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Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the publication of the Bill and any Government statements that might or might not accompany it, but there is no inconsistency at all. We all want a modern housing market, able to cope with the demands of the coming decades and to provide a much better deal for

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home buyers and home sellers. That is the objective. The present system is far too complicated and rigid and it is important that we free it up, so that house sales and purchases can be more easily accommodated to the needs of home owners.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): May I welcome the inclusion of the housing Bill in the Queen's Speech? Can my right hon. Friend give any indication as to when its Second Reading will be? If there is to be any delay, will he arrange for a more immediate debate on the very welcome proposals to license houses in multiple occupation? This is a measure, for which many Labour Members have argued for several years, to deal with some of the worst properties and some of the most vulnerable tenants—a measure which the Conservative party resisted over and over again when in government.

When Ministers come to the House to consider this issue, will my right hon. Friend ask them to look again at the definition of HMOs? It is rather complicated. It could exclude some of the worst properties and some of the most vulnerable people, and it would be a shame if this excellent measure were in any way compromised by a technical deficiency.

Mr. Hain: I welcome my hon. Friend's question. I cannot give him a date for the Bill's introduction or Second Reading yet, but it will be coming forward and I am glad that he welcomes it. I know that the issues he has raised will be listened to carefully by the Secretary of State, not least because of my hon. Friend's long-standing experience and expertise—I know his constituency concerns on this issue. However, I am sure that he will welcome the fact that there is £5 billion more of Government investment in affordable housing—double what it was in 1997.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Everybody will have been delighted to see the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) here this morning and will have been particularly glad to hear what he had to say, but it is clear that most of his colleagues on the Labour Benches do not find the new hours very convenient. Will the Leader of the House think again on this one? All we are asking for is a conversation with Parliament, followed by a vote.

Mr. Hain: There will be a conversation with Parliament followed by a vote, because that was the decision that Parliament took when it said that it wanted to change the sitting hours for the rest of the Parliament. Then there will have to be a review, and I will be considering how to take that forward.

I am aware of the concerns of the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-serving, experienced and senior Member of the House. This is an issue on which there are strong concerns on both sides of the argument, and my duty as Leader of the House is to take the issue forward in a way that recognises the strong feelings on both sides rather than prematurely rushing into a decision which, in my view, would not be in the interests of the House and could be highly divisive. We will keep the issue under review, and I will obviously wish to consult the hon.

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Gentleman and all Members of the House as we take this matter forward, in time for the decision that we are obliged to take before the end of this Parliament.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Would the Leader of the House accept that he has two very heavy and important responsibilities—first, his responsibilities, as Leader of the House, for the Government's legislative programme, and secondly, his responsibilities to the House as a whole, not just to the Labour Government of the moment? Would he try to get the two more in balance, because to my mind it is critical that his interest in the well-being and proper functioning of the House should be more evident than it is?

In that connection—you referred to this in your statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker—will the Leader of the House find a very early day for a debate on the Sessional Orders and Resolutions report of the Procedure Committee, which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Serjeant at Arms, the Clerk of the House and the Home Office all consider to be important, and which, I believe, a majority of Members of the House likewise consider to be very important? Will he find an early day for that very important debate?

Mr. Hain: It is an important issue, and I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's definition of the role of the Leader of the House. He knows that my door is always open to him, because he has come through it regularly, and we have lots of conversations, given his important role as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. I welcome his report and I am grateful to him for his work and that of his Committee. Of course, Mr. Speaker has expressed a view, which we will need to take closely into account. A decision will be needed on this matter in the light of the Committee's important recommendations, which we will obviously study carefully.

Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): Will the Leader of the House find an early date for a full debate on farming? The dairy industry is in continual financial crisis and tuberculosis is spreading among cattle. There is a debate about whether the new payments under the common agricultural policy should be based on the historic or the area-based system, and the House should have an opportunity to be involved in that debate. Is this not the time for the Government to prove that farming is not a forgotten industry for them?

Mr. Hain: Farming most certainly is not a forgotten industry, as is evidenced by our continuing support for the rural community and by the priority given it by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will certainly draw to her attention the hon. Gentleman's concerns, because they are important issues. Of course, he could apply for a debate. Given where we are in the parliamentary calendar, I cannot promise him an early debate, but we will take close note of his concerns.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the response that was given, the Leader of the House will

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know that paragraph 22 of the Procedure Committee report includes a recommendation that the Government introduce legislation to deal with Parliament square. Does he agree that, in a country where there is ample opportunity to protest, it is wholly inappropriate that there is an unsightly demonstration and placards in one of the most historic landscapes in the country? Will he commit the Government to introducing the necessary legislation, so that we can resolve that issue once and for all?

Mr. Hain: We will have to resolve that issue. We have to balance the rights of people to protest and express their views—I have done a bit of that myself in my time—with the rights of Members of Parliament to proper access to the Palace and to go about their business normally. It is to balancing those rights that the Committee has helpfully drawn our attention; we need to take that forward, and I shall do so in close consultation with you, Mr. Speaker, and other hon. Members, not least the Committee Chairs.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Chairmen.

Mr. Hain: Committee Chairmen in the case of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who have a direct interest in this matter, which needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

Mr. Speaker: I call the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am most grateful—I won the jackpot.

Mr. Bercow: What it is to be well known.

Mr. Luff: Indeed.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the last Hansard of the last Session—Thursday 20 November, part 2, which contains the large number of written answers given at the end of the Session? Does he really think that the answers given by the Home Office are adequate and enable the House properly to do its job of scrutiny? By rough calculation, 302 questions asked of the Home Office were answered on 19 and 20 November, 285 of which received the answer:

I accept that some of those questions were difficult and would have required some time to answer. Other Departments have used that tactic, too, but the Home Office has done so much too often, and it denies those outside the House the results of effective scrutiny by the legislature. Please do something about it.

Mr. Hain: I got to know the hon. Gentleman well on an overseas trip a few years ago, and I can confirm that he is a decent and amiable Conservative—though that has probably finished his career for good.

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I will draw his point to the attention of the Home Secretary. The Home Office is a large Department with considerable responsibilities, but equally, it is the right of Members of Parliament to have their questions properly answered.

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