Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 1st April 2004.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 2:01 pm, 1st April 2004

May I remind the House that Tuesday's business statement has been superseded by the House of Lords' acceptance of the will of the House of Commons? I am grateful that common sense has prevailed by 30 votes, and I am particularly grateful to those Labour peers who stood so solidly by the twin principles of House of Commons supremacy and greater voter participation through postal voting.

The business for the week after the Easter recess is as follows:

Monday 19 April—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill.

Tuesday 20 AprilSecond Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 21 AprilOpposition Day (9th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 April—A motion to approve a permanent security screen in the Chamber followed by a motion to approve the First Joint Report of the Accommodation and Works Committee and the Administration Committee on visitor facilities: access to Parliament.

Friday 23 April—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 26 April—Remaining stages of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill (Lords).

Tuesday 27 April—Progress on consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 28 April—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Thursday 29 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion to approve a money resolution on the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill followed by Opposition half-Day (7th Allotted Day) (Part 2). There will be a half-day debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Friday 30 April—Private Member's Bills.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Does the Leader of the House recall writing the following in his book "Ayes to the Left"? It states:

"Once a Bill is introduced it becomes almost a test of Government virility to get it through unscathed. This can produce bad legislation."

Of course, the difference today was that the Labour Lords turned up, whereas on previous occasions a third of them did not. Indeed, some 70 Labour peers did not attend on Tuesday. Instead of the Leader of the House recommencing his personal vendetta against the other place, would it not be better if he could actually encourage Labour peers to turn up for business?

Turning to more important matters of business, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he has finally read the Procedure Committee's third report on Sessional Orders, which was printed four months ago? It recommends that the Government take action to remove the long-standing, visually unattractive and noisy demonstration outside the main entrance to the House of Commons, which, as he knows, also has security implications. The matter has been raised with him from all parts of the House, and by Mr. Speaker. Is it not time that something was done about it, and can the Leader of the House give us a progress report?

We were expecting by now draft Bills on mental health, mental incapacity and the criminal defence service. Where are they and why have we yet to have them?

On the Government's attitude to Select Committees and the civil service, does the Leader of the House agree with the following, which is also taken from his book:

"The Executive needs to be made more accountable by enhancing the system of Select Committees, giving them . . . greater access to information"?

Has the Leader of the House read 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 Mutton 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.]

Is the Leader of the House aware of the privilege inquiry report on the Lord Chancellor, which was published today, and which finds the Lord Chancellor guilty of contempt of Parliament for attempting to punish a civil servant for giving evidence to a Select Committee? What is he going to do about the report's recommendation that the Government take urgent action in respect of Select Committees? Does he agree that the Government are creating something of a climate of fear among civil servants? With that in mind, does he agree, following the resignation of the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, and in the light of the huge problem that we face in managing this country's immigration system, that we need a proper, independent inquiry into what has happened? It is simply not satisfactory to ask a civil servant, even one as good as Ken Sutton, to make judgments on the actions of Ministers to whom he reports.

The Leader of the House will know of today's newspaper reports that the Prime Minister is taking personal control of the immigration service. I recognise that the Government and the Prime Minister will require a little time to formulate plans to deal with the shambles that is our immigration service, but may we have a statement in three weeks time—immediately after we return from the Easter recess—on what the Government are going to do about that mess?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the audacity to talk about a mess. When we took office in 1997, we inherited from the then Home Secretary—he is now Leader of the Opposition—an absolute shambles in respect of asylum procedures. I remind the House that applications are down by 50 per cent., that we have doubled the number of removals, and that the monthly intake is at its lowest for six years. Eighty per cent. of applications get an initial decision within two months, which compares with an average of 20 months under the Leader of the Opposition when he was Home Secretary. We removed 17,000 failed asylum seekers last year—three times as many as were removed when the Leader of the Opposition was Home Secretary. The shambles that we should be talking about is the asylum shambles that we inherited.

My right hon. Friend Beverley Hughes—I am extremely sad about her recent resignation—was responsible for driving forward the very reforms that are coping with the problem. I see no need for a statement, and as for the Prime Minister's involvement, as he made clear in this morning's press conference, he is of course taking a close personal interest.

Mr. Heald was kind enough to give my book of some 10 years ago a plug. I remind him that it was written at the height of a Conservative Government, and that it referred to all the bad legislation passed under Conservative Governments in particular. He seems unwilling now to accept the will even of the House of Lords. He and his Back-Bench colleagues are disappointed that the House of Lords has upheld the supremacy of the House of Commons, and given many millions more people the opportunity to vote through postal voting.

As Lord Carter pointed out in a letter to The Times this morning, if the House of Lords had not acted as it did, there would have been an unprecedented seventh round of ping-pong between the two Houses. He also pointed out, and it is worth quoting:

"Since 1997, 14 Bills have been sent back to the House of Commons more than once. In the 18 years under the Conservatives three Bills were sent back more than once—one every six years under the Conservatives, one every six months under Labour."

I am glad that common sense has prevailed. We are seeing the Conservatives mobilising their votes in the House of Lords to defeat a Labour majority in the House of Commons. In due course, we will address that problem with a Bill to reform the powers and composition of the House of Lords.

The hon. Gentleman quite properly pressed me on Sessional Orders, and I can repeat what I have said on successive Thursdays: we will bring the matter back before the House when we are in a position to report on the action that he seeks, which the Speaker has also sought.

On draft Bills, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept—it is incontrovertible—that we have brought more such Bills to the House than was ever done before. That is a practice that I, as Leader of the House, am particularly keen on, because pre-legislative scrutiny results in better legislation. The three Bills that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will be brought forward in due course. The Chairman of the Liaison Committee has personally thanked me for giving advance notice of when the Bills are due to reach the relevant Select Committees, so that they can prepare their work programme.

I was also asked about enhancing the powers of Select Committees. In fact, the Government have enhanced those powers in a variety of ways, providing them with more resources, the Prime Minister making himself accountable to the Liaison Committee and in other respects. As for the Osmotherly rules, to which the hon. Gentleman indirectly referred, we are currently considering them.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Lord Chancellor and gave a very one-sided account of the report from the Standards and Privileges Committee. Let me quote to the House—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to hear it—the statement made by the Lord Chancellor earlier today about the Standards and Privileges Committee report. He said:

"I fully accept its findings and I unreservedly apologise".

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I was quick to say that that matter should go before the Committee, which he welcomed. It has reported, and the Lord Chancellor has unreservedly apologised, which I believe the House will welcome.

The hon. Gentleman made a ludicrous suggestion about Ministers spreading fear among civil servants. Let me tell him that in every Department where I have worked I have had very good relationships with some of the finest officials in the country, and I continue to enjoy that privilege. We ask a lot of our civil servants, who help us to meet the challenges that the country faces, including those on illegal migration and asylum seeking. We are driving forward a record of economic success that is unparalleled in this country, and we are investing record amounts in public services. As I said, we ask a lot of our civil servants: far from their being in fear, they enjoy working for a Government who have a grip, who are in charge and who are driving forward those policies.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Over the last 40 years, legislation has been introduced to deal with racism and incitement to race hatred, but is it not time for Parliament to consider seriously how to deal with extremist groups that are totally unrepresentative of the Muslim community who daily preach hatred and violence, whether it be on the streets or in one or two mosques that they have taken over? If we were able to take such action, would it not help the vast majority of Muslims who are deeply embarrassed by those people who, as I say, are in no way representative of the law-abiding Muslim community in our country, which loathes terrorism no less than we do?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which will be echoed almost unanimously in the Muslim community, including by its leaders. I was particularly pleased that the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, whom I know and enormously respect, sent a letter to colleagues throughout the country, making it absolutely clear that extremists and fanatics spoke not for the Muslim community but only for themselves. Indeed, he quoted a section from the Koran to show that the extremists were against its edicts and teachings. We greatly welcome such leadership, and we will continue to work with him and his colleagues to deal with the problem.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Reverting to immigration and asylum, will the Leader of the House, on behalf of his Cabinet colleagues, think carefully during the recess about the way in which the system is being reviewed? Frankly, there is a collapse of confidence in the integrity and credibility of the system, which will not be improved by today's events. The right hon. Gentleman should reflect seriously on the need for an independent, rather than internal, inquiry into the process. It should be undertaken separately from the Foreign Office and the Home Office so that the attitudes and actions of Ministers can be properly examined. Clearly, the Sutton inquiry cannot achieve that.

I heard the dignified personal statement made earlier this afternoon, but does the Leader of the House recall that only on Tuesday the Home Secretary asked the House:

"Has the Minister of State done a first-class job? We all know that she has, so the answer to that question is yes, yes, yes. That is why she has our unequivocal backing and will continue to do so."—[Hansard, 30 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1444.]

On the same day, the Prime Minister's spokesman made the same point. Does the Leader of the House recall that, when Mrs. Thatcher gave her "unassailable" support as Prime Minister to Nigel Lawson, he was gone within days? Should not Ministers be warned that Downing street confidence is a very dangerous curse?

Turning to the report of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which has been published today, will the Leader of the House examine two important questions? First, there are recommendations about the way in which civil servants treat the Select Committees of the House. Paragraph 34 states:

"One thing this inquiry has revealed beyond doubt is the inadequacy of the guidance on parliamentary privilege currently issued by departments, both for use by Non-Departmental Public Bodies, and for internal departmental use."

What action is being taken on that?

We have just heard that the Lord Chancellor personally apologised, and we accept that, but I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that the Committee report says unequivocally:

"We therefore conclude, on the basis of the facts admitted in evidence, that, even in the absence of intent, the issuing of the letter of 11 December"— the letter from the Lord Chancellor

"and enclosures constituted a contempt."

Does the Leader of the House accept that being in contempt of the House and its Committees is a very serious matter? We need an urgent debate on it.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has puffed himself up in this aggressive way, which is not typical of him. The report also made it clear that there was no intent on the part of the Lord Chancellor, who has unreservedly apologised. I would have thought that that met the requests of the Standards and Privileges Committee. Paragraph 34 of the report states:

"We are glad that the Government appears to have recognised this, and is taking steps to remedy this deficiency."

In other words, the Committee recognised the fact that the Government had acknowledged the problem and were taking steps to remedy it.

On the asylum and immigration system, I have to say that although Mr. Tyler is a respected parliamentarian whose work I value, he is getting into very bad company with the Conservatives in seeking to make cheap points about a Minister who has accepted that she unwittingly gave a misleading impression and has acted honourably in resigning. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that. If I understood him correctly—he will tell me if I am wrong—he said that this afternoon's statement has not improved the position. I would have thought that, in the sense of showing high standards of honesty and integrity in public life, my right hon. Friend's statement has improved the position. As the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, my right hon. Friend acted decisively to cut down the number of asylum applications and doubled the number of removals. I would have thought that that would be welcomed throughout the House, including by the hon. Member for North Cornwall.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Can we have an early debate on the implications of the interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998 by public bodies, particularly by NHS trusts? My own local trust wrote to me to say that I needed to acquire a consent form from elderly people in hospital or anyone who telephones my office before I could make any representations on their behalf. Is that not an infringement of the rights of Members, and is it not clear that some public bodies are beginning to interpret the Data Protection Act in a way that undermines our right to represent our constituents and their families?

Hon Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised that matter and, given the reaction of Members on both sides of the House, he has clearly touched on a pertinent point. I remind the House that in 2002, on his behalf and on behalf of all Members, the Government amended the Data Protection Act by an order that came into force on 17 December, which removes the Act's restrictions on the disclosure of sensitive data to Members of Parliament and other elected representatives when they are dealing with constituents' cases.

The Department of Health and the health service are in a slightly different position, as information held by hospitals about the health of individuals is likely to be held in confidence and disclosure to a third party is governed by the common law of confidence. However, the crucial point for my hon. Friend is that the Department of Health has issued guidance for NHS organisations, including trusts, that they should accept an MP's word, when an MP clearly states that he or she has the patient's consent. In that case, it seems to me that the hospital or trust involved should have accepted my hon. Friend's word that he had the patient's consent, as that is in line with the guidance issued by the Department of Health, so he should go back to the trust with that reminder.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Can the Leader of the House assure us that the immigration supremo—namely, the Prime Minister, who is taking a close interest in immigration matters—will use the recess to study the impact of the Hillingdon judgment, to which I have referred the Leader of the House on other occasions? Is he aware that reimbursing boroughs such as Hillingdon, which have a port of entry, involves two Departments—the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills—and that they do not always integrate or co-ordinate their reimbursement programmes and are tardy in bringing them forward? In future, the process should be accepted as a national responsibility, especially with regard to unaccompanied young people, as assistance is given to adults who are over 18 and not only to unaccompanied children. That is a major matter, and the Prime Minister ought to consider it.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The Home Secretary and, no doubt, the Prime Minister will have noted the hon. Gentleman's points. I remind him, however, that, in the past year alone, we recruited 4,000 extra staff to deal with the problems of asylum and illegal migration, which compares with planned Conservative cuts in 1997 of 1,200. Furthermore, if the shadow Chancellor's planned cuts of £1 billion were implemented in the Home Office budget, the hon. Gentleman's problems would get much worse and the problems of dealing with asylum and illegal migration would escalate to an uncontrollable extent. We are getting a grip on the issue, but Conservative policies would make that impossible.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

After the recess, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Barker report on housing supply? Over the past few years, Britain has experienced not only the highest house price inflation on record but the lowest amount of housebuilding, and the report addresses that. The issues affect everyone in the country, whether they are the cost of buying their own home, which is unaffordable for many people, or the unacceptable level of homelessness. A debate would also give us an opportunity to expose some of the Opposition nimbyism, when they say that they support the Barker report but not in their backyard. There are many reasons for my right hon. Friend to hold such a debate, and it would give Parliament an opportunity to join in the consultation on the Barker review.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's points. The issue is important, and that is why the Government acted in advance to commission the Barker review, which provides many of the solutions to the problem. I am sure that all Members find, like me, that the problem especially affects first-time buyers who find it extremely difficult to get on to the housing ladder. However, at least they have the confidence of very low mortgage rates and the certainty that, under the economic stability that the Government have locked in, interest rates will remain low. Mortgages will thus remain low and people can plan ahead in security for a future in which they can own their own homes.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The Leader of the House failed to answer—I think, inadvertently—the question put by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about the Procedure Committee report on Sessional Orders and resolutions. Can he tell us when the Government intend to reply? Similarly, can he give us an answer about the debate on debate procedures, private Members' Bills and the role of the Speaker? Because the Leader of the House and I have a very good relationship, may I ask him to have a word with his diary secretary to find an earlier date than the one he has offered for his appearance before the Procedure Committee in respect of our inquiry into programming? It will be inconvenient to delay the work of the Committee for as long as the right hon. Gentleman wishes to do. Will he be obliging towards me today—the day after my birthday?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Happy birthday, indeed, to an esteemed Back Bencher, to whom I always seek to be obliging. I remind others involved in such decisions that Sir Nicholas Winterton keeps harrying me on Thursdays about reporting to the House on the Procedure Committee inquiry as soon as possible and that they should note that, but I shall respond as soon as I can. I do not complain that the hon. Gentleman keeps bobbing up and down to remind me of that. I cannot talk about my diary across the Floor of the House, but I shall come to the Committee as soon as I can. Obviously, I do not want to detain its deliberations, but I am not aware of the options available to me in what is a busy diary.

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for the Committee's report on the sitting hours questionnaire? It has been extremely valuable and informative in my taking forward decisions that might enjoy consensual support in the House.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on doorstep selling techniques, especially the activities of firms that prey on elderly people by ringing them up and claiming to have connections with the police and local councils, prior to visiting them to sell them expensive and often useless alarm systems? Can we find time to debate how we might protect elderly and vulnerable people from such high-pressure and iniquitous sales techniques, and how we might also encourage the police to ensure that people are given proper security advice, rather than leaving them to the activities of those fly-by-night firms?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter, and I and the House are grateful to her for bringing it to our urgent attention. The practice is iniquitous, and the police, in particular, will want to take her advice and act with great speed to clamp down on it. I know that the police and the Home Office will study her intervention closely—after Hansard is printed, that is—and I am grateful to her.

Furthermore, it is imperative that we keep up funding for the Home Office, that we keep increasing it—planned increases are in the pipeline—and that we do not cut it by £1 billion as is planned under the alternative Government of the Conservatives.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury)

May we have a debate to clarify what should constitute a matter for ministerial resignation? If it has become a resignation matter inadvertently to mislead Parliament and the people over the Home Office and immigration, why is it not a resignation matter inadvertently to mislead Parliament and the people over weapons of mass destruction and Iraq?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Quite simply because there was no misleading involved on the question of Iraq.

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So what does this answer mean exactly? That there was...

Submitted by Tim Ireland Continue reading (and 2 more annotations)

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

May I remind my right hon. Friend of the importance of the charity commissioners, who are the custodians of our charities and ensure that charities are accountable? May we have a debate on the matter, owing to the failure of the Charity Commission to take proper responsibility for the Indian senior citizens centre in my constituency and, perhaps even more important, its failure to respond, through the chief charity commissioner, to me as the Member of Parliament? That lapse in standards is not acceptable and the charity commissioners need a bit of a shot up the—

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

It is no longer April fool's day so I shall take very much to heart my hon. Friend's point about a shot in the arm. In fact, he makes an important point. The Charity Commission and anybody connected to it must respond to the inquiries of Members of Parliament and to their complaints and protests. The Home Secretary and in due course, I am sure, the Charity Commission will note the points that he made.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

When will civil servants get statutory protection from Ministers? We recently had the now-departed Minister for Citizenship and Immigration disgracefully dumping on her civil servants. The Lord Chancellor has at least had the grace to apologise, as a result of the Standards and Privileges Committee report, but it leaves the issue unresolved. How long will it take the Government to provide their civil servants with protection?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The right hon. Gentleman was a Minister in a Government who became a byword for incompetence and sleaze. As for the relationship with civil servants, when we came to office they were delighted to find a Government full of vision, full of grip and full of plans, instead of the incompetent Administration who were kicked out in 1997.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

To endorse the point made earlier by my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, will the Leader of the House find time for an inquiry into the quality of management in some of our acute hospitals? Mr. Terence Hope—one of my constituents and a consultant neurosurgeon at the Queen's Medical Centre University Hospital trust in Nottingham—was suspended two weeks ago because of a hotly denied, most trivial incident that related to a privatised restaurant in the complex. He was reinstated a week later, although by then clinics had been cancelled, operations had been postponed and a lot of lives had been jeopardised. Have we really lost the public service ethos to the extent that it would appear? Can we not have a detailed examination of the background to such incidents so that lessons can be learned for the delivery of high quality clinical care in the NHS, not the pursuit of spreadsheet-type management?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I suppose that that counts as the crouton affair. If the facts are as reported and as my hon. Friend underlines, it is, frankly, a ludicrous episode and he is right to bring it to the attention of the House. I am sure that Health Ministers will have noted very carefully what he said.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate as soon as possible on the new Labour doctrine of ministerial irresponsibility, under which Ministers deny responsibility for their own Department's actions, plead ignorance, which should be culpable, blame officials, which is despicable, and attempt to silence whistleblowers, which is intolerable? The latest example of that involves the Lord Chancellor, who was found guilty of contempt of the House. An apology is not enough because the Committee's report says that

"a subsequent apology is not, however, sufficient to undo the original damage".

We now have a Lord Chancellor who wants to abandon his title but hang on to the perks of his office; we have a Solicitor-General who is in contempt of court but wants to hold on to her office; and we have a Home Secretary who has used his hapless Minister of State as a human shield in order to deny responsibility for the biggest collapse of immigration policy that this country has ever known. When can we have a debate on Ministers taking responsibility for their actions and inactions?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The right hon. Gentleman was a Cabinet Minister in a Government who consistently failed to take responsibility for their own actions and were bedevilled with incompetence and sleaze. I am amazed that he has come here a few hours—[Interruption.] A member of the Cabinet went to prison as a result of that, so I should have thought that he would have a little less aggression in raising such issues—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister is replying to the questions.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order in the House, by association, to accuse people of dishonour or impropriety?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Sometimes, in the heat of discussion that takes place in the Chamber, such an inference may be taken, but I did not read that into the reply from the Leader of the House.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I was making no such accusation about the right hon. Gentleman; I was referring to what he has said. A Minister in our Government has had the integrity to come before the House, accept responsibility for unwittingly giving a misleading impression, and resign—but he gets up and attacks her and says that that somehow indicates a different picture, when we know the Conservative Government's record. He served as a Cabinet Minister in that Government. That was the point that I was making.

No further action was required of the Lord Chancellor in respect of the Standards and Privileges Committee report—a recommendation about which the right hon. Gentleman failed to remind the House—and his unreserved apology draws a line under that matter.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the proliferation of commercial self-storage warehouses across London? Does he understand the relationship between those people who are put into temporary accommodation or made homeless and the fact that their goods and property are then stored at public expense? Is he as outraged as I am by a story that was related to me by a constituent who came to my constituency surgery two weeks ago? She told me that a sofa that she purchased new for less than £800 has been stored at a cost of more than £10,000, at public expense. Does he not believe, as I do, that the spending of public money in that way should be investigated?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I must say that my hon. Friend has brought to my attention and to that of the House an episode and a practice of which I had no knowledge. I am sure that the relevant Ministers will want to take extremely close note of what he has said and to take the necessary action—if it is in their power to take such action, given that those commercial self-storage warehouses are presumably private operations. Clearly, public money should not be wasted to the extent that he implies.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Is the Leader of the House aware of the problems associated with Mayflower—an automotive engineering company—going into administration, which has put at risk the entire British bus building industry? Owing to the dubious nature of Mayflower's management, workers' pensions have been put at risk. Will the Leader of the House please ask his colleagues to introduce proposals to deal with the pensions of employees in that situation and arrange a wider debate on the future of the bus building industry in this country?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I did read reports to that effect, and they are very disturbing indeed. There are echoes of the experience that I have had in Wales with the ASW workers who lost their pensions when the company went into liquidation. In fact, they were robbed of their pensions. That is precisely why we plan to pass pensions legislation to give proper protection to workers so that they do not suffer from such scandals in the future.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

Is my right hon. Friend aware of whether the Government intend to bring forward the report on the coal health compensation scheme, application for which ended yesterday? In particular, will they consider the matters raised in early-day motion 818 about legal charges?

[That this House expresses its continued concerns about solicitors who charge clients in addition to the costs paid by the Department of Trade and Industry; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that all solicitors sign an undertaking guaranteeing that they will not levy any charges from the compensation paid to miners, former miners or their families in respect of coal health claims, and that the Department of Trade and Industry does not make any payments to solicitors until such an undertaking has been signed.]

There are suspicions that solicitors have levied extra charges. If the Government consider such matters, will they look at the situation in Scotland? Although the Law Society of Scotland says that there is no double charging in Scotland, we find that there are a number of so-called arrangement companies—one of which is called IDIC and is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Owens—that are putting adverts in the paper. Very elderly people then phone them up, and all they do is pass them on to a solicitor—that seems to me to be collusion—who sends them a form to sign over 10 per cent. of their claim to the arrangement company. I have found a solicitor who does that and I want the Government to look at it very seriously—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going on rather long.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend raises a very serious matter. We have many examples—I have had to look into some in Wales—of claims farmers advertising and getting sometimes vulnerable elderly people or widows to make claims that the claims farmers are unable to handle. The claims are simply posted to a solicitor, and the claims farmers then charge those people. In some cases, they charge thousands of pounds. The Government's compensation scheme, which has been responsible for payments of well over £1 billion—in fact, I think that the figure is nearing £2 billion nationwide—makes it expressly clear that solicitors and other legal costs will be paid for under the scheme and rules out any charges on former miners and sick miners who have lung disease or vibration white finger, or their families. They are not allowed to be charged under the terms of the scheme. That iniquitous practice by claims farmers must end and, indeed, the Government are looking into it.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

In endorsing what the Leader of the House said about the importance of the letter from Iqbal Sacranie to the imams urging respect for law and order and peace and security in this country, may we have a statement soon from the Home Secretary about the future role of the Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism?

It is not sufficiently appreciated that the Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism is one and the same as the Minister with responsibility for immigration. Given the difficulties—I put it no higher than that—that attend immigration issues at present, is it not time now for the Government finally to recognise that we need a separate Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism, as we on the Opposition Benches have argued all along?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

First, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's consistent work in fighting racism. I very much agree with him about Iqbal Sacranie. As for counter-terrorism, I know from personal experience that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team have that firmly in their sights. Indeed, my right hon. Friend is involved almost daily in counter-terrorism work. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. The Cabinet Minister with responsibility for fighting terrorism is on the case on a daily basis and is taking some tough decisions to protect us. I hope that he will have the hon. Gentleman's support when he does that.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the campaign mounted by thousands of my constituents to have a proper St. George's day celebration? I am pleased to say that it has been taken on board, wisely, by council leader Bill Thomas. Does my right hon. Friend think that the House should celebrate St. George? We have an annual St. David's day debate; could we have an annual St. George's day debate? When my right hon. Friend is answering my question, will he take time to condemn proposals to introduce the single transferable vote for the Welsh Assembly?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am happy to say that I disagree with the Richard commission's proposal for a single transferable vote. As my hon. Friend knows, I am a long-standing opponent, as I think he is, of proportional representation. I do not think that that policy will go much further than the Richard commission. That will certainly be the case if I have anything to do with it.

My hon. Friend makes the novel suggestion that there should be St. George's day celebrations. It is an interesting idea. We have a St. David's day debate. I am not aware that we have St. Patrick's day or a St. Andrew's day celebrated or debated in the House. No doubt it is a matter that I shall have to examine closely now that my hon. Friend has raised the issue in such a cordial fashion.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Now that the ping-pong is over, could we have a thoughtful and temperate debate about the role of the House of Lords? The other place is now in the shape the Government want and they have no further proposals to change it. What are peers' responsibilities, in particular, for Bills that are not foreshadowed in the Labour party's manifesto and for ensuring that no Government use their majority to gerrymander the electoral system?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am up for a temperate and thoughtful debate on any issue. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to carry on in that fashion, he will find me a ready partner. The ping-pong has again revealed—I am glad that the House of Lords saw common sense by 30 votes in the end—the need to deal with the powers and procedures of the other place. Its procedures are chaotic and Governments do not have a proper ability to manage business, with the consent of the usual channels. Its powers need to be examined. On this occasion, the House of Lords backed down at the last minute, which was welcome. However, there was consistent defiance of clear votes in this place, principally orchestrated by Conservative peers, who are in a majority over Labour peers, even though Conservative Members are a small minority in this place.

Far from backing off, we are considering closely future legislation to deal not only with the issue of compensation but with restricting the power of the Lords to defy the will of the Commons. The role of the Lords is to scrutinise and revise—not to veto.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

I welcome the fact that my constituents will be able to have an all-postal ballot in June. It will be good for democracy because it will be good for turnout.

I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate on the excellent work that is carried out by the youth service. It provides good facilities and engages in worthwhile activities that often divert young people from less worthwhile activities that can lead to serious antisocial behaviour. As part of that debate, could we contrast the future of the youth service under a Government whose policy is to provide extra funds for local government, which can lead to further improvements in youth service delivery, with another scenario where significant cuts in the budgets of local councils will lead to the closure of youth clubs, the sacking of youth workers and a rise in antisocial behaviour?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend is right that his constituents will have the opportunity, because of the leadership shown by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues, to vote in the comfort of their own homes. As he has said, that is good for democracy because it is good for turnout, whomsoever may benefit from that turnout.

As for the youth service, my hon. Friend is right that local authority budgets under this Government will continue to rise in accordance with the planned increases in spending. If we were to see a £2.5 billion cut in local government budgets, as the plans of the shadow Chancellor foresee, we would have a decimation of services that are provided for the youth of this country, and an increase in antisocial behaviour would follow as a result.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the rebuilding of Iraq so that, first, we can congratulate our forces on their professionalism, courage and moderation in the work that they do in that country, and secondly, have regard to the money under the oil-for-food programme and the development fund—which is now well over £3 billion—and ensure that it is released as early as possible so that the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shi'ites, the Turkamens and the other ethnic groups can use the money to start building hospitals and schools in Iraq?

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We should also ensure the removal of President Bush's appointed former Secretary of State James Baker's envoy, who'ss mission, is the cancellation of Iraq massive debt. One of the largest in the world, at least according to George W. This should be immediately achieve on grounds of conficting interests, as he as strong links with the US/UK Carlyle...

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Gentleman brings a voice of common sense to the Chamber on these matters, which I welcome. Our soldiers and others are doing a fantastic job in rebuilding Iraq. As the survey of Iraqis recently showed, that is getting the support of the population in overwhelming numbers. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make his points with even greater eloquence when there is a debate on Wednesday 21 April in Westminster Hall.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will remember that at the time of the referendum for a Welsh Assembly we were told that Wales was run by quangos. To rectify that wrong, we first had to vote for a Welsh Assembly, and then give it the powers to make a bonfire of the quangos. My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are now even more quangos in Wales than there were when the Assembly was first established. They are more powerful today than when the Assembly was first established.

My right hon. Friend will also be aware that yesterday the Richard commission reported its conclusions. Not surprisingly, it merely repeated the words of its master, Rhodri Morgan, and demanded more powers for the Welsh Assembly. Some of us believe that before pushing for more powers, it should use the powers that it already has. Let us have a debate on the report of the Richard commission, please.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I would be quite happy to have a debate on the Richard report. As for a bonfire of quangos, my hon. Friend will know that a number of quangos were taken under the auspices of the Assembly, where they could be better held accountable. A number of other non-departmental organisations have been established to carry out new functions, which has been the practice across Britain.

As for the Richard commission's report, I look forward to detailed consultations with my hon. Friend and other Back-Bench colleagues of all parties, with Cabinet colleagues and also with members of the Welsh Assembly Cabinet to ascertain whether there is a basis for moving forward. I do not think that the model that is outlined to its full extent in the Richard commission's report really provides that basis. If there were to be a Scottish Parliament option, there would have to be a referendum. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that. I think that the number of Members of Parliament needs to stay the same in Wales. I think also that the electoral system that has been operating for the Welsh Assembly is deeply flawed—a point that was recognised by the Richard commission.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

As a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, may I put it to the Leader of the House that he has singularly failed to answer questions properly put by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and Mr. Tyler concerning our report, which was published earlier this morning, entitled "Privilege: Protection of a Witness"?

As the Leader of the House quoted partially from paragraph 34, may I complete the quote? We said:

"We urge the Government to treat this as a matter of urgency. The House should be consulted on the terms of any proposed guidance."

May I have assurances that when the Government finally prepare proper guidance on privilege, not just to Ministers but to all public servants, we will be consulted and there will be a full debate here in the House?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I shall certainly bear the right hon. Gentleman's request in mind. It is a new report, out today, and we will study it carefully. We have welcomed the Committee's conclusion that Ministers had regard only to their policy objective of giving CAFCASS a fresh start as soon as possible, and we fully accept the findings. There is no dubiety about that. We fully accept the findings and the Lord Chancellor has unreservedly apologised.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

May we have an early debate on why, with so much money voted by the House for health, district general hospitals like mine are short of money, short of management freedom and short of capacity to deal with all the demands being placed upon them?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I do not know about the individual situation in the right hon. Gentleman's hospital, but I assume that he supports a policy advocated by those on his Front Bench that will result in £2 billion being taken out of—robbed from—the national health service, to go down the road and follow patients—who can probably afford to have private operations anyway—under the Conservatives infamous patients passport scheme. So I cannot see how the predicament that he describes locally will be improved by the Conservatives; indeed, it will be made worse. We are consistently putting in more and more resources, which are locked in for many years to come.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

Is the Leader of the House up for a thoughtful and temperate debate on the investigative powers of Select Committees? Of course everyone welcomes the Prime Minister coming before the Liaison Committee twice a year and extra staff for Select Committees, but as the recent experience of the Foreign Affairs Committee demonstrated, it is almost impossible to get Ministers to answer questions that they do not want to answer or to provide information that they do not want to give. It is almost a quarter of a century since departmental Select Committees came into being. Would not this be a good time for the Leader of the House and the Liaison Committee to have a discussion about how the investigative ability of departmental Select Committees could be improved?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My right hon. Friend reminds us that we need decent questions. The hon. Gentleman's point is a fair one, and of course I am up for a thoughtful exchange with him and fellow Select Committee Chairs about the powers of investigation and accountability of Select Committees.