HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1097-114 12.31 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

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

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

Mr. Speaker, you are responsible for security within the House, but I thought that it would be helpful to update Members on my discussions with the Security Service this morning in advance of announcing the business. It is advising on what action needs to be taken following the incident yesterday. This will be considered by the joint committee on security on Monday and the House of Commons Commission on Tuesday. As the House will be aware, there has been a wider Security Service review, which will report in the summer. It is my intention that, once the final report is considered, the executive summary will be published and will be followed by a debate on the Floor of the House.

I want to reassure the House that we need to strike a proper balance between proper security and the right of public access to Parliament and its Members. Voters should, and will, continue to have the right to come to Parliament, but in conditions that are secure for them and for Members and their staff.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 24 MAY—Remaining stages of the Civil Contingencies Bill

TUESDAY 25 MAY—Remaining stages of the Gender Recognition Bill[Lords].

WEDNESDAY 26 MAY—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "Financial Burdens on Local Authorities by Central Government", followed by a debate entitled "Town Planning and Urban Sprawl". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 27 MAY—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

FRIDAY 28 MAY—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after the Whitsun recess will be:

MONDAY 7 JUNE—Second Reading of the Patents Bill[Lords] followed by a motion to amend the Standing Orders in relation to the nomination of Select Committees.

TUESDAY 8 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Age-Related Payments Bill, followed by a debate on the future of air transport White Paper on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 9 JUNE —A debate on veterans' affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 10 JUNE—A debate on disability on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 11 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

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

THURSDAY 17 JUNE—Debate on the report from the Work and Pensions Committee on the European social fund.

THURSDAY 24 JUNE—Debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on Government investment in nanotechnology.

Mr. Heald

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, particularly the debate on the air transport White Paper, for which we have been calling.

There is widespread concern about the incident yesterday during Prime Minister's questions. Does the Leader of the House accept that he has my support for sensible measures to improve security, while always remembering that the public must have access to their Parliament? There are clearly lessons to be learned, which the Commission will consider next week.

Turning to another policing issue, about a week ago it looked as though the long-standing demonstration on Parliament square that involves so much police time might be over. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) opened a debate in Westminster Hall on the Sessional Orders. What progress can the Leader of the House report concerning the Sessional Orders?

The right hon. Gentleman will know how anxious we are to have the debate foreshadowed by the Foreign Secretary about Iraq. This morning the Leader of the House criticised the Leader of the Opposition as "opportunistic" for telling the Prime Minister to stand up to President Bush when he disagrees with him, and not just to tag along. What would he say about these remarks: A future in which the UK tags along behind a unilateralist United States would reap a bitter harvest"? Those were his words last October, reported inThe Sun under the heading, "The Hate of Hain". So who is the opportunist now?

Then there is the Deputy Prime Minister, who was telling us this week that "Tony" was consistently trying "to channel America" towards UN action, but that we might lose … influence if we start having a go at the Americans". Is it not time that the Prime Minister took a lesson from Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister and was a frank and straightforward friend of the United States of America?

Turning to our Olympic bid, it seems that it depends on the completion of the London Crossrail project. The Leader of the House will have heard the concern expressed by business leaders about the Government's failure to implement it. Can he confirm that as soon as the period of election purdah is over, there will be a statement about its future?

Finally, now that the Chancellor has been forced to concede the failures of the new deal, will the Leader of the House arrange an oral statement so that the Chancellor can apologise for wasting billions of pounds providing help to those who would have found a job anyway and doing precious little for those with real problems finding a job, such as the over-50s, those on incapacity benefit through stress or disability and the lone parents with children at secondary school—all of them let down by Labour?

Mr. Hain

The local election campaigns really do seem to have started, do they not, Mr. Speaker?

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I find it extraordinary that when 210 people in his constituency have had the opportunity of getting a job with extra training and skills, he wants to send them back to the dole queue, where they were under the Conservatives. Nearly 1 million people have had the chance for skills training, extra opportunities and jobs under the new deal, including very many disabled people in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting them, not seeking to consign them to the scrap heap, as they were under the Conservatives.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for what he calls sensible measures to improve security in the House and I agree that lessons—some hard lessons—need to be learned about what happened yesterday. There will be, as I described, recommendations coming from the Security Service, which we will be able to consider early next week. It is extremely important that the old-fashioned culture of security in the House is modernised and that we update our procedures and protect the House against terrorist attacks or any other security breaches.

As regards Parliament square, the Home Office will undertake a consultation exercise on developing police powers and ensuring that the police are empowered to act effectively and proportionately, including using their existing powers. The paper will be issued shortly and there will be a three-month consultation period. I am well aware of the Adjournment debate yesterday in the name of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee. I am also aware of the long delay on the matter, which I greatly regret, but the debate yesterday may have accelerated the outcome, to the general benefit of the House.

On Iraq, which the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) raised in a contentious fashion, it is extraordinary that Conservative Members should seek to split our soldiers and American soldiers by separating those armed forces' leaders in Washington and London when the situation is at its most dangerous in the field. I wonder whether the shadow Defence Secretary agrees that we should distance ourselves, when our soldiers and American soldiers are battling together side by side against terrorists and jointly working to hand over power to Iraqis at the end of June.

On the Olympics and transport, the relevant Ministers and authorities are addressing the issues. I should have thought that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire would welcome London's being on the shortlist and pay tribute to the Government's drive in securing that position.

Mr. Heald

You had to bring Seb in.

Mr. Hain

The Government were prepared to put in extra resources to win the Olympics for London, and the hon. Gentleman should back that.

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab)

The House is grateful for the confirmation by the Leader of the House that the Speaker has sole responsibility for security in the House. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the House supported the Speaker's decision to raise the screen? Can he also confirm that after the review to which he referred and the meetings of the joint committee on security on Monday and of the House of Commons Commission on Tuesday, any recommendations that the Speaker makes to the House should be fully supported, rather than receiving a majority of seven, which we saw in the last vote?

Mr. Hain

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. You, Mr. Speaker, are indeed responsible for security in the House. Everybody in the House of Commons Commission, including my hon. Friend, the shadow Leader of the House and me, backed your decision to the hilt. Our position was united, and we intend to maintain it. Following recommendations from the security services, we will move forward together to ensure that the House is properly protected, while always ensuring that we do not shut ourselves off to influence and pressure from members of the public who are properly here to lobby us.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

May I assure the Leader of the House that my hon. Friends and I support his new approach on the security of the House? May I ask him to re-examine the debate on the security screen on 22 April, to which other hon. Members have already referred, and particularly column 478 ofHansard? He will recall that in that debate several senior hon. Members and I expressed the precise concerns that have now become so important. For example, I said that it was important to make certain that the new screen did not divert attention from the wider interest of the security of the whole House, and that we should review the positioning of the screen in the light of the assessment to which he referred.

Will the Leader of the House now accept that the perimeter of Parliament is the critical issue? Although nearly 13,000 security passes have been issued, hundreds of them have gone astray. What steps are being taken urgently to review that point? I have asked him that question on two previous occasions, but I have not received an answer on either the number of passes that have gone astray or the steps that might be taken.

We all accept that it is difficult for the Leader of the House or anyone else to give details on a public occasion such as this, but will he assure us that this summer's executive report will be by the professionals, who should be given an opportunity comprehensively to examine the whole House, including all the buildings and all the people who come here, rather than just this Chamber? Although every democrat wants to resist this building becoming a fortress—we must maintain a balance—it is important to ensure that, rather than simply putting this Chamber in a glass box, we are making Parliament a safe place for all our constituents to meet us and hear what is undertaken on their behalf.

The issue is extremely important and I understand the point that the Leader of the House made about getting the right professional advice, which is difficult to bring to the Floor of the House, but he must accept that the issue concerns not only security, but this House's important role as the cockpit of the nation's debates.

Mr. Hain

If that was support for my proposals, I would like to know what opposition is. As the shadow Leader of the House indicated, it is important that we move together on a united basis with the Serjeant at Arms and the Speaker in order to maintain security.

If hon. Members—possibly even the hon. Gentleman himself—wish to consultHansard to look at what was actually said in that debate on 22 April, they will realise that there is a certain amount of humble pie to be eaten by those who voted against the erection of the security screen. If it was possible for a guest sponsored by a Member of the House of Lords to do what was done yesterday, imagine what might have happened if someone had come in, apparently innocently, with anthrax or ricin and lobbed it into the Chamber at the Prime Minister. What is important now is that we should examine the access arrangements for sponsored visitors to ensure that the whole Palace is properly secure. That is being done.

I very much agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that it is a question of protecting not only Members in the Chamber, but our constituents who visit this place and the staff of the House of Commons. We must consider the security arrangements for the whole of the Palace. That is precisely why, a few months ago, the House of Commons Commission, under the leadership of the Speaker and with the support of the shadow Leader of the House and other members of the Commission, embarked on the wider security review. There will be an interim report from that security review next month. The final report will be published later in the summer and thereafter proper consideration can be given to it.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall that there is no intention to make this place into a fortress and lock ourselves away from our constituents, who are entitled to come here to press us and to make their representations. That will of course continue, but in conditions of greater safety for them as well as us.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab)

Will the Leader of the House give time in the coming weeks to a debate on press intrusion into ordinary people's lives? I raise that issue because in the past couple of weeks much public and press attention has been given to the case in my constituency of a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant and subsequently had an abortion. Money has changed hands and photographs and the names and addresses of all the children involved have been made public. That is despicable and should not be allowed in British society today.

Mr. Hain

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the most unfortunate circumstances surrounding that story. It is very important that everybody learns serious lessons from it.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

Just why have we still not had the debate on Zimbabwe that has been promised by the Leader of the House and by Foreign Office Ministers? Given that the business for the week after the recess is incredibly light because of the local elections, surely the Leader of the House is running out of excuses.

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman and I share a common position on what is happening in Zimbabwe. Interestingly, I was notified earlier about an Opposition application for a debate on Zimbabwe that was withdrawn at very short notice.

Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to this week's edition of "All-Party and Associate Parliamentary Group Notices", which said that postal services from this House are to be changed from special delivery to first class? That once again disadvantages MPs who have only constituency-based staff members. London-based MPs will not be affected by that, but those who are as far-flung as I am will be. Will the Leader of the House please look at that urgently?

Mr. Hain

That is primarily a matter for the Administration Committee, but my hon. Friend raises a serious point. I am frankly surprised and concerned to hear what she says, and I hope that the necessary authorities will take action to remedy the problem.

Mr. Humfrey Matins (Woking) (Con)

While I appreciate that in March we had a general debate about the Post Office service, can the Leader of the House tell me whether it will be possible in the next few weeks to have a specific debate on village post offices and their importance to the community? I mention that because the village post office of Pyrford in my constituency is threatened with closure, as are many others. Village post offices provide a vital service. Is not that issue of sufficient importance across the country to have a debate on it in Government time?

Mr. Hain

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the effect on his constituency. As he knows, £400 million has gone into supporting local post offices. He has the opportunity to apply for a debate but, given the number of questions that have been asked on the matter at business questions in recent months, I shall consider his request.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to read a letter, a copy of which I have, to the leader of the Liberal Democrats? It is written by Mr. Sean Doherty, Liberal Democrat membership No. 8056293, an erstwhile candidate in the local elections in Liverpool. He wrote to the right hon. Gentleman to complain about what he described as the "disgusting and unbelievable practices" of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. He implies racism among Liberal Democrat councillors. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time to give the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) a chance to come here to confirm or deny the veracity of the charges of his former candidate? That might also give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to clean up the act of his councillors in Liverpool.

Mr. Hain

I am concerned to hear my hon. Friend's remarks and I am sure that the people of Liverpool will be even more concerned.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD)

Will there be an opportunity to debate an issue that has affected my constituency and will affect many others? It is the removal of manufacturing jobs from this country to China. My constituency lost 600 jobs yesterday in Bookham Technologies on top of the 4,300 non-seasonal manufacturing jobs that we have lost in the past three years. That is a serious matter, which has hit the south Devon economy especially hard. However, there is a wider issue about the movement of assembly jobs to the far east.

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we are affected by global economic pressures and he is right to identify the vulnerability of assembly-level manufacturing jobs. Last month, during the Easter recess, I was in China as Secretary of State for Wales. I discovered that engineering wages there are 60p an hour, but that is only one side of the picture that threatens our competitiveness. The other is that last year China produced 2.1 million new graduates—two thirds of them in science, IT and engineering. I am advised that this year it will produce 2.8 million new graduates. There is therefore a massive increase in China's capability at graduate level. We beat that competition not by seeking to defend ourselves against all global pressures—that is impossible—but by being the best, investing in skills, infrastructure, science and communications so that jobs in Devon and elsewhere can be safeguarded and improved. However, one does not achieve that by cutting spending on education, science and skills but by investing more and more. The Government are doing that.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op)

I hear what my right hon. Friend said about security, but does he accept that many of us were surprised that the Chamber was evacuated yesterday when the event occurred? All the advice that we received from the Select Committee on Science and Technology about substances such as anthrax and ricin was that hon. Members should either have stayed in the Chamber or been contained in immediate outside areas, such as the Lobbies. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would give urgent attention to providing hon. Members with instructions about what to do if yesterday's events are repeated.

Mr. Hain

That is, of course, a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and for the Serjeant. We can all learn some hard lessons from what happened yesterday and it is important that we do that. That is exactly why I announced that the House of Commons Commission and the joint committee on security would meet to receive urgent recommendations from the Security Service. The subjects covered will include the way in which House arrangements are affected in the circumstances to which my hon. Friend referred.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con)

The Leader of the House has announced provisional business for 10 June. Does he acknowledge that attendance on that day may be thinner than it is today because the whole country will vote in the European elections and many parts of the country have local elections? Would it not be better if the important debate that has been announced for that day were held on another day so that all hon. Members were free to be in their constituencies, reawakening interest in democratic institutions?

Mr. Hain

I shall certainly consider the right hon. Gentleman's request, but I do not propose to adjourn the House on that Thursday and I am sure that he would not propose that either. The business is a motion on the Adjournment but if his point relates to the fact that the subject is disability issues rather than others on which there could sensibly be such a motion—the previous Government would have tabled a motion on the Adjournment in the same circumstances—I can consider the matter. However, I am sure that he would not want a three-liner on 10 June.

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

Yesterday, most of us believed that there was a lack of clarity about what we should do in the circumstances that we faced. I agree with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) made. In my right hon. Friend's review of security, I recommend a paper from the Royal Society on chemical and biological attack. Its main theme and central point is the need for greater co-ordination between the frontline services and sometimes with business, which has to supply the chemicals and equipment to help deal with the attack.

Mr. Hain

I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would not wish to me to go into a great deal of operational detail, but my hon. Friend makes serious points, which the House authorities will note and take into account.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

The Leader of the House may have seen a new series, which started this week on BBC 3, called "Underworld Rich List". It named Thomas "Slab" Murphy from south Armagh as having amassed a personal fortune of £35 million in his role as chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. May we have an urgent debate about why Mr. Murphy and his two colleagues on the army council—Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and Martin McGuinness, the chief negotiator—are not under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for their continuing involvement in major international criminal activity?

Mr. Hain

That is not a matter for me, but the hon. Gentleman has the right to apply for a debate, if he wishes.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab)

I agree with the earlier points about security. I was shocked to see hon. Members running around like headless chickens yesterday. Last night, some told me that they did not know what to do but they knew that they were not doing what they should be doing. In April, I tabled a question to the House of Commons Commission that was not called. I subsequently spoke to a senior Government Whip and the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission. I wrote to him on 20 April, asking when Members of Parliament would be briefed in the same way as BP workers, who deal with chemicals every day, are briefed about what to do in the case of major incidents. I received a reply on 28 April, saying that letters would be sent to heads of department in the following week, that briefings would commence with members of staff of the House and that Members of Parliament and their staff would be included in the briefings. What has happened to that promise by the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to my writing to him?

Mr. Connarty

The person to whom I wrote and who replied to me was the right hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood).

Mr. Speaker

He is not the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission.

Mr. Hain

Mr. Speaker, I think that you have dealt with that matter, but the point behind my hon. Friend's question is that hon. Members and members of staff are entitled and ought to know exactly what the procedures are. That is one of the many hard-learned lessons from yesterday's incident.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Will not people find it inexplicable that a statement or debate has not been scheduled on civilian deaths in Palestine? As the Leader of the House must know, in the Islamic world the events in Gaza get even more publicity than the disastrous events in Iraq. Is there not a need for clarity in the Government's approach, given that yesterday they rightly signed and supported the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning civilian deaths but only a few weeks ago, they abstained from the Security Council resolution that condemned extra-judicial killings of Palestinian leaders? For clarity and to reassure many of our fellow citizens that we are worried about those events, is not there a need for an urgent statement and debate on the massacres in Gaza?

Mr. Hain

I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for a debate. However let me be clear: the British Government were in the lead in obtaining the Security Council resolution, which condemned the actions in Rafah and the appalling destruction of Palestinian homes. Such action escalates the conflict rather than producing circumstances in which a negotiated settlement could occur, resulting in a secure Israel, secure from terrorists and suicide terrorist attacks, and an independent Palestinian state, which can move forward in justice and freedom. That is imperative, as the Prime Minister has made clear throughout. It is important that Members remember that the Prime Minister insisted that the road map was part of the process of negotiation alongside the decisions about intervention in Iraq. I am absolutely at one with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in condemning the appalling acts and the predicament of the Palestinians, but I am sure that he would join me in saying that the tit-for-tat violence and killing has to stop on both sides and that Israelis are just as entitled to be free from suicide attacks.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab)

The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday more than 40 Iraqis were killed by American troops in Iraq, adding to the thousands of civilians who have already been killed by the coalition. There is huge concern outside the House about what is going on in Iraq, yet we are not having debates on the matter in Government time. It is a bit like "Fawlty Towers" in here: "Don't mention the war!" Will the Leader of the House assure us that we will have at least a one-day debate on what is going on, and an update on the number of civilians who have been killed?

Mr. Hain

I am certainly ready to discuss with my colleagues the scope and opportunity for a debate on Iraq when the time is right, and I shall note what my hon. Friend has said. It is important, however, to get into perspective the events that she has described, which often follow terrorist attacks on Iraqi civilians as well as on the coalition. We should also bear it in mind that there are 20,000 reconstruction projects going on in Iraq, supported by our Government, which are providing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Baghdad to Mosul train service has been reopened, almost 33,000 Iraqi teachers underwent training in the February school holidays, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has reported regularly—and again recently—that, whatever the Iraqis' legitimate concerns about the security predicament in which they find themselves, they want us to continue to enable them to take control of their own lives, as we are determined to do by handing over control to the new Iraqi interim authority at the end of next month.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

There is growing discontent and disbelief among prison and probation officers, the voluntary sector and, now, politicians in the House about the way in which the Government are implementing the National Offender Management Service, which is the successor to the Prison Service and the probation service. It is probably the largest ever change in the justice system, yet there has been no debate in the House on a motion to discuss NOMS. The implementation date is 1 June, but the problems involved are so great that it is rumoured that that is to be pushed back to 1 September. There was a large lobby of the House the week before last by prison and probation officers, but still the appropriate Minister has not given us the detail that we need.

Will the Leader of the House consider having an urgent debate in Government time on this serious subject, so that the Minister can give us more details and let us know whether legislation is necessary to ensure that public protection is not jeopardised by the terrible way in which the Government are implementing the changes?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Lady has the right to apply for a debate in the normal way, and the Home Secretary will obviously have noted the points that she has made. I am sure that she will want to support the Government in resolving any teething troubles that might become apparent, in order to bring together the services to create an integrated service for dealing with offenders. That is surely something that she would welcome.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)

In replying to an earlier question, the Leader of the House referred to the need to invest in education and science. He might not be aware that the university of Cambridge gets four times as much money per student as the university of Wolverhampton, which is headquartered in my constituency. Conversely, the university of Cambridge is one of the least accessible to working-class students—indeed, it got worse last year—while the university of Wolverhampton is the most accessible mainstream university in the country. Another contrast between them is that, whereas the university of Wolverhampton allows students to work, the university of Cambridge tells prospective students that they will be "sent down", to use its archaic language, if they get a job. That is hardly doing much to encourage accessibility for working-class students. Can we have an early debate on the matter?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

Vote Labour in Wolverhampton!

Mr. Hain

Indeed; vote Labour in Wolverhampton and right across the country.

I am concerned to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) says. Obviously, Wolverhampton is lighting a path for opportunities for students from working-class and low-income backgrounds, and that example should be followed right across the university sector. That is precisely why, as a result of the Government's new legislation, more and more opportunities will be provided for low-income students, and more obligations will be placed on universities such as Cambridge to ensure that those students can take advantage of them.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

Further to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), I believe that my constituents will think it very strange if we do not have a debate on the question of strategy in Iraq post-30 June. Will the Leader of the House give us some indication that the Government will have a debate on the issue well before the end of next month? To have such a debate would in no way undermine the valiant duties being performed now by the British forces in Iraq.

Mr. Hain

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and, as I have said, I am open-minded about such a debate and its timing. That is not to suggest—I am sure that he is not doing so—that there have not been many opportunities to debate Iraq. Defence debates in recent times—including one only last week—have been dominated by the subject, and the Prime Minister made a statement on Iraq very recently, in which hon. Members were able to question him. If and when it is the right time to have a debate on Iraq, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the Government will call one.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1173?

[That this House notes that the monitoring evidence collected by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), a network of more than 200 groups in over 100 countries, demonstrates that companies continue to market baby food products in breach of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant resolutions; also notes that where there is malpractice it is systematic and institutionalised and that, globally, 1.5 million infants die every year because they are not breastfed, and that even in industrialised countries with universal access to health care, there are significant negative effects of artificial infant feeding, including increased risk of diabetes and obesity; is concerned that UK law only implements some provisions of the Code, limiting these to infant formula, not all breastmilk substitutes, and that follow-on formula, with similar packaging and the same name as the infant formula, is widely advertised, that bottles and teat marketing is totally unregulated, and that while the Code bans direct contact with the mother, UK companies have baby clubs and carelines; therefore calls on the Government to support independently monitored and enforced legislation fully implementing the Code and resolutions at UK, EU and international level and additional WHA resolutions to strengthen protection of appropriate infant feeding practices, to address emerging aggressive baby milk food marketing, to make appropriate policy changes in response to scientific developments, and to take action to ensure that EU Council Resolution 92/C172/01 on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in third countries by community-based manufacturers functions effectively.]

The motion was tabled in national breast-feeding awareness week, and draws attention to the violations of the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes by the manufacturers of baby food products, and the consequential harmful effect that that is having on infant mortality across the world, and even on public health in this country. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), has accepted that the 1995 regulations on infant formula are not fully in compliance with the code. Will my right hon. Friend make time available so that the Government can implement the recommendation of the committee on the rights of the child that the UK should adopt the international code in full?

Mr. Hain

All parents will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. As she says, the Government are well aware of the differences between United Kingdom legislation and the international code, and we are exploring, with the Food Standards Agency, ways in which our regulations could be better aligned to the code.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

There are two things that we learned from yesterday. One is that those on the Treasury Bench and the Prime Minister did not flinch under fire, and they should be applauded for that. The other is that the House does not have an evacuation plan. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the review that is being undertaken will take a holistic approach to incidents that occur both at this end of the Palace and at the other end, where other people are responsible for security? We have concrete barriers outside at the moment, which are unsightly and have been there for a long time. We need to do things that are not so intimidatory or obvious, but which will make us secure. Other procedures for evacuation need to be put in place. It is not a matter of just sitting here and waiting.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Or running away.

Richard Younger-Ross

Or running away. We will need walk-through showering facilities, for example. I hope that that will be taken into account in the review, without going into detail.

Mr. Hain

May I express my gratitude for the hon. Gentleman's steadfast praise for the Prime Minister? "Holistic" is more of a Liberal Democrat word than a Labour word, but I take his point. It is not sufficient to look at just one aspect of security, such as the screen in front of the Strangers Gallery. Every aspect of the issue must be looked at in the round, which is precisely why the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission have ordered this widespread review by the Security Service and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and why we are determined, as a result of that review, to see big modifications in security and to learn the lessons of recent events. We are agreed on that, and we intend to take it forward—in a holistic way, by all means.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the genuine concern surrounding the future of British manufacturing. Can he begin to understand the frustration felt by British workers, including those employed at Fergusons shipyard in my constituency, who tender for British contracts, are denied, and see the contract awarded to foreign competitors? More worryingly, such decisions are taken by faceless bureaucrats, with little or no ministerial responsibility or accountability. Will he therefore use his good offices to ensure that the Government's procurement policy takes account of the potential job losses when British Government contracts are awarded to foreign competitors?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend make, a persuasive point, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will want to listen carefully to his comments. I am sure that if my hon. Friend had had more time or had been in order to do so, he would have wanted to acknowledge the Government's very good record on job creation, having been responsible for running an economy in which since we came to power nearly 2 million more jobs have been created in the past seven years, and in which unemployment is lower in every constituency in the land, including my hon. Friend's.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)

Can time be found for a series of statements from Departments on what steps they are taking to improve their woeful record on the answering of written parliamentary questions and the quality of the answers given? Statistics that I have obtained show that the worst offenders in answering written questions are the Foreign Office, which in the previous Session took 102 working days to answer one question; the Department of Health, which took 127 working days; the Department for Work and Pensions, which took 130 days; and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which took 132 working days. Other Departments either cannot or will not answer the question on how long it has taken them. The Home Office took nearly three months to answer my question by saying that it could not give the figures that I was seeking.

Even when answers are given, they are frequently inadequate. I have been waiting since 2 March for a letter that was promised to me regarding greenbelt erosion in metropolitan areas, and on 4 May, the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education told me that the figures that I had requested were "not to hand", but that he would send them to me when they were—apparently, they are still not to hand. It is simply unacceptable. Members of Parliament cannot get on with their jobs if the Government will not give us the information that we request. Can we have some statements on what will be done about it?

Mr. Hain

I have ensured that everybody in government is aware of the need to answer Members' questions as appropriately and as quickly as possible. Every effort is being made to do that. In some circumstances, the basis for the answers takes time to collect. Obviously, our intention is to meet the House's requests and to meet our obligations, and we continue to strive towards that.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

The Leader of the House will be aware that last week I requested that time be found to debate the future—or lack of it—of further education in Wales, and particularly in Gwent. As he will be aware, in some of the poorest communities in Wales, such as mine, colleges are facing redundancies, closure of departments and transfer of departments to other parts of the county, which are almost impossible to get to. He will also be aware of the importance of maintaining those departments in an area of high deprivation, with some of the highest levels of unemployment.

Can we have a debate on the discussions that the Leader of the House has had in the past with Coleg Gwent—perhaps he can share with the House his experience of dealing with its management—and with Education and Learning Wales and the Welsh Assembly? Would he be willing, with the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, to conduct an investigation into the management of that institution, because we are now faced with a new principal, who will be in post within the next few weeks but who, we are told, still supports the plans to carry out those redundancies and department closures?

Mr. Hain

I share my hon. Friend's concern about what has happened, as I have said publicly previously, and as I repeat now. I still find it baffling that, given all the huge resources that have gone into education funding right across Wales—including further education funding, which is getting more resources under our Labour Government than ever before—this situation should have arisen. That is why I have raised it with the First Minister. As my hon. Friend will know, the Education Minister made a statement in the National Assembly this week saying that she wanted to get to the bottom of the affair, so his representations are being closely listened to and followed.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

May I, too, warmly welcome the debate on the civil aviation White Paper, which is to take place on 8 June, especially as it is on the Adjournment and not on a substantive motion? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that soon after that debate the Secretary of State for Transport will come to the House and give his conclusions on the precise policy that Her Majesty's Government are to follow, since air transport operators, airport operators and communities around airports need to have blight lifted and to have some certainty about the future?

Mr. Hain

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome of the debate. He is one of the Members who has in recent weeks been pressing on me the need for such a debate. I am well aware of the situation that he is properly looking after at Northolt and of course at Heathrow, near to his constituency. I will certainly bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that deaths from exposure to asbestos have now reached epidemic proportions? For example, last year, there were 2,000 deaths from mesothelioma cancer alone, and it is forecast that by 2015 those deaths will be beyond 6,000 per year, and that over the next 40 years, there will be 185,000 such deaths. Will he therefore consider a debate in Government time to discuss how we might develop a strategy—a health, prevention, benefit and care strategy—for sufferers of exposure to asbestos?

Mr. Hain

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tireless, lifelong work, especially in the House, to expose this problem and to work to solve it. I know that the Secretary of State for Health is aware of that, and is conscious of the representations that he is making. My right hon. Friend will certainly be aware now of my hon. Friend's passionate feelings about the need to tackle the matter.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, we were having a sensible debate on post-conflict reconstruction, nation building, and international donor conferences. Notwithstanding the fairly sizeable chunk of the Department for International Development's budget that is now going to Iraq, we simply have not had that sort of debate in relation to Iraq. Today, theFinancial Times reports a poll finding that, even in northern Iraq, nine out of 10 Iraqis now see the coalition as occupiers rather than liberators. The House must work out how we are going to win the peace and the humanitarian campaign. Please can we start to debate those issues on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Hain

I very much take the hon. Gentleman's point on conflict resolution and conflict prevention, particularly given his position on the Select Committee on International Development. It is essential to maintain the focus that the Government have had on these matters through the Department for International Development—working with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence—and the special conflict prevention fund, which was established through pooling those Departments' resources, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome.

I note the hon. Gentleman's point about the opinion reported in theFinancial Times, but the other reports that we are getting are that people in Iraq—while being very worried about the situation and having many criticisms of one kind or another about the security situation and even the performance of the coalition—do not want us just to walk out on them. It is important that he acknowledges that, given the Leader of the Opposition's statement overnight that he also acknowledges it.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that time should be allowed for a debate on those people who loyally give up valuable time by volunteering to become magistrates? There is a great danger in Lancashire and in the Chorley constituency, where there are no magistrates under the age of 40 and the age profile is much older, that they will all retire together. What will the future hold for magistrates courts if we do not get young people involved and volunteering?

Mr. Hain

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is not simply a question of filling vacant seats on the bench but of getting and maintaining a bench that is representative of the community, as I am sure that he agrees. I am sure that his points will have been carefully noted.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

May I gently counsel the Leader of the House against using the term "old-fashioned" as an all-purpose term of deprecation, as in old-fashioned security measures"? The way in which we refer to each other here is old-fashioned, but it makes for a good and effective form of debate. The security staff, the policeman, the Badge Messengers, the men in tails and the men in tights respond to us with great but old-fashioned courtesy, which is very effective in the context of the security measures that they implement on our behalf.

Mr. Hain

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all staff of the House for the support that they give us, in terms of security and in other ways, which enables us to do our jobs as Members of Parliament. We are all very grateful for that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree, however, that an old-fashioned security approach was dealing with an old-fashioned security situation 20, 30 and 40 years ago, when we did not face the risk of suicide terrorist attack and did not experience the breaches of security that we have seen in the last few months—protesters climbing up the Big Ben tower, or what happened yesterday. In 2004—in the age of the suicide terrorist, which is an entirely new development—we need a House of Commons that is properly protected. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is a modern, not an old-fashioned approach to security.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

May we have an early debate on the uses of neighbourhood renewal funding? I was shocked to learn that £40,000 of money earmarked for my constituents had been spent by local Tory councillors on consultancies for a project that probably would not go ahead, and is not even in my constituency. At a time when my constituents' priorities are better street lighting and action to deal with graffiti, litter and antisocial behaviour, is it not outrageous that these people can short-change them in such a fashion?

Mr. Hain

On the basis of that account, I find it outrageous as well. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents, and voters in the coming weeks, will bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend re-examine the way in which we deal with Northern Ireland business? On Tuesday, during our debate on the Pensions Bill, there was a discussion about the problem of matters having to be dealt with by Order-in-Council rather than being written into the Bill. It is a general problem with Northern Ireland legislation.

Why does the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which will meet in about an hour, never visit Northern Ireland? The Northern Ireland people might be interested to meet Grand Committee members from the mainland, and convey their interests and concerns as they do to members of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Mr. Hain

The meeting arrangements for the Northern Ireland Grand Committee are not a matter for me, but my hon. Friend's points have been noted and will also be noted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

I support the earlier call by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on the new deal and employment policy. In my constituency, more people are in work than ever before. There is a job for everyone who wants one, and there are more opportunities for the over-50s, disabled people and single parents to return to the labour market. Given that the Tories have expressed concern about the topics of debates taking place during the week beginning 7 June, would it not be appropriate for us to have a debate on the new deal on one of the days leading up to 10 June?

Mr. Hain

I am very tempted to consider that. Many hundreds of thousands of people, including those with disabilities—

Mr. Heald

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hain

The shadow Leader of the House shakes his head. I repeat that many hundreds of thousands of people, including those with disabilities, lone parents, and youngsters and long-term unemployed people—including some in my constituency—whose prospects were hopeless under the Conservatives are now being given opportunities to upskill and start work. I have met many people—I am sure that we all have; if we have not, we are not doing our jobs as Members of Parliament—who have benefited from the new deal, and would be horrified if they realised that the Conservatives planned to abolish it.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op)

I thank the Leader of the House for his announcement about a debate on the aviation White Paper after the recess. Next time we have the opportunity of a full day's debate on a motion for the Adjournment, will he agree that it is about time we discussed public health? As he is one of the best-briefed Cabinet Ministers, it will not have escaped his attention that in recent weeks the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association and the Government's own chief medical officer have called for action to ban smoking in public places, that a Mintel survey showed this week that most British adults were in favour of a ban, and that an Imperial college study showed that hundreds of people die every year in this country from the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke. As chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, may I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that the Government's programme includes further action on that important area of public health before the end of this Parliament?

Mr. Hain

I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend's policy points on smoking. As a non-smoker myself, I am well aware of its impact on the health of smokers, and indeed of the danger of passive smoking. That is why the Secretary of State for Health has embarked on a consultation exercise, and why the issue is being debated up and down the country in the big conversation. The idea is to discuss how policies on smoking can make progress in the future.