HC Deb 18 September 2003 vol 410 cc1071-85 12.32 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

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

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

I am delighted to see that the prefix has returned, because it was omitted last week and I felt a little neglected.

The business for the week after the conference recess will be:

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

WEDNESDAY 15 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 16 OCTOBER—A debate on defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 17 OCTOBER—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will include:

MONDAY 20 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Courts Bill [Lords].

As the House will know, I informed the House yesterday of the date of the Queen's Speech. I intend to publish an annual calendar for this House for the new Session next month.

Mr. Forth

I am sure that the House will be particularly grateful for that last item.

Unusually, yesterday's Prime Minister's questions were almost completely free of porkies, obfuscations and evasions, so I think that we will leave them for another day. Following up what the part-time Leader of the House said about the date of the Queen's Speech, for which we are grateful, and given that it is relatively late this year, can he tell us how much pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills can now take place before the new Session? A great song and dance has been made about pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure that it is welcomed in all parts of the House, but we would like a bit of substance from the Government about how much scrutiny will be conducted and which Bills we will see before the late start of the new Session.

When will the pre-Budget review take place? Is the Chancellor eager to come to the House and give us his review of the state of the economy? Perhaps we could get a date for that. Are the Government now going to set about prioritising their business ahead of 26 November to ensure that they have an appropriate amount of business, not least in another place, to honour the date of the Queen's Speech? I should be interested to get a glimpse into how the Government think that they are going to get their business through Parliament, especially through another place, while honouring that date of 26 November.

I wonder whether we could have a debate entitled, "Do Ministers care so little about MPs and Parliament that they neglect their duties in the recess?" I say that because a letter has fallen into my hands from a nice young man called Gerry Sutcliffe MP, who appears to be Minister for Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers. On 19 August, he wrote a letter to one of my colleagues that began: Thank you for your letter of 14 July". It may seem unexceptional in this day and age that a Minister should take a month to write to a Member of Parliament—there is nothing unusual about that—but the really interesting bit comes next. This nice young man, Gerry, says: During parliamentary recess, Mr Sutcliffe is out of the office and unable to answer your query. Upon his return in September, he will ensure that your query is dealt with as swiftly as possible. Does that exemplify the attitude of the Blair Government to Members of Parliament and to this House? Do Ministers no longer feel that they have a responsibility to man Departments through the summer recess or to give proper responses to Members of Parliament? If this letter is typical, what is the part-time Leader of the House going to do about it? Does he write to people saying, "I'm not around, so you shouldn't expect a reply"? I hope to be told that this was a regrettable slip and that it will not happen any more.

Has the part-time Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1700, entitled "Portcullis pension scheme and rights of staff"?

[That this House welcomes the introduction of the Portcullis pension plan, particularly for those on the staff of honourable Members who do not have existing pension arrangements, those in new employment, and those who have established that it offers better provision than their existing arrangements; but does not wish the staff of honourable Members to be compelled to join the scheme if they assess that it is likely to be inferior to their existing pension arrangements or is otherwise against their expressed wishes.]

It has already been signed by several Members—unusually, and significantly, of all parties—and it raises a number of important issues about our staff's pension rights. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have received representations on that, because we are getting ourselves into a serious position.

Having given the part-time Leader of the House's office notice that I intended to raise the subject, I want to ask the following questions. On what authority are employer contributions to individual pension schemes to be terminated, as is the intention? When were staff—not Members, but staff—properly consulted and informed about what is going to happen to their pensions? What provision is to be made to enable staff who would suffer financial loss from a change of pension provider to remain with their existing scheme? To give two examples, what will happen to someone who has their mortgage guaranteed by their pension or who has paid their fees up front and therefore cannot benefit from the reduction in fees that is claimed to be one of the benefits of the new regime?

I hope that the part-time Leader of the House will be able to give full and satisfactory answers to those questions. Many Members' staff are very worried and unhappy about the matter. It has been grotesquely mishandled thus far, and I hope that it is not too late to deal with it. At the very least, can implementation be postponed so that the situation can be properly sorted out?

Mr. Hain

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to the Dispatch Box. As a self-proclaimed technophobe, he boasted that he had never visited a website: when he launched the parliamentary press gallery website, he said that he hoped to get through life without ever doing so. It will be a mercy for the House if we can bring him into the 21st century.

Mr. Forth

Not a chance.

Mr. Hain

There we have it. That is what makes him such a delightful opponent across the Floor of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about pre-legislative scrutiny before the next Session. As he knows, the Government have made a virtue of such scrutiny, and more Bills than ever have been subject to it. The practice increases year by year, as it will in the forthcoming Session.

I am not in a position to give an answer on when the pre-Budget review will take place. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we would be frustrated in meeting the deadline of the Queen's Speech and whether legislation would complete its passage through the House of Lords by Prorogation. I am sure that the Lords will not wish to frustrate the will of the elected House and that both Houses will hold a genuine dialogue. We shall carefully consider any amendments, arguments and expertise. However, we are confident that we can complete our legislative programme in time for Prorogation before the Queen's Speech.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman is an outstanding parliamentarian, I hope that he gave the Minister for Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers notice of the matter that he raised. The episode happened in the middle of a difficult time for my hon. Friend, when his mother died. The right hon. Gentleman should not draw conclusions from the individual letter and case about the general pattern of Government.

The right hon. Gentleman properly raised the concerns that have been expressed about Members' pensions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Staff pensions."] I apologise: I mean staff pensions. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Some conversations are taking place in the Chamber. Staff pensions are important to me, too, and I want to hear what the Leader of the House has to say on the matter.

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman raised important points, which I shall note. I have offered to meet the trade unions and anyone else who has concerns, which I shall happily take up. However, I believe that some mischief has been made about the matter. Nobody will be forced to join the new scheme if they can demonstrate that they will be disadvantaged. People need to fill in a form to obtain proper information from their pension provider. There will be no question of a financial loss— that is not the purpose of the new scheme. Its purpose is to modernise pension arrangements and provide a more secure, better scheme for staff. If there are any concerns, we want to deal with them. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing them to the House's attention.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I strongly endorse on behalf of my hon. Friends the expression of concern in early-day motion 1700 on the pension scheme and the rights of staff? Whatever the Leader of the House has been briefed to say, I must tell him that staff believe that they have not been properly consulted. Unless there is some delay to enable that consultation—especially with the Secretaries and Assistants Council—to take place and an opportunity for staff to make representations, they will feel railroaded. It is a blot on the reputation of the House as an employer that consultation has not yet taken place.

What contingency plans has the Leader of House to ensure that the House receives an early statement on the outcome of the Hutton inquiry? I hope that he has carefully examined the comments that Dr. Hans Blix made yesterday and on the "Today" programme this morning. Is it not clear that we will need a statement from the Attorney-General on the adequacy of the advice that he gave the Government on the legality of going to war in Iraq? We need to know especially whether the Attorney-General was aware of the fragility of the 45-minute claim and whether he knew that the armaments mentioned were battlefield weapons that posed no threat to the United Kingdom or to British forces stationed in Cyprus. That is crucial.

The evidence that Dr. Hans Blix has presented blows to smithereens both the September and February dossiers. I hope that the Leader of the House acknowledges that it requires a separate statement from the Attorney-General, distinct from one on the Hutton inquiry. When does the Leader of the House expect hon. Members to be properly informed on those matters?

Mr. Hain

First, as the hon. Gentleman knows, staff pensions are a matter for the Speaker's Advisory Panel. The purpose of the change is to give staff a better pension. If individual members of staff have concerns, I am sure that the authorities will want to resolve them in favour of the staff. As I said earlier, my door is open. I believe, however, that this issue has been brought to the attention of the House in a manner that is out of proportion to the actuality on the ground.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the outcome of the Hutton inquiry. As I have said, I am sure that there will be a statement and, I hope, a debate on that issue. However, his remarks about Hans Blix sounded rather like an old gramophone record, and were full of puffed-up indignation. As he knows, the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded that the evidence provided to the Government and to the requisite authorities on the basis of which the dossier was drawn up had been properly dealt with, properly processed and properly interpreted. I prefer to listen to the evidence of the Intelligence and Security Committee than to Hans Blix, who was pronouncing on another matter entirely.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)

The House will have noted that, in a speech to the Press Gallery earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ruled out any review of the new sittings arrangements for the House for the lifetime of this Parliament. Will he accept, however, that a large number of Members feel that there is considerable scope for adjustment of those hours, including some of the Members who voted for them? Given that there is a powerful case building up for changes to be made, does he not think it unwise to rule out any adjustment whatever?

Mr. Hain

The House made a decision, rightly or wrongly, in October last year, to change the hours of its sittings. That was a decision taken for the rest of this Parliament, to be subject to review after proper assessment had been made of it. We are only a few months into it, frankly, and an early-day motion condemning it had already appeared within 14 working days of the change being made. We should take this matter stage by stage, and review it, but I am open to considering adjustments. For example, I think that there is a strong case for changing the sitting hours of Standing Committees; they probably sit too early. It is within the power of a Standing Committees to alter its hours, if they are putting pressure on—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)


Mr. Hain

Actually, that is not the point. Ministers get up very early, and are on duty very early, as it is. The serious issue that has been brought to my attention by many Members on both sides of the House and by members of the Speaker's Panel is that officials of the House are perhaps having to prepare earlier than we would want them to. So if there is a question of starting Standing Committee sittings later, I am sure that we can make such adjustments. The terms of the motion passed on the fundamental hours changes, however, were that they should remain until the end of this Parliament, and I intend to respect that decision.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Given that the Leader of the House is already developing a reputation for listening carefully to what is said in this place, will he think further about the comments that have just been made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) and bear in mind the fact that many of us, on both sides of the House, think that to wait through a whole Parliament before reviewing these matters could be a mistake? We are already aware of the unintended consequences of the changes to the hours. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore keep an open mind about the possibility of revisiting the matter before the end of this Parliament?

Mr. Hain

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East—I am happy to repeat the point to the hon. Gentleman, whose views on this matter I respect—the fundamental principles of the hours change were decided for the rest of this Parliament. However, anomalies might appear as we go along, and adjustments might seem sensible—indeed, I have suggested one myself. I have been listening hard to that point, and I think that there is a lot of sense in it. Standing Committees have the right to vary their hours, and to start later and run later if that is what they wish to do. If there are any other practical changes that we could consider, I would be very happy to do so, but the fundamental principle was decided for the rest of this Parliament.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

We now have a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which is meeting after a gap of about 25 years. Given the Government's commitment to regionalism, would it not be a good idea to set up a Standing Committee for each of the eight English standard regions? We could meet to discuss regional affairs here at Westminster, but we could also travel to our own regions and discuss them there.

Mr. Hain

I know that that has been suggested, and we can keep it under review. I should like to see how the newly established Regional Affairs Committee works before we decide whether any such modifications are needed.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

The Leader of the House will know that, very courageously, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) recently undertook an undercover tour of Zimbabwe. Her report, which has been widely circulated, shows that the situation there is deteriorating hugely under the dreadful Mugabe regime. The right hon. Gentleman has responded to me sympathetically in the past. Is it not about time we had a statement or a debate on Zimbabwe, preferably before the Commonwealth conference that will take place in Nigeria later this year?

Mr. Hain

I strongly agree that the Mugabe regime is dreadful beyond words, and is destroying a beautiful country along with, sadly, many of its people. My hon. Friend's report makes salutary reading for those who have found it possible to turn their backs on, or their eyes away from, the appalling way in which Mugabe is destroying his country. I will certainly draw the right hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister responsible for African affairs, because there is undoubtedly great concern in the House about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my right hon. Friend tell us how much the House is having to pay for the recall of Parliament at the beginning of September? What has been the total increase in staff costs, and what has been the cost of the interruption of maintenance contracts? Before pushing out of court any assumption that we should look hard at the changed rules on the hours, will my right hon. Friend understand that even after altering the times of their sittings Select Committees are finding it increasingly difficult to operate effectively? If Standing Committees altered their sitting times, Committee members would find it almost impossible to be in the Chamber at question time. There are now too many incursions into MPs' working time, and there is a bogus assumption of improvisation. It will not do.

Mr. Hain

I very much value my hon. Friend's counsel and her views, and have done so for many years; but her point about Standing Committees having to sit at times that clash with Question Time does not follow, as Standing Committees can vary their hours in order to sit at times when there is no clash, even given a later start.

One of my duties, which I take very seriously, is to uphold the will of the House. Whether people disagree with it or not, the House voted for a change in the hours for the rest of this Parliament, and I do not think we can keep chopping and changing every few months. As I have said, however, I am open to suggestions about modification of the hours and other arrangements.

I will certainly try to find the figures relating to the cost of our return in September. They are not at my fingertips, but I will write to my hon. Friend when I have them.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

What is the purpose of our sitting in September if the Government will not answer questions tabled for written answer on a priority basis on a named day during this period? I have tabled a number of such questions, including questions about the costs of policing the Labour party conference in Bournemouth and about the ravages of sudden oak death disease. Although that disease is apparently so important that it has attracted 80 Government inspectors who are going around gardens in England and Wales carrying out inspections, apparently the Government have no time to answer ordinary parliamentary questions about it. There is also the important question of whether the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will go to Bournemouth university and meet students to discuss top-up fees. Why can we not get answers to such questions during this important period?

Mr. Hain

That was a good try. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am about to do so.

The hon. Gentleman should note that there was no demand for the House to be recalled over the summer recess. Why? Because everyone knew that we were coming back at the earliest opportunity in September. Year after year, however, there have been almost ritual demands for a recall.

Regular statements have been made to the House by Ministers over these two weeks. Indeed, one will follow business questions. Ministers have been here to answer questions from the hon. Gentleman and any other Members who might wish to table them.

The public do not understand how we can be in recess for 13 weeks, as happened with the old model. This time we have been in recess for seven weeks. I should have thought that would be enough even for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Will my right hon. Friend give us an early opportunity to debate the need for Ministers to reply to letters from Members within a reasonable time? Will he, in particular, look into what happened to the letter I wrote on 12 June to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about my constituent Mrs. N. Bromley? I have written twice to the Prime Minister about the case, and have tabled a question which is being tossed around between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency. After more than three months, I have still not received a reply.

Mr. Hain

I am very conscious that my right hon. Friend would not have raised the matter in such a way had it not been of deep concern to him. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will wish to respond as soon as she can.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on intended new housing development in the south-east? Given that, on the back of the Milton Keynes-south midlands study, the Government want another 59,000 houses to be built around Aylesbury Vale between now and 2031, but have not even begun to think about how, when and by whom the necessary accompanying infrastructure can be provided, does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that a debate would provide a real opportunity for the airing of concerns about air pollution, traffic congestion, pressure on the health service and the implications for school places—all of which are matters of the most momentous significance to my Buckingham constituents?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman has plenty of opportunities to apply for debates enabling him to raise matters affecting his constituents, but I will certainly draw his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the health service, pollution, transport and a lot of other matters. The Government are investing more than ever before in all those "quality of life" issues and are dealing with them—by contrast with our predecessors, who cut and cut and cut, and made life intolerable for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, among others.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

As my right hon. Friend will know, we are approaching the party conference season. Is he aware that the Electoral Commission is conducting an inquiry into party funding? Will he allow a debate, as soon as possible after its report, on an issue that is important to all members of all parties?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly wish to do that, because as my hon. Friend says, the issue is important.

It is often wrongly assumed that this is some new development, but public funding for political parties is a well established part of our structure, particularly in the House. For example, funding for the Conservative party has trebled from £1.1 million to £3.3 million: that is the extent of its support in the House. The chairman of the Conservative party attacks the principle of public funding, but last year the Conservatives received £200,000 more from taxation—from public funds—than they were able to raise on their own.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

When someone of the standing of Hans Blix says that the Government's belief in the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is akin to the mediaeval belief in witches, is it not time for an early debate on these elusive weapons, and on all the issues involved in the construction of what now appears to be a fantastic fable—that dodgy dossier?

Mr. Hain

When do we hear from the hon. Gentleman about the heinous crimes that Saddam Hussein committed against his people? Saddam is the only person whom I can think of in history—certainly in modern times—who killed I million Muslims. Indeed, at Halabja we are uncovering almost daily the unmarked graves of the 300,000 of his own citizens whom he killed during the Iran-Iraq war. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting the work of British soldiers in liberating the people of Iraq, instead of continually attacking the Government.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

May we have an early statement on the private treatment centres that will spring up in all parts of England? I think that Scotland is excluded because it turned them down. Is my right hon. Friend aware that nurses recruited to those centres will almost undoubtedly be poached from neighbouring national health service hospitals? What guarantees will exist to ensure that that does not happen, and will he also ensure that the unions involved in NHS hospitals are properly consulted before any of these centres are established?

Mr. Hain

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has addressed these issues in the clearest possible terms. There is absolutely no question of poaching or of riding roughshod over local health service organisation provision; indeed, the entire initiative has been developed in consultation with, and by agreement with, local health authorities. I would have thought that my hon. Friend, who is a doughty fighter for the NHS and for people's rights, would welcome the fact that through these projects and initiatives, the Government are massively increasing capacity to enable urgent treatment for our constituents, some of whom desperately need hip operations, for example. NHS patients will receive that additional capacity free at the point of treatment—a vital principle that the Conservatives plan to demolish through charges, privatisation and private health insurance.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Before the recess, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a statement on the outcome of the common agricultural policy, and I requested then that we be able to debate the impact on many of our constituencies of that important outcome. Will the Leader of the House agree to that debate?

Mr. Hain

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's request to the Secretary of State's attention.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I begin by declaring an interest, in that I am the patron of the Society of Registration Officers in England and Wales. The civil registration service has hardly changed since the 1830s, but it is just about to undergo a mini revolution as a result of the document published at the beginning of the summer entitled "Civil Registration: Delivering Vital Change". I understand that that mini revolution will be launched via a regulatory reform order, which will probably be discussed Upstairs, rather than on the Floor of the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as this matter affects the lives of all of our constituents, such a debate should take place on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Hain

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work on behalf of civil registrars; he performs a very important role. As an enthusiastic supporter of this initiative, he will know that the Government are modernising the entire process to make it in tune with people's lives today. I shall certainly bear his request in mind.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary, or perhaps one of the Law Officers, on the policing and judicial practice applied in the case of Mr. James Dowell, who found 15 youngsters vandalising his pond, and managed to detain three of them and force them to clear up the mess? He was subsequently arrested by no fewer than eight police officers for false imprisonment, received a sentence of 80 hours community service, and has been tagged for the next four months to make sure that he does not do it to them again. Would it not be good to get back to the time when the letters "PC" meant police constable, not political correctness?

Mr. Hain

I am obviously baffled by that case, but I shall certainly ensure that the Home Secretary knows about it. At least the citizen concerned was not sentenced to attend the proceedings of the Conservative party.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that when the Hunting Bill is significantly changed in the Lords, as it undoubtedly will be, the Parliament Act will definitely be used, so that we can have a ban on fox hunting in the lifetime of this Parliament? Is it not essential that the will of the elected House triumphs over a totally unrepresentative House of Lords, in which 92 hereditaries remain—for the time being?

Mr. Hain

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality made clear on 21 March last year the Government's policy on the Parliament Act, and it has not changed. This House voted overwhelmingly for a ban on cruelty to animals, which the House of Lords will, I am sure, wish to respect. I am sure that matters will proceed and that we can reach a consensual outcome. My right hon. Friend has made the Government's position clear, and we stand by it.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

The Leader of the House will be aware of my constituents' great concern about continuing donations to IRA-Sinn Fein from America, a recent example of which was a donation by the Coca-Cola corporation. At the time of that donation, Mr. David Hill—who has been appointed as successor to Mr. Alastair Campbell at No. 10—worked for a public relations company, one of whose clients was the Coca-Cola corporation. May we have a statement to clarify the Government's position, whether the Prime Minister was aware of and approved of the current situation, and whether he agrees that donations to IRA-Sinn Fein by companies here or elsewhere are totally unacceptable, given its ongoing commitment to violence and its refusal to give up the machinery of terrorism in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will wish to take note of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

As my right hon. Friend rightly said, last week's Intelligence and Security Committee report nailed the lie that the Government had in some way doctored intelligence assessments. I refer him to a very important section of the report, which referred to a Joint Intelligence Committee assessment that was made in February, in the run-up to the war. It said that there was no intelligence-assessed link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda and terrorism, and that the collapse of that regime would heighten the terrorist risk to us. Do the Government intend, in the spirit of publishing dossiers, to publish that assessment, and will he give the House an opportunity to discuss it?

Mr. Hain

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have dealt with this matter. The Government have never maintained that Iraq was involved with al-Qaeda in respect of the 11 September terrorist attack. However, we have always said that there was always a danger—we are beginning to see this happen—that Saddam Hussein's monstrous regime would link up with terrorists—[Interruption.] Of course, there was bound to be a danger that when the regime collapsed, different forces would seek to interpose themselves, as they have predictably done. But the real issue before the House was whether to leave Saddam in power, with his monstrous tyranny and ability to threaten the rest of the region and the rest of the world. We are proud that we did not duck that choice, and as a result Iraq and the rest of the world will be a better place in the months and years to come.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

May we have an early debate on today's report on gangmasters from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee? If time cannot be found for such a debate, could the Leader of the House at least ask the Secretary of State to respond urgently to that report? He will be aware that gangmasters provide crucial casual labour to growers and producers throughout the United Kingdom, but that many of them are ruthless and are guilty of the grossest exploitation. Moreover, much Treasury revenue is lost and people are often put at risk, as I myself know from a tragic railway accident of 7 July. The report is hard-hitting and makes clear recommendations, on which the Government need to act.

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important matter, of which he has particular knowledge. I am sure that the Ministers concerned will want to act urgently on that report, and I shall certainly ensure that his question is drawn to their urgent attention.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Would the Leader of House consider having a debate on Royal Mail's intention to close down its air freight service at the Liverpool John Lennon airport on the grounds of an assessment based on faulty financial information? Is there a case for a general discussion of how public interest companies interpret their commercial freedom in relation to Government policy?

Mr. Hain

I think that we had a debate on those matters shortly before the recess, but my hon. Friend raises an important issue, which will no doubt be of concern to her constituents. I will ensure that the appropriate Minister—and, indeed, Royal Mail—is made aware of her question.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

In the light of the motion carried in the Scottish Parliament on the detention of children at Dungavel and the deep concern expressed by members of the church and nation committee of the Church of Scotland, will the Leader of the House consider providing us with an opportunity to debate the matter as soon as practically possible? Is he aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House regard the detention of children as the unacceptable face of Scotland in the 21st century?

Mr. Hain

As the hon. Gentleman may know, that serious matter of great concern has been raised in Scottish questions. I am sure that the appropriate Ministers will note with great seriousness the hon. Gentleman's question.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I welcome last week's announcement that, as part of the White Paper discussions on the draft constitution, the Special Standing Committee will continue to meet during the intergovernmental conference debates. However, should the draft be accepted as it stands, given that some provisions have significant implications for the workings of Parliament? Will the Leader of the House find time in the coming months for a debate on the Floor of the House on the specific provisions that affect the workings of Parliament?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that that will be necessary at some point. I am in communication with the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and others who are considering these matters. I think that my hon. Friend refers to the important advance for democracy represented by the new draft constitution, according to which national Parliaments, including our own House of Commons, will have the ability to vet any new proposals from the European Commission to assess whether they should be considered at the Brussels level or remain at the nation state level. That is an important step forward for democratic accountability between Europe and its member states. My hon. Friend played an important part in achieving it, but implementation in the House is ultimately a matter for the House.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention back to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and others about pension provisions for our staff' He gave the impression that the concerns have somehow been exaggerated or put up, but I suggest that that is entirely erroneous. Many members of our staff are very worried.

The Leader of the House gave the impression that his door is always open, but he needs to be more proactive than that. We will be away for about three weeks and I suggest that he calls a meeting, perhaps with the director of finance and others, as soon as possible to clear up any of our staffs misunderstandings and to give them some guarantee about their future and their pensions.

Mr. Hain

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I sought merely to dismiss the concerns. On the contrary, those concerns—I have heard about some of them—are legitimate. The Speaker's Advisory Panel discussed the matter last week and is well seized of the importance of ensuring that everything proceeds smoothly and that staff's concerns are listened to. I shall obviously keep a beady eye on that process on behalf of the House, and I shall report back or answer further questions in the future when the opportunity arises. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter again.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in welcoming the outcome of the referendum in Sweden a few days ago, and I am sure that he, like myself, would want to ensure that, if the UK has a referendum on the euro, the UK electorate are as well informed as the Swedish people. Could we therefore have a debate not only on the single currency, but specifically on article 107? If it became law, it would become illegal for Parliament, the Assembly or local authorities to influence the decision makers, who are neither elected nor accountable, but merely a group of bankers.

Mr. Hain

The Swedish referendum on the euro was a matter for Swedes and the British referendum, if and when it comes, is a matter for Britons. We will do things in our own way according to the route map laid out by the Chancellor on 9 June, which will see increasing convergence between the British and eurozone economies. If, at the end of that process, the economic circumstances have fallen into place, we will indeed call a referendum and I am sure that we will win it.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

That route map set out by the Chancellor included a roadshow. I cannot believe that the Leader of the House, as one of the Government's leading euro enthusiasts, has not been invited to take part, so can he tell us how many events he has participated in since the roadshow was launched? That would scotch rumours that the roadshow does not exist.

Mr. Hain

The Treasury has already done 55 presentations around the country on the euro. I myself chaired—[Interruption.] Well, I was asked a question, and I am about to give the answer. I chaired a meeting of the Wales euro preparation committee in July—[Interruption.] Indeed, and I am going to chair another meeting of that committee next week. The truth is that this is a matter of live debate. The Treasury is consulting extensively around the country. In the end, Opposition Members can laugh and jeer, but their policy is to deprive the British people of the opportunity to vote on joining the euro, even if it is in our economic interest or the interest of our jobs and prosperity to do so. They all say "no"—never, ever—dogmatically and on principle. That is not a common-sense position. Ours is the sensible position: to prepare and decide when the economic circumstances are correct.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the New Testament, specifically to Luke, chapter 15, verse 7: I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."? As someone who voted in favour of the reforms to the sitting hours of the House, I have had more than enough time to repent and reflect on my mistake. I heard what my right hon. Friend said about the decision of House applying for the rest of this Parliament, but the House has the right to change its mind. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would, given the opportunity, seek to redress the damage. When will I have an opportunity to atone for my sin?

Mr. Hain

There are sinners and saints on both sides of the argument. I shall repeat a reply that I gave earlier: if my hon. Friend has any specific suggestions about adjusting or improving the position, my door is open. That is how to move forward, but I repeat that the House took a decision for the rest of this Parliament. Such decisions should not be lightly swept aside. They should be respected and it is my duty to respect them.

Andrew George (St. Ives)

Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that we shall have an adequate opportunity properly to scrutinise regulations as they go through the House? I refer to the Animal By-Products Regulations 2003, which my right hon. Friends and I prayed against on 9 June this year and was debated in Committee this Monday. The Minister said that the 40-day period has passed so annulment is not possible."—[Official Report, Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 15 September 2003; c. 14.] I protested to the Chairman at the time that it is not within my gift to determine the date when these matters are debated. This is either an example of incompetence by the Government's business managers, or a cynical method of trying to manipulate the procedures of the House to avoid proper scrutiny. Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that we shall have timely and proper scrutiny of regulations as they pass through the House?

Mr. Hain

It is neither cynical—who would ever accuse business managers of being cynical—nor incompetent. I will look into the matter and I will write to the hon. Gentleman, but I reject the suggestion of ulterior motives that he ascribes to the episode.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the third report of the Health Committee, which was published earlier this summer, on the subject of sexual health. The report begins with a significant quotation from Dr. Helen Lacey, who is the consultant in charge of the sexual health clinic at Fairfield hospital in my constituency. She is concerned about the current crisis in sexual health and she tells me that my constituency has seen a 300 per cent. increase in the occurrence of certain sexually transmitted infections in the past four years. The burden of that increase often falls on vulnerable young women and is frequently caused by the reluctance of young people, parents and teachers to discuss those issues, so does my right hon. Friend agree that this House could set an example by holding a debate on the Committee's report at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Hain

That is an important issue and I will look into my hon. Friend's request. I know of the fine work that is done in his constituency. We are all concerned about the matter, and I am grateful that he has raised it.