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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Leader of the House accept that the best way to test the will of the House is to have a vote? Will he bear it in mind that Tuesday sittings were changed by a majority of seven? Why cannot we have a vote now on that and keep the other arrangements as an experiment?
Mr. Hain: Because it is not clear what the vote would be on. The hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members will know that I have spoken to scores of Members in all parties on this matter. There are very divided opinions. We ought to have a proper review and proper consideration, and then decide how we can move forward on an agreed basis.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the Government's policy with regard to child day centres, linking early-years education with care provision beyond normal school hours, and, in particular, on how that links to existing provision in local authorities? In my constituency, in the Mosborough area, a pioneering project does precisely what the Government intend to do nationally. Unfortunately, the local authority is proposing major changes, which greatly concern my
Mr. Hain: I am sure that the opportunity to discuss that issue on the Floor of the House could arise in various different ways, but I agree that it is very important and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised it.
Mr. Hain: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will not follow the precedent set by the Conservative Government on the Scott report when the Opposition spokesman was led into a darkened room and had only a brief time to consider the situation. It is a matter for Lord Hutton to decide precisely the terms in which the report is released, and I am sure that he will listen to the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. However, the Prime Minister has made it crystal clear, as he did yesterday and as I did before Christmas, that he will come to the House on the day that the report is published and immediately make a statement and be subject to cross-examination and questioning by all the Members of the House who wish to take part in that. I have already answered the point about the arrangements for the debate to follow.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): On Tuesday in the other place, there was a debate on the use of the Pugin Room and demands were made for it to be returned to the exclusive use of peers or, as a compromise, for it to be turned over to joint use. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that we represent constituencies and are regularly lobbied? We need space to meet our constituents and those who otherwise lobby us.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): On another parochial issue, the Leader of the House will have noticed that the unsightly and noisy demonstration in Parliament square has not reappeared in the new year. Can we have an early debate on the report of the Procedure Committee and a vote so that the House has the necessary powers to prevent any recurrence of that demonstration?
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that he will move immediately to look to make changes to improve the operation of the new hours. Does he agree, however, that it would be premature to consider how the new hours are operating before the problems that Members have raised continually over the past year have been resolved?
Mr. Hain: As I said earlier, I agree that some aggravating issues can be addressed quite quickly. We then need to take not too long but enough time to make sure that we reach a consensus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) suggested, I believe that it is possible to reach a consensus on modern hours that do not involve some of the anomalies that we face at present. That is the issue that I wish to consult upon, and we can move forward and find an agreed way to do that.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Leader of the House appreciate that his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) indicated to the House that the Prime Minister was not going to lead in the debate on the Hutton report? Again and again, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister merely say that the Prime Minister will make a statement. Can we have a categorical assurance that there will be a reasonable amount of time between the statement and the debate and that, as has to happen, the Prime Minister opens the debate from the Government Dispatch Box and remains in his place throughout the debate so that he takes account of what the House thinks of the report? As the Prime Minister has made it clear that Hutton will report shortly, it is essential that the Leader of the House now tells us that what I have asked for will happen. If he does not do so, we will assume that the Prime Minister is on the run.
Mr. Hain: That is an outrageous suggestion, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. The Prime Minister set up the Hutton inquiry and the Prime Minister has already made it clear that he will come here on the day that the report is published to answer questions from the
As for the debate, I have already made it clear that it will happen a week after publication of the report, so there will be enough time for the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to consider it. The question as to the handling of the debate needs to be decided in the light of what the Hutton report says. [Interruption.] Indeed, the Conservatives have made up their minds about what the Hutton report says in advance. That is a prejudiced position; we are adopting a fair and open-minded position and the House's interests will be protected to ensure that the handling of the debate and who opens and who closes it is appropriate in the light of the report that appears from Lord Hutton.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Although I still support the changes made to the hours, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consider one change that would be welcomed by many people who do not live in London or the south-east? That would involve making all Fridays constituency days in which we could accept constituency engagements and moving debates on private Member's Bills to Tuesday evenings. When the Modernisation Committee considers the proposals, will he also confirm that the Conservatives' proposal was for the House to sit from 9 to 5?
Mr. Hain: It was indeed, but I will not pour oil on troubled waters. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] I am being incited to do that, but I am seeking to be a cross-party Leader of the House rather than a single party one.
My hon. Friend makes a very interesting suggestion, and I have received strong representations to that effect. It may well be one of the ways in which we can achieve a new consensus. I point out, however, that I read in The Guardian the other day that, under the new sitting hours, the average length of a sitting day has increased from 7 hours 40 minutes in 2002 to 7 hours 57 minutes. It is not the case that the new sitting hours have led to less scrutiny. On the contrary, they have actually led to more time in the House.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been in suspended animation since October 2002, and it does not look like it will get off the ground very speedily. Will he therefore consider how urgent legislation required in Northern Ireland is dealt with in the House? For example, the draft Disability Discrimination Bill refers to every other part of the United Kingdom, but does not refer to Northern Ireland except to exclude it from its provisions. Surely all citizens with disabilities or other problems should be looked after by the House in the interim.