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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 18th March 2004.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 12:30 pm, 18th March 2004

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and for that short statement on the traffic incident. I think that we are all relieved that there is no gas outside this place, although it is often said that there is quite a lot inside.

May I ask the Leader of the House about his remarks that the Labour party might need to embrace proportional representation to save its marginal seats? [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Indeed. We know that the right hon. Gentleman used to be a Liberal. What plans are there for the Cabinet Joint Consultative Committee with the Liberal Democrats to meet to discuss his proposal? Many people are saying that he is perhaps returning to his roots.

Has the Leader of the House noticed that we are not having any discussion on housing in the Budget debate? Given that that was prominent in the Chancellor's statement, perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether we can expect a statement on the Barker report, or at least whether we can have an opportunity to debate the Chancellor's proposals on that matter.

Has the Leader of the House seen the scathing report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, published today, in which it joins calls that I have made for much greater Government co-operation in providing witnesses and intelligence material to Select Committees? That is referred to in early-day motion 760.

[That this House expresses its concern that select committees are not able to obtain from the Government the documents and witnesses necessary in order to fulfil their role of scrutinizing the Executive; notes the comments of the honourable Member for Thurrock in the debate on the Hutton Report when he said that Lord Hutton had been able to cross-examine John Scarlet in public, but the Foreign Affairs Committee was refused access to him, and that they had been refused the drafts of the September dossier but Lord Hutton published them on the worldwide web; and calls on the Leader of the House to institute a major review into the way in which Government and ministers treat select committees and the provisions of the Osmotherly Rules and the Ministerial Code.]

The Committee describes the current practice as unenforceable, and is calling for enforcement procedures for when a Minister refuses to appear before a Committee or to supply a witness or documents. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Government have treated the Foreign Affairs Committee with lofty disdain, and that their attitude has been a disgrace? Will he announce the urgent review that is needed, in a statement today or next week?

Finally, the Leader of the House will be aware that the Home Secretary has described the returned Guantanamo detainees as posing no threat to the United Kingdom. However, reports released today by the US embassy show that one of them was trained in the use of weapons by al-Qaeda and fought the coalition in Tora Bora, and that two others were trained in the use of weapons in Afghanistan and were in that country armed and under Taliban orders. Apparently, another describes the US and the UK as his enemies and has travelled under al-Qaeda auspices. In those circumstances, are we not entitled to know why the Government say that these trained terrorists are not a threat? The Leader of the House will know that my right hon. Friend David Davis has asked the Home Secretary to come here and make an emergency statement about this vital issue. Where is he?