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Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, among the very large number of welcome initiatives yesterday, there was no provision for people such as my constituent, Mr. Humphrey, who has been contributing to a pension for 38 years and was expecting a pension of £18,000 a year, but who, because of the inadequacies of the Pensions Act 1995, is going to end up with £4,000 a year? It is a bleak Christmas for people who were employed by organisations such as Allied Steel and Wire and Dexion, and there is currently no provision in the legislative
Mr. Hain: I know from my experience as Secretary of State for Wales that the plight of the ASW workers in Cardiff has been appallingpeople are scandalously and disgracefully being robbed of pensions that they contributed to, as in the case that my hon. Friend cited, for up to 30 years. Therefore, the Government are bringing forward new pensions legislation to introduce a proper pension protection fund to ensure that that never happens again. The Secretary of State and Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions are looking at all the claims and looking at these issues very closely to see what can be done.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Leader of the House will have heard of the report from Amnesty International today to the effect that there are perhaps 14 persons held in British prisons under the terrorist legislation and in respect of whom there has been no trial or conviction. May we have an early statement or debate, so that we may address that matter? The Leader of the House will keep in mind the fact that the House has always protested against the holding of people without trial, whether in the Bastille in pre-revolutionary France, in the gulags, in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, or more recently in Guantanamo Bay. Surely the House should address the matter when it arises in our own country.
Mr. Hain: My own parents were detained without trial in the early 1960s in apartheid South Africa, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that the situation in Britain now is in any way or form comparable to a police state where the rule of law did not apply. The rule of law does apply here. However, the Home Secretary will obviously want to take close account of the points that he has made.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that in this morning's press there is published a form of university league table, which describes among other things the balance of intake to universities of students from state and private schools. Although there is some progress to report among some of our leading universities, and notwithstanding his earlier remarks about the higher education Bill having a Second Reading debate on one day, does he not think that the complexity of the issue and the controversy surrounding the Government's proposal, which I fully support, in respect of higher education funding and the widening of access to universities, justifies the argument for a separate debate on the issue? I endorse the comments that were made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). Will my right hon. Friend look again at the question of a separate debate, specifically on all aspects of widening participation in our universities?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I take the Leader of the House back to the Hutton inquiry, because his earlier response did not adequately settle matters? The House needs to know, first, whether all the Opposition parties will receive the report well in advance of publication? Secondly, will there be adequate time, preferably a week, between the making of a statement on Hutton and the actual debate? Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Prime Minister will not only, obviously, make a statement on Hutton but lead from that Dispatch Box when the debate takes place?
Mr. Hain: I have already made it clear that the Prime Minister will make a statement on Hutton. The way in which the report is handled is primarily a matter for Lord Hutton, obviously, as are the circumstances surrounding it, but the right hon. Gentleman will equally understand that the Government, having set up the Hutton inquiry and explicitly asked for the report, with its wide-ranging implications for everybody concerned, not least Ministers, will want to handle this in the proper way, with the House properly involved and everybody satisfied that it has been done in the proper way, so obviously his questions will be taken closely into account.
[That this House notes with alarm the raid by the US occupying forces, using armoured cars and soldiers, on the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Baghdad on the morning of Saturday 6th December in which eight leading trade union officials were arrested; is further disturbed to hear that US soldiers ransacked and destroyed the federation's possessions, including banners and posters condemning acts of terror, and smashed windows, without reason or explanation; notes that the new independent trade union movement in Iraq opposed Saddam Hussein's regime, and opposes terrorism by remnants of that regime and others; and calls upon the British Government to make urgent representations to the US Administration to discover why this raid took place and seek a swift apology and compensation for this appalling incident.]?
The Foreign Office has always taken a progressive line on trade unions and has encouraged and facilitated their development in Iraq. On 27 November in the House, the Foreign Secretary promised to encourage the Americans to take a similar line, yet on 6 December, United States forces smashed into the offices of the trade unions and arrested eight of their officialsan act that has been condemned by bodies such as the Congress of
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office always, under a Labour Government, takes a progressive line on trade unions. We have no information about an incident at the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, although we understand that United States forces conducted a raid on the morning of 6 December in Baghdad, which resulted in the recovery of a significant quantity of arms and ammunition and the arrest of eight suspected fedayeen, two of whom now face murder charges.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the Post Office, bearing it in mind that, under the Government's reinvention, four out of the five post offices in Belper are due to close early next year. Bearing it in mind that today's debate is important and is being squeezed, inevitably, by a very important statement, to which I do not object, will he consider in future protecting the time when there are Back-Bench debates, so that instead of finishing at 6 o'clock we finish five-and-a-half hours after we start them?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's request. I have just announced that there is an Opposition day early in January and the Opposition are free to choose that subject for debate, but we have responded in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman asked, by bringing forward a debate on post offices, as there is widespread concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about local post office closures. I should have thought that he was encouraged by that.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): The Leader of the House was a very keen supporter of the Ottawa land mines treaty, whose effects we all commend. He has also a history of opposing the trade in small arms around the world and is no doubt aware of the call that Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, made in the House yesterday at a meeting with Oxfam and Amnesty International, for a treaty on small arms. Will he ensure that the House can debate the need for such a treaty at an early opportunity, to ensure that its benefits, like those of the land mines treaty, are felt throughout the world?