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Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): I had hoped to be able to press the Leader of the House for a debate on the document produced by the No. 10 performance unit on the performance of this Government. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has denied public access to that document, praying in aid the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I can only assume that its contents are so bad that he does not want it in the public domain. Therefore, may I take this opportunity to ask the Leader of the House when the debate that he indicated should take place on the defence White Paper will actually happen?
Mr. Hain: Lord Hutton has made it clear that he will make his statement and, I guess, it will take some time. At the end of that statement, the report will be made available in the House and you, Mr. Speaker, will be consulted on this matter in accordance with Lord Hutton's wishes.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to review the extraordinary revelations this morning in the Scottish press about the lack of preparedness for Scottish troops, particularly the Black Watch, as they entered theatre without enough nuclear, biological and chemical armoury? Lieutenant Colonel James Cowan said:
Mr. Hain: I have not had the pleasureif that is the wordof reading the Scottish press this morning. I am sure that the Minister concerned will note the hon. Gentleman's points. He also has the opportunity to apply for a debate.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): In light of the Electoral Reform Society report on proportional representation for local government, which claims that the British National party would not take control of Burnley council if we had PR, will the Leader of the House allow us a debate on PR for council elections so that we can dispel such bunkum? Does he agree that PR in local councils is the local government equivalent of the assisted-places scheme for fascists?
Mr. Hain: As my hon. Friend knows, the BNP has not got control of Burnley council now, and certainly nothing should be done to encourage that. On the contrary, I hope that the BNP candidates are roundly defeated by Labour candidates, or by the candidates of every other party represented here if Labour cannot beat them, as well. We need to get that poison out of our political system. I think that he and I have similar views on proportional representation systems, but I am not sure whether he supports my view that we should have the alternative vote in single-Member constituencies.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Following the good wishes of the Leader of the House last week for my attempts to secure a debate on the health aspects of phone mast technology, Mr. Speaker has granted such a debate in Westminster Hall at 2 o'clock next Wednesday. In view of the fact that this debate may take place at the same time as important business in this Chamber, will the Leader of the House
Mr. Hain: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talk to Mr. Speaker about this matter. I am not in a position to suspend the debate nor would I wish to do so. However the situation can be resolved in other ways.
[That this House is appalled at the distress caused to 40 families in the Newport village of Peterstone Wentloog (Llanbedr Gwynllwg) by demands from Mr Mark Roberts that they pay 9 per cent, of the value of their property for the right of access to their homes; urges the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government to accelerate reforms in the manorial laws and to extend section 68 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to Wales to prevent this unscrupulous exploitation of ancient titles; and condemns the attempted parasitic extortion by Mr Mark Roberts and his solicitors Darwin Gray of Cardiff through the misuse of ancient titles that revive the unjust privileges of feudal laws.]
Distress was caused to 40 of my constituents who faced injunctions on new year's day from Mr. Mark Roberts of Barry island, who claims ownership of the common land near their homes and is demanding 9 per cent. of the value of their houses. They have been informed that taking the matter to court might cost each of them between £50,000 and £60,000. Is it not important that we look into parasites such as Mr. Roberts, who is trying to revive the injustices of feudal law by pretending to be the manorial lord of the area?
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): Can the Leader of the House explain why only two Opposition parties will have early access to the Hutton report? The Conservatives and Liberals, quite rightly, will have access to the report six hours ahead of its publicationyet that privilege will not be extended to my party and to colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Ulster parties. Surely all parties should be treated equally. How does the right hon. Gentleman justify that appalling discrimination?
Mr. Hain: I understand that a representative of the minority parties has written to the Prime Minister, who is considering the matter. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await a reply. The minority parties decided to break with the tradition of working through the Liberal Democrats but that is a matter for them. As I said, the Prime Minister is considering his request.
Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that there is a requirement to review the sitting times in this Chamber. Does he agree that we will appear rather eccentric and wholly out of touch to the people we represent if we insist that we cannot deal with the business of Parliament without regularly sitting late into the evening?
Mr. Hain: I received a good response to my letter, so I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's observation. It is in the interests of the House to reach a consensus on the issue but if that is not possible, we shall have to face the consequences.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The Leader of the House should grasp the fact that the education debate earlier this week cannot be compared in any way, in terms of current importance, with the issues for debate on the Higher Education Bill and the Hutton report. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that it would be a dereliction of duty if he does not deliver to the House two-day debates on each of those subjects, which are of vital and immediate national interest?
Mr. Hain: I would much welcome an Opposition day debate on Conservative policies for university funding. We learned today that they are about to announce a policy of privatising universities, abolishing grants and cutting student numberswhereas the Government stand for widening access, bringing back grants and helping poorer students. That is the choice.
John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): Most constituencies have post offices located inside commercial premises. A problem arises when such premises close down, because the post offices are closed with themas happened at Roneo Corner in Hornchurch, without any notice or warning. As a result, pensioners were in a panic because the source of their pension payments disappeared. Can a statement be made on the closure of post offices within commercial premises, with a view to undertaking a survey that would show when and where such problems are likely to arise in future?
Mr. Hain: I recognise that is a severe problem and it is one on which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has answered questions. My right hon. Friend will doubtless note the circumstances that my hon. Friend described, which arise from the difficulty of locating post offices in commercial premises. We must ensure that when that is done, pensioners and others receive the same standard of service, for that is vital.