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26 Nov 2002 : Column 184—continued

Mr. Speaker: Order. As a former trade union officer, perhaps I can address the right hon. Gentleman's grievance. I agree that that was a recommendation of the Modernisation Committee, but of course I have discretion in the matter. There were a great many Members standing, and that is why I tested the right hon. Gentleman's patience. There may be other occasions when I have to go beyond the recommendations of the Committee. If the Deputy Prime Minister is patient, perhaps I will let him and the House know that the last hon. Gentleman whom I intended to call was the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, you clearly reflect your trade union experience, to which I immediately bow and which I fully accept.

The hon. Gentleman's reference to the trade union experience seems appropriate at this time. Of course the Government have a responsibility in these matters. When they negotiate their provisions for local authorities and public services, there should be an element relating to public pay. What we have said on this occasion about paying above that amount we have also said to the local authority workers, who settled only a few months ago. We told them that there could be no more and they observed that decision. In some cases, trade union officials are now advocating the view that more can be paid. In those circumstances, and where such payments are made, we have made it clear that we will want to look at any such agreement.

That automatically brings me to what Andy Gilchrist told me in August, when I first met him. He asked whether we were interfering as a Government and I made it clear that we were not doing so, but I also said XIf you want a 40 per cent. increase and it has to come from the taxpayer, I am bound to ask how you are financing it." That is my obligation in this job, whether

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I am a trade union representative or not, although in these circumstances, I happen to be an employer instead.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Speaker's Statement

4.36 pm

Mr. Speaker: I have a statement to make in response to a previous point of order.

I have investigated the point of order raised with me yesterday by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). It appears that the Ministry of Defence released to the press a written ministerial statement of which prior notice had not been given to the House. The Minister for the Armed Forces has written to me to apologise for the incident, which he accepts was a serious oversight. He has assured me that it was a genuine administrative error and that no discourtesy to the House was intended.

I am satisfied that in this case a genuine mistake was made, and on behalf of the House, I accept the very proper apology that has been offered. No doubt, all Departments are still getting used to the new procedures for giving notice of written statements, but this occasion provides a useful opportunity for me again to reiterate that statements of Government policy should be made first to the House.

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Points of Order

4.37 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will accept the apology that was so promptly and graciously tendered by the Minister for the Armed Forces. May I also thank you for so readily and promptly investigating my complaint? I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to you for your robust response. It will reassure hon. Members on all Benches—save, possibly, the Treasury Bench—that you have again shown the robustness that you demonstrated a moment ago. The House will be grateful to you.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will no doubt be aware that two hours ago, the Government lost their case in the High Court on the challenge made with regard to consultation about airport capacity in the south-east. Have you been approached by a Minister seeking to make a statement today or tomorrow on that important matter? The decision may require the re-running of the whole consultation process, which is clearly significant for many hon. Members.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not giving you more warning of this point of order; I was able to give you very short notice that we had learned that the Government had lost the court case.

The House will be aware that the consultation process on airport expansion in the foreseeable 30-year period is due to end on 30 November. In those circumstances, have you received a request from the Secretary of State for Transport with regard to his acceding to our earlier request, made on a number of occasions, that the consultation period be allowed a short extension of two months?

Mr. Speaker: No Minister has approached me. Of course, it is not a matter for the Chair, but I am sure that the appropriate Ministers will take note.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you have an interest in protecting the House's reputation. It has been said inside and outside the House on several recent occasions that Members of Parliament received a 40 per cent. pay rise. Will you investigate the matter? If it is true, someone has their hand in my pay packet because I got only 6 per cent. That is true throughout the House. The 40 per cent. that is sometimes cited refers to the money that was provided for staffing Members' offices. It is right that we employ more people, not least because we have improved our working practices. However, the House's image is damaged when people wrongly claim that we received 40 per cent. increases. Ministers took a larger increase only because they had declined one for several years.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record.

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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. All joking and banter aside, do you accept that many hon. Members would infinitely prefer it if you, rather than Ministers, determined the length of time for Ministers' statements?

Mr. Speaker: I believe that that point has been made.

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Orders of the Day

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.41 pm

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When the Government came to power in 1997, we had one of the most centralised systems of government in the western world. It had no regional democratic accountability and ignored the needs and aspirations of the regions, where XWhitehall knew best." The system was unsuited to a diverse and changing society, and ill equipped for our modern economy. It allowed divisions between and in the regions to widen.

In the past five years, we have achieved the most far-reaching and radical programme of constitutional change in living memory. We have handed power back to the people and transformed our system of government through devolution to Scotland and Wales, reform of the House of Lords and modernising local government. The Conservative party opposed all those changes and quietly adopted them later.

We have begun to reverse the years of neglect. We restored democratic city wide government to London and we have set up strong, business-led regional development agencies in the English regions. We have helped to create a network of eight voluntary regional chambers, and increased investment and employment in all regions to record levels. Our forthcoming planning Bill will strengthen regional planning.

Today, we published a local government Bill and announced a significant package of freedoms and flexibilities. That will help to improve people's quality of life and their experience of public services. It will allow more decisions to be made locally and reduce bureaucracy. It will also give local councils greater freedom to shape the services that they provide. However, there is a devolution deficit in England. It is a democratic deficit that the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill tries to tackle.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the Bill after many decades of campaigning. It is dear to his heart and to those of many Labour Members. If pre-legislative scrutiny is not possible for the Bill, will he consider allowing a period of such scrutiny for similar measures in future so that our colleagues in all the regions and all those with an interest in them can present their views and thus make the Bills even better?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I shall consider my hon. Friend's point, but he appreciates that the forthcoming measures on local government and on housing are in draft form. Presenting draft Bills to pre-scrutiny Committees means that the House is better informed. I shall bear his point in mind.

The Government gave the people of Scotland, Wales and London the chance to make more decisions for themselves, and the people of England and Wales the opportunity to have directly elected mayors. The forms of devolution and the structures are different, but they

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are based on handing power back to the people and letting them decide. The Bill offers, for the first time in our history, opportunities to the English regions similar to those offered to Scotland, Wales and London. That is not before time.

The Government believe in trusting people. We have no intention of forcing elected assemblies on any region, but we believe that, where people want it, regional government will make a difference. Nor did we force elected assemblies or their equivalent on the people of Scotland, Wales or London: all had a referendum.

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