my right hon. Friend will know, is used to treat pneumococcal meningitis in children? I have been sent details of case of a two-year-old child who died because he did not receive the vaccine, which is readily available in America and Europe, but not in this country. May we have an urgent debate on this matter so that we can put that right?

Mr. Hain

That is obviously a very serious incident, and I understand why my hon. Friend raises it. I am sure that those responsible in the Government will want to take careful account of it, particularly as he raises it on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton)

The Leader of the House may not be aware of the impending havoc in university admissions that is forecast for October 2005 because of the Government's proposals to introduce top-up fees. Many current year 12 or lower sixth form students who may have been expected to finish their A-levels in June 2005 and take a gap year will not take that gap year, which will create a logjam in October 2005. The Government have written to me saying that they have no plan to introduce any special arrangement to resolve that problem. Does he not think that the House should debate the Government's intransigence on this matter?

Mr. Hain

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills is well aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, but may I ask whether he supports the policy, advocated by those on the Conservative Front Bench, of depriving up to 100,000 students of the chance to get a university education?

Mr. Flook

indicated assent.

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman does support that policy, so he would deprive many potential students in his and every other constituency of the chance to go to university. That is the issue that he should be concerned about, and he should back the Government's policy of expanding university education and preventing universities from getting into precisely the kind of financial mess that they were in when we inherited our dreadful legacy in 1997.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

The Leader of the House will be aware that Royal Mail announced today that it was back in profit, which is good news, but that is an unfortunate coincidence for me as it coincides with a notice from Royal Mail saying that seven of the 16 post offices in Weymouth are due for closure. Will the Leader of the House agree to allow us to debate the closure of sub-post offices in areas such as mine, especially as it appears that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have already been asked to sign a contract agreeing to the closures even before the consultation has begun? All hon. Members are concerned about the elderly, the infirm and the immobile being able to gain access to local post offices when so many are closing in places such as Weymouth.

Mr. Hain

I very much sympathise with my hon. Friend's expression of concern. If those closures occur in his constituency, it would undoubtedly be a real problem, not just for him and the House, but for his constituents. As I have said before, there has been a long-term trend under the previous Government and under us of local post offices being unable to survive in today's consumer climate, in which people make different choices. I very much regret that because, for example, in my own village, Resolven in the Neath valley, we have a local post office that is a centre of the community. It is important that as many local post offices as possible survive, and the Government are working to achieve that.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

Following the disgraceful but not untypical failure of the Prime Minister yesterday to answer questions about the cost of running the Government and the recently published figures that show that the cost of running government has increased by a massive 50 per cent. since 1997, may we have a whole-day debate in Government time that draws on past, as well as present, examples of waste and inefficiencies under Labour Governments?

Mr. Hain

One of the wastes and inefficiencies under this Labour Government has been the huge taxpayer subsidy to the Conservative party. Over the past year, the Conservatives have received more in subsidy than they have raised in private donations. They have received £4 million of taxpayers' support, and have raised £3.5 million from private donations. That is an absolutely outrageous waste of public money, which ought to be addressed.

Mr. Heald

Would you take the Short money?

Mr. Hain

Indeed, I am happy to support that. Political parties in trouble ought to get all the help they can.

On the overall staff figures in the civil service, is the hon. Gentleman saying that, for example, the 4,000 extra staff recruited to tackle the problem of asylum seeking, which the leader of the Conservative party bequeathed to us from his time as Home Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Asylum policy was a real mess. We have had to recruit more people to combat that problem; as a result, the number of asylum applications is decreasing and the problem is being tackled seriously. Some 3,000 people have been recruited to organise the new deal, which has offered job opportunities to about 800,000 people. Is he saying that those people should be given the sack?

The truth is that we are addressing efficiency in the civil service. As a result of the Lyons review, which we set up, we are also ensuring that 20,000 jobs are shifted from London to the rest of the country—so there is a better opportunity to disperse civil service jobs. The hon. Gentleman should be asking those questions, rather than the spurious ones that he asked.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

Will the Leader of the House consider allowing time to debate the excellent work done by trading standards officers throughout the length and breadth of Britain, especially as we are approaching the festive season? As part of that debate, perhaps we might also consider the problem of junk mail, which is already pouring through people's letterboxes all over the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hain

I guess that in the coming months more junk mail will pour through people's letterboxes from the new leader of the Conservative party. I am sure that it will go straight into the bin, along with the rest of the junk mail.

Trading standards officers do a valuable job, and I commend my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to that and for allowing us to support the work that they do.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Dr. Julian Brazier.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not a doctor, but I am flattered that you should think so.

May I press the Leader of the House for an early debate on the closure of so many local jobcentres? In Kent alone we are faced with the loss of three, including the essential one on Whitstable high street. Those centres are vital to many of the most vulnerable people in our communities—not only youngsters who may otherwise get into trouble but many disabled older people. Will the Leader of the House also look at the disgraceful way in which money is being put into posts for full-time public sector officials to work with the disabled in areas where voluntary organisations such as the Shaw trust are working far more cost-effectively than any public sector body?

Mr. Hain

Obviously, we want a balance between the excellent work of voluntary groups such as the Shaw trust and Government support provided through public subsidy for officials to help take that work forward. Unless this is one of the candidates for the 20 per cent. Conservative cuts—

Mr. Brazier

Yes, cuts in administration.

Mr. Hain

Ah, I see. The hon. Gentleman wants the further support that we have provided withdrawn from some of the most vulnerable groups in our communities.

On the wider issue what was it?

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)


Mr. Hain

Yes, jobcentres. As the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will know, the Government are seeking to bring together benefits agencies with jobcentres, and I guess that that must at least in part be the explanation for the issue that he raises. It is a sensible thing to do, and I should have thought that he would support a one-stop shop to provide people with the opportunity to come off benefit and welfare into work in a way that record numbers of people are doing and have done under this Government. Employment is now at its highest ever, unemployment is at its lowest for a generation, and people who have not been able to get work because they have been caught between benefit and job opportunities are now getting the chance to work and the extra hope and opportunity that that brings. The hon. Gentleman should be applauding that, not criticising it.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

May I ask my right hon. Friend when we shall have a date for a decision on the location of new airports in this country? I am sure that he will be aware that there is widespread concern in Coventry and in Warwickshire regarding a proposed airport for Rugby. May we have a date for that decision?

Mr. Hain

This is obviously a matter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is actively considering. I know that my hon. Friend is a champion of airports in his area, and the Secretary of State is well aware of the importance that he attaches to those airports, and of the important role that they play in the region.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

The Leader of the House has dealt very lightly with the concerns of my hon. Friends about the Minister for Children. The problem is that the last four or five months of her tenure in office have been completely bedevilled by her fighting rearguard actions about her suitability for that post, which has been seriously called into question by her irrational remarks this week. If the Leader of the House is so convinced that his Government now have the most rigorous policy on child protection, why cannot we have a debate on it? May I remind him that in the 10 months since Lord Laming produced his report on 28 January, there has been not a single debate in Government time on child protection matters? There was one statement on the Green Paper on 8 September, which lacked an awful lot of detail. If he is so impressed by his policy, cannot we have a debate in the House and put it to the test properly?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot anticipate at this stage what will come in the Queen's Speech. I assure him, however, that over the course of the coming year or so the work that was initiated in the Green Paper on children's rights, into which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children put a great deal of work, will be debated fully in the House, and he will have every opportunity to raise whatever issues he wants.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Since I entered the House in 1987, I have been campaigning for victims and their families who suffered from asbestos pollution in my constituency. In the 1990s, we won a court case to prove that the company was liable. The company was then bought by an American company, Federal Mogul, which bought the parent company, Turner and Newell. Some three years ago, that American company put the whole operation in Britain into liquidation to avoid paying out to the families and their victims. We now learn that the administrators have in the last two years received £75 million from the funds—the victims have received nothing. I refer my right hon. Friend to the early-day motion tabled on this subject, and I ask the House and the Government to have a discussion on this matter and to look into the responsibilities of corporate insurance. This issue affects hundreds of thousands of our constituents who suffer from asbestos pollution.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend has championed this cause—I am grateful to him because it is an issue that affects everyone—as he has championed many other causes both in his present role as a Back Bencher and in his distinguished ministerial career. On this particular issue, I shall consider his request. He has other opportunities to apply for a debate, and it would be good to give the issue an airing.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)

Given that the Treasury private finance initiative building incurred professional fees of £25,303,000, which is more than 20 per cent. of the total construction cost of the building, and the Home Office, for its PFI project, paid £2 million to the contractor for the insertion of a refinancing clause that should have been included anyway, can we have a debate next week in Government time on the Government's relationship with its PFI contractors? At the moment, it looks as though the contractors are running rings around this Government.

Mr. Hain

I do not accept that for a moment. I do not anticipate an early debate, but the hon. Gentleman is welcome to apply for one if he wishes.

Mr. David Wat (St. Helens, North)

May I inform my right hon. Friend that there is still major confusion about the future of the west coast main line, with Ministers, the regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and Virgin all saying different things? Can he arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House to clarify whether he is still committed to the full modernisation of the west coast main line by 2005 to Liverpool, and by 2008 to Scotland? It would be an opportunity to clear up some of the confusion that now arises over the scheme.

Mr. Hain

I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State understands my hon. Friend's point. I know that my hon. Friend will also want to commend my right hon. Friend, however, on the expert way in which he is driving forward unprecedented investment in railway stock and in the railways, to try to deliver the first-class railway service that this country needs but of which it has been deprived for many long years, not least because of the abject failure of the Conservative party in government to invest in the railway system.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

May we have a debate on the impact of overdevelopment in the south-east, which has been forced on us, against the people's wishes, by the Deputy Prime Minister? We could consider the impact of that overdevelopment on communities such as Castle Point, where the quality of life is already severely affected by congestion and by the lack of investment in our infrastructure.

Mr. Hain

The Government are very concerned about congestion in the south-east and are taking action to do what we can to address it in terms of modernisation of our transport system and planning policy. The hon. Gentleman will understand, however, that powerful economic forces are at work in the south-east of England, which has been booming for a number of years. That is at the root of the problem. It is not easy to resolve that with any quick fixes.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of my constituents, Mills and Poole, who served 13 years in prison for a murder that they did not commit? From answers to written questions over recent weeks, I understand that there are 58 people in this land in a similar position, who are waiting 182 days on average before their eligibility for compensation is assessed, and there are further processes to take place before they receive their compensation. That is a long time to wait for an interim compensation payment in relation to a crime that those people did not commit. Can my right hon. Friend prevail on the Home Office to make a statement on this issue?

Mr. Hain

One hundred and eighty-two days is indeed a very long time to wait. My hon. Friend will obviously understand that these claims must be properly assessed to conform to the correct procedures. I commend him on raising this matter, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will want to respond and look at the matter urgently, because it is a real concern, as he said.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

The Leader of the House will be aware that we have regular opportunities to debate the affairs of Northern Ireland. Wales and Scotland. Although the House of Commons makes laws and decisions that affect the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies, no debate ever takes place on those territories for which we are responsible. Will the Leader of the House allow the House to have an annual debate on the overseas territories so that we may discuss issues that relate to them, bearing in mind that the people who live there have no elected representation in the British Parliament?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman, of course, has the opportunity to apply for an Adjournment debate on a range of issues, and that subject could be one of them, if he wished.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

Will the Leader of the House give us some indication of when we shall have the opportunity to debate the higher education Bill and the flawed plans—in my view—to introduce student top-up fees?

Mr. Hain

We will obviously find time to discuss the matter and, indeed, it has been discussed regularly in Education questions and when the Secretary of State made his statement. I am sure that my hon. Friend would want to join me in opposing any policy that the Government could adopt that would echo the Conservatives' policy of denying at least 100,000 students the opportunity to study at university while plunging our universities into the financial chaos from which we have rescued them since we have been in government.

PaulFlynn (Newport, West)

When can we discuss early-day motion 1902, which congratulates the Government on their courageous and far-sighted proposals on identity cards, which will deal with the serious and growing problems of identity theft and fraud?

[That this House congratulates the Government on its far-sighted proposal to deal with the growing problems of identity theft and fraud; believes that conscientious objections to identity cards on the basis of liberty and privacy can be overcome by the use of zero knowledge protocol which will allow speedy identification while biometrically protecting confidential information which will not be stored on a central database; and is convinced that this protocol will make identity cards acceptable by also providing new access to services for users.]

The EDM urges the Government to examine ways in which objections on conscientious grounds about liberty and confidentiality could be overcome by using zero knowledge protocols, which would biometrically protect the confidentiality of the information and avoid the use of a central database. With that system in place, virtually all the objections to identity cards could be overcome.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. As he knows, the Home Secretary announced the Government's intention to proceed with consulting on and taking forward a programme to introduce identity cards. He also knows that we are effectively a long way down that road, given the need for biometrics on driving licences and passports that is coming up. I am informed that it might not be possible to get into the United States of America in one or two years unless one carries a biometric because that is one of the security measures that the country is introducing. The Home Secretary will obviously consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I am sure that the Leader of the House recognises that we in Sheffield warmly welcome the substantial increases in funding for the national health service, which has produced improvements in the treatment of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. However, I hope that he will arrange a debate on the priority—some would say the lack of priority given to mental health services. The Sheffield community health trust recently announced an overspend for this year of £650,000, which has led to the partial temporary closure of a brand new respite care unit, among other things. We also have no 24-hour crisis intervention service in the city and there is inadequate funding for adult outreach services and early intervention services for young people. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate so that we can give publicity to those issues and hopefully get more priority for those services?

Mr. Hain

Obviously, the issues to which my hon. Friend draws our attention are of concern and he will want to pursue them as a constituency MP. I am sure that he will agree that the Government have accorded mental health the status of being one of their four main priorities on health policy. There must be delivery across the board throughout the country, so perhaps the issue needs to be considered in the context of his Sheffield constituency.

Mr.DavidKidney (Stafford)

The water framework directive has massive implications for our water quality, supply and cost in addition to much broader environmental implications. The directive must be transposed into national law by the end of 2003. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials tell me that our regulations are ready to be published but the House will consider them only under the negative procedure. Does my right hon. Friend think that the matter, which the Select Committee described as hugely important, will merit a full debate in Government time in December when the regulations appear?

Mr. Hain

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter but he will understand that, with the Queen's Speech debate ending in early December and the need to send him and colleagues packing in time for Christmas, it is not possible for me to promise him such a debate.

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Is my right hon. Friend familiar with early-day motion 1793 on the topic of the 60th anniversary of D-day?

[That this House notes that 6th June 2004 will mark the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings; recognises the sacrifice made by thousands of service personnel on this day and throughout the Second World War; congratulates the Government on issuing free passports for those veterans wishing to travel to France to mark the anniversary but expresses concern at the apparent low key nature in which the United Kingdom Government intends to commemorate this day; and calls on the Government to ensure that the 60th anniversary commemorations are a fitting tribute to the veterans who will attend and honour all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.]

Several people raised the matter with me last weekend at Remembrance day services. They want the House to find a proper and sensitive way to commemorate the event, and I think that there would be all-party support for that.

Mr. Hain

I am sure that there would be such support. The Government intend to ensure that the D-day celebrations are an important commemoration of the sacrifices made and the courage shown by those who took part in the D-day operation. I, too, was involved in Remembrance day services. I was greatly moved by the first ever national Welsh Remembrance day service on Sunday, as I am sure was the whole House.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

The House recently decided to pay some Select Committee Chairmen an additional £2,500 a year. However, there is no transparency about the way in which Members get on to Select Committees. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House hold discussions with his opposite numbers in all political parties represented in the House and place in the Library a memorandum from each party specifying in some detail its procedures for putting Members on Select Committees?

Mr. Hain

This is obviously primarily a matter for the Committee of Selection but my hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. It would be valuable if the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—and other parties, no doubt—published details of the way in which they select Committee members. We in the parliamentary Labour party have a transparent procedure. Nominations are invited▀×people may nominate themselves—and the names go to our parliamentary committee, which is the Executive of the parliamentary Labour party. Indeed, my hon. Friend sat on that parliamentary committee until a week or two ago. The parliamentary committee recommends names to the full membership of the parliamentary Labour party, so the process is fully transparent and democratic. The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats should at least match that process and the House should know about their procedures.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the significant growth of all-party parliamentary groups in this Parliament? The upside of that is that hon. Members can attend meetings of interesting groups but the downside is that pressure is being put on room bookings and attendance at meetings of long-established groups is going down. Has the time come to undertake a review of all-party groups, taking into account the views of all right hon. and hon. Members?

Mr. Hain

I understand the points that my hon. Friend raises, especially about congestion with room bookings. The matter is primarily for the Administration Committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards rather than me, but I shall certainly look into it. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that one of the groups that was turned down for all-party group status was the Manchester United football supporters group. Speaking as a Chelsea fan, that gives me great pleasure.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

We have witnessed widespread failures across the board in all forms of privatisation. We have seen failing companies that work with local education authorities. There have been failures by Railtrack and the whole railway industry. The water industry has failed to invest in sewerage systems that need to be replaced because Victorian sewers are crumbling. There has been widespread failure in almost every area and we have heard comments today about PFI schemes, which are clearly causing problems and are horrendously expensive. Is it not time for my right hon. Friend to grant a thorough debate on the future of privatisation and whether we should think again about going back to proper public investment, which works better and is cheaper and publicly accountable?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that my hon. Friend also acknowledges that the Government have presided over record public investment in our infrastructure, including the areas that he mentioned, and public services. I would not want him to imply that that is not the case—I am sure that he does not. In addition, a great deal of private sector investment has been levered in through PF1s, whatever the problems associated with them—there is one in my county borough council and I know that there are issues to consider. My hon. Friend should not paint such a one-sided picture.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

Is it possible to have a debate in Government time, perhaps after the Queen's Speech—I realise there is pressure on next week's business—on the employment figures released this week, which were excellent news? In particular, I should like the debate to focus on the impact of the new deal on youth unemployment in every constituency the length and breadth of the land.

Mr. Hain

It would be very good to find time for such a debate. The Government's record on employment, including the figures announced today, is tremendous, as my hon. Friend implies. We have created a rise in employment of more than 1.6 million. More people are in work now than ever before in Britain's history and unemployment has come down. I am sure that the new deal has been a great success in her constituency, as it has in all constituencies, including mine.

Mr. Heald

indicated dissent

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the figures speak for themselves. Some 810,000 people have been given job opportunities. The new deal has given many people in my constituency—lone parents. people with disabilities, people who have not worked for a long time and young unemployed people —the chance to work. They now have hope and opportunity. The Conservatives want to plunge those people back into the very despair that they reigned over in their 18 miserable years in office.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

We have codes of conduct for civil servants, special advisers, Members of the House and Ministers. Is there not a case for introducing a code of conduct for shadow Ministers, given the real possibility of conflicts of interest, and may we debate that?

Mr. Hain

It is a very interesting idea. Members are, of course, covered by the standards of conduct laid down by the House and set out in the Register of Members' Interests. Ministers are covered by the Government code of conduct, also approved by the House. There is, however, no code of conduct for shadow Ministers. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may want to consider that, as, indeed, may the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Sessional Orders that apply to the House also apply to access to the building by Members on a specific day when the House is sitting? Will he also confirm that demonstrations have frequently been held outside the Houses of Parliament during parliamentary sittings in the past five years? In light of that, it would be completely unreasonable to disallow a peaceful march to protest against the visit of President Bush next week from going across Westminster bridge and up Whitehall to the rally in Trafalgar square. Will the Leader of the House consult the Home Office on that so that arrangements can be made with the Metropolitan police to facilitate the march? While he is discussing those matters, perhaps President Bush can do a question and answer session with Members of Parliament, because he appears not to be meeting any other members of the public during his visit.

Mr. Hain

I cannot comment on the details of President Bush's visit. Policing and the route of the march are matters for the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I emphasise that the Home Secretary has made it clear that people have a right to protest, which will be upheld provided that it is conducted and exercised peacefully.

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