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6 Feb 2003 : Column 443—continued

Mr. Cook: I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern about the dereliction of some of the inner cities in the regions of England and, indeed, in Scotland, although it is a devolved matter. I also understand why my hon. Friend has made that point on behalf of her constituents and the impact of blight on their lives. She will be aware that only yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister made a major statement on sustainable communities and I am pleased to remind her that it included an additional £5 billion to help with regenerating communities. I hope that as part of that programme we will be able to assist some of the communities to which she refers.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): The Leader of the House will be aware of the continuing cycle of paramilitary violence that still plagues the people of Northern Ireland during the stuttering peace

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process. Has he been briefed on developments overnight when several UDA members and their associates were evicted from the Province and landed at Cairnryan in my constituency? Will he make time for an urgent debate, in Government time, during which the House can examine the continuing cycle of violent blood-letting in Northern Ireland? In particular, we must consider the worrying possibility of exporting that violence to small, vulnerable mainland communities.

Mr. Cook: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and I appreciate that that is a major issue for his constituents. I assure him that the police authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland are co-operating closely on the issue. Our objective in Northern Ireland is to restore stability and normality and to encourage confidence in the future. We will continue to work on that and we would deplore any violent or forcible eviction of any citizens of the United Kingdom from one part of it to another.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): Notwithstanding what happened on Tuesday evening, will my right hon. Friend accept that an item of unfinished business remains—the situation of the remaining 92 hereditary peers in the other place? In spite of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Joint Committee considers the position of those 92 peers, because, regardless of whether people want an elected Chamber or an appointed one, I am sure that the majority view is that that remnant from the middle ages is no longer appropriate in Parliament. [Interruption.]

Mr. Cook: I am not sure that all the noises that I hear are in support of my hon. Friend's conclusion. Of course, one of the important motivations for reform is finally to remove the hereditary principle from our parliamentary system. There can be no justification for people playing any part in the consideration of legislation, which others must obey, if they are there solely by the accident and privilege of birth. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is an important element of any package of reform. It would be difficult to remove that element alone, because the effect would be to create an all-appointed House of Lords, which the House rejected by a large majority on Tuesday. We would need to consider very carefully before we took a decision that was inconsistent with the vote of the House of Tuesday.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Bearing in mind the well-known special relationship that exists between the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor, may we have time for a debate on pensions? The Government's Green Paper, published recently, contains a proposal that the single lifetime limit on savings in a tax-privileged pension should be £1.4 million. On Tuesday, we failed to vote on the Lord Chancellor's option of an 80 per cent. appointed and 20 per cent. elected House, and I am worried that we might not have the opportunity to vote on another

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Derry option—to reduce his pension fund from its present £2 million to £1.4 million. The House should have a chance to vote on that Derry option.

Mr. Cook: I think that we have debated enough Derry options without a further one.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Leader of the House bring in Gurney's to transcribe the debates of next week's Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation? I draw his attention to the fact that the deliberations of the Committee that considered the renewal of the Security Act 2000 will not be transcribed until next Monday. That is a nonsense, and it makes a farce of having Hansard if we cannot have access to it almost immediately. For the Committee's work not even to be transcribed until Monday, let alone published, is unacceptable. On Monday, we will consider Northern Ireland security legislation. It should be open to the Minister, Government Departments and other hon. Members such as me to consult our deliberations, in which some material factors were raised about security at airports and the functions of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It is unacceptable, when legislation relating to human rights and security is being deliberated on, to give priority to mere matters of debate. Will the Leader of the House comment on that?

Mr. Cook: I think that I would be in some difficulty as Leader of the House if I were not to confirm the importance of giving priority to matters of debate. It is the long-standing policy of Hansard—this has not been contentious—that the first priority is to transcribe the proceedings in this Chamber, that the second priority is to transcribe the proceedings in Westminster Hall, which is treated as an extension of this Chamber, and that thereafter comes the priority of transcribing the proceedings in Standing Committees. We have a very large number of Standing Committees at present, which is putting a lot of pressure on Hansard, and I think that we have to understand that and be realistic about it. Plainly, we would all wish to have the proceedings transcribed as quickly as possible and we are all just as keen as my hon. Friend to read our own speeches as quickly as possible. I will, of course, draw his concerns to the attention of the authorities, but, given the present large number of Standing Committees, I cannot promise an immediate increase in the turnaround of Committee transcription.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): The Quarry Products Association in Northern Ireland has been making representations to Members of the Legislative Assembly, to MPs and to Ministers about the very serious impact of the aggregates tax on quarrying in Northern Ireland, especially in the border areas, where there has already been a 50 per cent. downturn in productivity and sales. There is a risk of some quarrying businesses collapsing, and a serious risk to at least 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on this matter in the Chamber before the Budget, because the impact of the aggregates tax in Northern Ireland was not fully examined before the decision to introduce it was made?

Mr. Cook: The aggregates tax was introduced for sound environmental reasons, and the consequence of

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those reasons is that, in some cases, we would wish to see the environment preserved. I hear what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am sure that the relevant Department will consider the points that he has made. As we have already observed earlier in our exchanges, several days of debate will follow the Budget, during which it will be open to the hon. Gentleman to make this point, if he wishes to press it at that time.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the Leader of the House review the arrangements for yesterday's debate on the police grant and local government finance? Of the six hours set aside, by the time the police debate and Division had taken place, there were less than two and three quarter hours left. The opening speeches from the various Front Benches—including one of pure tedium from the Liberal Democrats that induced narcolepsy among several of those present—took more than an hour and a half, which left less than an hour and a quarter. The 20 minutes for winding up left less than an hour for Back Benchers on both sides of the House to make serious points about the local government settlement which, in my own case in Leicestershire, leaves us cemented in the cellar of educational funding, with the worst ratio of funding that we have had in decades.

Mr. Cook: I am very glad that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to correct the omission from yesterday's debate by making his local point. I understand the importance of that to him and to his constituents. On the generality of the time allocated for the debate, strictly speaking, Standing Orders provide for an hour and a half. We rightly took the view that that was insufficient, and therefore provided double that length of time. If my hon. Friend compares the record on previous occasions, he will find that that is not an unreasonable provision for a debate on a very important issue, and an issue on which it is important that we also get a decision from the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): May I rise to support what the Leader of the House has said about the events of last Tuesday? I entirely share his dismay; my position was very similar to his own. He was right to draw attention to the fact that the one option comprehensively rejected was the proposal for a wholly appointed second Chamber, and that if all we do is to remove the hereditaries, we shall have given the Prime Minister precisely what he wants—a proposition wholly rejected by this House.

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