With permission, I shall make a statement about the business for next week.
The provisional business for the following week will be:
Following are the details:
I thank the Leader of the House for the business and apologise to him for the unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, who is, as the Leader of the House knows, on important House of Commons Commission business and, despite his strenuous attempts, simply cannot be here.
Can the Leader of the House give us any information about the date for the comprehensive spending review? I know that the Chancellor likes to play such things close to his chest, but it is an important event in the parliamentary calendar, and it would be a great courtesy to the House if a date were provided at the earliest possible moment.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the interest on both sides of the House and across the country about the timetable for the European constitution Bill. Can he tell us when we should expect to see the Bill, and whether it will include the necessary paving provisions for a referendum? The Opposition are keen to have the referendum at the earliest possible moment; why are the Government dragging their heels?
Turning to regional assemblies, this week we were promised the publication of the draft Bill in July, but what really counts is the opportunity to debate it. Can the Leader of the House promise a debate before the summer recess on the draft Bill setting up regional assemblies? Furthermore, what is the explanation for the inconsistency of the Government's position on the two referendums on the constitution and on regional assemblies? Why must we wait up to two years for a referendum that everyone wants, which, apparently, can be held only after the most detailed parliamentary scrutiny, while the other referendums, for which demand is slight, are rushed through ahead of any scrutiny whatsoever?
Is there any news about the promised debate on Iraq?
When can we expect the outcome of the Government's review of Select Committee powers, prompted by EDM 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.]
Has the Leader of the House done anything yet about the Sessional Orders, following the Procedure Committee's important report?
Finally, can the Leader of the House tell us whether the Butler report on the handling of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war will be published before the by-elections on
First, I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's last question. The timing of the publication of the Butler report is a matter for Lord Butler.
On the comprehensive spending review, I understand the importance of advance knowledge of the date. I am discussing the matter with the Chancellor, and as soon as we can give the House that information, we shall do so.
On the Bill to ratify the European constitutional treaty, Mr. Luff knows that we must obtain a text that has been through the legal process, which is normal practice after intergovernmental conferences. That text is not expected until October at the earliest, and the Bill will follow in due course, so he must wait for the Queen's Speech.
The Conservative party said that it would oppose the new European constitutional treaty before it knew what was in it. One year ago, it said that it would oppose the treaty, and, a few weeks ago, it repeated that point before the final negotiations occurred. After the final negotiations, it became self-evident that the treaty is a good deal for Britain and that all the key red lines promised by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been met. Now Conservative Members say that they want to proceed rapidly, before they have seen a legally sanitised text. The Foreign Secretary has agreed to publish the political text as a White Paper in September, which is something that I am sure the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire welcomes, and we will, of course, want to debate it.
The distinction between the regional assemblies referendums and the European constitutional treaty referendum is clear, as I have said consistently over the past few weeks. A draft Bill on the regional assemblies referendums will be published before the recess, at which point it will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, about which the House has already been informed.
The two approaches to referendums are not inconsistent. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire will recall in respect of Wales, and you, Mr. Speaker, and other hon. Members will recall in respect of Scotland, that the people of Wales and Scotland were invited to make a decision on the principle whether they wanted a Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament. That matter was rightly decided before the Bill was introduced. We are now considering whether to ratify a constitutional treaty. Before we hold a referendum, it is important to prepare the Bill and have the full text of the final treaty before the House so that we can debate it in detail. There is no inconsistency in that.
As I have already made clear, we want to hold a debate on Iraq as soon as it is possible and appropriate. I shall inform the House accordingly.
I am keen to hold a debate on Select Committee powers and Sessional Orders. We will do that as soon as we can.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that opinion polling and the opinion polling industry are of central concern in a modern parliamentary democracy? Can he help me in my attempts to hold a debate on the opinion polling industry in the Chamber or at least in Westminster Hall? I have spent three weeks trying, with great help from the Speaker's Office, to get a Department to take responsibility for that. The Department of Trade and Industry passes the matter to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which passes it back. I am not getting anywhere. Will my right hon. Friend intervene and bang some heads together so that the important subject is debated at an early date?
I acknowledge my hon. Friend's expert ferreting on opinion polls. He has developed a powerful case, which everybody needs to answer, about the role of opinion polls and their regulation, especially during election periods. The more he is encouraged to pursue that, the more everybody involved, including opinion poll companies, will have to respond to his points.
We greatly welcome the debate on Zimbabwe. Will the Leader of the House guarantee clarification of the Government's position on sporting links, especially cricket tours, including one-day fixtures? In his radical, Liberal days, the Leader of the House took a strong view on the extent to which such connections can give apparent support and endorsement to dictatorial regimes. I hope that he agrees that that remains an important issue. On
"an opportunity for all parties in the House to join together to pressure the International Cricket Council to change its rules to allow the cancellation of such tours on the ground of moral issues, without fines being imposed".
The Leader of the House, in an excellent response, said:
"I am at one with the hon. Gentleman on this. Undoubtedly, the villain of the piece at present is not just Robert Mugabe's despotic regime, but the way in which the ICC is turning a blind eye to that."—[Hansard, 6 May 2004; Vol. 420, c. 1503.]
However, in correspondence with my hon. Friend, the Minister for Sport and Tourism said:
"I am not persuaded to lobby the ICC to change their rules so that moral issues can be a legitimate reason for tour cancellation."
May we have a clear statement on the Government's position in next week's debate? Will the Leader of the House please ensure that his forthright views take precedence?
I was amazed to hear Mr. Pound on the radio this morning saying that the Government may impose a three-line Whip on the Human Tissue Bill on Monday. The Liberal Democrats will have a free vote and I understand that that also applies to Conservative Members. Four prominent Labour Members, including the Father of the House, previously introduced private Members' Bills on the subject. Will they be forced on Monday to take a position that goes against their judgment?
Government policy on voting and whipping on the Human Tissue Bill remains unchanged.
The hon. Gentleman referred to my past days—they were my past, anti-apartheid days—in respect of white South African sports links. I have made my views clear on Zimbabwe. That also applies to the Minister for Sport and Tourism and the Foreign Secretary. We hold the same view. We wish that there were no cricketing and other sporting links with Zimbabwe because Robert Mugabe uses them as a propaganda weapon. However, we are not in a position to instruct the cricket authorities to do anything. The hon. Gentleman should not ask us to do that. We can simply express our point of view.
Did my right hon. Friend read an article in one of yesterday's papers, entitled, "Women fight late nights for MPs"? It refers to correspondence that was sent to members of the Modernisation Committee for yesterday's private session. In the article, the shadow Leader of the House, who is a member of the Committee, makes a party political point. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a sorry state of affairs when papers are leaked, without the correspondents being informed, from a Committee, one of the aims of which is to re-establish the reputation of Parliament? Does he also agree that leaking documents from Select Committees is a breach of parliamentary standards, does nothing to enhance Parliament's reputation and is a serious matter?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I regret that the papers that the Modernisation Committee was due to discuss yesterday were made available to The Daily Telegraph on the previous day by, I have been informed, at least one Conservative member of the Select Committee. "Erskine May" makes it clear:
"Once received by the Committee as evidence, papers prepared for a Committee become its property and may not be published without the express authority of the Committee."
That clearly did not happen.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that some important new clauses are up for discussion on Monday, including one that I tabled on transplants. I hope that you will be inclined to select it for debate. Is the Leader of the House sure that we shall have enough time for the important debate, given that he has tabled other business for Monday?
Yes, I am confident that there will be enough time.
Due to an inadvertent slip up, I did not announce the business for Westminster Hall. I should like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for July will be—
The Leader of the House will have noted the generosity of the Chair in allowing time for discussion on the national health service improvement plan. Given the interest in the subject in the country and in all parties, will he consider allowing time for a full parliamentary debate on it, especially on some of the representations that the Secretary of Health will receive from the Conservative party? Hon. Members could then examine in detail the consequences for the NHS of providing a £1 billion-plus subsidy for those who are already sufficiently wealthy to have private medical care.
I should love to find an opportunity, in a compressed business timetable, for such a debate. It will be interesting to note whether the Opposition use any of their time for it. I believe that they will become increasingly shy about their intention to rob the NHS of £1 billion. That means £1 billion-worth of doctors, nurses, consultants, beds and hospitals in the NHS. The money will be used to allow those who can already afford to go private to have a subsidy and take it to a private hospital. That policy will mean the cuts, privatisation and charges in the NHS for which the Conservatives have become renowned.
May I tempt the Leader of the House to comment a little more on the timing of the EU constitution measure? He told us that the process known as toilettage will last at least until October, that the Bill may be in the Queen's Speech and will not receive Royal Assent until well into 2005. Does that imply that the referendum will not take place until the following year? That means that we cannot flush the EU constitution down the toilette until 2006.
I have explained the situation fully to the House on a number of occasions, but perhaps I should remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he has said about the European constitutional treaty. He said:
"With hindsight the European Union is not acceptable since we joined . . . The whole thing was probably a mistake".
He also said:
"The process of renegotiation is a precursor to withdrawal".
There we have it. That is the real policy of the Conservative party. It is supported by the right hon. Gentleman and it is getting lots of nods on the Conservative Back Benches and in their constituencies—[Interruption.] Yes, indeed. That is ultimately what the battle will be about. A policy on the European constitutional treaty advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, with individual Members such as the right hon. Gentleman behind it, would, in the end, lead us into a completely untenable position in the European Union and put us on a slow train—
Well, if the right hon. Gentleman became Leader of the Opposition, it would be a fast train out of the European Union.
Given that the commitment to allow people in the regions their say over whether to establish regional assemblies was in the Government's manifesto both in 1997 and in 2001, does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than those referendums being rushed through, they have actually taken a more leisurely route than many of us would have liked? Will he assure us that there will be no slippage, either in the draft powers Bill that is supposed to be published soon, or in the holding of the referendums, whatever voting system is used?
I applaud my right hon. Friend's forthright support for a north-east regional assembly, and her eloquent advocacy on its behalf. I want to reassure her that Parliament needs to approve the necessary orders to trigger the assembly elections, so as to allow adequate campaigning periods and the timely distribution of public information in line with the autumn timetable. Three such orders have been laid today, which are subject to an affirmative resolution. The Government will shortly be laying a further order, which will set the date of the referendums, and the local government options to be put to the voters in two-tier local government areas. I think that my right hon. Friend can be reassured about that.
In April 2003, a constituent of mine in Carrickfergus received unsolicited mail regarding Government policy on Iraq from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which apparently acknowledged a letter that he was purported to have sent. My constituent wrote to the sender, S. M. McHugh of the middle east department, on
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds and uses data . . . Such personal data may be disclosed to other UK Government Departments and public authorities."
Neither of his letters was acknowledged. I have been in touch with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at least half a dozen times, and I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he could make time for the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary or his nominee to come to the House and tell us why his Department has failed for 14 months to respond to my constituent's correspondence and to a Member of the House.
Obviously, I am not sighted of any of those details. I make no complaint about that; the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter quite properly, and I am sure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and particularly the Foreign Secretary's office, will want to investigate the points that he has raised.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that, in October last year, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on the Olympic truce, with the support of the United Kingdom? Since 1992, when the truce was revived, it has had some success—for example, during the winter Olympics in Lillehammer, when a ceasefire was negotiated in Sarajevo to allow the inoculation of all the children from both sides in that terrible conflict. With the Olympic torch passing through the United Kingdom this weekend, does my right hon. Friend agree that this would be an apposite time for us to consider, in a debate in the House of Commons, what we can do to support the Olympic truce?
I very much endorse the sentiments of my hon. Friend and the way in which he has made his point. He has the opportunity to apply for a private Member's debate in the normal way.
Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend Mr. Luff, was not the real reason why the Leader of the House cannot give us a date for the comprehensive spending review statement published in the papers yesterday, namely that the Chancellor remains in serious disagreement with his colleagues and the statement has been postponed? Will the Leader of the House promise that, whenever we have the statement, we shall have a full day's debate in Government time before we rise, so that the House can examine whether the Chancellor's sums actually add up?
I completely reject the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that the statement has been postponed. No date has been fixed, and no firm date has been discussed either with me or with other business managers. As that has not happened, it could not, by definition, have been postponed. On the question of a full day's debate, we are seeking to find time in the business programme for a debate following the comprehensive spending review, and we shall see what time can be allocated to that. In principle, both the Chancellor and I are at one in seeking an opportunity to examine the review in detail and, in the course of so doing, no doubt to embarrass the Conservative Opposition Front Bench even more than we already have, thanks to Labour's excellent economic record.
Some newspapers in this country carry a corrections and clarifications column. Will my right hon. Friend find a 15-minute slot each week so that hon. Members can come to the House to correct any comments that they might have made in the House? I am particularly concerned that, yesterday, Mr. Howard asserted that a constituent had a 20-month wait for cancer treatment, when the national health service trust in question has stated that nobody waits longer than 14 weeks. Whether that comment was made deliberately or inadvertently, would not such a slot provide an appropriate opportunity for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come and apologise to the House?
I fear that 15 minutes would not be long enough for all the apologies that the Leader of the Opposition needs to make to the House, not only for the appallingly irresponsible use of that case yesterday but for the consistent way in which he comes to the House every week and takes an opportunistic line, yet is nowhere to be seen when it comes to pursuing it the week after. The same applies to his appearances in the media, so we should need rather more than 15 minutes in his case.
The Leader of the House hinted that there would be debates either next week or the following week on the NHS improvement plan, which was the subject of the statement earlier in which the Secretary of State said that
"no one will gain unfair advantage in medical treatment because of their financial position."
Will the Leader of the House tell us how many people last year who did not have private medical insurance were forced, out of desperation, to buy operations in the private sector?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has been correctly informed about the debate that he mentioned. The important point here is that, under Labour, there have been 450,000 more NHS operations each year than there were under the Conservatives. That is the key. Under Labour, the private sector is clearly experiencing great difficulty now because the NHS is becoming better and better, and is therefore offering a much more competitive alternative to those who, for one reason or another—particularly during the Conservative years and as a result of their legacy—chose to go private because they were not getting decent treatment under the NHS.
May we have a debate on the music industry, and in particular on the very welcome development of legal downloading services available on the internet? Is it not the case, however, that such services will not be taken up if they are not available at a reasonable price to the consumer? Will my right hon. Friend ask his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and, perhaps, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to look into why British consumers have to pay more to download tunes from Apple's iTunes service on the internet than people in continental Europe or the United States?
May we have a proper debate about how our immigration policy is being applied across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? Something clearly is not working. A young constituent of mine, Miss Jemimah Speed, is an Australian citizen who has been forced out of Scotland even though she very much wants to stay there. She has a job with prospects and is even planning to marry. In fact, she is an ideal candidate for the Scottish Executive's fresh talent initiative to get people back to an underpopulated Scotland. Will the Leader of the House look into this case, and do what he can to encourage the Home Office to allow us in Scotland to attract and retain people such as Jemimah Speed?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on financing for development? That would give the opportunity, during these last few days when decisions on the comprehensive spending review are being taken, for the more than 200 MPs who signed the early-day motion calling for a timetable for us to achieve the target to spend 0.7 per cent. of our income on international aid, which was agreed 34 years ago, to put not only the moral and political case but the case that it is affordable. Millions of people in the third world who are seeing their relatives die from lack of water, food and basic health services cannot afford for us not to reach that target.
The whole Government are seeking to reach that target. The Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development are among the most well respected international champions of support for the poorest countries of the globe. The Labour Government have led the campaign to lift the burden of debt off the poorest countries, of which we can be proud. We have also been responsible for doubling the overseas aid and development budget in real terms, from the desperate situation that we inherited from the Opposition. We are getting there, and I know that the Chancellor will have noted my hon. Friend's comments carefully.
May I reiterate a request that I made prior to the Whitsun recess for a debate in Government time on failures in the Royal Mail's delivery network? Since the changeover to the single delivery system, there has been a range of operational problems around the country. A recent "Panorama" documentary highlighted just how much mail has gone missing and the vulnerability of the new system even to fraud. That affects Members on both sides of the House and it is a serious problem. As the Government own Royal Mail, they have a moral duty to allow the House to debate this serious matter before the House rises for the summer recess.
The hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to apply for a debate in the normal way. He will understand, however, that while we have all experienced difficulties from time to time, and the Royal Mail managers, the trade union concerned and the workers are anxious to improve the quality of service—because we and all our local postmen and women take pride in the service that they seek to achieve—the Royal Mail is responsible for delivering 85 million letters a day. We should concentrate on its fantastic achievements as well as remedying its shortfalls and defects, as everybody, including the Government, is determined to do.
During Second Reading of the Human Tissue Bill, Members on both sides of the House, although the majority were Labour Members, explained how they were looking forward to a proper debate on the question of an opt-in or opt-out system for transplantation. On Monday, on Report, an all-party amendment is to be tabled on that issue. It is a true conscience issue and a matter of life and death for people on transplant waiting lists. My question, of which I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice, is: given that there are strongly held views on both sides, what possible justification can there be for the Government to impose a three-line Whip on the Labour party, which would force scores of his colleagues to go back on how they voted on the measure when it was in a private Member's Bill promoted by Dr. Palmer? Is it that the Government are worried about losing the argument, or that they cannot make an argument, or is it simple control freakery?
I was going to answer the hon. Gentleman's question much more sympathetically than his last comments have allowed me to do. It is nothing to do with control freakery, and I am sure that he will regret those remarks—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I understand his position, and the different position of many Members on both sides of the House who may honourably disagree. I emphasise that Government policy remains that presumed consent has no place in the Bill. It is a Government Bill, however: we are responsible, and it has been subject to a great deal of consultation and scrutiny in the other place, which will also take place in the House of Commons. It is important that the Bill proceeds.
Will my right hon. Friend organise a debate on industrial investment, job creation, and the role of Government offices for the regions in that? In that debate, I could discuss the excellent news that Polestar, the largest printing company in Europe, has planning permission to invest £100 million in a new factory in my constituency, creating around 1,000 jobs. That shows the resurgence of the Sheffield economy under a Labour Government and a Labour council. The planning department of Sheffield city council has worked tirelessly on this matter and the Department of Trade and Industry has been supportive, but right at the last minute the Government office for Yorkshire and the Humber has intervened with a section 14 stop notice that prevents the development going ahead on the grounds of some basic, spurious environmental objections, even though the regional officer has known about the proposal from its inception. I want that intervention by the Government office for Yorkshire and the Humber to be subject to the strongest parliamentary scrutiny, because my view is that its work should be to assist developments of this kind, not obstruct them.
I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern about this important project. The Secretary of State has been asked by a third party to consider directing that an environmental impact assessment be prepared in respect of the planning application involving Polestar. The relevant papers were received by the Government office today, and I assure him that a decision will be made as soon as possible. In view of the statutory requirements incumbent on the Secretary of State in this case to fully consider the request made, it is not appropriate for me to comment further on the request or the scheme involved.
May I ask the Leader of the House, who is also, of course, the Secretary of State for Wales, whether we can have an urgent debate on discrimination and prejudice faced by the Gypsy, Romany and travelling community in Wales, and particularly the use of that discrimination by political parties to whip up feelings against that community? I refer him to an awful and disgraceful leaflet published in Cardiff recently that alleged that a vote cast for the Liberal Democrats would bring more Travellers and Gypsies into Cardiff. That breaks every code, including the code of conduct to which all political parties are signed up with the Commission for Racial Equality. Unfortunately, that leaflet was published by his party, the Labour party. Perhaps a debate could clarify the issue and allow him to condemn his party for producing such an awful, disgraceful leaflet.
I am not seeking to defend that leaflet any more than the hon. Gentleman, I am sure, would defend a leaflet that circulated in Cardiff either in the name of his party or that of the Liberal Democrats, which had a picture of Lynndie England with a whip, and an Iraqi prisoner being subject to abuse, saying, "This is what you get if you vote Labour". I cannot recollect whether it was his party or the Liberal Democrats. Whichever party was responsible, it should apologise, too. The last day for tabling questions for Wales questions is Tuesday. He may want to take advantage of that.
Yesterday's reference in this Chamber to a 20-month wait for cancer treatment prompted a constituent of mine from Bungay in Suffolk, who was a cancer patient last year, to contact me. His experience was that within seven days of seeing his GP he was seen by a specialist, and seven weeks after he went to see his GP he had an operation, and he had a second operation three weeks later. This is not a false statement but a true case and, I believe, a much truer reflection of the national health service—a national health service that is not failing people but succeeding for the majority of people in this country thanks to the investment and reform of the Government. May we have a debate on this matter so that the true state of the national health service can become even clearer?
Again, I would love to have such a debate, and I will certainly examine the opportunities for doing so. Under the policy announced by the Secretary of State, the maximum waiting time by 2008 will be 18 weeks, compared with 18 months and more under the Conservatives. Patients are getting a better and better deal, month by month and year by year, as the investment pours in under Labour. Under Labour, there is a right to choose decent health care. Under the Tories, there is a right to be charged for it. That is the choice.