HC Deb 11 September 2003 vol 410 cc474-85 12.33 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

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

The business of the House for next week is as follows:

MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER—Commons consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government Bill.

TUESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER—Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced, followed, if necessary, by Commons consideration of Lords Amendments.

WEDNESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER—Consideration of an allocation of time motion followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Bill [Lords] followed, if necessary, by Commons consideration of Lords Amendments.

THURSDAY 18 SEPTEMBER—Second Reading of the Arms Control and Disarmament (Inspections) Bill [Lords]. Followed, if necessary, by Commons consideration of Lords Amendments.

FRIDAY 19 SEPTEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after the conference recess will include:

TUESDAY 14 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for October will be:

THURSDAY 16 OCTOBER—Debate on the report from the Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on reducing regional disparities in prosperity.

THURSDAY 23 OCTOBER—Debate on the report from the Lord Chancellor's Department Select Committee on the Children and Family Court Advisory Service.

THURSDAY 30 OCTOBER—Debate on the report from the International Development Committee on Trade and Development at the WTO: Issues for Cancun.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the whole House will wish to endorse what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in expressing our shock and horror at the murder of Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh and in offering our condolences to her family, her friends and the Swedish people. As the Foreign Secretary said, she represented everything that is wonderful about Sweden and about Europe. As Europe Minister, I saw what an inspirational and internationally respected Foreign Minister she was. She was a delightful and warm person, a joy to work with and widely seen as a future Swedish Prime Minister. She will be sorely missed.

Mr. Forth

May I thank the Leader of the House and echo on behalf of the official Opposition his remarks on the ghastly events in Sweden and the loss of the Swedish Foreign Minister? On this day, 11 September, and at this hour, may I also say that our thoughts must surely be with our friends and allies in the United States, bearing in mind how many people tragically lost their lives on this day two years ago—people of many nationalities and many different beliefs? They will surely never be forgotten.

May I ask the Leader of the House to elaborate on the Government's reasoning for insisting that all stages of the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Bill are to be forced through this House in one day? He has announced that as if it were a fait accompli, yet legislating at that speed is surely one of the things about which we should always be most reluctant. We all know that we legislate in haste and repent at leisure—at least, we do not repent; the citizens usually repent. Will the Leader of the House therefore do us the courtesy of telling us why legislation of this importance, complexity and controversiality needs to be put through the House as quickly as he is suggesting?

I attended this morning's Intelligence and Security Committee press conference, and I am hoping that the Leader of the House will tell us when we will have an opportunity properly to discuss that matter in its own right. I suspect that he will probably say that there is a defence debate this afternoon, as indeed there is, and I would hope that it will not be necessarily pre-empted by a discussion about the Intelligence and Security Committee, which deserves time of its own in this House, not least because, for example, the report includes such phrases as: We are disturbed that after the first evidence session … the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written". At paragraph 110, the report continues: We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam's chemical and biological capacity. The following paragraph states: This should have been highlighted in the dossier. Paragraph 112 states: The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning"— referring to the famous 45 minutes.

I mention those few extracts almost at random to illustrate the amount of important and controversial material in the Intelligence and Security Committee report that is damning of the Government, their whole approach to the matter and the Secretary of State for Defence in particular. Will the Leader of the House therefore tell us when we will have the opportunity for a proper, measured debate on this document—not just minutes after it has been released, or first thoughts, as I have expressed briefly today—and a measured response by the House and the Government to the absolute dynamite, if I may put it that way. that it contains?

Talking of that, I was somewhat puzzled that in PMEs yesterday—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Forth

Prime Minister's evasions. At column 320 of Hansard yesterday, the Prime Minister said: I think it quite wrong that we make any assumptions until we see the Intelligence and Security Committee report, which is to be presented to me tomorrow. It would be wrong to comment on it before that is done."—[Official Report, 10 September 2003; Vol. 410, c. 320.] That is what he said yesterday. However, funnily enough, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee wrote to the Prime Minister on 9 September—the day before yesterday—to say, very familiarly: Dear Tony, Enclosed with this letter is the Intelligence and Security Committee's Report". How is it that the Chairman may write to "Dear Tony" on Tuesday only for "Dear Tony" to say on Wednesday that he would not see the report until today? There is surely some mistake and I hope that the Leader of the House will ask the Prime Minister to come to us this afternoon to explain how he got it so wrong. Perhaps this is another piece of evidence showing that we cannot believe a word that the Prime Minister says any more.

Smuggled in through the written ministerial statements today—it is hidden down the Order Paper at statement No. 8—is: Prime Minister: Publication of the Government's response to the Ninth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. That is an important matter and an important report and, given its significance, will the Leader of the House guarantee that we will be given the opportunity of a full debate on it and all the material it covers, and that it will not be swept under any carpets or rushed through in any way? I am not asking for his guarantee of an immediate debate, but for time in the House of Commons to deal with the matter.

Finally, I ask the Leader of the House to think again about the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. He will recall that way back in January the Bill emerged from its Standing Committee—those proceedings were truncated and guillotined as, regrettably, they all are these days—after only 30 of its 90 clauses had been debated and only one of its schedules discussed. After a gap of about six months, the Government eventually came back to the House and said that they wanted to carry over this large and controversial Bill and recommit it to Standing Committee. They admitted then that a lot of new material would be imported subsequently to the Bill.

We now learn—the Leader of the House is telling us with his usual insouciance—that the Bill will have only eight further Committee sittings despite the fact that we already know that there will be about 35 new amendments and apparently a lot more material on which to vote. Will he please think again and not follow his predecessors' regrettable habit of being party to the poor and inadequate consideration of such Bills in Committee because of lack of time? We have already been round the track once on this and the scrutiny has been shown to be completely inadequate. Please may we have a lot more time to consider the Bill in the future?

Mr. Hain

First, I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the whole House's horror at what happened to Anna Lindh. I am also grateful to him for reminding us of the terrible terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September two years ago. I agree with all the points that he made, and that we should never forget those who died or ever let up on the fight against terrorism.

On the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Bill, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. the truth is that it is urgently needed before the end of the Session. I hope that the Conservative Opposition will start giving us exactly the kind of bipartisan support for bringing peace and stability to Northern Ireland that we gave them when we were in opposition. I am afraid that such support is unfortunately often lacking from Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen.

On the Intelligence and Security Committee report, may I first congratulate the Committee on a thorough piece of work? Many senior Members of the House from all parties sit on it and it demonstrates the value of parliamentary scrutiny. The fact that the Prime Minister asked it to report on the matter is a further example of the importance that we as a Government and I as the Leader of the House attach to parliamentary accountability on such important issues.

May I also attack and deprecate the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the Defence Secretary? We had a mendacious and misleading leak yesterday from the Committee. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed we did. It was an attempt to pre-empt the Committee's full report. As a member of the Committee said at the press conference this morning, facts have a habit of getting in the way of conspiracy theories. The Leader of the Opposition joined the conspiracy theory in the most disreputable fashion yesterday and he has endorsed that stance again today, to his discredit.

The truth is that we have an outstanding Defence Secretary who provided brilliant leadership in a difficult war against Iraq. I am sure that he has the full support of the House in continuing to combat terrorism and the remnants of the Saddam regime in Iraq. I just want to say this to the shadow Leader of the House: it is wrong to try to pre-empt an independent judicial inquiry as the Opposition are seeking to do. There will, of course, be an opportunity to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary this afternoon.

On the Wicks report, the Government have made it clear that we endorse virtually everything in it. [Interruption.] Well, we have said that we cannot accept two things, and I am sure that everyone would agree that it is sensible for the Government to have reservations about them. One is the number of special advisers. It is not sensible to put an arbitrary limit on that. The other is the right of the Prime Minister to appoint key staff to ensure that directions can be given so that the Government's business is conducted in a sensible and orderly fashion. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House is muttering. His colleague, the deputy shadow Leader of the House, was a special adviser—as it happens, to Norman Lamont, although I am not sure that that is a good advertisement for special advisers. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was also a special adviser, in addition to jumping up and down in his usual enthusiastic way. We should concentrate on the facts and not let the Opposition's allegations get in the way.

On the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, the truth is that it has been given full parliamentary scrutiny, and that will continue to be the case. It has received no more and no less parliamentary scrutiny than Bills received over the years under the old procedure. If any matters need to be considered in that regard, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and his Ministers will do so.

As for the rest of the Session, we will consider the workings of the September sitting. I notice that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) did not criticise it. I take his silence as an endorsement of the policies that we have adopted in the House.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

We obviously associate ourselves with comments on the assassination of the Swedish Foreign Minister and the anniversary of the 11 September terrorism attacks.

There is a precedent for handling Intelligence and Security Committee reports, set by the report on the Bali terrorist bombing. In that case, the Foreign Secretary made an immediate statement in the House, followed by an hour's questioning. In denying the need for an early statement on the latest report, is the Leader of the House saying that it is less important, or is no one prepared to make that statement? Surely at the very least, the Prime Minister should come to the House to be accountable in the way described by the Leader of the House a moment ago. The report is about not just one personality—the Secretary of State for Defence—but the whole rot at the centre of the Government.

For example, paragraph 83 raises an important issue. It is apparent that part of the Prime Minister's statement that was intended for his foreword was subsequently excluded. The exclusion of The case I make is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK (He could not) from the eventual introduction to the dossier is very misleading. Paragraph 86 states that there was a tendency for the document to be unhelpful to an understanding of this issue.

There is also the extraordinary issue of paragraph 103, which has been removed from the report. The introduction says that if anything has been blocked out by No. 10, it will be marked by an asterisk, but there is no asterisk where paragraph 103 should be. What has happened to it? As it pre-empts what is said in paragraph 104, it is extremely important that we are given an explanation of what was intended, because the Committee concludes: We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading. What was going to be put in paragraph 103? Finally, in paragraph 135, the February dossier and the surrounding publicity are described by the Committee as "counter-productive".

The question still remains whether the House was conned by the two dossiers. Were the public conned by the two dossiers? We know that those on the Conservative Front Bench were not conned, because the leader of the Conservative party wanted to attack Iraq and to follow President Bush come what may, even if the Government did not. The House deserves a full statement now on the issues that have been raised by this important report.

Mr. Hain

The House has had statement after statement from the Government—from my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary—on Iraq and all the matters around it. An independent judicial inquiry is under way. Lord Hutton will report, and that report will be fully debated in the House. That is where we should leave it. On issues to do with detail and paragraph 103 and all the rest of it, the hon. Gentleman is obviously able to ask his colleague the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about that detail. The truth is that many distinguished Members of this place are sitting on the Committee. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not making a criticism of them as to the report that they produced.

It would not have been known from what the shadow Leader of the House and from the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said that the report exonerated the Government from all the main charges that have been made against us and endorsed the thrust and the content of the dossier. That is the central result of the report, although it would never be guessed from the attempt to generate froth and excitement over the past few minutes.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May I take my right hon. Friend back to the monitoring commission Bill? It is unacceptable and an abuse that it will be railroaded through the House in one sitting. I remind my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the House of Lords will have two days on the Bill. That underlines the fact that this place has become a charade in terms of law making. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reflect on that.

The Bill is a major piece of legislation affecting the future of the United Kingdom and the problems of Northern Ireland. If it is right for the House of Lords to have two full days to consider it and an opportunity to digest and reflect over the weekend, how is it right that this place will have the Bill bounced through in one day, bearing in mind the row and the notes left on my right hon. Friend's file by his predecessor, who said that this would not happen again when we had a similar abuse a few months ago involving the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Mr. Hain

I pay tribute to the vigilance with which my hon. Friend always holds Governments and everybody to account. I am sure that he is not using the procedures of the House of Lords as a model for this House. The monitoring commission Bill is a much-needed measure. It is very important, as I know my hon. Friend accepts, in taking forward the Northern Ireland peace process. There will be a late sitting on the day that the Bill is considered—proceedings will run on well beyond the moment of interruption—because it is so important to take the measure through at this stage.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Will the Leader of the House redeem the promise that was made as long ago as January by one of his predecessors that we would have a full-day debate in Government time on pensions? Is he aware that it is two years since we have had a debate on this subject in Government time? Practically everyone apart from the Government recognises the fact that there is a pensions crisis. We want a full-day debate so that we can hear what the Government intend to do about it.

Mr. Hain

I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Given the Green Paper that the Government have published and the other opportunities that the House has had to raise the issue of pensions, I do not accept that pensions have been ignored by the House in recent times. The issue has been fully debated. The Government are seized of the worldwide collapse in stock markets, which has had a big effect on pensions worldwide and created many difficulties for pensioners in this country. The Government are giving close and urgent attention to the matter.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity in the near future to allow the House to consider the mechanisms that it uses for holding to account bodies to which Parliament has devolved powers, which have misused those powers? I have in mind specifically, in the area that I represent, the local Conservative-controlled Dacorum borough council, which has taken no notice at any stage of the new regulations and advice introduced by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister concerning development. As a result, it continues to try to build on the green belt in my area in Apsley. Instead, it should be paying proper heed to what Parliament decided councils should do.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. I understand his concerns. I am sure that the Ministers who have responsibilities in this area will want to note his concerns and perhaps discuss the matter with him.

For the information of the House, I understand from information that has just been given to me that paragraph 103, to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall referred, does not exist in the ISC report.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will the Leader of the House prevail on the Secretary of State for Health to explain to the House why there is such a notorious scandal over the proposed hospital development at Paddington basin? Is he aware that Harefield hospital in my constituency could be modernised at a cost of about £18 million whereas the new project at Paddington basin is now estimated to cost no less than £800 million, and is already several years late? Is this how the national health service will carry out the NHS plan?

Mr. Hain

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has been raising this matter consistently, including, if I am right, in an Adjournment debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is seized of the issue. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are more nurses being recruited in his constituency and that more investment is going into hospitals throughout the country compared with massive hospital closures, cuts in health spending and cuts in nurses, doctors and consultants, which was the Conservative record.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

I obviously associate myself with all the comments made about the sad death of Anna Lindh. I note that many pro-euro and pro-European campaigners will be particularly saddened because they feel that they have lost an eloquent, persuasive and attractive colleague.

May I point out to my right hon. Friend the fact that today is another anniversary, namely the 30th anniversary of the coup in Chile, when Salvador Allende's legitimately elected socialist Government were thrown out by Pinochet with the support of the CIA of the United States of America? Chile is now rebuilding itself as a democratic country and is trying to find means of bringing together an understanding of its past. Is it not time that we had some debate in the Chamber, or in Westminster Hall, about the changes in Chile and other countries that have suffered dictatorship over the past 30 years?

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's views on Chile and its transformation since the fascist coup, the anniversary of which we are noting today. He is right to draw the attention of the House to it. We are seeing Chile moving forward under a social democratic Government towards a new future and a new hope for the future. We shall certainly consider whether there will be time for a debate, and my hon. Friend has opportunities to raise the matter in other ways.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

May I ask the Leader of the House to think again about his reply to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have elected to return the Bill for consideration in Committee with some extra clauses, but only those extra clauses can be discussed, quite apart from the fact that they will have an influence on the 90 clauses of the first Bill. Fewer than 30 of those 90 clauses were discussed in Committee, and there was no prevarication or filibustering by the Opposition parties. In the name of not only democracy but good government, will the right hon. Gentleman please ask the appropriate colleagues to reconsider this important matter?

Mr. Hain

I take serious note of those concerns, coming as they do from the hon. Gentleman. I will look into the matter. As he knows, the Bill has been considered in Committee. The normal procedures have been followed by the Government in general and by Ministers in particular. Nevertheless, we shall have another look, given the points that he has made.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about the growing trend whereby British companies put some of their jobs overseas? Is he aware of Tesco's plan to relocate 350 jobs from the UK to Bangalore, 230 of them from Tesco house in my constituency? The main reason seems to be the low wages that are paid in Bangalore; as a result, jobs are being lost among my constituents and those from other constituencies.

Mr. Hain

I very much understand my hon. Friend's concerns and appreciate the diligence with which she reflects the interests of her constituents, including the Tesco staff. We are part of a global economy in which such movements are a fact of life: the relocation of call centres and similar activities to India and elsewhere is a challenge that we all face. I am sure that Tesco will want to bear my hon. Friend's remarks in mind. She reinforces the Government's determination to create new high-quality jobs for the future. As she knows, 72,000 new jobs have been created in Wales over the past year, even as globalising pressures reduce the number of jobs in certain sectors.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

In view of the imminence of the intergovernmental conference, may we have a further debate on the draft European constitution? Given that the Prime Minister told this House on 18 June 1997 that the Amsterdam subsidiarity protocol would have "real teeth"; given that the Foreign Secretary told me on 21 May this year that in practice subsidiarity had proved unsatisfactory; and given that the latest draft proposal imposes no obligation whatsoever on the European Commission to withdraw inappropriate legislative proposals, why does not the right hon. Gentleman now concede that subsidiarity in the future will be what it has been in the past—not a protection of the rights of nation states, but thin cover for the legislative imperialism of the European Union?

Mr. Hain

On the procedural matter of whether we should have another debate, of course there will be opportunities to debate the intergovernmental conference negotiations. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary has been more forthcoming than any of his predecessors in ensuring that this House has every opportunity to debate the progress of such conferences. May I ask the hon. Gentleman why he and his colleagues blocked a motion that was going through the House the other night that would for the first time have set up, as the Government intend, a proper Standing Committee to monitor on the House's behalf the progress of the European treaty negotiations? I should have thought that they would welcome that and nod it through so that we can get on with it.

Subsidiarity was a very important achievement for Britain: it was a British proposal that, for the first time, allowed national Parliaments across Europe to vet any new proposal from the Commission. If more than a third of national Parliaments object, the Commission is obliged to reconsider and withdraw. [Interruption.] Indeed—to reconsider. It is inconceivable that Brussels would seek to railroad through a proposal in the face of such national parliamentary opposition, which is likely to reflect the Government's position. [Interruption.] Instead of nodding his head in the kneejerk fashion to which we have all become accustomed, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) should welcome that democratic advance and celebrate it—but of course that does not fit the script of Tory anti-Europeans.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the monopoly that has been established by the Parliamentary Communications Directorate, the parliamentary computer provider, on the supply of computing equipment within the House, and of the sub-standard service that it has been providing to those who do not have what it calls standard equipment—by which it simply means equipment that it has provided. I raised the matter with my right hon. Friend's illustrious predecessor in business questions in May, and the then Leader of the House referred it to the Information Committee on 2 June. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has received a reply, but I certainly have not. Will he investigate why, three months and one week after receiving a letter from the then Leader of the House, the Committee has made no response to a matter that concerns many Members? Indeed, I know that one of his Cabinet colleagues has mentioned it.

Mr. Hain

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, as am I, that there is great concern about the matter among right hon. and hon. Members across the House. I have not yet had a response from the Information Committee, but the situation is being investigated and progress is due to be made soon. I am worried about the fact that Members with non-standard equipment are barred from accessing the parliamentary video and data network. It is vital that Members and their staff have full access to the PDVN, and a sufficient quantity of standard equipment must be issued to ensure that that is the case. The House authorities need to take the matter forward urgently.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Can this House follow the example of the Scottish Parliament in having an urgent debate about the Dungavel detention centre and the policy of locking up the children of asylum seekers, especially given that we are told that this House is responsible for that policy? Although we welcome the concessions forced out of the Government by the Scottish people and the SNP, many people will have seen how unsatisfactory the devolution settlement has been in this respect, especially in terms of the shameful silence that has emanated from Scottish Ministers. Does the Leader of the House agree that there can be no grey areas in devolution when it comes to locking up the children of asylum seekers?

Mr. Hain

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's accusation of shameful silence on the part of Scottish Ministers, who are well aware of the situation and are addressing it. As for the substance of the issue, I shall make sure that the Secretary of State is aware of it.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the life of Anna Lindh, whom he and I met on numerous occasions—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson)—when I held a Europe post in the Government. It is a terrible blow not only for Sweden, but for Europe, because she was a great internationalist. My right hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister of Sweden has made it clear that the referendum will go ahead on Sunday despite her tragic death. Whatever the result, it will have enormous implications for Britain's euro campaign. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate immediately after the referendum so that we can discuss the implications of the result on our strategy?

Mr. Hain

I very much echo my hon. Friend's sentiments. Anna Lindh was a doughty campaigner for human rights, going right back to her early days in the struggle against apartheid. As well as being a lovely person and a great internationalist, she reflected with great integrity a range of commitments to social justice, civil liberties and international justice worldwide.

As for the Swedish euro referendum, I am not aware of any statement by the Swedish Prime Minister, but I hope that fanatics, whether politically inspired or not, realise that murder will not derail the democratic process.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Further to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, the Government published today their response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, in which they explicitly reject two of its central recommendations on the number and role of special advisers. As that matter has caused the Government considerable difficulty, would it not be advantageous to have an early debate to allow the House to assist the Government in avoiding further embarrassment?

Mr. Hain

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's interest in and concern about such matters. The truth is that despite the fact that many Conservative Governments over the years employed special advisers, this Government are the first ever to publish a model contract and code of conduct for special advisers. We accepted the report's recommendations, including the setting up of an ethics adviser, in their entirety but for two specific points, which I do not accept as being central—namely, that the number of special advisers should be subject to a statutory limit and that the Prime Minister should not have the ability, through an Order in Council, to appoint certain members of staff who are able to give directions and thereby to run his office properly. Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's views, that does not detract from the Government's central commitment to accept the report and proceed in a way that enjoys full public confidence.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

My colleagues and I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the Swedish Foreign Minister. We also remember the horror of the terrorist attacks in the United States two years ago.

The Leader of the House may know that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland is sponsoring a conference on broadband in Belfast early next month. However, does he know that no local broadband companies will be represented? A local company, KBL-Online, was refused both a platform and space at the conference, yet at one of the main sessions, NTR-Broadband, a Republic of Ireland-based company with no operational capacity in Northern Ireland, is being afforded participation. Will the Leader of the House therefore find time for a statement on the broadband conference so that assurances can be given that no local companies have been unfairly disadvantaged or disregarded during the Government-sponsored event?

Mr. Hain

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Anna Lindh and 11 September.

I must confess that I am not aware of the representation at the conference, but given the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, I am sure that the organisers will take note of them.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on enforcing civil judgments? I want to draw his attention especially to the conduct of Preston Beaumont Interiors, which operates in and around Cheshire. There are civil judgments against it but it is ducking and diving and avoiding them. That is an unacceptable effect of the court process, and such appalling business practices leave legitimate customers high and dry.

Mr. Hain

Obviously, I am concerned about my hon. Friend's remarks, especially since, with his long service in the House, he does not raise such matters lightly. I shall ensure that appropriate Ministers deal with those issues.