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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1118—continued

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): Will my hon. Friend try to find time for the House to discuss the accountability of primary care trusts? The trust in Liverpool has kept a severely disabled young man in hospital for more than six weeks, and there does not appear to be any pressure that a Member of Parliament can put on that trust. I believe that that would be a subject worthy of discussion by the House.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am concerned to hear what my hon. Friend says and grateful to him for drawing the case in his constituency to our attention. He will be aware that the Government are keen on improving public and democratic accountability as we progress our health

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reforms, and I will ensure that he gets a substantive response from the Secretary of State for Health to the point that he has raised.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): With the resignation of the Leader of the House, whose departure I also mourn, would this be the right time to revisit the question of whether the Modernisation Committee should be chaired by a member of the Cabinet? Would it not be better if the ex-Leader of the House stayed on the Committee as a Back Bencher, so that it was more like our other Select Committees?

Mr. Bradshaw: As I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Committee itself. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston remains in his position as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee at the moment, but his future on the Committee, and its chairmanship—or chairwomanship—will be a matter for the Committee.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): My hon. Friend will know of the statement made earlier by the Secretary of State for Defence in respect of a future statement regarding compensation payments to the partners of those who might lose their lives in Iraq. May I suggest that, in view of the current conflict, this would be an appropriate time for the House to debate the much wider issue of the whole series of policies, benefits, payments and regulations that apply to the families of those who have served in the armed forces? I draw my hon. Friend's attention particularly to war disability pensions, the poorest war disability pensioners and the earnings disregard, which has not been uprated since 1990. Could he find time in the near future for a complete review of Government policy, and for an opportunity to debate the issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that, given all the other pressing demands on the House, I cannot promise that we shall have time for a full debate on all the issues raised by my hon. Friend, important though they are. However, I am sure that every hon. Member agrees that those issues should be uppermost in our minds, particularly at a time when our armed services—men and women—are likely to be going into action on our behalf.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomed the Ministry of Defence's announcement today that benefits previously restricted to the spouses of those involved in potential military action will be extended to partners.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is certainly one of the most pungent, quick-witted and effective parliamentarians of our time, and his departure from the Government's ranks will be as widely regretted as it is widely respected.

Prostate cancer awareness week begins next Monday, so may we have an urgent debate on prostate cancer? Although 21,000 people a year are diagnosed as suffering from it and 10,000 a year die of it, the Government have so far failed to honour their promise to launch a public information campaign.

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to a serious health issue affecting men, which

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the Government do take seriously. We may not be able to afford the time for a debate on the Floor of the House, but it might be an ideal subject on which to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall.

David Hamilton (Midlothian): Earlier today we heard a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence, who kindly passed the issue of the House's sitting hours on to my hon. Friend's agenda. Like many other Members, I have taken a hard line on our responsibilities as Members. I expect statements to be made in the House and not outside, and expect us, as MPs who made the decision to go to war, to be the first to hear what happens. Will my hon. Friend review our sitting hours over the impending period? I believe that we should sit from Monday to Friday, and should sit for the hours that are required.

Mr. Bradshaw: Both the Secretary of State for Defence and the Government as a whole have made it clear that, over the next few weeks, we shall be living in extraordinary times. We have made clear our willingness to be flexible on sitting hours. I am not convinced that any change need be set in stone, but we are prepared to come to the Dispatch Box as the Secretary of State has today—and will again, I expect, in days to come. If it becomes necessary for us to sit in the evenings, at weekends and during the Easter recess the Government will take account of the position, which will depend on events on the ground.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): We all appreciate the hon. Gentleman's assurance that Ministers will make regular statements as the war progresses, but may I put it to him gently that we must avoid a repetition of yesterday's farce? In future, Ministers from the appropriate Department must appear at the Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman's response to the shadow Leader of the House was not up to the standards that we normally expect of him.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman takes that view. I will not reiterate the reasons for the absence of the Secretary of State for International Development—reasons that the Opposition knew very well when they tabled their urgent question. As I said, it is for the Government to decide who should answer urgent questions, and it was felt that as the Minister who did answer had been most recently involved in discussions with the bodies involved, it was appropriate for him to do so. I think that, since the Government came to office in 1997, there has been only one other occasion on which a statement has not been made by the most obviously appropriate Minister. We try to avoid such circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that this Government have a far better record than their predecessor on the number of statements made in the House.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Following the publication of the White Paper on tackling antisocial behaviour, will my hon. Friend try to find out when the Government will publish their antisocial behaviour Bill? Will he give a commitment that when it is published we shall debate its Second Reading on the Floor of the House as soon as

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possible? Notwithstanding the war, which is obviously the most serious issue facing our country, many of my constituents want the action proposed in the White Paper to become law as early as possible.

Mr. Bradshaw: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. No doubt he, like many of my colleagues, receives regular representations from his constituents. As people note the improvements being made in public services such as health and education, their main concerns are antisocial behaviour and crime. That is why the Government are legislating to deal with those problems. As soon as the Bill is ready it will be published and will, I am sure, be debated at some length on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I too am sorry that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is no longer Leader of the House. On at least two occasions, I have raised the fact that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee has not met in Northern Ireland once since its formation. That does not apply to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees. Now that the former Leader of the House is no longer with us, I do not want the issue to be forgotten. May I have an assurance that it will not be forgotten, that it will be addressed, and that if a decision is made one way or the other, it will be made in this Chamber?

Mr. Bradshaw: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for being relatively unsighted on this subject. I am led to believe, however, that the Government have always been open to his suggestion, and that it has been resisted by his own party.

Mr. Beggs rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I call Mr. Miller.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): May I return to the answer that my hon. Friend gave my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton)? In the interests of the staff who work for us and serve the House—some of whom currently face extraordinary difficulties in connection with security, for example—will my hon. Friend ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to establish proper contingency plans in case we have to sit at weekends, and perhaps during the Easter recess, while hostilities are in progress?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes. I should emphasise that we have no plans at this stage for the House to sit through the Easter recess or at weekends, apart from our decision that the House should sit on the first couple of days of the recess to debate the Budget. But I think that most Members would wish us to maintain an element of flexibility, while balancing that with the need—rightly mentioned by my hon. Friend—for not just Members but the staff who serve us so well to be able to plan their lives.

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