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Mr. Hain: Of course I agree that there should be plenty of time to debate really serious subjects, which is precisely why I have announced the business today as it is. First, on the Hutton report, the hon. Gentleman has asked for two days to debate it. There will be a statement next week by the Prime Minister, which will go on for as long, Mr. Speaker, as you wish to let it go on. The Prime Minister is committed to answer all the questions that are put to him, which will certainly take some time. In the following week, there will be a full day's debate on top of that.

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to make mischief and to try it on. Oppositions do that kind of thing; we did it on Scott. As the Labour Opposition, we asked for two days on the Scott report. The Conservative Government whom he supported had a one-day debate. That is the precedent, which we will continue to follow.

While I am discussing Hutton, I must add that the Leader of the Opposition has been behaving in a distasteful fashion by questioning the Prime Minister's integrity. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will, in advance of the Hutton report, put it to his right hon. and learned Friend that if that report does not question the Prime

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Minister's integrity, he should apologise right away. We want to know now whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make an apology, in view of the serious statements—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are, of course, discussing next week's business.

Mr. Hain: Indeed, Mr. Speaker. I am doing precisely that.

As for the presiding officer on the Woolsack, to whom early-day motion 444 refers, I repeat what I said last week in relation to the title of Lord Speaker: I do not have any further information, and the House of Lords is still considering the question.

The hon. Gentleman asked again for two days' debate—no doubt this will become a Conservative ritual—on the Higher Education Bill. The single day that has been allocated to the Bill, on top of all the debate in and outside the Chamber, is absolutely normal for a Bill of that kind, and that is how we intend to proceed.

On the truancy debate, and the pictures showing an empty Chamber, one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), wrote an interesting letter to The Times in which he pointed out that many Members were involved in Select Committees and other business of the House at that precise time. The hon. Gentleman should not therefore play to a media gallery in trying to suggest that the House is not doing its work. In fact, Members were busy in all Committee Rooms of the House undertaking important Select Committee work.

That brings me to the hon. Gentleman's important questions about the effectiveness of Select Committees. By all means, I would be happy to receive representations and to review the role of Select Committees, and the House may wish to do so over the coming period. As a Government, however, we have agreed extra resources for Select Committees. The Prime Minister, for the first time ever, has agreed to appear before the Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairs. By doing that, he has made himself more accountable to Select Committees, because we believe in those Committees, and in their holding Ministers accountable. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to endorse that principle, at least we can agree on that.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): I hope that we do not need to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is not just a Cabinet Minister but the Leader of the House, and he therefore has a special responsibility to Members on all sides of the House to make sure that we have proper opportunities to do our job. In that respect, may I address again the question of the debate that he has announced on the Hutton report on Wednesday 4 February? As we understand it, that debate will have to deal with issues of accountability at the heart of government, the future of public service broadcasting and the BBC, and, as he said, the way in which this House, through its Select Committees, scrutinises the Executive. Those are all extraordinarily important issues.

Despite what the right hon. Gentleman said about the position of his party when in Opposition, may I put it to him that two wrongs do not make a right? May I draw

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his attention to the fact that in business questions on Thursday 22 February 1996, the then Labour spokesman, now Lord Rooker, a Minister in the other place, described the decision of the then Government to have a debate on the Scott report on the Adjournment as "parliamentary cowardice"?

He said that it was

Can the Leader of the House assure us that the debate on the Hutton report will not just be an Adjournment debate, but one that will give the House the opportunity to divide on a motion and, if necessary, to amend it? On that occasion, my party was consistent, because my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood) said that he thought that the Government were

Since when does the Leader of the House believe that because the Conservatives did something, it gives Labour an excuse to do the same? At the same time, I understand his point about a two-day debate, but can he at least tell us whether he is prepared to table a motion to suspend the 7 o'clock cut-off, so we can carry on until 10 o'clock? There is nothing to stop us doing that. Those extra three hours would be particularly valuable for Back Benchers. Finally on that issue, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he will do everything he can to restrain the length of speeches from those on the Front-Benches, so that Back Benchers have a real opportunity to contribute to the debate?

On a small matter, the Leader of the House announced that on 5 February there will be separate motions—in the plural—on the police grant and the local government finance arrangements. Given the extremely important implications of this year's police precept and council tax—with threats of major increases—can we have two debates, as used to be the practice, on those two orders, rather than amalgamating them, in which case the police grant tends to be submerged?

Mr. Hain: I understand why the hon. Gentleman raised the last point, but the difficulty is that the two budgets come together in some respects, so it is better to handle them that way. However, there will be plenty of time for him and others to debate both issues.

May I add to the points I made to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about having a two-day debate on the Hutton report? We shall have plenty of time to discuss that report. As I explained earlier, the Prime Minister will make a statement, as he promised, and he will lead the debate, as he promised, so there will be plenty of opportunities for people to ask questions and make their points.

On the status of the debate, I ask the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) to await the publication of the report. We should all do that, and see what it says. I will then be in a position to announce at business questions the following day exactly what the handling of the forthcoming week's business, including that particular issue, will be. I will take careful note of the point that the hon. Gentleman made, as is my duty.

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As to the hon. Gentleman's first point about the length of the debate, I do not intend to go beyond the moment of interruption. We have agreed sitting times and, save for exceptional circumstances—

Mr. Tyler: These are exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Hain: Well, by exceptional circumstances I mean what occurred shortly before prorogation at Christmas and just before the summer recess, when hon. Members, having booked holidays and so forth, would not have wanted us to extend the sittings into the recess. In those circumstances, we had to go beyond the moment of interruption. Much of the House's business is important every day of the week. As I explained, we are following precedence on the Scott report, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree was also serious and important, and will handle the Hutton report in a similar fashion. With those reassurances, and in view of the hon. Gentleman's own points about the arrangements, I hope that he will accept my response.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I welcome the announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Health with responsibility for public health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), that, in future, people conceived by donated sperm, eggs or embryos will have the right to know the identity of the donor. That important announcement is in the best interests of the child, and I welcome it as the right way to proceed. Can the Leader of the House tell me whether the House will have an opportunity to debate that important issue and, if so, when?

Mr. Hain: I agree that that is a very important issue, and the public health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield, yesterday announced a wide-ranging review of these matters. It will include public consultation next year to which people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and other Members of the House can submit their views. She also has an opportunity to apply for a debate at any time and to question the Minister when she comes to the Dispatch Box.

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