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Mr. Hain: The truth is that all local authorities received an increase from the Government that was higher than inflation. That compares with the situation prior to 1997 under the Conservative Government when there were consistent cuts in funding from central Government to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will find that six London authorities received grant increases of 8 per cent. or more. That is an example of the way in which the Government have provided generous funding for local services through local councils.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Those of us from the north-east would welcome a debate on council tax to destroy the myth that we have somehow been the beneficiaries of the changes that have been made. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lloyds TSB has announced the closure of its call centre in my constituency and the centre's transfer to the Indian sub-continent with the loss of almost 1,000 jobs? May we have an early debate

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on the implications of that for the British employment market, private financial information and data protection, and about what the Government might do about that serious threat to British jobs?

Mr. Hain: I well understand my hon. Friend's concern about any job losses in his constituency and I know that there will be an opportunity to consider the matter in a debate in Westminster Hall next Wednesday. We obviously should fight locally, as local Members, against any job losses but we are subject to a whirlwind of global pressures in which the outsourcing of some call centre jobs is continuing. Interestingly, higher value added call centre jobs tend to stay in this country.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Oh, that is all right then.

Mr. Hain: No, it is not all right. I want to see all jobs preserved, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot simply withstand competitive global pressures on our private enterprises, including call centre companies. He will understand that, and we are trying to combat the system as best we can.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) knows, the Government have put good procedures in place to help people into jobs, and unemployment has continued to fall in pretty much every parliamentary constituency since we came to power.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): May we have a debate on the restrictive shellfish licensing scheme that is due to come into force in the new year, which will destroy half the jobs in the traditional shellfish fishery in my constituency on the Llyn peninsula? That is at least one good reason for the debate that I can discern. While the Leader of the House is considering that, will he have a word with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which clearly does not share my urgency or that of my constituents on the issue? I wrote to the Department on 9 October about the scheme that is coming in the new year but I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of that.

Mr. Hain: If the hon. Gentleman is right about the beginning of his correspondence in October—I am sure that he is—the relevant Minister will want to find out why he has not received a reply. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a debate on fisheries next Tuesday and I hope that he will catch Mr. Speaker's eye to raise the points that he wants to make on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My right hon. Friend and I want an elected second Chamber but, shamefully, it seems that we are to be saddled with a wholly appointed second Chamber. Will the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform be reconstituted in the current Session with, if necessary, a new membership and revised terms of reference?

Mr. Hain: That is a matter for the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. My hon. Friend is right that

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I voted with him and others for an elected second Chamber but our position was defeated. [Interruption.] Conservative Members suggest that I was wrong. That may or may not be the case but the proposal was defeated by the Commons in any event, so there is no agreement on an elected second Chamber.

While we are on the subject, may I sweep away a lot of the breathtaking hypocrisy on the matter? I noticed that earlier this week in the House of Lords, Conservative Lords defeated a Liberal Democrat motion that called for an elected second Chamber. We now know where the Conservative party stands on the matter, despite the position that has been shouted from the Conservative Benches. We shall see whether we can have an honest debate about who wishes to preserve the 92 hereditary peers in the House of Lords. All progressive people think that we should have a second Chamber that is more representative of opinion throughout the country than accidents of birth.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): May I endorse the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) for a debate on the role of expert medical witnesses in criminal trials? Following the acquittal of Trupti Patel, the case of my former constituent, Sally Clark and the predicament of my constituent Angela Cannings, I note that nothing has been heard of the review committee that the Attorney-General established six months ago to look into the issue. It is a matter of urgency to know what is now in the mind of the Government when they consider the cases that I mentioned.

Mr. Hain: I well understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, especially on behalf of his constituents. I would feel the same if my constituents had been similarly affected, so I shall ensure that the relevant Minister is aware of his urgency and his constituents' feelings.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that it appears that Russia is refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol and that the United States, which is one of the richest countries in the world, has failed to set an example? Will he grant us a debate in the House on the Kyoto protocol so that we may reaffirm its importance to everyone in the world? It is not a question of economic growth, as is often said, but of environmental survival.

Mr. Hain: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be in Milan at the climate change conference next week precisely to spur on the world to take its responsibilities seriously, implement Kyoto—the Government have signed up to it—and reduce the impact of climate change throughout the world. I am not sure that the Russian Government have made their position on Kyoto as clear as my hon. Friend implied. We hope that Russia will ratify the protocol and allow it to come into force so that the world may begin to confront the horrendous challenge of environmental devastation and climate change.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House convey to the Pentagon the alarm

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felt by many at reports that it is planning to recruit paramilitaries from political organisations? Will he seek assurances that such a thing will not happen in south-east Iraq, where it is felt that it is important that the police and security forces may act impartially and not as the servants of specific political organisations?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Given his expertise on the situation in Iraq, to which the Prime Minister referred yesterday, I know that the Defence Secretary will want to take his points seriously.

John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): There were two questions earlier about the Audit Commission report that was produced today. The commission also pointed out the fundamental unfairness of our system of council taxation, which is not related to people's ability to pay and was introduced when the official Opposition were in government. May we have a debate on that so that we can consider the system of council taxation and point to councils such as mine that fritter away thousands of pounds on pet projects and put up their council tax by an enormous amount yet refuse to examine new powers that would allow them to introduce lower council taxation for groups such as pensioners on fixed incomes?

Mr. Hain: Obviously, I am concerned about my hon. Friend's comments about the performance of his local authority. The House will want to look into that carefully. We have sought to develop and progress a much fairer system for local revenue raising—that is why the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire is conducting a review that takes account of all the points that the Audit Commission made. It is important to read its report carefully, because it gives a much more rounded and balanced account of the situation than some of the more lurid headlines and political statements might suggest.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Can the Leader of the House tell us when we will hear a report back to the House on the so-called big conversation? Will we be told how many of those events have been attended by the Leader of the House and by the Prime Minister, or how many of the 60 million people in this country attended them, and how many are Labour party members? We need to know those things. Most importantly, will we be told how many Government policies have changed as a result of the so-call big conversation?

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