HC Deb 27 May 2004 vol 421 cc1715-24 12.31 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week after the recess?

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

The business for the week after the Whitsun recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 7 JUNE—Second Reading of the Patents Bill[Lords], followed by a motion to approve the Third Report of the Procedure Committee on joint activities with the National Assembly for Wales, 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.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 14 JUNE—Second Reading of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill[Lords].

TUESDAY 15 JUNE—Opposition half-day [10th Allotted Day] (Part Two). There will be half-day debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to the financial perspective and to the structural and cohesion funds.

WEDNESDAY 16 JUNE—A debate on European affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 17 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Human Tissue Bill.

FRIDAY 18 JUNE—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Speaker

, I wish you and all members of staff of the House, on whom we so gratefully rely, a happy break.

Mr. Heald


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman, may I say to the House that questions must be put about the business after next NA eek? I shall be very strict on that and will not allow questions on any matter other than that. I remind hon. Members that there will be an Adjournment debate later during which matters may be raised of any Back Benchers choosing.

Mr. Heald

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with his remarks about the staff of the House and his best wishes to you, Mr. Speaker?

Can the Leader of the House give us any indication of when the debates promised by the Foreign Secretary on Zimbabwe and Iraq will take place?

The Leader of the House will have seen reports of the ruling in the Belfast Crown court that the Real IRA is not a proscribed group under the Terrorism Act 2000; that means that it is not an offence to be a member of that organisation. Is not that a blunder by the Lord Chancellor, who gave clear assurances to the contrary? When the Terrorism Bill was in Committee, he said: the organisation must be a proscribed organisation under Schedule 2 to the Bill. Under Schedule 2, the Irish Republican Army will include the Provisional IRA, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 2000; Vol. 613, c. 1064.] We want that matter rectified rapidly. Will the Leader of the House promise us an early Bill? I assure him that he will have our full support.

As the business in the week after we come back is somewhat slight, can the Leader of the House fit in a short debate entitled, "The mystery of the missing men from the Ministry"? Figures published this week show an annual rise of 88,000 in public sector employment in education, yet the Department for Education and Skills website claims that the number of teachers has risen by only 4,000. Who are the other 84,000? Can we have an assurance that they are not yet more bureaucrats?

Turning to the D-day commemorations, the Leader of the House will know that there is to be a written statement today and that many veterans are concerned about the arrangements for them to attend the march-past. Apparently, there are considerable transport difficulties. Does he agree that had there been such difficulties 60 years ago, we would never have won the war? What is he going to do about it and can we have an oral statement?

The Leader of the House knows that, by and large, we prefer oral statements to written statements, but could not the titles of written statements be more informative? I notice today, for example, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is going to tell us all about "Dealing with the past." It would be much more helpful if he could tell us exactly what his statement was about.

Mr. Hain

I will certainly bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says about statement titles, as will, I am sure, all my colleagues in the Cabinet and in the Government.

On Zimbabwe, I can promise the hon. Gentleman that a debate will be notified as soon as we have had discussions through the usual channels, including on the availability of the Foreign Secretary. We intend to have a debate on Iraq when the opportunity is right to do so. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Defence Secretary is to make a statement to the House this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman asked for that last week, and it is being served up for the House. I am sure that he will welcome that.

Mr. Heald

We want more.

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman is always asking for more—that is his job. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oliver!"] I will not pursue that line.

The Government are very concerned about the ruling on the Real IRA. The Director of Public Prosecutions is forwarding a report to the Attorney-General with a view to a reference to the Court of Appeal. The Government are clear that the Real IRA should be a proscribed organisation. Given the ongoing consideration of a reference to the Court of Appeal, I cannot comment any further.

On public sector jobs, I shall give the hon. Gentleman some of the details for which he asked. In doing so, I note that a Conservative Government, were one ever to be elected, would be committed to cutting public sector jobs on a massive scale. Since June 2003, 162,000 new jobs have been created and recruited in the public sector. At the same time, by the way, 98,000 new private sector jobs have been created. Those public sector jobs include nearly 19,000 nurses, 5,600 doctors, 4,800 police, 4,200 teachers, 16,000 clinical support staff and 16,300 school support staff, as well as many others. The truth is that we want high-quality services and the recruitment of front-line staff to provide those services. That is what the public want and that is what we are delivering. The Conservatives would cut those jobs and services week after week, as they did when they were in power.

We are all concerned to ensure that the D-day Normandy landings are properly commemorated. That is why the Ministry of Defence is providing assistance for veterans to travel to Normandy to make the events on the weekend of 5 and 6 June a success. The main commemoration will take place with the Queen and the Prime Minister present on 6 June. That is important and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend knows that the today's Health Committee highlights obesity. He also knows that sport and recreation are important in tackling that problem. Is he aware of the possible loss of sailing facilities in Cardiff as a result of the proposal by Western Power to fill in part of the Llanishen reservoir? Will he do all that he can to influence the course of events to prevent that from happening? It would block off an important sailing resource in Cardiff.

Mr. Hain

That is obviously a matter of great concern to my hon. Friend. I shall look into it and discuss it with the relevant authorities.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

We welcome the two statements this afternoon, especially that on chaos in the European elections in the north. If any vital deadlines are missed next week and there could consequently be a legal challenge to the outcome of the elections, will the Leader of the House assure us that we will have a statement on the first day back—Monday 7 June—to explain what the Government intend to do, and that it will take precedence over all other statements? It is obviously an important issue.

On security in the House, can we have a progress report in the week that we come back—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I repeat that the Speaker is responsible for security and I do not want it discussed on the Floor of the House. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member has worries about security, they can come and see me and I will discuss it with them. The worst thing we can do is to discuss security on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Tyler

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Obviously I understand that. I intended to take up some of the points that were made in business questions last week, but I can leave that for another occasion.

Why has only one day been allocated to the remaining stages of the Human Tissue Bill? Will the Leader of the House reconsider that? Hon. Members from all parties believe that important issues are at stake. Will he at least review the matter to ascertain whether more time could be allocated?

Mr. Hain

I welcome your comments on security, Mr. Speaker.

As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, he will shortly have an opportunity to question the Minister on postal votes. However, I reject the charge of chaos anywhere in the postal vote regions. I note that the Liberal Democrats were prominent in leading a charge to deny many millions of people the opportunity to vote from the comfort of their homes, with the higher turnout and improved quality of democracy that that would bring.

I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point on the Human Tissue Bill. My inclination at the moment is not to change the timing. but I shall consider his comments.

Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab)

In my constituency is a greatly loved maternity hospital, the William Julian Courtauld, which has served the people of Braintree for some 80 years. Up to seven years ago, 350 births a year happened there. That figure fell to approximately 120 last year. The hospital is open 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays only. In the evenings and at weekends, the midwife has to get the key to let the expectant mother in. That is causing a vast deterioration in service. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the provision of adequate maternity services in small towns and rural areas?

Mr. Hain

The Secretary of State for Health will take careful note of my hon. Friend's comments because he raises an important issue. The problem is difficult to understand given that more than 67,000 extra nurses, more than 19,000 extra doctors and more than 7,300 additional consultants have been recruited since we came to power. That should mean extra, higher quality services throughout the country, including in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

May we have an urgent debate in Government time on Afghanistan? Given that, following the removal of the Taliban, the Prime Minister promised that the international community would not walk away from the plight of the Afghan people, does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that internecine fighting in that country is rife, that development aid has in many cases had to be diverted to military projects and emergency relief, that opium production is soaring and that the independent newspaper there describes Afghanistan as a nation on the edge of anarchy? In those circumstances, is it not essential that the House should have thorough debate, agree a way forward and honour its commitment to the long-suffering people of that beautiful but beleaguered country?

Mr. Hain

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there will shortly be an opportunity to discuss Afghanistan. Obviously, I welcome his concern about the situation there, but he will also have noted President Karzai's statement rejecting many of the points contained in that report. It is also important to note that the economy of Afghanistan grew by 30 per cent. last year. Furthermore, 860 km of road have been rebuilt, 4 million children are now back at school, and 6 million children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Progress is being made in a very difficult security climate, with the Taliban seeking to come back, assisted by Osama bin Laden's forces.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)

Mr. Speaker, I am mindful of your comments about raising security on the Floor of the House, but I hope that you will understand my sentiment and purpose when I ask my right hon. Friend whether, when we return from the recess, we can have a debate on the role of the Doorkeepers. They play a vital role here in security and it was they who were instrumental in arresting the two purple flour-bomb throwers the other week. I would much appreciate a debate on this issue.

Mr. Hain

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the vital role of the Doorkeepers, which we all appreciate enormously. Some of the gratuitous comments that have appeared in the newspapers in recent days have been bitterly resented by you, Mr. Speaker, by me and all Members of the House who really appreciate the job that the Doorkeepers do. We must also recognise that, when journalists make these accusations, the Doorkeepers cannot answer back in the way that politicians can.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

Can we have an urgent statement on the arrest of my constituent, the journalist Peter Hounam, in Israel last night? The Leader of the House will be aware that Mr. Hounam was the journalist who interviewed Mordecai Vanunu about Israel's secret nuclear programme in 1986. He is currently being held in Israel without legal representation or access to British consular staff. Will the Leader of the House do all that he can to ensure his early release?

Mr. Hain

The Government are very concerned about this situation and it is absolutely appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to raise it. We have asked the Israeli police and the ministry for foreign affairs there for more information, and expressed our concern. We have also asked for consular access to Peter Hounam as soon as possible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that I have asked my colleague, the Minister of State in the Foreign Office, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, to make contact with the Israeli ambassador to get the issue resolved.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

Further to that response, may I ask whether we could have a statement, when the House returns after the recess, from the appropriate Foreign Office Minister on the treatment of Peter Hounam, the circumstances in which he was arrested and the representations that have been made by the UK Government to Israel to lift the ludicrous restrictions on Mordecai Vanunu, who has already served 18 years in prison and is now under virtual house arrest in the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem? We pay tribute to the cathedral for being prepared to help and support him, but he should be a free man, free to travel wherever he wishes, anywhere in the world, and not under house arrest.

Mr. Hain

As someone who had many friends placed under house arrest in the old apartheid South Africa, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The treatment of Mr. Vanunu is unacceptable and we have made representations about it throughout his detention, and subsequently.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con)

In October, 14 million people in the three northern regions will be asked to vote in a referendum on elected regional assemblies. The Government have already recognised that it is essential that those people understand precisely what the powers of those assemblies will be, but the Deputy Prime Minister has already created some doubt about those powers by speculating that they might be extended. It is important that a draft Bill be published, but that will not be enough. It is essential that we debate this matter in the House, preferably before the summer recess, but certainly before the referendums take place, so that we can probe the Government on their precise intentions. Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance on that?

Mr. Hain

The assurance that I can give to the hon. Gentleman is that the Bill will be published before the referendums take place. That is important so that people know what they are voting on. Equally, it is important to note that the House should welcome the attempt by the Government to hand power back to the people and empower regions of England, just as Wales and Scotland have been empowered, through devolution of decision making. The Government are committed to that policy, which we will continue to roll out.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab)

The Government office for the north-west has recently appraised 20 bids for objective 2 sub-regional funding, and has given top rating to a £3 million bid for circus skills training, while a bid by Lancashire constabulary affecting my constituency, which related to social exclusion, crime prevention, economic and environmental concerns, was rated bottom. I find that completely incomprehensible and I suspect that most ordinary people will also find it so. Can we therefore have an early debate on the decision-making procedures and criteria associated with such bids?

Mr. Hain

On the basis of my hon. Friend's account, I agree that it is baffling.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important to have the debate on the European Union? I welcome such a debate. Currently, two areas are under consultation: both the cross-compliance arrangements and the excellent arrangements for the EU water directive. Everyone else will have an opportunity to put their views. Is it not time that the House had an opportunity to discuss the EU water directive and cross-compliance, because every farmer in the country will be affected? We ought to have a full day's debate in Government time on those matters.

Mr. Hain

I will certainly take account of what the right hon. Gentleman says, particularly given his long involvement and expertise in this area, both in government and subsequently. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to note carefully his points and take them into account.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House after the recess on the position in the Sussex police authority? Five police officers involved directly in the unlawful killing of my constituent, James Ashley, in January 1998, are apparently now to sue the Sussex police authority for £50,000 each for their treatment. The Ashleys have lost a son. A year ago, the new chief constable of Sussex made an apology to the family saying that James's wrongful death came about because of the cumulative effect of policy errors and operational mistakes. Does my right hon. Friend accept that this situation is deeply distressing to my constituents, the Ashleys, and will he ensure that the Home Secretary investigates the matter and makes a statement to Members on it?

Mr. Hain

It is indeed a distressing and tragic incident and our sympathies go to the family. They will undoubtedly be pleased that my hon. Friend has raised the matter on the Floor of the House so that the whole House is aware of it. The Home Secretary will of course want to take careful note of what she has said and to progress the matter.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con)

It is now more than four months since I raised on a point of order the question of the volume of noise from the permanent demonstration in Parliament square. In response, Mr. Speaker, you expressed sympathy with my point and the Leader of the House said that he would try to deal with the matter as quickly as possible. In fact, the volume of noise continues unabated. It is not relevant that there was a court case that allowed the protest to continue—that was not related to the volume of noise—and we must consider that the police, who have the duty of being in the front line of any sort of attack that might be made on the House from outside, are being constantly distracted and disturbed by this incessant noise. The police say that it is a matter for the council, and the council says that it is a matter for the police. Why cannot the police cross the road and remove the amplification equipment once and for all?

Mr. Hain

Mr. Speaker, I know that you feel equally strongly about this matter because you have told me so in no uncertain terms. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are anxious to deal with the situation, which is why we responded as we did recently to the Procedure Committee report. Action will follow, after consultation with the Home Secretary and the police, to sort the situation out.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1295, which highlights the situation of a company in my constituency that has had to lay off workers because of the actions of a large company nearby, Hyundai, that refuses to pay outstanding debts?

[That this House notes that small businesses, such as Motor Sports Developments Ltd based in Milton Keynes, have for many years meant that the UK has led the world in designing, developing, preparing, operating and promoting motor sports vehicles for international motor sport, notably the World Rally Championship; further notes that these companies enter into long-term contracts to develop the skills and experience to operate a world rally programme on behalf of a major car manufacturer; is therefore outraged that due to a unilateral decision made by the Hyundai Motor Company in Korea to use its economic power and not to make outstanding payments due to Motor Sports. Developments Ltd, the company faces possible closure with the loss of 150 highly skilled employees; condemns Hyundai for acting in bad faith; believes that such a company is not fit to sponsor Euro 2004; and calls on the Government to ensure that where UK small businesses find themselves in this position, they are supported in their legal action against large foreign multi-nationals.]

In thanking the staff at our embassy in Seoul for their efforts, may I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, across Departments, the Government respond to give small businesses in this situation all the help that they can get?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that my right hon. Friends will want to do that and I am concerned to hear about the plight of Motor Sports Developments Ltd., not least because I am a motor sports fan. I know that it is a company involved in high-performance engineering, in which Britain has a world lead, and we want to make sure that such businesses are safeguarded and able to compete effectively in future.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

May I press the Leader of the House on the question of doubt about the legal situation of the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA? The learned judge who made the decision is very able. If that is not cleared up before Parliament resumes in a week's time, will he assure me that legislation will be introduced in the House to tighten the net rather than leaving the ambiguity that seems to favour the IRA who, under whatever guise, continue to terrorise?

Mr. Hain

Obviously, we need to take one thing at a time. The first is to have the Attorney-General's view on how matters should proceed: whether there should be a reference to the Court of Appeal or some other method of redressing the situation. I, the Government and the Secretary of State fully agree that it is completely unacceptable.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)

In the past, my right hon. Friend has promised the House that he would allow Members to discuss the new hours and to review them? Can he set out a timetable for that review?

Mr. Hain

The Modernisation Committee will consider this matter shortly, and I hope that it will begin its review later next month. My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to contribute to it, as will all other Members of the House. We will take into account the welcome review by the Procedure Committee, which sent out a questionnaire to all Members and attracted a high return.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

In the week after the House returns, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for International Development on the role of the Department for International Development in Iraq? We have had numerous welcome statements from the Secretary of State for Defence, but so far we have not had a single statement from the Secretary of State for International Development. Given that DFID had its budget sliced elsewhere by £100 million to go to Iraq, there has never been an explanation of where that money has gone. With the handover of authority to Iraqis, we hope that we will be in a process of nation building. One would have expected DFID to be at the forefront of all that. It would be helpful to have a better understanding of what DFID's role will be, rather than simply hearing constantly from the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Hain

On that question, the hon. Gentleman will understand that there have been some adjustments to the DFID budget, and properly so, as the situation in Iraq has required that, and the Iraqi people have needed the assistance that we have secured for them. He will also know that the DFID budget has doubled under this Government, which I am sure that he will welcome, compared with the position under the previous Government whom he supported. Certainly, I will draw the Secretary of State's attention to his points.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

May I add my support to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) regarding Mordecai Vanunu and Peter Hounam? As for my business question, can he raise through the appropriate channels, perhaps with a view to a statement after the break, the convention whereby Members are meant to inform each other when they go to each other's constituencies? I ask that because, on Monday, my office received rumours that the Leader of the Opposition was going to visit my constituency the following day. We made inquiries about that, and were told by his office that it knew of no such visit, and that he was going to Birmingham for the motor show.

When I arrived here on Monday evening, I discovered that a note had been placed on the letter board informing me that he was indeed visiting my constituency the following day. I subsequently discovered that it was for a photo call connected with a threatened post office in the constituency.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been involved in a cross-party campaign to defend local services. We would be happy to have the Leader of the Opposition on board for that. Does my right hon. Friend share my fear that either the Leader of the Opposition's office does not know what he is doing, or this was an attempt to make party political advantage out of a local issue?

Mr. Hain

Obviously I cannot comment on the details. There is a convention which we are all required to respect; but I should be astonished if my hon. Friend's constituents felt any relief as a result of a visit from the Leader of the Opposition, given his dreadful record of cuts across the board when his party was in government.