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Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I would support a communications Department as a part

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of the proposals. If we have Ofcom, we will need only one communications Department. I hope that such provision would be included in a draft Bill.

There seems to be some confusion about one matter. If we are to have digital television internet access by 2005, but switch-over will not occur until 2006 or 2010, we will have to find a way of giving away digital boxes, perhaps by using a private finance initiative. We have to find some way of overcoming the digital divide. If we do not do so--and the White Paper does not deal with the problem--we will not be the most modern economy in the world.

If the BBC does not want to establish a public service education or sports channel, would Ofcom have sufficient money to commission one?

Mr. Smith: On the advent of digital television and internet access, of course digital television is not the only means by which people can gain access to the internet. It is, however, becoming an increasingly important means for people to gain such access, as the very rapid take-up of ONdigital's service, for example, is proving.

As for Ofcom's powers, it will not be possible, and nor should it be possible, for Ofcom to start up a channel or to enforce the start-up of a channel. What Ofcom will be able to do, however, is to do research, to provide encouragement, to identify gaps in the market and to advise broadcasters. I certainly hope that broadcasters will take account of the research that Ofcom does.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): For the benefit of my constituents who still cannot receive terrestrial television, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that "must carry on all platforms" provision will mean that, in future, ITV--which is Channel 3--ITV2 and ONdigital will be carried on satellite? Could he also possibly answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) about whether he is proposing any changes in the cross-media ownership regulations?

Mr. Smith: We spell out that the public service provision--channels that are currently free to air on analogue, together with licence-fee funded free-to-air channels--must be available on all platforms. That is the "must carry" obligation that we have set in place.

On cross-media ownership, we spell out clearly the issues that need to be addressed. We also set out clearly the principles of diversity and plurality--plurality is extremely important in this respect--and invite views on how to proceed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's views will be among those that we will read with pleasure.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I regret that we must move on to the main business.

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Points of Order

4.25 pm

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will be aware, this House is under an obligation, as Britain is a signatory to the European convention on human rights, to ensure that all Bills put before the House comply with our treaty obligations. Indeed, that is written on Bills presented to the House. I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), whether that was also the case in connection with the declaration of fundamental rights, which has now been incorporated into the treaty of Nice. In his reply, the Minister of State insinuated--somewhat worryingly and depressingly--that as a former chairman of our Back-Bench European affairs committee, I was better able to answer that question than he was. Although that may be true, it is surely a contempt of this House and of your office, Mr. Speaker, for Ministers not to tell the House the legal implications of the treaty obligations into which they have entered.

Mr. Speaker: Ministers are responsible for their own replies. However, I will read Hansard and contact the hon. Gentleman after I have done so. I hope that that is helpful to him.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the statement on the communications White Paper--and it has happened on previous occasions--the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said that people can read the answer to their questions in the White Paper to which he had referred. However, it is impossible for us to obtain copies of a White Paper--at least in theory--until the Minister sits down after his statement. Could you instruct Ministers that that is the case, Mr. Speaker, and either remind them that we have to ask questions about a White Paper because we cannot see it until the statement on it is made, or ensure that there is a change to the rules, so that the relevant White Paper is made available shortly before the statement is made? In fact, today, one person who asked a question already had the White Paper, suggesting that he had left the Chamber and re-entered it before he asked his question.

Mr. Speaker: Once again, I am not responsible for the answers of Ministers. However, Ministers should not make reference to documents that are not available at the time of the statement. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you might look at

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the rules about giving out White Papers. They are available as soon as the Minister stands up, but we are not allowed physically to leave the Chamber if we want to be called to ask a question. Would it not be more sensible for the attendants to hand out copies of the White Paper while the statement on it is being made? That would improve our ability to represent our constituents better.

Mr. Speaker: As I have just stated, perhaps Ministers should not make reference to chapters--

Mr. Bruce: They did.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer in the best way that I can. Ministers should not make reference to chapters in White Papers until those documents are available to everyone in the House. I am the custodian of the rules, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about them, he, as a Back Bencher, is capable of changing them.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask that it should be your practice that in the event of a point of order in this House leading to a private exchange of letters between you and an hon. Member, that letter may be made public for the benefit of all Members of this House?

Mr. Speaker: I regret that the hon. Gentleman heard the point of order of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) while sitting on the Front Bench and then took the opportunity to raise a point of order from the Back Benches. When I write a letter to a Member of this House, it is up to that Member whether he wishes to make that document public. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have listened to what I said. Ministers are responsible for their replies; nevertheless, I will look at Hansard and communicate with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West. That is the way that I will do it.



Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Byers, Mr. Secretary Milburn, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mr. Nick Raynsford, Mr. Chris Mullin and Mr. David Lock, presented a Bill to make provision for imposing requirements in relation to the marketing of residential properties in England and Wales; to make further provision about the functions of local housing authorities relating to homelessness and the allocation of housing accommodation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 5].

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fifth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 December],

Question again proposed.

Home Affairs and Inner Cities

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I should tell the House that Back Benchers' speeches will be limited to 12 minutes.

4.31 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:

Last year, in the debate on the Address, I catalogued a series of failures by the Home Secretary and the Government and suggested that the contents of the then Queen's Speech would do little to rectify those failures. This year, I am obliged to observe an even worse catalogue of failures and the fact that this year's Gracious Speech will do very little to address the problems that most people encounter in their everyday lives as a result of the Government's abysmal failure to tackle crime and the causes of crime.

In the past year, despite promises of an extra 5,000 police officers, and then another 4,000, police numbers have continued to plummet; crime has risen by 190,000 offences, and the Home Secretary's legislation, which failed to work last year, has still failed to work 12 months later. To this day, not a single child curfew order has been issued, and all that the right hon. Gentleman can say in response to that lamentable failure is that it is the fault of the

So we now know that it is not his fault at all.

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A year ago, when the Home Secretary was attacked for his misleading party conference speech, he blamed his officials. The same officials seem to have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong under his stewardship of the Home Office--that is a lot of blame. They were blamed for forgetting to renew the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts; blamed for wrongly briefing the right hon. Gentleman when he gave a press conference on asylum; blamed for causing him to give the Welsh Assembly powers over Welsh criminals; and blamed for causing him to publish the names and addresses in the Macpherson report. Can that be the same man who once said that

and claimed that he would not hide

If it is not officials, it is social workers. In reality, the buck stops with the Government, and the catalogue of failure on crime and disorder since 1997 shows that the buck stops with the Home Secretary.

The succession of Downing street leaks during the summer showed that the Prime Minister is rattled. Who can forget his request for eye-catching initiatives, particularly on law and order, to try to portray the Government as a success? Only a Government so out of touch, so totally unaware of the problems of real people, would think that a few eye-catching initiatives would be enough to hide their total failure on law and order. What did that request produce? What was the eye-catching announcement? Why, it was the appointment of Lord Birt as the Government's new crony crime tsar.

I recently asked the Home Secretary how many times he had met Lord Birt since his appointment. The answer was interesting. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he had met Lord Birt once, on 25 May. That is interesting because Lord Birt was not appointed until 10 July. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed a crime tsar to whom he has not spoken once since appointment. That is another ludicrous example of the Government's summer of spin.

What has the Home Secretary come up with after three and a half years in government? What eye-catching policies are to be introduced by the right hon. Gentleman over the next few months? He seems to have decided to use his final Queen's Speech in office to attempt to put right the failure of his first Queen's Speech. [Interruption.] That failure is indeed terrible.

First, there is to be a rehashed version of the Home Secretary's discredited curfew plan for young people. After nearly four years in government, he is still trying to make his first year's legislation work properly. Those are the proposals that the Prime Minister described, in the face of all opposition, as "eminently sensible". They are evidently not, because, after two years, not a single child care order has been issued. That might have been less catastrophic if the Home Secretary had accepted our original advice and set the age limit at 16, which--belatedly, and with no apology for past error--he is at last going to do.

Secondly, another Bill has been introduced to restrict the right to trial by jury. After three and a half years in government, the Home Secretary is still trying to get this unnecessary and thoroughly rejected legislation through Parliament. What better example could there be of this Government's arrogance? The Bill has twice been rejected

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in Parliament by what is, according to the Government's own claims, the more democratic House of Lords, yet the Government are still trying to push it through. The Home Secretary has been opposed by the Criminal Bar Association, the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Legal Action Group, civil rights groups, the Institute of Race Relations, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.

The proposals are opposed by everyone, it seems, except the Home Secretary and his colleagues. However, the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister have not always been so enthusiastic about the measure. This is the proposal of which the Prime Minister said:

This is the proposal of which the Attorney-General, Lord Williams, said:

Furthermore, let us not forget that this was the proposal of which the Home Secretary himself said:

He said that only a few months before he introduced the measure in the House.

In case that is not clear enough, I shall quote from the Home Secretary's response to the proposals in the document, "The Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System", published in 1997. He said:

There we have it, as clear as day: the Home Secretary was opposed to that proposal. What made him change his mind in just a few weeks? Was it the fact that the proposal would reduce unnecessary delays in the justice system? No, it was not. It could not have been that, because, as the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), admitted, the Conservative policy of plea before venue had already done that. The answer is that the main effect of the Bill will be that more than 5,000 criminals will serve shorter prison sentences. That is the sole advantage of the Bill, from the Home Secretary's point of view. The Bill is wrong: it attacks fundamental liberties, and it should not proceed. We shall steadfastly oppose it.

What else does the Gracious Speech offer us? At first, we were quite hopeful that there would be a Bill to recover the assets of drug dealers and other criminals, but on closer examination that turned out to be only a draft Bill. I asked myself why. If I ask myself, I get a more sensible reply than if I ask the Home Secretary. Could he be having trouble making it comply with his human rights legislation?

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