Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:31 am on 4th May 2006.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to future European Union finances, followed by if necessary consideration of Lords amendments.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Tuesday 9 MayOpposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion—I assume ironically entitled—"The Need for the Government to Appoint a Turn Around Team to the Department of Health".

Wednesday 10 May—Remaining stages of the Police and Justice Bill, followed by motion to establish a Joint Committee on Conventions of the House of Lords.

Thursday 11 May—Remaining stages of the Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc Bill, followed by a debate on creating confident consumers on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 12 May—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 15 May—Progress on remaining stages of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Tuesday 16 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Wednesday 17 May—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Thursday 18 May—Motion relating to the staging of Members and Chairmen's pay, followed by a motion relating to the association of former Members.

Friday 19 May—The House will not be sitting.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, on 31 January at column 245 of Hansard, expressed his hope to the House that there would be a debate on pensions before the publication of the White Paper. Can the Leader of the House confirm that he has been asked to find time for such a debate, and when will it take place? When will the Government's full response to the ombudsman's report on pension scheme failures, which found the Government guilty of maladministration, be available? Will there be a debate in Government time on the report and response before the summer recess?

Members will note that we will be having an Opposition day debate on the Government's operation of the inter-management of the health service. A debate on the health service has been refused resolutely in recent weeks by the Leader of the House. Two weeks ago, I questioned the accuracy of a statement made about the health service by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the House said:

"There is a well-used process by which statistical mistakes are corrected. Letters would be written and placed in the Library."—[Hansard, 20 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 235.]

I wrote to the Prime Minister. He did not reply. The Secretary of State for Health replied instead. Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week, telling Members what they should expect when they write to the Prime Minister about statements that he has made in the House? We realise that Ministers no longer take responsibility for what happens in their Departments, but is it also the case that the Prime Minister no longer takes responsibility for what he says in the Chamber?

For the record, on 19 April when talking about how many patients in the Thames Valley area were waiting more than 13 weeks for an out-patients appointment, the Prime Minister said that

"today, the figure is none."—[Hansard, 19 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 116.]

The Secretary of State for Health tells me that the figures were from December 2005. So when the Home Secretary said that "very, very few" foreign prisoners had been released after he knew about the problem, he meant 288, and when the Prime Minister on 19 April said "today", he meant three months ago. Perhaps the Leader of the House could arrange for statistics and English lessons for No. 10.

Recently, when asked whether he was going to sack the Home Secretary if more of the foreign criminals released from jail reoffended, the Prime Minister replied:

"I don't think I'm going to speculate. It depends on what happens, what the reasons are."

Today we learn that a convicted criminal recommended for deportation and not deported is being sought for attempted murder and the rape of a 15-year-old girl. Does that count as sufficient reason for the Prime Minister to sack the Home Secretary? Surely enough is enough, and the Home Secretary must go.

That case shows the dangers to which the public have been exposed by the incompetence of the Government. In a recent poll 89 per cent. of people questioned said that the failure to deport foreign prisoners on release "reflects alarming incompetence". Can we have a debate on the Government's record on and responsibility for public safety? I also repeat my call for a debate on Government incompetence.

Today may well be the last time that the right hon. Gentleman attends business questions as the Leader of the House.

O

I find it interesting that the Prime Minister doesn't reply to letters of this type himself - or at least somebody in his office. Whilst Theresa May wraps this up in spin ("I know ministers aren't responsible for their own depts.") it seems absurd that the PM doesn't respond to such a letter from a high profile opposition front bencher.

As for the general thrust of this statement, I think it's all very valid - although I'd like to see more information about the specific case of the convict that is currently "wanted".

Submitted by Oliver Keenan

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Probably quite a lot.

Over time, the Leader of the House has been tipped for many posts. In February it was Chief Whip. Then he was 26–1 on to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Earlier this week, sources close to Downing street said that

"Mr. Blair could even turn to Geoff Hoon . . . as an outside bet to replace Mr. Clarke."

Today I learn that his odds are 10–1 to be Home Secretary. However, perhaps the best bet was suggested by a Back Bencher, who claimed that the Cabinet Office was proving to be the best-run Department, and it has not had a Cabinet Minister for four months. Given the Government's appalling performance to date, maybe that is the answer.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I shall attempt to deal with the serious points raised by the right hon. Lady. It may not take me quite as long as the various points that she made.

A debate on pensions would be useful, as I have previously told the House. I will have to look at the business that we have to fit in, to see whether that can be arranged before publication of the White Paper. I will certainly consider that, as it is an important subject for the House to discuss.

On corrections, when the right hon. Lady asked me for a correction, I indicated that that would be done in the usual way. She accurately described the usual process of correction, whereby a departmental Minister taking responsibility sets out the details in a letter, which is then placed in the Library. I commend her for the accuracy of her description, but I do not see how that amounts to some failure of responsibility. I may have missed the subtlety of her point.

As far as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is concerned, he has stood before the House on a number of occasions, including yesterday, and set out in considerable detail the efforts being made to correct what he has described as an unedifying situation. It is right for him to continue to do so. Despite the protestations from Opposition Members, I have seen no substantive criticism of what he has been doing to remedy the particular problem. As I made clear to the House last week, it was only as a result of impressive improvements in the working of the Home Office in this area of policy that the particular problem came to light. Before 1999, Governments were not in a position to know whether the problem existed, because no previous Government kept records. It is important for the Opposition to think about those facts before making the sort of blustering comments that we heard a few moments ago from the right hon. Lady, if she will forgive me for saying so.

The Government have already held a series of debates on the subjects of public safety and public security, but I regret to say that, from time to time, we have not received the full support of the Opposition in our efforts to promote them. With further regard to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the proposals that he set out yesterday, we look forward to finding out exactly what the Opposition's position is. They are certainly willing to criticise the Government, but when we make proposals to solve the problems, sadly, they do not always give us the support that we would expect.

O

Perhaps I am missing something here - but if the statement was made by the Prime Minister, surely it is his responsibility to accept it was incorrect and therefore to correct it himself - rather than delegate its correction to another minister?

Submitted by Oliver Keenan

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Could some time be set aside for a debate on sectarianism? Unfortunately, a small number of football fans bring their sectarian views into the football ground. The police tell me that, on the night of a Celtic-Rangers game, domestic violence increases by 75 per cent. A survey carried out by the health service union, Unison, in Scotland a few years ago showed that, for the same reason, some hospitals were treating about eight times as many patients for stab wounds.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Jack McConnell and the Scottish Labour party on its anti-sectarian campaign? Will he also congratulate the fans of Celtic and Rangers who unfurled banners against sectarianism last week—

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to my hon. Friend both for raising the issue and setting out the answer. I am aware that both Celtic and Rangers clubs have taken initiatives and I agree that it is important to stamp out not only racism, but the sort of sectarian behaviour that has gone on for many years in Glasgow. It is certainly something that we should seek to avoid.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We will undoubtedly have more debates on various aspects of the Government's mismanagement, but can we have a particular debate on the form and function of the Home Office, which was described by one Government Member last week as dysfunctional and by another as needing to be split up? The right hon. Gentleman will know that many of us have argued for some time that we should have a fully fledged Ministry of Justice and that we should dismantle the Leviathan that produces legislation like a sausage factory—the Home Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow us a debate on that matter?

Can we have a short debate on defence procurement? The deaths of the brave servicemen who lost their lives on the RAF Hercules just over a year ago will weigh heavily on every hon. Member. If there were the slightest chance that their deaths could have been averted by the provision of explosive suppressant, it should have been used. Can we have a sober and sensible debate about what can be done to protect our service people?

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report today on the channel tunnel rail link. It does superlative work in drawing attention to things that are going wrong in the Government. Had the Government listened to its comments on tax credits, the Rural Payments Agency and a host of other disasters, they might have been averted. Can we find a way of getting reports from Select Committees, including the Public Accounts Committee, before the House at an earlier stage, so that the appropriate lessons can be learned?

We have just heard the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in answering questions for the Minister for Women and Equality, say that she will pursue the effect of the ending of the home computer scheme on home workers. I have to tell her gently that it is a little too late, when we debated that matter on Tuesday this week. No doubt she voted with the Government to reject the Opposition amendments. Can we therefore have a re-run of the debates on the Finance Bill on Tuesday so that the Government can get their act together?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that what is important about the Home Office is not its structure, but what it does. Although he has criticised the legislation produced by the Home Office, it is interesting that his party and his colleagues voted against a series of measures which were designed to provide protection for the public and safety and security for people on the streets. He has said that the Home Office should be split up and organised differently, but he is not prepared to support the measures that most members of the public judge necessary in order to preserve their safety and security.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view on the need to ensure that defence procurement provides proper protection for our servicemen and women. However, the particular example that he has raised illustrates a problem that always arises in procurement—it is nearly always possible to find some safety feature or device which, with the benefit of hindsight, would have prevented a tragedy, but judgments necessarily have to be made about the extent to which each and every safety feature can be built into, for example, an aircraft. The safest course so far as aircraft are concerned is not to take off the ground, so the truth of the situation is that there is an inherent level of risk, and the Ministry of Defence, taking the advice of the armed forces, always minimises that risk. However, there will always be some irreducible risk, and judgments have to be made about the nature of that risk in order to ensure that the brave men and women who serve this country so well can do so to the best of their ability.

I have always recognised the important work performed by Select Committees. It is important that this House take notice of their recommendations, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government read those reports carefully and act on them, where it is appropriate to do so. Select Committees have a significant effect—I know how much care and attention right hon. and hon. Members pay to their work, and it is important to go on learning the lessons that they outline.

I am interested to hear that the Liberal Democrats now have a new constitutional concept, which is to re-run votes where they lose, and I shall think about it.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Yesterday, the Home Secretary promised a statement by the end of May concerning the proposals to change the operation of the Home Office on the deportation or removal of foreign nationals. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there has been no change of policy in respect of a foreign national who has been charged with a criminal offence but who has not gone through a trial? As he knows, I have raised in the House the case of my constituent, who was killed by a foreign national. That foreign national was removed by the Home Office before the trial took place, so he was not able to stand trial. In any event, will the Leader of the House confirm that we will debate those matters before any legislation comes before the House?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I assure my hon. Friend that careful consideration is always given to such cases. Liberty involves balancing the freedom of an individual against the wider freedoms of society. In making such judgments, difficult decisions have to be taken. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has outlined a proposal to change the law to provide greater security for the citizens of this country, but necessarily account will also have to be taken of the individual rights of those concerned. My hon. Friend has raised that case before, and I recognise the importance of justice being seen to be done in relation to those who have allegedly committed serious offences in this country.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

When can we have a debate on the fraudulent use of postal votes?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

That has been discussed at great length, having arisen out of various reports following the use of postal voting in the last general election. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Government are considering ways in which the security of the system can be improved. I look forward to his support when the Government bring forward those proposals in due course.

Photo of Stephen Hepburn Stephen Hepburn Labour, Jarrow

My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday's disgraceful decision by the Law Lords to deprive thousands of asbestosis sufferers and their families of their rightful compensation. When will the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform come to the House to make an early statement so that she can tell us exactly how we are going to legislate to ensure that workers get what they are entitled to and that working class people are not dragged through the courts by multinational insurance companies?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am well aware that each of these cases is a tragedy for those who have been involved, and particularly for their families. Equally, I know that there will be great disappointment as a result of the House of Lords decision. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that this is a complex area of the law and that it will take some time to assess the case. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will of course look at the advice that he is given in the light of that decision, to see whether further action is necessary.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Today we mourn the passing of a colleague—the late Peter Law, the Member for Blaenau Gwent. New Labour, in an effort to prevent him from standing for Parliament, offered him a peerage. The man named as being responsible is the Secretary of State for Wales, who made the offer on the specific authority of the Prime Minister. When can we have a debate on this corrupt practice?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Let me say how much I regret that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to raise this issue in that way. Welsh questions took place yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present on that occasion. The hon. Gentleman could easily have raised the issue yesterday in the presence of my right hon. Friend. It is regrettable that he has chosen to raise it today when my right hon. Friend is not in the Chamber and able to answer. There has been some correspondence on this issue, which I have seen. My right hon. Friend has made it plain in that correspondence that he does not—absolutely, categorically does not—accept this allegation. He is not responsible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the allegation, because it is totally and utterly unfair for him to raise it in this way.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I would say to Mr. Llwyd that I would have hoped that today he would have notified the Secretary of State, or any other hon. Member against whom he was going to make an accusation, to give that person an opportunity to be in the Chamber. Did he do so?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Perhaps in future more warning should be given. I would expect that. Hon. Members are entitled to at least have the opportunity to rebut any case that is put against them, and due notice should be given.

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks Labour, Ochil and South Perthshire

My right hon. Friend may not be aware of a situation in my constituency, where in Crieff, in south Perthshire, as many as 40 residents are facing eviction from a caravan park because of a legal argument between the council and the developer regarding the wording of the licence and planning approval. While I understand the role of the Scottish Parliament and Executive in this matter, will my right hon. Friend find time to have a debate on this subject so that we can try to determine the depth of the problem in the UK as a whole? Does he agree that the innocent victims, namely the residents, should not be the people who are victimised in such situations?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend is right in saying that I was not aware of that particular situation, but I anticipate that he has achieved his purpose by raising it. He is right to do so. Such questions of planning, housing and, indeed, caravan parks, cause difficulty across the country.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Senior Parliamentary & Political Advisor To David Cameron

As the Leader of the House has just announced that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill will come back to the House the week after next, would he care to comment on the Government amendments that have been tabled today, which have completely emasculated that very bad Bill? Will he, as Leader of the House, who is responsible for looking after Back-Bench interests, ensure that in future that such a Bill, which harms parliamentary democracy and does not give us a chance properly to debate and vote on issues, never sees the light of day again?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I have set out two days for the House further to debate that Bill. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to put his criticism in that way. I should have thought that this indicates the way in which the Government respond to criticisms and table appropriate amendments. I am sure that I could discuss the matter at great length today. It is a fascinating Bill, and one that I am sure that all hon. Members will enjoy reading again in its amended form, but I will postpone that treat for a week or so.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

May I, too, call for a debate on pensions, especially occupational pensions? Now that the Government have rejected the recommendations of the ombudsman, my constituents who worked for Allied Steel and Wire and lost their pensions are pinning all their hopes on a hearing in the European Court on 1 June. Of the 2,000 affected in Cardiff, only 17 have been able to gain any assistance from the financial assistance scheme. Can we have a debate on that subject so that we can bring home to the Government the limitations of that scheme?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I indicated earlier the importance of a debate on pensions, and I will certainly find out whether one can be arranged in an early manner. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise the position of her constituents at that time. I hope that she would give the Government credit for having, for the first time, introduced the financial assistance scheme. We recognise the vital importance that individuals place on their pension provision. When they are, through no fault of their own, deprived of that pension, the Government have taken action to provide some degree of security. That clearly needs to be discussed in the context of the wider issues about pensions, and the Government are keen to take forward that debate.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

While the House welcomes the regular statements from the Home Secretary about the well publicised failings in his Department, is not there a strong case for a calm, full-day debate in Government time on how the systemic failings in the Home Office arose and on the steps being taken to put them right and, it is to be hoped, to prevent any recurrence? Will the Leader of the House find time for such a debate?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I welcome the suggestion that Conservative Front Benchers, in particular, would benefit from a degree of calmness as they approach this issue. They should debate the subject rather than the prospects for the continued employment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Calmness is important, as this is a serious, sensitive issue. I recognise the importance to the country of ensuring the safety and security of our citizens. The Home Secretary has lately demonstrated his determination to come before Parliament regularly to explain the steps that are being taken to sort out the situation, and I anticipate that he will continue to do so.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

A day or two ago, our Government entered their 10th year in government. The transformation of resources available to the public sector and the quality of services delivered has been very considerable. However, one area where we have, sadly, maintained the record of the previous Government is in the acquisition, design, build, implementation and running of major computer systems such as connecting for health, which had an original cost estimate of £2.3 billion. However, different estimates that have recently been made in The Sunday Times and elsewhere—twenty-three academics wrote to the Select Committee on Health—suggest a cost of £15 billion or more. As that overshoot of £12.5 billion would fund the deficits in NHS trusts for the next two decades, is it not about time that we had a debate on better ways of acquiring major new computer systems, in the way that is suggested by early-day motion 2056, of which I am a co-sponsor?

[That this House notes with concern the contents of a letter to the Commons Health Select Committee signed by 23 senior academics in computer-related science which criticises the NHS Connecting for Health computer system, and reports in The Sunday Times of 16th April that the system, which was projected to cost £2.3 billion, could cost between £15 billion and £30 billion; further notes that NHS trusts are facing an estimated deficit of £600 million to £1 billion; and calls upon the Secretary of State to set up an independent review of the project and to ensure that any savings identified are directed to cash-strapped NHS trusts.]

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend raises a serious and proper concern about large-scale computer systems. I assure him that lessons have been learned. Too often in the past, single systems were introduced on a large scale and did not produce the anticipated results. There have been several initiatives to try to introduce systems on a smaller scale to allow them to develop incrementally and deal with the problems over time. That means that we do not always experience immediate improvements and it is clear that the sort of changes that people face in society require computer systems that are sensitive and can be adjusted to deal with them. That is a continuing challenge for the Government.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The Leader of the House knows that hon. Members from all parties would like the House to take more control over how it spends its time. Will he therefore allow a debate on setting up a business committee in the House? Such a committee operates in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it is operating, and in many legislatures throughout the world. Will he seriously consider that so that the way in which the House operates is more transparent and more sympathetic to its Members?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for repeating the speech that he gives regularly before the Modernisation Committee. I am growing to appreciate, love and even understand that speech. He is voluble member of that Committee—

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Thank you. The hon. Gentleman is, indeed, voluble and valuable. I believe that we shall continue debating the matter in the proper way through the Modernisation Committee.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Labour, Dundee West

I am sure that the Leader of the House appreciates and recognises the value of the service that local radio stations throughout the United Kingdom provide. The recent BBC White Paper has been met with some anxiety by many of those radio stations and I know that hon. Members would like to raise those concerns in a wider debate. Are there any plans for a debate on the BBC White Paper? If so, when?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of local radio stations. I am an assiduous listener to Radio Derby on the Saturday afternoons when Derby County play away from home. It is interesting to note that the peak listening time for all local radio stations is when the local football team is away. However, they are a valuable source of information throughout the day and week. They are popular, especially with the elderly, and it is important that their continued success is recognised when we debate and discuss the BBC's work, as I am sure we shall do in the context of the White Paper.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

Farmers in my constituency face disaster. Those who are tenants cannot pay their rent, many have crippling debts and others cannot pay their suppliers. That is all due to the Government's delay in making the single farm payments. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent statement so that Ministers can refute recent reports from Brussels that they are attempting to get permission to delay the payment still further?

Farmers deserve fairness. The House deserves answers. Britain deserves better than Labour.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I recognise the concern that the hon. Gentleman has properly raised about single farm payments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is tackling the issue urgently. I recently spoke to some farmers and I understand the anger and concern that is being caused. All I can do is assure the hon. Gentleman that determined efforts are being made to ensure that the payments are made in whole or in part by June. We need to continue to work through the system. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter, and the Government are responding as quickly as they can.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson PPS (Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My right hon. Friend will know that the five major banks in this country have reported more than £32 billion of profits in recent weeks, yet the complaints against them about overcharging and placing ATMs in areas where there are people on benefit and the elderly and in rural areas are increasing. Will he find time for a debate on whether we should introduce a regulator who can keep those banks in check and ensure that the people who can least afford it are not charged unduly?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend is right to raise ATMs, especially in rural areas. It is a problem in several small villages in my constituency and I recognise that people are worried about the costs that they face, especially for accessing their own money. The Government continue to raise the matter with the clearing banks—it is something that we need to get right.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

At column 961 of Hansard yesterday, the Prime Minister made the astonishing claim about foreign prisoner releases that he is

"making sure that that system is radically overhauled so that those who are convicted of a serious criminal offence are deported automatically."—[Hansard, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 961.]

I am sure that I do not need to point out to the Leader of the House that the Human Rights Act 1998 bears on that. Given that the Home Secretary's assurances about that measure during the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 have not been effected and the PTA is being challenged in the courts under the Human Rights Act, may we have a debate on the latter's operation? All hon. Members believe in human rights but many of us also believe that the House should determine those rights in relation to the national interest and not have them decided by an external jurisdiction that may not have the national interest at heart.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman puts the case in that way and even sorrier that he appears to get so much support from Conservative Members. He should know—I am sure that he does—that this country has been bound by the European convention on human rights since the early 1950s.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am afraid it is true. A Conservative Government, led by one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived—Sir Winston Churchill—signed up to the European convention because, at the end of the second world war, the need to safeguard human rights and liberties was recognised absolutely. This country led the way—we drafted large parts of the European convention. To blame matters, for party political reasons—the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but that is the case—on the Human Rights Act, which simply incorporates our existing international obligations into domestic law, is misleading. It is party political point scoring, which is wrong and unfair.

The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise—doubtless he will have some spare time over the weekend—that the key case was decided in 1996 by the European Court of Human Rights. A Conservative Government were in power at that time. The Government have joined in the challenge to that decision because we believe that the judgment should be changed. However, to suggest that the problem began with passing the Human Rights Act is plain wrong—and he knows it.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

The Leader of the House may not know that a hospital in my constituency has announced 200 job losses. He almost certainly does not know that it was identified only last year as one of the three best hospitals in the country, with efficient care at below average cost and high output measures, yet, far from being asked to expand, as it should, it is being asked to shrink. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate in Government time about how that absurdity could arise and the key elements of Government policy that led to it, especially the capitation formula, which is dragging huge amounts of money to parts of the north of the country, where almost all strategic health authorities are in surplus, to the cost of strategic health authorities in the south of England, almost all of which are in deficit?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I want to take every hon. Member who is seeking to ask a question, but I can do so only if they are brief: so far they have not been brief.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am sure that it is right to take everyone who wants to ask a question and I shall do my best to answer their questions as briefly and succinctly as possible.

I am sure that, should Mr. Tyrie catch your eye in the relevant debate next week, Mr. Speaker, he will have an opportunity of asking all those questions. However, he needs to face up to the fact that the Government have introduced a fair formula for capitation. We have changed a previous arrangement whereby disproportionate amounts of money were devoted to specific parts of the country. As someone who represents a constituency in the midlands—plenty of Members who are present represent the midlands and the north of England—I know that those areas were historically not properly and fairly funded in the way in which we are now trying to achieve. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of debating the matter with Labour Members next week, but fairness is an important part of the way in which we fund the health service.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Last week, in a record 27 days, the European Medicines Agency committee recommended the use of Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer. That confirms the practical recommendations of oncologists, who will immediately administer the drug to patients with addresses in Cheshire, Staffordshire or Wales, when their primary care trusts will fund it. However, patients with a Shropshire address have to raise £47,000 or, in a bizarre new development, consider moving to Wales to get the drug.

Thanks to the promptings of the Leader of the House, the Minister of State has now replied to my three unanswered letters to the Secretary of State for Health on this issue, and confirmed that PCTs should not refuse to fund Herceptin solely on the ground of its cost. When will the Secretary of State come to the House to explain why her writ does not run in Shropshire?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

This is a serious issue, and the hon. Gentleman has raised it assiduously and consistently. He has asked me the same question repeatedly, and I give him the same answer. Indeed, on this occasion, he has answered the question that he set for himself. I do not need to add to that, save to say that I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will see through the logic of her position, making this drug available as and when necessary on the basis of the best clinical advice.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

May we please have the first debate on Africa in this Chamber since 30 June last year? Given that, in the index of failed states that was published this week, no fewer than six of the 10 at the top of the list were in Africa—Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Chad and Somalia—is it not time for the House again to consider how the British Government, working multilaterally, might address the fragility of those states, which is damaging to their own citizens and a source of wider regional instability?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I had not realised that quite so much time had elapsed since I last granted the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on Africa. This is a matter that the Government take enormously seriously. As we speak, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in Abuja to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman seeks—to ensure that the British Government show their determination to support the African Union in achieving a peace settlement in Sudan. This Government use their energy, their authority and their influence to bring about such achievements. There is no doubt that we take these issues enormously seriously, and we will go on doing so. I will look into whether it will be possible to have a debate on the matter in due course.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Minister (Housing and Planning)

May we have a debate in Government time on accountability in the national health service, so that Ministers might have the opportunity to take responsibility for what is happening in the NHS? The Leader of the House will remember that, more than six months ago, I raised with him the closure of the centre of excellence at the upper gastro-intestinal unit at Frimley Park hospital in my constituency. He told me then to contact the Secretary of State for Health. I have subsequently written to three Ministers in the Department of Health and received three replies. On each occasion, I have been told that I cannot have a meeting, even though I have written on behalf of hon. Friends in Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire. How can we ensure that Ministers take responsibility for the health services that affect our constituents if they will not meet us and if they will not answer questions in the House?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am tempted to say that at least the hon. Gentleman got replies, which I regard as very important. I also regard it as important that Ministers are willing to meet right hon. and hon. Members of the House. That is a basic principle that should be observed, and I will certainly investigate the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised, because I believe that he should have the opportunity to take his case directly to a Minister.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, the Prime Minister set as his highest priority the deportation of the small number of hate-filled imams who have done so much damage among young Muslims, and against whom the moderate Muslim community has repeatedly called for action. May we have an early debate on that matter? May we also have clarification, following the announcements yesterday on the deportation of foreign criminals, that the measures will also apply to dual nationals, including the one such imam who now has a criminal record, Sheikh Abu Hamza?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Detailed aspects of the Government's proposals will need further debate and discussion. Dual nationality might be one of the issues that has to be looked at in greater detail. I broadly share the hon. Gentleman's concern—as do the Government—to ensure that those who come here for a variety of purposes do so within the law and do not break the law. If those who are not British citizens do break the law, we take appropriate action, which must include their deportation.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons)

Although the results of DNA tests have yet to be confirmed, Staffordshire police have said this morning that the human remains found on Cannock Chase are almost certainly those of Gladys Hammond. The Leader of the House might recall that animal rights activists exhumed the remains of Gladys Hammond from her grave in Yoxall in my constituency. Will he join me in condemning not only the animal rights activists who did this terrible deed but those who persecute people working in medical research? Animal rights activists are hypocritical in the extreme, because they will have had antibiotics and vaccinations against childhood diseases, all of which, unfortunately, had to be tested on animals. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a written statement on the Government's policy on trying to control the activities of these extremists?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who puts his position very well. The behaviour of those responsible for that appalling incident was nothing short of disgusting, and we all share the concern of the family involved, not least because they have been subject to so much attack and disruption for engaging in perfectly lawful activities. The Government believe passionately in the importance of science and of scientific progress. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has worked with the science Minister to ensure that this country continues to be a centre of excellence for scientific progress. If we fail in that, we will not have a competitive role in the 21st century. Science, competition and efficiency go hand in hand, and the Government are determined to support them.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, North East Milton Keynes

Will the Secretary of State for Education and Skills come to the House next week to make a statement on the arrangements that are being put in place to ensure that university students across the land are able to graduate this summer, should the industrial action by university staff be taken? Can the Leader of the House also offer any reassurance to a constituent of mine who has been told only this week that her dissertation is unlikely to be marked this summer, and that she will therefore be unable to graduate?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

It is important that students who have worked hard—and even some of those who have not—have their examinations marked and therefore have the opportunity to graduate. This is a vital, difficult and sensitive time in young people's lives, and we would not want industrial action to jeopardise their prospects. I suppose I ought to declare that I am a former member of the Association of University Teachers. I remember once marching under a banner that caused utter confusion to the local population, as it read "Rectify the Anomaly". It was not the most immediately effective campaign slogan, and it caused a great deal of puzzlement. I think that equal puzzlement would be caused to any students who did not have their exams marked. It is always much better if these issues can be resolved by negotiation rather than by industrial action.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The Leader of the House might recall that I mentioned to him a while ago the case of Stephen Ayre, a convicted murderer who was released from prison on licence and abducted and raped a 10-year-old boy in my constituency. Stephen Ayre was told last week that he would spend the rest of his days behind bars, but it also emerged that although he had breached the conditions of his licence the probation service had failed to send him back to prison, which allowed him to commit this awful crime on my young constituent. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary comes to the House to make a statement on what went wrong in this case, and that he ensures that nothing like this can ever happen again?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I will not comment on the case in question, but it is important that we ensure that the probation service and other agencies are properly resourced and supported to be able to carry out the terms of any sentences that are imposed. In fact, licence arrangements have been remarkably successful. It is important that we recognise that fact. There are always such terrible cases where things go wrong, but that should not allow us to ignore the fact that licence in general works very well and is an important part of our penal process. It is important that this should be got right and it is important that the probation service should be supported to get it right.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Last Friday at my surgery, a group of families from the Croyland ward, which is in the heart of the Wellingborough constituency, came to see me. They are very concerned that one or two families are terrorising the neighbourhood and making life unbearable for law-abiding citizens. There is graffiti, vandalism and foul language. Yesterday, I was shocked to learn that one of the families who came to complain had had their property set on fire. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement, in this Government's 10th year in office, on how they intend to deal with those problems?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

The Government have set out and taken action in a number of areas to tackle those problems. We all recognise, across the country, that there is antisocial behaviour, and it is probably the leading issue raised in my constituency surgery. From what the hon. Gentleman says, I anticipate that the same applies to his surgery. That is why we have set out a respect agenda, given the police more powers and put more police on the streets, as well as community support officers. A range of measures has been taken.

Every so often hon. Members raise such issues at business questions, but I would like those same hon. Members to see through the logic of their complaints by supporting legislation that the Government introduce. There is sometimes, if he will forgive me for saying so, a disconnect between the two. He is right to raise his constituents' concerns about antisocial behaviour, but I am right to say that this Government have taken more action than any other in history to sort it out.

J

This Government is not taking significant and appropriate action against crime.

Apart from getting a crime number, it is not worth reporting many incidents of 'antisocial' crime. In my street, it is an almost constant problem. Already statistically a massive problem, antisocial behaviour is by no means, fully reported and, therefore, recorded.

Such a massive issue arising, in my view, from a hedonistic society, needs cross party co-operation and constant discussion at all times.

Submitted by J Blunt

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

When can we have a debate on rural crime? I recently had a meeting with farmers, estate owners and people who live in the countryside around Kettering who feel increasingly isolated and under siege from Traveller-related and other criminal gangs, which are stealing tens of thousands of pounds-worth of agricultural equipment and threatening people in my constituency. There seems to be a group of people in the country that is increasingly above and beyond the rule of law.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

It is vital, in rural as well as urban areas, that the law is observed and enforced. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman down the route of suggesting who might be responsible for particular crimes, but I am saying that it is vital, in all parts of the country, that the police force is properly resourced and supported to be able to act against those responsible for such crimes. I believe that the Government, in ensuring that there are more police officers in every part of the country, are setting out on the right road in dealing with not only rural crime, but urban crime. I accept that there is still more to do; this Government are determined to do it.