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Mr. Hain: Obviously, the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises—particularly given that he raises them with his authority in the House—will be closely looked at by Ministers. I am sure that he will appreciate

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that his council, along with other councils throughout the country, have had above-inflation increases under this Government, after years of cuts under Conservative Governments. We all want to see a limit on council tax rises—they have been going up at too high a rate—and the Government are working with local authorities and providing the funding that, I hope, will ensure that that happens throughout the country.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the usefulness of a debate on the new educational maintenance grant? We could then promote its take-up specifically in the Asian community, which could, in turn, lead to a reduction in the appalling number—300—of girls who are removed, year on year, from Bradford district schools at the age of 12-plus.

Mr. Hain: First, I acknowledge my hon. Friend's strong involvement in this vital area? Further education, especially, has been widely neglected over the decades. It is now being given exactly the priority that it always should have had, and educational maintenance grants are an important part of that. I am sure the issue that she raises—the importance of the Asian community having access to, and knowledge of, those grants—is one to which the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will pay close attention.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I make no apology for returning to the Prime Minister's role in the Hutton debate when it takes place in the House because, week after week, we fail to get satisfactory answers from either the Leader of the House or the Prime Minister. Is the Leader of the House aware that only two Ministers were interviewed and cross-examined by Lord Hutton—the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence? So there is an open-and-shut case that they should open and close the debate. The Leader of the House has already partially quoted from column 809 of yesterday's Hansard and Prime Minister's questions, when the Prime Minister said:


I endorse that. In the light of those comments from the Prime Minister, why was the Leader of the House not prepared to tell my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) a moment ago that the Prime Minister would lead in the debate, as well as make a statement? There is absolutely no excuse or reason why he should not lead in the debate as well.

Mr. Hain: May I just say that the repeated way in which the right hon. Gentleman, the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have sought to question the Prime Minister's integrity is shabby and distasteful? At the appropriate time, there will be announcements about the handling of the debate, as there always are, and about who will open and who will close it and on the other procedures for handling it.

The right hon. Gentleman and the whole House should leave Lord Hutton to continue to complete his report and to publish it in his own way. When he does so, the Prime Minister will be the first up in the House

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to report to the House in the statement, and arrangements for a debate will be announced as soon as it is possible to do so. The right hon. Gentleman will have to hold his breath for that.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will have seen reports this week that genetically modified maize could be sown for commercial planting this spring. Does he think that that is a reality? Does he agree that a debate is long overdue, given that the GM science report, the GM economics report, the GM public debate report and the GM report on farm-scale evaluations have all been published without an opportunity for hon. Members to debate those matters in the Chamber?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that a debate is needed; I have indicated as much before. The latest report adds to the case for having as early a debate as it is possible for the business managers and the Secretary of State to plan. It is important that all these issues are properly evaluated, and I know that there is concern about them right across the House.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that, today, the Royal Mail is launching the United Kingdom's first ever digital stamp. That means that the traditional stamp can be ditched in favour of a computerised version. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to come to the House to clarify the concerns of my constituents, who fear that this will mean the ending of the Queen's head on British stamps, and to eliminate the possibility that that could happen?

Mr. Hain: That is fatuous nonsense. The Queen's head will remain on all stamps sold to the hon. Gentleman, to other Members of the House and the public. He will understand that franking goes on—and has gone on for decades—by commercial organisations that do not use the actual physical stamp with the Queen's head on it. He will also understand that even he could move into the modern era and consider digital forms of franking. That is what the issue is about. He should really focus on more important matters.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and in the spirit of modernisation, should we not learn from the devolved institutions? Is there not a case for the Government to consider whether the occupant of the Chair in both Houses should simply be called President?

Mr. Hain: No, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): In view of the pro-European credentials of the Leader of the House and his belief in open government, is he aware that, on 3 December at the European Scrutiny Committee, we voted to have our deliberative sessions in public? That is a great step forward for the media and the public. They will be able to hear what we are doing. We examine hundreds of pages of directives and other stuff every month, and we want to share them with the public and the media. Is there a problem with that, or could we just have a notice on the door saying, "Open to the public"?

Mr. Hain: I very much welcome the European Scrutiny Committee's decision. [Hon. Members: "Oh."]

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Indeed I do. In fact, I would like to see greater scrutiny of European matters in and by the House. I shall be considering, along with colleagues on the Modernisation Committee, how we can take that forward.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House accept that we have a limited time available in which to discuss cannabis reclassification? Will he consider an urgent debate based on the evidence that there seems to be a growing incidence of mental health problems among users of cannabis? Will he do that as soon as possible?

Mr. Hain: Home Office Ministers are aware of the report and they have commented on it. I know that there is concern about this issue, and I am sure that Ministers will listen closely to the points that my hon. Friend makes. He will, of course, have an opportunity to secure a debate on the matter himself.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): May I strongly support the comments of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on the need for a debate in the House on the safety and health aspects of mobile telephony following the publication this week of the report by the Government's adviser, Professor Lawrie Challis, the findings of which can only really be described as inconclusive? Such a debate would enable hon. Members on both sides of the House to express widespread concern and also enable us to mount the case for more Government money to be spent on independent research. The research to which the hon. Gentleman referred is largely funded by the industry itself.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I know that he has applied for a private Member's debate on the matter. I hope that he, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), is successful in achieving it. We welcome the publication of the report of the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation on the health effects from radio frequency electromagnetic fields. It is important that we keep this rapidly developing area under review. I know that the hon. Gentleman's constituency concerns are important in that respect.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend make time for an early debate on the atrocious situation in Zimbabwe? In discussions with his ministerial colleagues, will he bear in mind the hideous persecution being meted out to gay and lesbian people in Zimbabwe that has forced my constituent, Neil Noble, to become an asylum seeker?

Mr. Hain: The situation in Zimbabwe is tragic and atrocious. The deterioration of the country under Robert Mugabe's tyrannical leadership just makes everyone want to cry. The people in the country are suffering as they have never suffered before. In fact, they are suffering more than many of them, including Robert Mugabe himself, suffered under the old white minority

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regime. It is time that Zimbabwe changed direction and got back on the road to being the prosperous jewel in the crown of African countries that it once was.


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