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Mr. Hain: I have not had the opportunity to do that. I am sure that any decision taken by the House will not be informed by what individual hon. Members might do outside the House in the mornings.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that this week 500 employees at the Sara Lee factory in Bridlington in my constituency lost their jobs? Does he appreciate that the scale of that loss is likely to have an effect on the town of Bridlington similar to that which the collapse of the entire UK car industry would have on the city of Birmingham? Will he therefore pass on my deep concerns to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry with a plea for more to be done to encourage inward investment in English seaside towns, and may we have a debate on that?

Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman is free to apply for a debate. I am concerned to hear the news from his constituency, but it is against the background of a continued rise in jobs and employment and cuts to unemployment—including in his constituency. Despite the sometimes terrible impact of company and factory closures, most, if not all, people find alternative jobs. We must ensure that we defend existing jobs wherever we can, including in his constituency, but if closures take place, we have active employment programmes to ensure that new job opportunities arise. That has been the case consistently throughout the country since we took power in 1997.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen reports this week about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport's frustration at the failure of the Strategic Rail Authority and his apparent decision to take back powers from the authority to Ministers. That is clearly another stage toward direct public ownership and control of the railway industry, which I welcome. Will the Leader of the House arrange a full debate on the Floor of the House on the ongoing crisis in the railway industry, especially so that we may consider the prospect of bringing the whole industry back into public ownership and making it accountable to this Parliament?

Mr. Hain: I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to take account of my hon. Friend's views. I am also sure that my hon. Friend will want to celebrate the fact that more than 1,500 new trains have come into service since we came to power. Passenger numbers have been rising and record investment is going into the railways. There is a long way to go, given the mess that we inherited in 1997, but I am sure that he would want to applaud those trends.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Leader of the House says that he wishes to reconnect Parliament with the people, which I support. In that spirit, is he aware that the Radio 4 "Today" programme held a poll of its listeners over Christmas to find out the sort of Bill

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that they would like to come before Parliament? They decided that there should be a Bill on law and order so that people could protect their homes properly. Will he arrange an urgent debate on that so that we can discuss something that worries many people?

Mr. Hain: I agree that the issue worries many people. I thought that the "Today" programme's poll was a worthwhile exercise. It is open to any Member of the House, including those high up on the private Member's ballot—

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Where is the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound)?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) was not high up on the ballot. It is open to any hon. Member to take forward the "Today" programme listeners' verdict, and I hope that hon. Members will consider doing so.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): May I urge the Leader of the House to support the suggestion to bring in private Members' Bills on a Tuesday evening because it is important that we use that space more? I resist being held hostage here by the lovely gentlemen opposite—they are all gentlemen—and urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that we maintain the current sitting hours.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend and others have put to me the interesting suggestion that we could liberate all Fridays and consider private Member's Bills on Tuesday evenings. Arithmetically speaking, we would require 22 Tuesday evenings to have time equivalent to that on the Fridays on which we sit. The suggestion will no doubt be considered during the Modernisation Committee's review.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The House will agree that the health and well-being of our children is of the utmost importance. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House, with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, find time to debate here the incredible, callous decision of Conservative-controlled Essex county council to abolish the school meals service in Essex?

Mr. Hain: I find it astonishing that the Conservative council has taken that decision, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the welfare of youngsters ought to be at the top of our agenda.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Returning to the topic raised by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), engaging the public with our work here, does not the Leader of the House think it entirely unsatisfactory that he cannot announce the topics for Opposition day debates when he makes his statement? The public do not know what is coming up in those debates, and neither do the MPs and Ministers who have to prepare for them. Should he not make it a requirement that, when he makes his statement, the topics of Opposition day debates have to be announced, or are the Opposition in total disarray?

Mr. Hain: Fortunately, I am not responsible for the Opposition, but I think that my right hon. Friend makes

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an interesting suggestion. In the last few minutes, I have had requests about all sorts of details for the coming weeks shouted at me or made in more sedate terms. It would be interesting to know the subject of Opposition day debates in advance so that Members could prepare and their constituents make representations. I shall energetically pursue the suggestion.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that the Penrose report delivered to the Treasury on 23 December has now been copied to the Financial Services Authority. That is not part of the normal Maxwellisation process, and it is a decision that the Equitable Life members action group has rightly described as highly questionable. In light of that and the appalling year-long delay in publishing Penrose, may I ask the Leader of the House to prevail on the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to come here next week and make an urgent statement about what exactly is going on in the Penrose inquiry?

Mr. Hain: I am sure that the Financial Secretary will have carefully noted the hon. Gentleman's points. Those with Equitable Life pensions have suffered grievously, and their interests ought to be seriously considered.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) for pointing out earlier that the Conservatives' proposal for our hours was for a 9 to 5 day. Will the Leader of the House bear it in mind that the 11.30 am start was itself a compromise between those who wanted a late start and finish and those who wanted an earlier start to the day? Will he assure the House that if he moves towards a compromise, it will not only be a question of having later hours; we should also have the option of an earlier start on all days of the week?

Mr. Hain: That is exactly why the issue is so complex. My hon. Friend has made a perfectly fair case. I do not know whether Conservative Front Benchers will resurrect their proposition—the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is nodding vigorously—or whether they will get unanimity on that point. Opinion on the Conservative Benches is just as divided as it is in other parties. We should approach the issue on a non-party basis in the interests of the House.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I assure the Leader of the House that he was absolutely wrong in what he said about the Traffic Management Bill? No start date for the Standing Committee sittings has been agreed, and nor has the number of sittings. Surely, in any event, those are matters for the Programming Sub-Committee, and that cannot meet until the Selection Committee has appointed the Standing Committee. Will he assure the House that the Standing Committee on the Traffic Management Bill will be appointed this coming week so that the Programming Sub-Committee can decide how many times the Committee should sit and when it should start?

Mr. Hain: I made it clear earlier that the usual channels—the Government Whips—invited further

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representations. That invitation still stands, and if the hon. Gentleman or anyone else wants to make representations, they will be listened to.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will, I am sure, have noted several excellent ideas for modifying the existing hours. He, like me, is of a generation who remembers the joy of getting a Meccano set at Christmas, and we know that just because one cannot get all the right pieces in place the first time, that does not mean that one chucks it in the bin.

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