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The business of the House for next week is as follows:
Followed by a motion to suspend support for Members who have chosen not to take their seats, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.
The provisional business for the following week will be:
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Is there now no prospect before the Easter recess of a debate on foreign affairs, so that we can discuss the situation in the middle east and Africa? Will he remind the Chancellor ahead of his Budget of the tax changes promised when the Civil Partnership Bill was debated? Can he confirm that those promises will be honoured?
Will Monday's European debate provide an opportunity to take stock of the Lisbon strategy and of the growth and stability pact, both of which appear to be in trouble if the latest news from Germany is true? If not, could we have a statement on those issues?
When can we debate today's damning Education and Skills Select Committee report on the so-called UK e-university? It shows that only 900 students have taken part in this £50 million project—a whopping £40,000 per student. It also finds that there was inadequate research, a skewed focus and a failure to work successfully with the private sector. So what did Ministers do? They paid bonuses to the senior executives. Should not Ministers have done their homework before throwing vast sums of public money at a project that nobody wanted? Is that not yet another piece of Government incompetence to rank with the millennium dome, the Child Support Agency computer and the tax credits administrative fiasco? The two computer projects that I have mentioned were the work of EDS, to which the Government have this week given a £4 billion contract to supply defence computers. Can we have a debate on the rewards of failure, so that we can seek serious assurances about that massive contract?
After yesterday's Appeal Court ruling about religious clothing in schools, can we expect a statement about the full effect of the ruling and the guidance that will now be given to schools?
I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's remarks about religious clothing in schools.
I can promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in Westminster Hall on foreign affairs before the end of March. He has repeatedly raised that point, which we are anxious to do something about, and I am happy to agree to a debate.
On the tax arrangements relating to the Civil Partnership Act 2004, I will certainly make sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those who are responsible for the legislation are aware of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
There will be an opportunity to raise a number of European Union issues. The Lisbon reform programme is about making the EU much more competitive, particularly in relation to the competitive threat from east Asia. It is an important British agenda and it must be accelerated. The Government are trying to accelerate it, and our presidency will provide an opportunity to do so. There will be a chance to debate how the growth and stability pact should be progressed, reformed and implemented.
The hon. Gentleman described the report on the UK e-university as "damning", and the Secretary of State will want to take close account of that matter. He also mentioned Government incompetence, but there is no greater example of Government incompetence than the poll tax, for which the Conservatives were responsible. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the temerity to raise the issue of Government incompetence.
On computer contracts, the reliability of IT contracts to Government Departments—and, indeed, to the private sector—is a problem right across the world, and we are having some success in addressing that issue.
Earlier today, one of my hon. Friends mentioned that it is the 20th anniversary of the miners' decision to return to work. I was unfortunate enough not to return to work, because I was sacked along with just fewer than 1,000 people. On Monday, the BBC showed a good and fair programme about the miners in the face of great opposition from Conservative Members. At the end of that programme, the Iron Maiden—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear"]—the then Prime Minister, referred to "the enemy within", when she was talking about miners and their families. Do you, Minister, think that she should apologise to those miners and their families?
I certainly do—I represent a mining community. [Interruption.] Well, I am not astonished by the growl of approval from the Conservative Members about bringing back Thatcher.
I am not surprised, given the dreadful leadership provided by the leader of the Conservative party. I join my hon. Friend David Hamilton, who is a former miner, in acknowledging the suffering that miners' families experienced and their appalling treatment by the Thatcher Government. When Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, lots of ordinary families suffered from her oppressive treatment, which would make an excellent subject for debate. The BBC programme is an excellent example of pointing out the truth, not least about the behaviour of the then Government.
Order. I hope that we can return to the business for next week.
On the business for next week, Mr. Speaker, can the Leader of the House confirm that he recognises that his primary responsibility is to this House, not to the Government, for the orderly arrangement of parliamentary business? Will he make a statement on the primacy of the House? As he knows, the Prime Minister and other Ministers constantly object to cross-party plans for reform of the composition of the House of Lords on the grounds that it could undermine the predominance of the House of Commons. Yet the Home Secretary has apparently decreed that the Lords should be the place where substantive amendments to his legislation on house arrest are discussed, having failed to provide a real opportunity for this House to debate them. He has apparently decided that compromise can be achieved only at the other end of the building rather than here. That is where the discussions will take place, and that is where the substantive debate will take place.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that he stands by his statements on many occasions that the predominant role in the business of Parliament lies here? Will he confirm that elected MPs should take decisions rather than, in his own phrase, unelected peers? How can he defend the contempt that other members of the Government seem to show for the House when compromise and consideration seem to be the rule only for the other place? He announced a few moments ago that we will have very few hours in this place to discuss amendments to an important Bill while considerable time is being devoted to it in the other place.
Ministers frequently say that the legitimacy of the Lords is, in some way, not complete. Will the Leader of the House indicate the Government's attitude towards cross-party proposals for the improvement of the legitimacy of the other place? Has he had an opportunity to study the Bill that I presented to this House with the support of Mr. Cook, Mr. Clarke, Tony Wright and Sir George Young? Will he indicate that the House will have an opportunity to debate those matters, and will he tell us the Government's attitude on them?
Last Thursday, the Leader of the House gave me an undertaking that the Chancellor would look urgently at the question of tax credits, which are causing much misery to our constituents. He may have seen that The Daily Mirror has taken up the issue and has referred to the fiasco that has left tens of thousands of families in financial crisis. When will I get an answer from the Chancellor, which the Leader of the House promised me last week? Much more importantly, when will all those who have been affected by the appalling fiasco get an answer?
Obviously, the Chancellor is as anxious to make sure that those issues are addressed as the hon. Gentleman is in, quite rightly, raising them with me. The overall point is that we are delivering more support for low-income families and those on benefit, especially hard-pressed low-income pensioners, than ever before. That is the important point. Some things have gone wrong in the system, and they are being addressed, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will applaud the Government for giving billions of pounds to the very poorest pensioners and those on low incomes, and for encouraging people into work by supporting hard-working families and making work pay.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, about the primacy of the House of Commons, I am happy to repeat my often-stated view that the House is the prime body and the sovereign body, above the House of Lords in Parliament. Of course it is.
On timing, the hon. Gentleman made a perfectly fair point, but he will recall that consultations were held only the previous Friday with the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the leader of the Conservative party. It was not possible to hold them earlier than that, although it would have been desirable to do so. It was, therefore, in response in part to requests from the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats to see whether consensus could be found that the Home Secretary reflected and came back to the House at the earliest opportunity. He circulated the letter, and I know that there was some concern about who saw what and at what time, but there was an honest intention to circulate it to the House. The Home Secretary, indeed, apologised if Members had taken offence, because he did not intend that.
It was not possible suddenly to table amendments and it was much better to take the mood of the House and listen to the debate, as we continue to do. Then, we could place amendments in the Lords, which, by the way, will come back to us. In whatever way the Bill is treated in the Lords, it will come back to us, giving a further opportunity to scrutinise it, hold us to account and perhaps consider other amendments, possibly even Government amendments, depending on the situation in the Lords.
I am just stating the obvious. I am not saying that that will happen, but simply stating that the Government are dealing with a very difficult situation—
No, not of their own making. It is almost a situation of the House's making, because the House passed legislation in the aftermath of the September 11 attack, but one aspect of it has been deemed unlawful in its application by the Law Lords. We are having to deal with that.
By the way, there is no question but that the Bill has been given adequate scrutiny. It will have been given at least 17 hours of scrutiny in the Commons. I know that it raises important issues about which hon. Members feel strongly, but I have looked into this matter, so I know that for an 11-clause Bill to receive 17 hours of scrutiny in the House of Commons is quite in line with other emergency legislation. Indeed, in some respects it will have more time—
I hear what is said from the Conservative Benches, but in that case, let me ask what the Government should be doing. The Law Lords have made a ruling. If we ignored that ruling, the individuals who are currently detained in Belmarsh without trial could simply walk out, yet we would have no control orders in place to deal with that. We now know that the Conservatives, along with the Liberal Democrats, will go into the next election saying that terrorist suspects can walk free without making any attempt to place control orders on them. We now know that that is the officially recognised position of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Is my right hon. Friend able to say where the site of the new visitor centre will be? Is he able to give us any indication of what major work will take place in the Westminster Hall area during the next 12 months? What implications would that have for the use of that part of the building by the House?
Like my hon. Friend, I am very keen for the project for a proper reception facility for visitors to be implemented as soon as possible. It would provide secure and much more civilised arrangements to allow visitors to come in through Westminster Hall than those that exist at the moment. Thereafter, I hope that the House and the House of Lords will endorse a proper visitor facility on a different site that will enable members of the public to come and enjoy the rich democracy that we have in the House of Commons and find out the way in which it works.
Will the Leader of the House indicate more precisely when critical international issues regarding the middle east and Africa—not least the problems in Sudan and Darfur, and the situation in Zimbabwe, with the continuing dictatorship of the leader of that country—might be debated on the Floor of the House? The House should become involved in discussing such matters.
The Leader of the House announced that the Chancellor will deliver his Budget statement on
I have already outlined the progress of the Budget. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about foreign affairs, especially regarding Africa and the middle east. All those conflicts and problems should be at the forefront of hon. Members' attention. He will know that the Foreign Secretary made a written ministerial statement yesterday about the hugely successful peace conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which will enable real momentum to be given to the middle east peace process. As I said, there will at least be an opportunity for a foreign affairs debate in Westminster Hall—I am sorry that I cannot promise that there will be one on Floor of the House—and I have responded to points made by hon. Members, including the shadow Leader of the House.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that we make rapid progress on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill? Will he further ensure that we have an early debate on that important subject so that we can find out whether the Opposition would let the Bill through in the event of an early Dissolution?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Bill has completed all its stages in this place and is now with the Lords. I hope that there will be unanimous support for the Bill, were an early election and early Dissolution required. It deserves such support because it addresses things that most, if not all, of our constituents feel very strongly about, including fly-tipping, antisocial behaviour, graffiti and noise pollution. It is the Labour Government who are on the side of the ordinary citizen and their neighbourhood, and I hope that the Opposition will join us.
The date of
I accept that we have not been able to provide time for a debate. The hon. Lady is right to point to that discrepancy. The truth is that we have a very busy legislative programme, including, in the week in which such a debate would fall, consideration of the terrorism legislation. I am providing more time than was originally considered for that legislation in response to requests made by right hon. and hon. Members. However, if we consider what the Government are doing in providing wrap-around child care, more opportunities for women, more support for families and more opportunities for women to work, the hon. Lady will recognise that we are addressing precisely the agenda of equal opportunities on which international women's day has quite rightly commanded our attention.
I understand my Friend's point, but I hope that he will accept that I have responded to requests for a debate in Westminster Hall. Indeed, Westminster Hall has some of the finest debates that take place in the House these days.
Perhaps they do receive too little attention, in which case we should work on members of the Press Gallery to attend Westminster Hall much more often. The issues to which my hon. Friend refers, including what has happened in Lebanon recently and the read-across to Syria, the huge change in the middle east and the prospects of democratic pressure running right through the middle east as a result of the successful elections in Iraq, will be debated in due course.
As I have already announced, there is other business in the House on that day. The situation will be rather dependent on what comes back from the Lords. If there is any ping-pong on the Bill, we shall have to see. There is plenty of opportunity for debate on this important item, so I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.
I apologise to Mr. Tyler. One of the issues that I did not address was his point about the House of Lords report by a number of eminent Members of this place. It is an impressive report and we shall consider it seriously.
Can my right hon. Friend ensure that we make progress on the Equality Bill which bans religious discrimination in the provision of goods and services, putting discrimination against Muslims on the same footing as racial discrimination? Can we have an early debate on this subject so that we can learn whether the Opposition would let the Bill through in the event of an early Dissolution?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, the Equality Bill will be given its First Reading today. That legislation is a clear signal of the Government's intention to ensure that Muslims throughout Britain can enjoy protection from religious discrimination and, through the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, can enjoy protection from incitement to religious hatred. That has been a protection that Muslims have not enjoyed up to now, almost exclusively, compared with other faiths and groups in our society.
I hope that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives will do a U-turn on their policy of opposition, according to which they are not defending Muslim communities, and should be, whereas this Labour Government are standing shoulder to shoulder with Muslim communities and providing extra support and protection.
Given that Dr. Than Nyein, U Saw Naing Naing and U Soe Han, three long-standing democratic political opponents of Burma's military dictatorship, have been incarcerated in appalling conditions, having been denied fair trials and medical treatment alike, would the Leader of the House agree that it would now be proper for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement about the treatment of those individuals? Would he not further acknowledge that it would be the most fitting imaginable tribute to that truly great man, Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, who died last week, if, following the making of a statement, the Government were to make the strongest possible representations within the United Nations about the bestial behaviour of this rogue state?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity, and I am sure the whole House, to put on record our acknowledgement that Peter Benenson, in founding Amnesty, lit a torch for freedom that has continued to burn brightly and has held every Government in the world, including our own, accountable for any potential human rights abuses.
As for Burma, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an odious junta. The sooner that it can be brought down and replaced by a democratic, civilised Government, the better for the Burmese people. The treatment of the three individuals to whom the hon. Gentleman refers is completely intolerable, but unfortunately in line with the junta's behaviour. As well their treatment, we are aware of the long-standing oppression of Aung San Suu Kyi, who should in my opinion, subject to the views of the Burmese people, be the true leader of Burma.
May I add my regret about the loss of the international women's day debate? Is my right hon. Friend aware that on Tuesday, which was
I applaud my hon. Friend for bringing forward her Bill to seek to restrict smoking in public places. It will encourage the policy that the Government have announced, and which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has promoted through the public health White Paper, of ensuring that passive smoking does not lead to the injury, ill health and death that it currently causes, and that smoking is restricted in public places. We are not able to support my hon. Friend's Bill for various reasons, but in terms of the thrust of the policy that it contains she will find that we are with her in spirit. She will also be encouraged by subsequent legislation that we intend to introduce, which will give Wales the opportunity to implement policies in the way in which the National Assembly choose.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate as soon as possible to enable the House to end the perceived discrimination by Government against parents in Northern Ireland who wish to have their children educated in grammar schools, by enabling those parents to exercise the same rights as parents enjoy in England, who by local referendum can choose to retain their local grammar school, and also by enabling the House to prevent discrimination against the state sector—mainly Protestant children in our schools—in the form of proposals recently, which the Government admit will reduce funding to the state sector by £3 per pupil annually and increase funding to maintained sector children—who are mainly Roman Catholic—by £5 per pupil annually? Surely the Leader of the House and the House would uphold the need for abandoning and preventing discrimination at all levels.
Of course no Labour Government—certainly not this one—would want to see discrimination anywhere in Northern Ireland or, for that matter, on the British mainland. I acknowledge—I ask that the hon. Gentleman does so as well—that notwithstanding the points that he has made, which have been noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, there is now record investment in schools in Northern Ireland and that education standards are rising. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that with a nod to me. The children of Northern Ireland and their parents—indeed, the whole community—are now much better off than they were under the dreadful policies of the last Conservative Government.
When my right hon. Friend visited Bedford recently, he saw the bust of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who was born in Bedford and later lived and worked in South Africa. He went on to found the anti-apartheid movement. On
I would certainly like to find an opportunity to debate Make Poverty History. I am absolutely certain that, as my hon. Friend said, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston would have backed it enthusiastically. He was an inspirational figure in the freedom struggle throughout the world, particularly in South Africa, where he played a crucial role. Make Poverty History is also supported by Nelson Mandela, who has exerted major pressure on the G7 leaders, and the Chancellor and Prime Minister have played a leading role in that global campaign.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government have no intention of proceeding any further with the European Union Bill, which had its Second Reading nearly a month ago? Will he also confirm whether the Government intend to have the Identity Cards Bill, currently being debated in the other place, placed on the statute book in the next five weeks?
It is our intention to have the Identity Cards Bill on the statute book as soon as we can. That will depend on the Opposition's response. It remains to be seen whether the Conservatives will back this commonsense measure, which is widely supported by about 80 per cent. of the population. That applies to the Liberal Democrats as well. Will they seek to block the Bill? It will be an interesting challenge for the Opposition, and members of the public will be watching very closely to see who is on their side in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration and in favour of improving the security of legitimate British citizens.
On the European Union Bill, we want to proceed as soon as an opportunity arises. We want to get it through and we will proceed when we can.
Can we have a debate on the monarchy? Under the smokescreen of a general election, Prince Charles is altering the constitution a la carte. The fact is that he is entitled to marry whomever he likes, but the custodians of the constitution are here in the House, and this matter raises questions about morganatic marriage. Stanley Baldwin said that the constitution made no provision for such marriage, so perhaps we should legislate to change that. If not, Camilla may become Queen. Questions are also raised about the male primogeniture rule, which is currently discriminatory, and the religious faith of the monarch. Those issues cannot be handled by stealth. There should be a conscious discussion in this place about all these matters. It is wrong for Prince Charles to be able to alter the constitution by this gradualist approach without consulting Parliament. These are matters for which the House has a responsibility, and whether our politics are left, right or centre we should not abdicate that responsibility.
I have to disappoint my hon. Friend, because I cannot promise him a debate. In fact, I have absolutely no intention of having a debate on this subject. As he knows, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs made a statement in which he explained the Government's position on these matters. As to the accusation of proceeding by stealth, we need to acknowledge that this wedding, which will take place on
Prime Minister's porkies.
Did the Leader of the House notice that the Prime Minister said how delighted he would be if we spent "the next few months" arguing about the national health service? Did the Leader of the House take that as a hint, or even a definitive statement, from the Prime Minister that there is no general election in the offing and that we will still be here debating these important matters? Does the right hon. Gentleman have the Prime Minister's confidence, or does he read into the Prime Minister's words, as I do, that we can all go off for our Easter break in a relaxed mood?
I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to go off in a relaxed mood at any time, though I have considerable affection for him as a parliamentary performer and, actually, not a bad bloke, despite his dodgy views on the European Union—and just about everything else, for that matter.
Since the right hon. Gentleman asks about health, it gives me the opportunity—[Interruption.] No, I cannot help him on the general election. I am always delighted to debate health, as it gives me an opportunity to point out that under this Government the number of elective admissions for operations has increased by 750,000. The proportion of cancelled operations has remained roughly the same, but the fact that the actual number of operations is so many hundreds of thousands higher means that we are doing much better with the NHS than the Tories did in the past or could do now.
Will my right hon. Friend consider having an early debate on matters associated with the shocking case of the convicted paedophile, Rupert Massey, which is highlighted in the Daily Mirror today? As I understand it, he has been awarded £5,500 by judges in Strasbourg because of the stress that he claims he suffered due to delays in his trial. Surely this is human rights gone mad. Should we not be thinking of finding ways to claw back that money and repay it to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which has already had to compensate Massey's victims for the stress they suffered on account of his evil deeds?
I find it absolutely extraordinary that a convicted paedophile could have secured compensation for stress when the stress caused to his victims was incomparably greater. I find it incredible, and I am sure that many people on both sides of the House and throughout the country will simply not understand it.
The annual Welsh day debate was meant to have been held on St. David's day this week, but was sadly postponed. Will the Leader of the House provide us either with the date on which it will be held or, if Wales is no longer a priority for him, will he at least offer my party its Opposition day debate before the next election?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Wales remains an absolute priority for me, as he well knows. I am looking for an opportunity to have a Welsh day debate and I acknowledge the considerable disappointment—and perhaps, in some quarters, anger—that would follow if we did not have such a debate. I am actively looking for an opportunity, as I regret the fact that the passage of the terrorism and emergency provisions legislation that we have had to introduce made it necessary to postpone the Welsh day debate.
Ten years ago, only a quarter of first-time home buyers were required to pay stamp duty, but now it is three quarters. When can we have a debate on the "raise the roof" campaign, which is being conducted by the West Bromwich building society and the company Mortgage Watchdog and is supported by an early-day motion signed by members of all parties? The aim is to raise the tax threshold from £60,000 to £150,000, thereby giving real help to home buyers of modest means.
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but he has to explain how the shortfall in revenue would be met if we were to continue to fund the excellent public provision—in education, health and so many other respects—for which the Government have been responsible. I know that my hon. Friend enthusiastically backs such provision. Tax matters are for the Chancellor, not for me.
The Leader of the House knows that, under your watchful gaze, Mr. Speaker, he is a guardian of the traditions and civilities of this House. Will he therefore make a statement about the growing practice of Members tabling questions solely for the purpose of electoral gain? [Hon. Members: "No!"] Shocking though it is, that is happening. Members are seeking to gain information solely in order to use it against their political opponents in their constituencies. The worst practice is tabling questions about other Members' constituencies, as happened in respect of the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor, the shadow Home Secretary and others. That is a breach of the civilities and courtesies of the House. If the Leader of the House does not make a statement, no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, will have to intervene to maintain those courtesies, and I hope that he will make a statement before you have to act.
Of course it is my duty, and it is especially your duty, Mr. Speaker, to maintain the courtesies and civilities of the House. There must be cross-party understanding that we all need to respect those civilities, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's accusation is fair because of the one-sided way in which he made it. We could look at all sorts of pre-election fever in the House and various behaviours and accusations that are an inevitable product of that.
Earlier this week it was announced that air tankers' wings are to be built at the Airbus facility in north-east Wales. Yesterday it was announced that the Atlas Consortium is to have the third bidder status for a major IT contract, which will help south-east Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this week has been an excellent one for Wales and Welsh jobs?
It has been a fantastic week for Wales and Welsh jobs. If there is an opportunity for a Welsh day debate, we will be able to put on the record that north and south Wales are benefiting from the best investment in high technology areas. Wales is on a roll now—on the rugby field, in business, in manufacturing and right across the board. Wales is leading in a world-class drive to make sure that we are in a strong competitive position, and my hon. Friend's point is a good example of our success.
May we have a debate before the House rises for Easter to establish that although inclusion is good for some children, moderate and severe learning difficulty schools are essential for many of our special needs children, and we should follow no policy that puts them at risk of closure? In such a debate we can thank and pay tribute to all the staff and teachers who work in those schools, which do a wonderful job.
I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Teachers do one of the most important jobs in the world—more important, I hesitate to say, than that of politicians. For the very reason that he gives, I hope that he will support the Government's policy of recruiting. Since we came to power, we have recruited 29,000 new teachers and 100,000 classroom assistants, with numbers continuing to rise. Many of them are in special needs teaching, which is one of the most difficult jobs in the profession.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the speculation about the possibility of an early Dissolution and, in particular, provide information on the likely progress of the Gambling Bill? In my constituency two casino developers, MGM and Sun International, have expressed interest in developing regional casinos which would be at the heart of major regeneration plans for the old industrial areas of the Lower Don valley. Can he reassure us that the Gambling Bill will not be lost? That would significantly delay that major regeneration, which has widespread public support in my constituency.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill has completed all its Commons stages and has already had its Second Reading in the Lords. We hope that it will pass through as soon as possible. It is an important Bill, not least for the reasons that he gives. Equally important—some might think more important—is the fact that it will clamp down on all sorts of abuses of gambling, particularly internet gambling, in which children and some of the most vulnerable are exposed and put at risk. We want to stop that.
Does the Leader of the House accept the urgent need for a ministerial statement on the European Union decision to lift the China arms embargo, not least because it will put great strain on our special relationship with the United States of America? There is a real possibility of a large number of jobs being lost in this country as a consequence.
I do not accept that there is a possibility of a large number of jobs being lost. [Interruption.] Well, there have been discussions with the Americans on a number of issues, including this one, and there is now greater understanding, particularly as a result of the recent visit by President Bush to Brussels when this matter was discussed, of the American position and concerns and, equally, of the European position. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, applaud the fact that it was this Government who brought in a strict code on the export of arms so that it cannot be undertaken from Britain or indeed, as a result of our initiatives, from anywhere in the European Union if the arms are to be used for aggressive purposes externally or oppression internally. We abide by that code, and any arms exports will be made in accordance with it.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a circular sent to every member of staff of the Alliance and Leicester building society under the heading, "Money-laundering and Politically Exposed Persons"? Clearly identified as a politically exposed person is a member of this House or their close relatives. Staff are advised:
Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to have the position clarified with the Fees Office, so that Members know exactly what is going on when they are treated as financial terrorists by organisations such as Alliance and Leicester?
My hon. Friend has performed a valuable service in drawing that problem to the attention of the House. The relevant Minister will want to pay close attention to what he said. If my hon. Friend has an opportunity to apply for a debate to raise the matter, I am sure that he will.
The Leader of the House paid tribute to teachers. Does he recognise the growing concern among teachers about the possibility of extending their retirement age from 60 to 65 and the penalties that will be imposed, bearing it in mind that many of them live under strain? May I impress on him the need for a debate in the House on foreign issues, bearing it in mind that Nathan Scharansky has played such an important role to date partly because some of us in this House fought for the release of Soviet refuseniks?
Indeed, and those who fought for the release of Soviet refuseniks under the repressive communist regime deserve to be applauded and acknowledged. I will make sure that the relevant Minister is aware of the hon. Gentleman's earlier points.
As this week saw the start of the DVT awareness month in the USA and more than 32,000 people in this country die unnecessarily from deep vein thrombosis—more than the numbers of those who die from breast cancer, AIDS and road traffic accidents put together—will my right hon. Friend find time for this House to explore ways of supporting a similar initiative in this country? Next Tuesday the Health Committee will report that far fewer people die of the condition in the USA than here and something needs to be done.
Certainly the Secretary of State for Health will want to pay close attention to my hon. Friend's comments. Notwithstanding that, my hon. Friend will acknowledge that in many other respects we are making considerable progress in cancer treatment and so on as a result of our huge investment, much of which would be at risk under the Opposition's policies.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the serious issue of our defence industries, particularly our naval dockyards which, because of Government policy, are suffering from a paucity of refit work? That will have a huge effect on the continuation of skills which are vital for the future.
There is a reconfiguration of defence spending in line with modern military realities, but the defence budget continues to rise in real terms and will continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that, because of new threats and new operational necessities on the ground—for example, in Iraq and other theatres of conflict—we have to tailor our defence forces to meet those realities. I do not accept that there is any shortage of skills provision as a result of this investment. The investment will continue to rise and would be put at risk by the Opposition policy of cutting public spending.
May we have a debate about the future of the neighbourhood renewal fund? As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government are consulting on four options for the distribution of those important regeneration funds. Does he agree that it is critical when making the judgment that the Government use the most recent information provided by the new index of multiple deprivation? Does he accept that that is crucial for local authorities that stand to gain from the new index of multiple deprivation, because access to the neighbourhood renewal fund triggers access to a wide range of other Government funding streams and funding from the regional development agencies? Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that important subject?
I shall certainly consider that, but I am not optimistic that I can find time in the next few weeks, at least.
I remind my hon. Friend that, notwithstanding his important points, which will be borne in mind by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Government have invested nearly £1.9 billion in the 88 most deprived areas of the country in the period 2001–06, with a further £1 billion a few years after that. All that would be at risk under the Conservative party's plans for £35 billion of public spending cuts.
Once the Leader of the House has put right the shocking deficit of debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in the Chamber, which his proposals in the business statement do not adequately address, can time be found to address deficits in NHS funding? We could then understand why the East Surrey primary care trust has had to instruct the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS trust not to carry out any elective surgery unless patients are about to breach the nine-month target. Will the right hon. Gentleman also explain why the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust, which serves the constituency of the Chairman of the Health Committee, received a £30 million bung to sort out its deficit when, in Surrey and Sussex, the blame is falling entirely on the managers, who, as I said back in 2001, have to manage an impossible situation?
It is not unusual for the health service to be reporting deficits at this stage of the financial year. Past experience shows that the overall position improves by the year end, and the health service has achieved an overall financial balance for the last four successive financial years. The real deficits, as the hon. Gentleman knows, happened before we came to power in 1997, since when the health budget has doubled with record investment, all of which would be at risk under the Conservatives' plans for £35 billion of cuts. He supports the plans for £1 billion to be taken out of the health service and put into private hospitals.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a shortage of time to discuss the legislation on terrorism. As I said, 17 hours are available next week, but we do not know whether that will need to be extended because we do not know what will come back from the House of Lords. I will pay attention to hon. Members' requests.
As we look around the desperately tired and flagging faces in the Chamber today, how concerned is my right hon. Friend about the startling report that MPs are getting less sleep than any other profession in the UK? Given that Churchill, who is generally well regarded and was an effective leader of the country, slept famously long hours, but other Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition had very different nocturnal habits, how worried should we be?
Given my restricted sleeping hours and the pressures of my job, I am not sure that I am a good advertisement. Perhaps the public expect their Members of Parliament to work hard for them, and we do. I think the public may prefer politicians who have something of the day about them.
I thank the Leader of the House and the Government for the success of the Welsh rugby team. I am sure that they could not have achieved it without them. Diolch yn fawr.
Cyber-theft is silently stealing millions of pounds from our constituents. One wrote to me last week to say that a bill that was usually between £25 and £30 is now more than £170. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to spell out the strategy to deal with the rising problem of preventing and protecting our constituents from being bled dry?
The Cabinet is split on the excellent performance of the Welsh rugby team. It is united on everything else, but there are serious divisions concerning the performance of the Welsh rugby team versus the Scots, Irish and English rugby teams. I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman any support or claim any credit.
The hon. Gentleman's point about cyber-theft is important, and it was valuable to have it drawn to our attention. The relevant Minister will want to pay close attention to it and may be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.
Can we have an early debate on engaging younger people in the political process? During the next few weeks, two school groups from Elfed high school in Buckley and Connahs Quay high school will visit the House. The Welsh Assembly provides financial assistance for the transport of schoolchildren to visit the Assembly from outside a radius of 25 miles. We provide none. Why?
My hon. Friend will know that the School Transport Bill is before the House and I hope that all Opposition parties will support it in the event of an early dissolution because it will make the problem of school transport easier to solve.
Can I take the Leader of the House back to his comments on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill and his remarkable assertion that the time allowed so far in this place has been adequate because the Bill has only 11 clauses? I remind him that on Monday at the conclusion of the debate, during which at least as much time was taken for contributions from Labour Members as from Opposition Members, the House had not even concluded consideration of clause 1. With 10 of the 11 clauses and the schedule unconsidered, how can he say that we have had sufficient opportunity to consider the Bill? As the Government got the timetabling so disastrously wrong on Monday, what is the bare minimum of time that they will provide for consideration of Lords amendments?
Well, until I know what Lords amendments there are, it is not possible to benchmark them against the time available, but I shall bear in mind any representations on the necessity for proper scrutiny. However, at least 17 hours will be available and we will continue to monitor the situation. I am anxious to have proper scrutiny of the Bill and to make available extensive time consistent with the need to get the Bill through before
May we have an early debate on the renewable energy manufacturing industry? When Sharp Electronics (UK) set up photovoltaic cell manufacturing in Wrexham last year, it did so on the basis of a long-term commitment to renewable energy manufacturing. A disturbing story in The Independent today suggests that there is grave concern in the industry about uncertainty for future funding of the scheme, which is due to run out in April next year. I know that my right hon. Friend is interested in the matter, so will he have a word with the Department of Trade and Industry to try to get it to present the new scheme soon to ensure that we have continuous support for this important developing industry?
I agree that this is an important developing industry. I visited Sharp with my hon. Friend and continue to take an interest in it. It is a flag-carrier for photovoltaic panels and renewable energy. As he knows, £31 million has so far been awarded to solar panel projects, and current funding extends to March 2006.
What we need to do following the renewables innovation review is to consider its proposal for a technology-blind capital grant programme combining household renewables and energy efficiency technologies to see whether there is a more efficient way of delivering that support. Support for solar PV is an important part of the programme and we are clear that there will be continued funding. The report in this morning's newspaper did not take account of the fact that the Government are committed to prioritising funding for solar PV, even if the way in which it is delivered is configured to take account of the need for insulation and energy efficiency measures as well.
Last week the Leader of the House, typically generously, responded warmly to my suggestion that we might have a debate on performance-related pay for politicians—that is, cuts in what they get paid when they do not do their job properly. On that occasion, I had in mind his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but today I have in mind the Liberal Democrats. Given that they have been pontificating about the anti-terrorism legislation up and down the country, does the Leader of the House agree that whichever view one takes on that legislation, for the Government to have saved it by 14 votes, and for 17 Liberal Democrats, including their leader, not even to have turned up to vote—one third of their parliamentary strength—is absolutely disgraceful?
The fact that 24 Conservative Members were absent as well means that I will just let them fight it out between them.
Could we have a debate on causes of crime? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Liberal Democrat-led council in Cardiff, despite receiving an increase in its funding of 5.6 per cent. this year at a time of low inflation, is cutting back on youth service provision? That includes the Ely youth bus, in an area in my constituency with high rates of crime and antisocial behaviour. Together with proposals to lower the drinking age to 16 and to give the vote to prisoners, does not it show that the Liberal Democrats are not only soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime, but soft in the head?
I enthusiastically agree with my hon. Friend on all those points. I think it goes to show that when the Lib Dems are in power we really see how appalling and incompetent they are. What they are doing in Cardiff—a city that has been the fastest-growing European capital, under a dynamic Labour leadership, for many years—is putting its future in question by these appalling policies. The sooner we get a Labour majority in Cardiff, able to provide the visionary leadership that Cardiff once enjoyed, the better.
The Prime Minister assured me that the right hon. Gentleman would speak to the Secretary of State for Defence about the naming of Welsh regiments. May we have a debate about the importance of keeping at least one regular battalion in Wales? Finally, on St. David's day the right hon. Gentleman assured Adam Price that we would have a debate, but when he answered Mr. David he introduced the word "if". St. David's day debate—yes or no?
I am anxious to get a St. David's day debate just as soon as I can. I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but it will not be tomorrow or in the next two weeks because I have announced the business for the next two weeks.
On the question of the naming of the Welsh regiment and the Welsh battalions, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Army Board has recently made a decision on this matter. Despite extensive representations from him, from me and from Members right across the House, it has made its own decision and that, I am afraid, is that. It is not a matter for Ministers any more; it is a matter for the Army, because that is the source of the decision and the announcement that has been made.
Pursuant to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis, the Liberal Democrat leader said this morning that it had been a judgment call to miss the vote and
"I followed the debate right through".
"Mr Kennedy and many others were away campaigning."
In fact, the vote was at 9.56 pm and Mr. Kennedy was boarding a taxi in Abingdon street only half an hour earlier. May we have a debate entitled, "Helping the Lib Dems to co-ordinate their words with their actions"?
That is an excellent idea. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would get his Front-Bench spokesmen to apply to me for an Opposition day debate. Perhaps, in that debate, we would learn the Conservatives' policy for dealing with the problem of terrorism, following the Law Lords' decision, the expiry of the renewal order and the situation that would follow on