HC Deb 16 September 2004 vol 424 cc1455-71 12.32 pm
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the shadow Leader of the House to ask the business question, I want to make it clear that I do not intend to allow this question and answer session to be used for a discussion of yesterday's security incident. The serious questions arising from that incident will be discussed by the Joint Committee on Security and the House of Commons Commission when the House returns. Any Member who wishes to contribute to that discussion is welcome to speak to the Chairman of the Joint Committee, the Government deputy Chief Whip, or to write to me, but I do not want questions of security to be discussed publicly on the Floor of the House today, and certainly not on an occasion when we are supposed to be concerned with the House's future business.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for after the conference break?

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

The business for the week following the conference recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Mental Capacity Bill.

TUESDAY 12 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Civil Partnership Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 13 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 14 OCTOBER—Motion to take note of a European document relating to justice and home affairs work programme, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Horserace, Betting and Olympic Lottery Bill, followed by a debate on school sport on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 15 OCTOBER—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 18 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 19 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 20 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill.

THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER—A debate on defence in the world on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 21 October will be a debate on the report from the Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on social cohesion.

Mr. Heald

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, especially the defence debate for which we have been calling.

The Leader of the House will recall that at the beginning of July I raised with him concerns about the large number of late amendments being tabled by the Government at each stage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. Will he give an assurance that a further raft of substantial Government amendments will not be tabled during the recess, giving hon. Members precious little time to prepare for Report?

I understand that Adair Turner's interim report on pensions is expected in the first week back. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is an oral statement and a full debate on that important topic?

The Leader of the House knows that the current law on gambling has disadvantages for charities. The draft Gambling Bill has been scrutinised by a Joint Committee. Is he able to tell us when the Government expect to present the full Bill to Parliament?

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the draft Regional Assemblies Bill before the ballot papers go out for the north-east referendum? Clearly, we should debate the details in order to inform the vote.

The Leader of the House will be aware of Mr. Speaker's concern about health and safety in the Palace and that many hon. Members are concerned about the House sitting at a time when major building works are under way. Has he had any advice on that aspect and is he able to comment on the implications for September sittings? While covering that ground, he might like to comment on whether he has made any progress on putting the Sessional Orders on to a statutory basis.

Mr. Hain

If I may, I shall answer the last point first as it deals with an important House matter. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it. Walking around, I have been concerned about the health and security implications of our being in session and the House sitting while serious building work is being undertaken. That work is a matter for the House authorities, not for me. There are serious questions to be addressed and consultation will be required.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he is part of the process, we are in the final stages of a review of the sitting times of the House. September sittings will clearly be part of the decision on sitting times that the House will be invited to take early in the new year. I have had plenty of representations from hon. Members on both sides of the House that September sittings are not acceptable, especially in the present conditions. I have been advised by the House authorities that, so that important security work in the Chamber can be undertaken, next year's September sitting cannot take place. That will form part of the background to the decision that we as a House eventually reach in the context of a broader review of sitting hours.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill is expected to return to the House next month. Obviously, I regret late Government amendments, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that they were largely technical. He will also understand how important it is to get this vital Bill absolutely right, given the number of deaths that occur: about 20 per cent. of all violent crime is committed in the home against women, and two women a week die as a result of violent crime. In addition, we have been responding to some of the suggestions made by his Back-Bench and Front-Bench colleagues.

I shall take note of the hon. Gentleman's point on Adair Turner's pensions report. As for the Gambling Bill, I hope to be able to inform the House early next month about progress on the Bill. Pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee has been valuable, and there is broad support for the Bill across the House.

On the Regional Assemblies Bill, I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate before the ballot. He will know that the issue has been widely discussed over the past 18 months or so. We had earlier authority for the referendum, and that is the basis on which we shall go ahead. He can always travel up to the north-east and join the campaign. No doubt he will campaign on behalf of the Conservative party against regional government for the north-east of England—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Just as that party campaigned against devolution in Wales, so they do not want to support the devolution of power to the regions of England, and the people in the regions understand that.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

My colleagues and I share concern about the fate of the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Bill. However, I believe that the Leader of the House made a slip of the tongue when he said that it would come back to the House later this month—that might be difficult. I hope that he accepts that the Conservatives have not tabled any amendments so far, which may be significant.

I hope that the Leader of the House can give an undertaking that we will have an early statement from the Law Officers as soon as we return giving full details of the Attorney-General's assessment of the legality of the invasion of Iraq. He will be aware that this morning the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, made it clear that in his view the invasion of Iraq by US and UK troops was illegal. The House must be told whether the legal justification on which it made a decision on 18 March last year was, or was not, misleading.

May we have an early statement, before the debate in October on defence matters, about the extremely important report by the Public Accounts Committee on the failures of equipment in Iraq, which offers devastating corroboration of the fact that failures by the Ministry of Defence led to unnecessary deaths of British troops, including Sergeant Steven Roberts from Wadebridge in north Cornwall? The Leader of the House will recall that I have raised that issue on a number of occasions, and it is now quite clear from the pathologist's report as well as from the Select Committee report that the Ministry must have on its conscience the death not only of Sergeant Roberts but of others. It is outrageous that this very week troops in his unit are threatened with court martial, when the Secretary of State for Defence should take responsibility. Our armed forces were sent into an illegal war with inadequate equipment, which is surely a matter of serious concern for the House.

Mr. Hain

I quite clearly recall saying that the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Bill would return to the House later "next month", so I hope that that satisfied any need for clarification.

On the question of Iraq, the hon. Gentleman gave a selective interpretation of what the UN Secretary-General said. He made his position clear, but from the outset the advice of the Attorney-General to the Government made it clear that authority to use force against Iraq derived from the combined effect of UN resolutions 678, 687 and 1441, all of which were adopted under chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security.

The hon. Gentleman raised the PAC report, which is important and certainly pointed out shortcomings. In an expedition fraught with danger and which required a rapid deployment, our forces were praised internationally for the excellence of their operation, but it was inevitable that there would be shortcomings, some of which have been reported. However, the report clearly says that the Ministry of Defence deployed a large, highly capable force to the Gulf in around 10 weeks, less than half the time it had taken to send a broadly similar sized force for the 1990–91 Gulf War. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should pick one or two shortcomings that need to be remedied and paint a wholly critical picture that is not justified by the report.

The death of Sergeant Roberts is, of course, a terrible tragedy. The hon. Gentleman rightly raised it, but I question the tone in which he did so. Whose side is he on in the battle in Iraq? Is he on the side of creating a democratic Iraq in which its people can take control of their lives for the very first time for at least a generation, or does he want to carp and criticise, playing into the hands of the terrorists who are seeking to undermine our forces there?

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

Notwithstanding the advice that you gave, Mr. Speaker, on the future provision for consideration of yesterday's events, my understanding is that professional advice is being sought now. Would it be in order to ask the Leader of the House to confirm that? In addition, can he explain the remit of what is happening now?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have given a ruling on this matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

Everybody can talk about it except MPs? Is that what you are saying?

Mr. Speaker


Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)

I congratulate the Leader of the House on his recent comments in The Observer, in which he said that he thought that there was unnecessary interference in, for example, dietary and food supplements and herbal remedies. He said that everybody understands that they must be safe, but that Brussels has dealt with the matter in a particularly bureaucratic and heavy-handed fashion. Is that the Government's view as well as his, and if so, will he make time available on the Floor of the House for us to debate these issues and to identify how to resolve an extremely unfortunate and undesirable situation?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to apply for a debate in the usual way, and I would certainly encourage him to do so. If what he is saying is that he shares my view that the 20 million people who now rely on dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, to improve their health and lifestyle should be able to continue to do so, I absolutely agree, and any of the new regulations introduced by the European Union should not stand in the way.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)

If the House of Commons is to be limited in the things that it can discuss, may I ask the Leader of the House to undertake an urgent investigation into the cost of the past two weeks? Will he make public before the House takes decisions exactly how much the recall has cost and what delay there has been to contracts? When he says that this is not a matter for the Government, may I remind him that the House authorities have to maintain this building during the time when the House is in recess? It is very much a matter for the Government and the House of Commons to consider when we are recalled the cost and implications and, if I may say so, the effect on other matters that are at hand.

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that this is a House matter. In saying that it was a Government matter, I assume that she meant that, ultimately, the expenditure for the House is voted from the Treasury's funds. I shall certainly discuss this matter with the House authorities, and ask them to provide information on the cost of recalling the House in September. All that information will be available for her and other hon. Members when we reach a decision. I have an open mind on this matter, which is a matter for the House, and we should take that decision bearing in mind the experience that we have had in the past two years of September sittings.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

The Leader of the House did not answer the question on Sessional Orders asked by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. Does the Leader of the House agree that Parliament square has been dirty and defaced for far too long, and that it would be sensible, particularly in the light of yesterday's events, to have a look at the Sessional Orders with a view to legislating at an early date?

Mr. Hain

I hope to come back to the House on this matter fairly soon after we return. I am well aware that it has been dragging on for far too long, and the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have pressed me very closely on it. I am also conscious that the Procedure Committee's report on Sessional Orders has not yet been debated, and it will be debated soon after we return.

As I have already announced to the House, the Home Office is currently consulting on the central issue of what powers the authorities need for Parliament square. That consultation will end on Friday 8 October. I think that it would be only right to reflect on the outcome of the consultation. Once considered views have been expressed, we will be in a position to report back to the House. As the Procedure Committee report outlined, the Government do not have responsibility for Parliament square. Responsibility for the square rests with a number of authorities: Westminster city council, the Mayor of London and the Highways Agency. Clearly, the situation that occurred yesterday is not acceptable. The right to protest must be preserved, but access to the Palace of Westminster must be guaranteed and security around it must be preserved, and we need to balance those principles.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heel ey) (Lab/ Co-op)

May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill returns to the House shortly? It is an enormously important measure, the first on domestic violence for more than 30 years, and many of its remedies are urgently needed. Will he please ensure that we are able to complete this business as soon as possible?

Mr. Hain

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said, in the spirit in which she said it. It is a vital measure, for the reasons that I described earlier, and I hope to have good news as soon as possible after the House returns. Clearly, the Government are anxious to get the Bill on to the statute book, providing protection for women in particular who have had such a dreadful time for far too long.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the relatively positive answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) in respect of the Procedure Committee's report on Sessional Orders and resolutions, which I am sure—I hope that I am in order in saying this—could have had a bearing, had it been dealt with already, on what unfortunately occurred in Parliament square yesterday. Having said that, will the Leader of the House give a firm commitment that the Government will make proper proposals when this matter is debated, so that what I saw as the horrific, excessive action of the police yesterday, against generally law-abiding citizens seeking to protest peacefully in Parliament square, does not occur again? Our report can put that right.

Mr. Hain

I can, as I already have done, give a firm commitment that proposals will come forward. On the general principle that the hon. Gentleman expressed, if those protesters had been miners 20 years ago, I bet that he would not have been saying what he has just said.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) (Lab)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the sterling work done by the magistracy up and down the country in delivering the justice system. May we have an early debate on the selection procedure, however, as it is imperative that we maintain impartiality and non-discrimination? We have discovered that one of the magistrates in Bradford, William Stanley, is a member of the British National party.

Mr. Hain

Clearly, my hon. Friend has drawn a worrying episode to the House's attention. I do not think that members of the British National party are fit to stand in any public position, as their racism and neo-Nazism makes them unfit for office. This issue, however, is a matter for the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, and he will have noted my hon. Friend's point.

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

Reverting to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friends, the report of the Procedure Committee was published on 5 November last year. Since that time, a number of my hon. Friends and I have been pressing for a debate. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that not only will we discuss the matter but that it will be possible for the House to come to a conclusion on the Sessional Orders, so that they can be implemented at the beginning of the next Session at the end of November?

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman has quite properly pressed me on this issue repeatedly—there is no question but that there has been too long a delay. It is a complex issue, however. It is not just a question of Sessional Orders but of what Home Office legislation might be required. I have explained that the Home Secretary is consulting on that and is keen to act; indeed, I discussed it with him this morning. There is also the wider question of the environment of the Palace of Westminster—the wider Government and Whitehall environment, with its security implications, and the implications for the House—although the security of the House and the Palace is imperative in its own right. That is why we have not rushed into this, but yesterday's events underline the importance of resolving it.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)

In the light of the statement made within the hour by the Ministry of Defence to end the major repair and overhaul of the RAF's front-line fleet in south Wales after 50 years, will he find time for an emergency debate on the implications of this decision? Giving this kind of work back to the Royal Air Force is wrong in principle and practice. It makes a mockery of the Government's smart procurement policy. It is bad for the military, bad for the British taxpayer, and it will devastate the south Wales economy.

Mr. Hain

I cannot accept that it will devastate the south Wales economy, for reasons that I am about to explain. I take to heart, however, the way in which my hon. Friend has championed, as its local Member of Parliament, the future of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency at St. Athan. He has fought harder than anyone else could have fought for it, and I believe that it still has a future, as do Defence Ministers. It will be an opportunity to attract further investment to Wales. Wales, particularly that part of south-east Wales, has a fantastic environment for defence-related industries. High-quality companies are there, including Cogent, OshKosh, General Dynamics and Axiom, and the MOD directly employs some 5,500 service and civilian personnel in Wales. We are very concerned about this matter, and Ministers will understand his point.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

Will the Leader of the House make time available for a short debate or a statement to allow the Government to explain why they continue to block the award of medals by the Russian Government to UK seamen who served in the Russian convoys during the second world war? Those men risked their lives. They are regarded in ports such as Murmansk, to this day, as heroes. There is no appropriate British decoration, which is bad enough, but the fact that the Government continue to block the award of a Russian decoration is unforgivable.

Mr. Hain

I understand the passion with which the hon. Gentleman makes his point. Any servicemen who perform heroic roles need recognition, and I shall make sure that the Secretary of State takes careful note of his representation.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)

You, Mr. Speaker, made a ruling at the beginning of today that understandably makes it difficult for us to discuss what went on yesterday. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has any idea when, after all the reviews have concluded, we shall sensibly have a public debate on how to move forward. We had a debate when the screen was installed, and clearly, there are worries about being too open in relation to sensitive areas. We must have some mechanism, however, by which Members of the House, who have been directly affected, can have a say and debate these issues sensibly.

Mr. Hain

Clearly, I am aware of your rulings on this matter, Mr. Speaker, which I support. Equally, however, my hon. Friend and other Members on both sides of the House will wish to express their views, which you have invited over the coming weeks. We must reflect on that, but I assure my hon. Friend that the House of Commons Commission, under your chairmanship, has already had an interim report from the security services and the Metropolitan police. We expect the final report within a matter of weeks, which will take into account what happened yesterday. There is urgent need for reform, of which you, Mr. Speaker, being responsible for security, are very conscious, as we all are, and as I am of all the views expressed to me overnight.

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

May we have a statement from the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not on the importance of the correct work-life balance, which might be rather unconvincing, but on why a split is necessary between the roles of Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? How is it that the excellent Lord Tebbit managed to hold that position when he was chairman of the Conservative party, with an electoral role, and was paid only about £2,000 a year, because of the minimal nature of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's duties, while this Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be paid at the full Cabinet Minister's rate?

Mr. Hain

As the hon. Gentleman knows, under the last Conservative Government, some Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster, such as Lord Hunt, were paid the full Cabinet salary, because they were not party chairmen. The Labour party chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), is being paid by the Labour party, because his duties are political in respect of his party post, whereas the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), will be paid a salary from the public purse because he will have a cross-Government role in the co-ordination of Government policy.

My right hon. Friend will be responsible for the work of the strategy unit and the policy directorate, and will sit on a number of Cabinet Committees. An announcement about that will be made to Parliament in the normal way. He will also be responsible for Duchy business.

In response to a point raised with me last time, let me add that my right hon. Friend will answer parliamentary questions on his Government responsibilities in the House, and will deal with correspondence from Members on those issues in the usual way.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

Can the Leader of the House help me with a very serious problem involving parliamentary accountability? On 10 June the Foreign Secretary tabled two Orders in Council, which Her Majesty signed, denying the Chagos islanders the right to return to Diego Garcia or any other islands, and handing over control of those islands to a commissioner. I understand that the Orders in Council cannot be debated in the House. I have tabled an early-day motion asking for a debate.

Does the Leader of the House not think that in the 21st century it is outrageous that the Head of State can sign an order denying rights granted by a British court to British citizens? Apparently there is no parliamentary accountability whatever for that decision. Will the Leader of the House kindly ensure that the Foreign Secretary tables a motion seeking approval for the orders, so that many of us can simply vote against them?

Mr. Hain

The Foreign Secretary and I are aware of my hon. Friend's long championing of the islanders' cause, and the Foreign Secretary will take careful note of his argument.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

May we have a debate on the distribution of the resources that have been made available for closed-circuit television? In New Milton we are desperate for CCTV to combat thuggery and antisocial behaviour. It is now becoming a matter of urgency: we are given to understand that if we do not have CCTV in the next 15 months, we shall find that instead of cameras being available in Station road they will all have been installed in the forest to catch new offenders against the crime of hunting.

Mr. Hain

I assume from what the hon. Gentleman has said about CCTV and other extra security protection for local communities, including the one to which he referred, that he will be backing the Government's spending programmes for the Home Office budget rather than the big cuts in law and order that the Conservatives are planning for their first two years in government—if they are elected. That will mean cutting programmes such as the one that we are determined to implement to give local communities proper protection. The hon. Gentleman should support the Government's policies, not the Opposition's.

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

In the next few days, two British ships will arrive in Charleston, South Carolina to collect a shipment of 140 kg of weapons-grade plutonium. The plutonium, stripped out of American nuclear weapons, will then be transported back across the Atlantic to Cherbourg in northern France. Does my right hon. Friend think that, in the post-9/11 world, it makes any sense at all for a British company wholly owned by the state to engage in the new international trade in weapons-grade plutonium? May we have a debate on the environmental and security implications of that trade?

Mr. Hain

Again, the Foreign Secretary will want to take careful note of that salutary point. Of course, someone has to dispose of the waste: it is one of the consequences of that particular form of energy. People might bear that in mind when thinking about Britain's future energy needs and requirements. Clearly expertise lies in Britain—that is why this is happening—but the issues raised by my hon. Friend will have been carefully noted, and I am sure there will be responses.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on Darfur, western Sudan? Given that aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape, burnings alive, destruction of crops, theft of livestock and poisoning of water supplies are all part of the cocktail of barbarity that has stunned the world, and given that the Prime Minister rightly told the Labour party conference in 2001 that if ever there was a threat of a repetition of Rwanda Britain would have a moral duty to act, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is essential for us, in this House of Commons, to have an early debate on how the international community can hold the Government of Sudan to account for despicable crimes against humanity, how we can ensure access for humanitarian aid, how we can protect the camps, and how we can safeguard people who are threatened with one of the worst genocides in the history of the world?

Mr. Hain

I strongly agree with the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's comments. He has worked very hard on this issue over the last year or so. He is absolutely right: the crimes against humanity are despicable, and there needs to be an accounting for them. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman is no longer in his Front-Bench post to go on arguing the case so eloquently.

How are we to resolve such a complicated issue? The Foreign Secretary is seeking further United Nations authority to make more progress in getting the Sudanese Government to comply precisely because we need that Government's co-operation, and we need to support the African Union's work in achieving an end to the conflict and devastation of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken so eloquently. We are agreed on the whole approach; it is just a question of how to lever in the resources that are needed to change the situation on the ground.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

I shall not make any comment about the ongoing security situation. I was not intending to do so until an investigation has taken place. I would not want to fall foul of you, Mr. Speaker.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree, however, that from the very beginning of Parliament, parliamentarians have insisted that we should be able to conduct our debates without any fear of intimidation or harassment from outside? To a large extent, that is now the cornerstone of our parliamentary democracy. What happened yesterday, the hooliganism and the thuggery, must never be repeated.

Mr. Hain

That was a very interesting question, given the circumscribed nature of these business questions. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. It would be absolutely unacceptable for anything like what happened yesterday ever to happen again: that is why you, Mr. Speaker, and other members of the House of Commons Commission—including me—are determined to implement the proper reforms to ensure that it does not happen again.

May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Doorkeepers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They had difficulty in coping with the situation, but the failure was not theirs; the failure lay in a more general security breakdown in the Palace.

While I am about it, may I draw attention to what I understand is the last day in the House of the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, whose wife is sitting behind him? I hope that they enjoy a fruitful and happy retirement.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

In a typical "Not me, guv" reply a short time ago, the Leader of the House managed to refer in the abstract to "the House authorities", as if they were somehow detached from him. As a House authority and as a member of the House of Commons Commission, which makes all the key decisions on matters relating to the House, can the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute undertaking that if the Commission were to present radical proposals of any kind to make any change to our organisation, or the relationship between the House and the public, they would be properly and fully considered by Members rather than decisions being made in secret, behind closed doors, and foisted on us before we knew what was happening?

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. I shall certainly bear it in mind as Leader of the House of Commons, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that we will all bear it in mind in our role as members of the Commission.

There is no doubt that there is urgent need for reform of the House in terms of security and management. That is something in which I strongly believe. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will support whatever recommendations come from the Commission in due course; and we will bear in mind his request.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I had better intervene at this point, and say that the House will make the ultimate decision on any reform or change.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab)

I wish explicitly to support the call issued by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on Darfur. However, I rise to ask whether we can have an early debate on the proposed extension of the Nottingham light rail system. I have numerous constituents on both sides of the argument, but everyone is fed up with the delays in the making of funding decisions. The uncertainty is causing blight for home owners, and making it difficult for businesses in my constituency to plan for the future. We need a decision one way or the other.

Mr. Hain

The Government are strongly committed to the policy on light rail. We will need to make a decision on that matter. The strong argument that my hon. Friend has advanced in respect of Nottingham will be borne in mind by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC)

May I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, when the cross-party motion to impeach the Prime Minister on high queens—[Interruption.] On high crimes and misdemeanours is prepared and laid before the House, there will be time to debate that motion in the proper manner? We heard yesterday that it was line to use a 90-year-old Act to force through the Hunting Bill. Therefore, it is fine to use ancient procedures in the House properly to hold the Prime Minister to account. Now that Kofi Annan's announcement has stripped away the last fig leaf hiding the Leader of the House's embarrassment over this illegal war, surely it is right that Back Benchers should have a chance to hold the Prime Minister to account.

Mr. Hain

Back Benchers have the chance to hold the Prime Minister to account every week at Prime Minister's questions and during statements, which he frequently makes on all sorts of issues. As I explained—I assume that the hon. Gentleman was not present last week—the House authorities, the Clerk himself and others have made it absolutely clear that the impeachment process lapsed a long time ago. Plaid Cymru should concentrate on supporting the effort to rebuild Iraq and the creation of a democratic Iraq, instead of resorting to gimmicky proposals that have no relevance to the current situation.

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

There is a great deal of disturbing news coming out of Iraq day by day, but there are signs of hope, too, none more so than the development of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, the Iraqi TUC. As this matter will be discussed this week at the TUC conference and, I hope, at the Labour party conference, would it not be valuable to discuss it when we return? It is possible for us to agree on certain developments that should take place because those are not matters that divide people, unlike impeachment, inquests about the war or questions of illegality. Let us get together and assist what is taking place in Iraq towards democratisation.

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments, including his support for a strong Iraqi trade union movement. Indeed, I understand that Iraqi trade union representatives are at the TUC conference in Brighton this week. Democratisation of Iraq is a vital priority and my hon. Friend is right that the focus should be on establishing that. The Government are working hard to achieve a democratic Iraq, with trade union rights.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con)

I thank the Leader of the House for what he said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about the draft Gambling Bill. We have put a lot of work into it and I hope that we will have a Second Reading debate soon.

May I plead with the Leader of the House, given the length of the overspill, to find Government time for a debate on agriculture—it is a long time since we have had one on the Floor of the House—so that we can reflect on what for many has been a disastrous harvest, and on the implementation of the single farm payments under the common agricultural policy reforms?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request in respect of agriculture. Although my own constituency has limited farming, I am well aware of the devastating impact of the weather on the harvest during August. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is well aware of that, too, and will want to note carefully the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

This morning, the Department for Work and Pensions issued a written statement announcing the start of its process of sacking 30,000 employees. In the statement, it announced that 37 benefit offices, three contact centres and two Employer Direct sites will close. Therefore, by Christmas, thousands of workers who currently administer unemployment benefits will be drawing unemployment benefits themselves. That affects virtually every constituency in the country. May I suggest that it would have been better had that information been given via an oral statement to the House, so that we could have at least asked questions? May we have an assurance that there will be a debate on the matter when we return in a few weeks?

Mr. Hain

I accept that my hon. Friend has raised the matter properly with me. Obviously, he will have a chance to press the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at questions and to apply for a debate, but the policy that the Government have announced has been discussed on the Floor of the House and reported to the House repeatedly, certainly since the Budget, and all the details of those changes have been fully explained.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

Is there a possibility of a debate on the Environment Agency? I strongly support its work, but I fear that the resources and personnel are not available for it to do the tasks that we set it. My problem relates to a pollution incident in Somerton in my constituency. The agency admits that it failed in the initial licensing and in the monitoring, and it is now failing to meet the commitments that it has entered into with local people, with Somerton town council and with me to keep us informed of progress because it does not answer letters. I fear that there is a problem within the agency. Will we have an opportunity to discuss it at an early date?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman will be able to table questions to the Secretary of State on that matter and on the wider role of the Environment Agency fairly shortly after we return in October. No doubt he will take the opportunity to do so.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend find time to assist me with the difficult problem that I have in relation to the port of Liverpool police and the transport police? The problem arises simply because these officers, who are notably police officers, cannot go to the police authority when they have employment-related difficulties. Any appeals that I have made so far to the Department of Trade and Industry and the Home Office on the matter have been rebutted. That splendid group of individuals are left in no-man's-land when it comes to their employment situation. That is unacceptable.

Mr. Hain

By a happy coincidence, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), is sitting on the Front Bench and heard my hon. Friend's elegant plea and cogent argument. I am sure that he will take close notice of it and that she will have the opportunity to press him and other Ministers further if she does not get satisfaction.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

I am delighted to hear that the Leader of the House backs peaceful demonstrations in Parliament square, as they are an important part of our democratic system, and he is a veteran of some peaceful protests himself, but in respect of ensuring the safety of people who come on demonstrations—the vast majority of people who come are peaceful—sadly, there are always some rotten apples, as we saw yesterday. Could new technology and closed-circuit television be used to assist the police in pinpointing the troublemakers, so that even after the demonstration they can be prosecuted and properly convicted? I understand that the independent Police Complaints Authority will look into any allegations of police abuse that may have occurred yesterday. Those same cameras may help—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Challen.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)

Whatever the arguments about the legality of the war in Iraq, and clearly there are serious arguments—the Secretary-General believes that it was illegal—I believe that the joint United States-United Kingdom resolution that was unanimously supported in June in the Security Council legalises the current position. In an early draft of that, it spoke of affirming the importance of the principle of the rule of law, and perhaps that statement should have remained in the final resolution. However, in the light of these debates, may we have a Government statement on what their doctrine is on pre-emptive action, either military or legal, in respect of this kind of conflict?

Mr. Hain

I know that the Foreign Secretary will pay careful attention to my hon. Friend's question. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the Foreign Secretary made a speech on that matter relatively recently, addressing the difficulties of intervention, when it can be justified and when not. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to read that speech and perhaps question the Foreign Secretary on it when he gets a chance.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

Following the proper request of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) for a debate on agriculture in the light of the disastrous summer and harvest, may I press the Leader of the House for an urgent debate specifically on the future of our dairy farmers, the inadequate farm-gate price of milk, and the relationship between our nation's food producers and the supermarket chains?

Mr. Hain

I understand that a report has been published on this matter, and I know that there is a great deal of concern among dairy farmers about the question of supermarkets taking their produce at a decent price. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is very aware of this issue and she will want to pay close attention to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the working of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 with particular reference to the Braithwaite report, which, as he knows, was commissioned under the terms of that Act?

Mr. Hain

I would be very happy for that matter to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend raises an important issue that we need to consider, and if he wants to put a relevant question or to have an Adjournment debate on it, he is free to apply in the normal way, and to wait to see whether his application emerges from the shuffle. For my part, I hope that it does.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

Can the Leader of the House kindly help me by finding time for a debate on the operation of the c2c Fenchurch Street line? The overcrowding on the trains on that line is already totally unacceptable, yet trains are to be removed, which will exacerbate the problem and cause reliability and safety problems, as the excellent Yellow Advertiser campaign is pointing out locally.

Mr. Hain

I am not aware of the details—and the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I should be—but the Secretary of State for Transport will want to pay close attention to the worrying picture that he has painted.

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

I am not referring to security matters within the House, Mr. Speaker, but given the disgraceful scenes that we witnessed yesterday and the diversion of so many police officers from their proper duties, does my right hon. Friend think it time that we had a debate on what constitutes legal, peaceful protest in this country? Does he share my revulsion at yesterday's acts of violent thuggery, and does he agree that the time has come to impose exemplary sentences on those involved, and to consider imposing financial penalties on the organisations responsible for creating such chaos and disorder?

Mr. Hain

The fact that there was such chaos and disorder is, I know, a matter of great concern to you, Mr. Speaker, and like my hon. Friend I share that concern. It is not for me to comment on how any prosecution should be pursued or the sentencing that might result, but it is imperative to point out that, while the right to peaceful protest should be upheld, the scenes outside the Palace yesterday were totally unacceptable, regardless of who was protesting and whether or not a minority in the demonstration was responsible. In that regard, my hon. Friend's point is well taken.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

The Deputy Prime Minister is proving to be a public menace in my constituency. In the spring, unknown officials from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister arbitrarily overruled his own inspector and cancelled a very popular development in Ellesmere. Last night, more than 500 people piled into a hall in Wem to protest about the closure of Wem and Ellesmere swimming pools, which, again, was due to pressure exerted by Deputy Prime Minister's officials on the local council. Can the Deputy Prime Minister come to the Dispatch Box and explain his policy on the provision of popular leisure facilities in rural areas?

Mr. Hain

The Deputy Prime Minister and his officials will have noted the hon. Gentleman's point, but he should recognise that the ODPM has invested huge sums into community regeneration, both urban and rural. Indeed, the latter is backed by the policies and resources of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. So the idea that the Deputy Prime Minister is somehow turning his back on the hon. Gentleman's community or any other is a palpable falsehood. He is driving home programmes that are regenerating our communities, but which would be cut by a Conservative Government. Indeed, the Conservatives plan to make budget cuts of £18 billion in their first two years in office, should they be elected.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on early-day motion 1650?

[That this House notes the campaign being mounted by the Civil Service Pensioners' Alliance highlighting the plight of widows and widowers of civil servants who are members of the pre-October 2002 Civil Service Pension Scheme; is concerned that if surviving spouses of these civil servants decide to remarry or cohabit, they automatically lose all rights to their widows' pension; further notes that the recently improved Civil Service Pension Scheme, introduced in October 2002, has removed this condition; recognises that this creates a two-tier system that unfairly excludes widows and widowers from being offered the financial protection now deemed adequate by the new Civil Service Pension Scheme; and calls upon the Government to change the regulations governing this aspect of civil service pensions in order to grant spouses of all civil servants a pension for life.]

The early-day motion, which stands in my name but is signed by Members of all three major parties in the House, draws attention to the unacceptable position of widows and widowers of civil servants who were members of the pre-October 2002 civil service pension scheme. Indeed, widows and widowers of police officers are in the same position, in that they have their pension removed if they re-marry or cohabit. It is perfectly obvious when someone re-marries, but in the end, cohabiting can be proved only through snooping and spying, which is completely unacceptable and should not form part of modern pension arrangements. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate, so that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions can explain why the situation should not be changed? In my view, it should be changed.

Mr. Hain

I understand that questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will take place soon after we return from the forthcoming break—perhaps as soon as the day on which we return—so my hon. Friend will have a chance to question him then. My hon. Friend has made a passionate case, which the Secretary of State will want to note.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

Does the Leader of the House not think it a very quaint form of democracy when the whole of the media without exception can talk about, and print articles on, what happened yesterday at will, yet Members of Parliament are prevented from talking about it here? Does he recall that 20 years ago, a not dissimilar incident occurred in the House of Lords? Miners created a disturbance, but Members were allowed to speak about the incident at any given time after it took place. Would it not be unthinkable—unthinkable—to suggest that the current situation is different only inasmuch as the people in question are not miners but, in some cases, Tory toffs who are close to the monarchy?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to the Leader of the House that this is business questions and that my statement was very clear. The intention is not to prevent Members of Parliament from speaking about a particular matter; however, these matters will not be raised during business questions. That goes on the record.