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Mr. Hain: I am coming to the hours. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that his argument does not stand up. I do not think that taxpayers should be subsidising catering in the House to the tune of £6 million. I am not suggesting that we should have the kind of commercial rates that are charged around Westminster. We should have reasonable rates, especially for the 4,000 people who work here, not just
That is in the end a matter for the Catering Committee, and not a matter for me, but I want to refer specifically to the hours issue. The truth is that demand for catering has gone up since the hours have changed.
Mr. Hain: Indeed. The right hon. Gentleman will be interested in the facts that have been provided for me from the Refreshment Department. Demand for the Members' Dining Room has increased by 5 per cent. since the hours have been changed and demand for cafeterias has increased by 13 per cent. The most dramatic increase in business has been in the use of meeting and conference rooms in Portcullis House, which have experienced an increase in demand of more than 50 per cent.
Mr. Hain: These are statistics from the House authorities. Excluding banqueting, which is not subsidised, catering income in the first 10 months of 2003, coinciding with the change in hours, increased by 16 per cent. against the same period last year.
Right hon. and hon. Members may have legitimate questionsI have myselfabout the proposals from the Catering Committee, which came rather out of the blue and have been adjusted since, but it has nothing to do with the sitting hours, as those figures conclusively show that catering income and demand in the key areas have gone up since the hours have been changed.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): The Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister will make an announcement tomorrow about his so-called conversation with the nation. Will that statement be made in the House, and if not why not? Surely, as representatives of the nation, Parliament must be involved. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the current legislative programme, including the proposals on student fees, will be among the subjects discussed during those conversations, and if not why not? What is the point of them if people are not allowed to comment on issues of immediate topicality?
Surely a practical way in which the Leader of the House could help the House at this stage in the parliamentary year would be to give us a simple, straightforward list of the Bills and draft Bills that are coming forward, each with the sponsoring Department. That is not available to usor indeed to anyone else. Will he look at that simple, practical proposition?
In relation to the so-called Lords reform Bill, some weeks ago at business questions, I asked the Leader of the House whether he had seen the exchange of letters between the outgoing Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for DCAff, and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). Now that the
For example, the Leader of the House will recall, as I pointed it out to him, that the Committeeif it is to be reconstitutedis given a very wide remit. Will he now confirm that there will be a draft Bill on House of Lords reform for that Committee to look at before any final decisions are made about the format? What is the point of having a Committee of both Houses of senior parliamentarians to look at the proposals if the Bill is already set in concrete? Can he confirm that there will be plenty of time for that Committee to consider that Bill, and will he give us an undertaking that its views and recommendations will be published before the Government come forward with the Bill itself? What will be the remit when that Committee is reconstituted, and when will it be reconstituted? Will there be a motion before the House to ensure that the Committee is given the widest possible remit to meet the requirements of the Lord Chancellor?
The Leader of the House will recall, because we were on the same side, that on 4 February the House voted soundly to defeat the proposition for an all-appointed House of Lords, despite the support of the then Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister. He will also remember that more than half of MPs voted for a 100 per cent., 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. elected House. When will he stand up for the views of MPs against the undemocratic dinosaurs of Downing street?
Mr. Hain: The Labour party's big conversation will be launched tomorrow by the Prime Minister at the party's policy forum in Newport in south Wales. I do not want to spend too much time on this matter, but it will deal with the big challenges facing Britain. That is the importance of it. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that the Government, in the mid-term of their second term of office, are looking to the decades ahead and consulting people about the big issues facing Britain. We are a Government and a party who face the future with fairness and firmness, but Opposition parties do not seem to be interested in the future.
The issue of student fees will doubtless come up, as it did in some of the interviews and conference calls that I did yesterday on the Queen's Speech. We need to engage people in a debate about the future of higher education. The Liberal Democrats' alternative method of funding higher education is more tax increases across the board[Interruption.] Well, we know where the dividing lines aretax increases from the Liberal Democrats, cuts in student numbers from the Conservatives and the Labour Government saying that we need to find a different way to move forward.
On the issue of a list of draft Bills and Departments, the hon. Gentleman will have seen the Queen's Speech and he will be able to align the Departments with the Bills. He asked about the views of the Secretary of State for DCAff. I am a decaff drinker myself, although in my trade union days my horny-handed colleagues used to prefer caffeinated coffee. If the hon. Gentleman was referring to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and House of Lords reform, I confirm that we are committed to that and, indeed, the Bill was announced yesterday. The consultation paper that the
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is apparent that many of my colleagues are already engaged in the big conversation and are spreading the message from one end of the country to the other? I have been engaged in it this morning at Chelsea royal hospital, and I have some good news. That hospital is so good that the doctor told me at my cancer check-up at 8 o'clock this morning that I do not need to go back for another 12 months. That was a good Christmas present and the best sort of conversation. The health service is doing so well that it has helped to cure me of cancer and has got me a new United Nations heart. I cannot go wrong with the health service. Keep putting the money in. Unfortunately all those people I met at the hospital this morning did not find a BBC reporter waiting to talk to them when they came out. That is because the NHS is a great success story, and that is the conversation that we should have.
Mr. Hain: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to having many such great conversations with my hon. Friend, who is a brilliant exponent of all sorts of big conversations. The point he makes about very good treatment in the health service under this Labour Government is one that all Labour Membersand, if they are honest, Opposition Memberswill acknowledge. People who use the health service overwhelmingly find it an excellent health service, whose nurses, doctors and consultants give fantastic support, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to praise it.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The British public and the House are surely entitled to expect consistency from their Government, but in respect of house sales and purchases, the Government are being very inconsistent. We are told that the housing Bill will contain a proposal for a seller's pack, to make house selling and buying easier, yet simultaneously we are told that the Chancellor is considering raising stamp duty, which will make buying and selling houses more difficult. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will make that clear in his pre-Budget statementor are the Government planning to make an earlier statement, so that this inconsistency can be cleared up and those who have profound concerns about these matters can have those concerns put to rest?