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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): May I refer the Leader of the House to the announcement he has made today that we are to have only one day for all the remaining stages of the Higher Education Bill? It is clear to Members on both sides of the House that this legislation is still extremely controversial, not least, of course, because of the lack of representation in Committee from a number of his colleagues who have concerns about important aspects of the Bill.
Will the Leader of the House look again to see whether he can find extra time for those remaining stages? Can he also give an absolute guarantee that there will be no Government statement on that day, if we have to remain with just one day for consideration? Will he also consider the special case for allowing extra time to replace any time taken for Divisions during the debate, because there may be a number of them, which could take up precious debating time?
Can the Leader of the House confirm the report in today's edition of the Financial Times that the plans for the reform of the House of Lords have become "absolutely shambolic"? No doubt he was involved in the meeting of the Cabinet Sub-Committee that took place this week and where, we understand, the whole issue was shunted up a siding. Can he tell us when and if the Bill will ever appearhe has previously referred to it in the Houseand can he, at long last, confirm that, if it does reach the House, consideration in Committee will be taken in full on the Floor of the House, as was the case with the last reform Bill, which took the bulk of the hereditaries out of the House of Lords?
Mr. Hain: The Higher Education Bill was debated on Second Reading in great detail and it had a full airing in Committee, where, I understand, detailed and good-quality debate took place. I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's comment about there being no Government statement on the day, which is a fair point, subject, obviously, to the emergencies of the day. I will
On the Financial Times report, I ask the hon. Gentleman, in the nicest way, to contain himself on this matter. When we are ready to say how we are proceeding on the House of Lords questions, we will do so. An announcement will be made and he will need to wait until then.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend have words with the Treasury to see whether it is possible to organise some training on interpretation of the massive Budget documents that we get every year, aimed at avoiding confusion of the kind that occurred yesterday in relation to green fuels? The Conservative party issued a press release that was so factually inaccurate that it misled the motorist. [Interruption.] This is important, although I am sure that the press release was not intended to mislead. Can we have some training?
Mr. Hain: Training for Opposition Members in all sorts of things would be a great advantage to the House, but I take my hon. Friend's point. For example, we would not have imagined that to get to the same level of duty as applies in Germany, fuel duty incentives for liquefied petroleum gas in the United Kingdom would have to rise by about 200 per cent. As he rightly says, the picture painted by the Opposition is extremely misleading, though no doubt that was inadvertent.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the proposed title for the so-called presiding officer in the House of Lords? Is he aware of early-day motion 444?
[That this House notes the report prepared by the House of Lords' Select Committee on the Speakership of the House of Lords and its recommendation that the senior Lord presiding on the Woolsack should be known as the Lord Speaker; further notes that the Committee recognized the argument that this might lead to confusion with the Speaker of the House of Commons, but dismissed it; respectfully consider that there would be considerable scope for such confusion to occur, particularly in respect of Mr Speaker's role in representing this House at home and overseas; and calls upon the Government to facilitate consultations between both Houses about this important and sensitive issue.]
Mr. Hain: I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request, because I know the strong feelings of the House on this matter. As I have said before, Mr. Speaker, we have one Speakerthat is your good self. We intend to ensure that our Speaker is above all others, not just in this country but in the world.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): The Leader of the House will have seen that there has been a further outbreak of violence in Kosovo, which has come as no surprise to anyone who has visited it recently, because it is a mono-ethnic state run by the mafia, with ethnic
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge the close interest that my hon. Friend has taken in Kosovo, and I pay tribute to her for continuing to do so. The Defence Secretary will make a written ministerial statement on Monday about the situation, but I can tell the House that we agreed this morning to the deployment to Kosovo of the 1st battalion, the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, which is the unit assigned to the role in question after NATO requested the deployment of the operational reserve force. Today, 120 troops have gone out, and up to 600 will be made available if necessary. The situation is very serious, with many deaths and injuries, and we want to help to stabilise it. Kosovo has suffered far too much from ethnic conflicts and genocide, and it needs to be stabilised and have peace established as soon as possible.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about a debate on housing? I raise this not as a party political point but as a constituency point. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has put a moratorium on any further house building in my boroughthe borough of Macclesfieldwhich, clearly, is having an adverse impact. While there are exceptions in relation to affordable housing, affordable housing is often only part of a larger development in which normal houses partially subsidise it. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to respond during the Budget debate on matters relating to housing? If not, could he find the opportunity for a debate on this important matter, preferably in this Chamber, or, if not, in Westminster Hall?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request. I can vouch for the fact that he consistently makes good constituency points, and very rarely are they party points. He is known to have that reputation.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I note that the debate on Equitable Life is to be on the Adjournment, but can we not have it on a substantive motion? That would allow some of us to put forward a version of early-day motion 827.
[That this House notes that Lord Penrose's report finds extensive evidence of operational failures by Equitable Life and regulatory failures by previous Conservative governments; yet recognises that Labour governments are often called upon to deal with the failings of financial
That motion recognises that the problem arose from within Equitable Life itself and as a result of the lack of regulation under the Conservatives. Nevertheless, we often have to clear up the mess that has been created, and a case exists for compensation on the basis of need. We need an opportunity to debate the matter fully, which a substantive motion would allow.
Mr. Hain: There will, of course, be an opportunity to debate it fully in the time that we have allocated. It is an important issue, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we are having to clear up a mess that has badly hit many people as a result of the collapse of their financial provision for the future. We are addressing the matter, and there will be an opportunity to debate it, as he knows, but I am afraid that I cannot satisfy his request for a substantive motion.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary can make a statement on the present situation in Syria, where a number of Kurds have recently been shot and killed, a number injured, and a number arrested. I was told this morning that a number of villages are still cut off from the outside world. Can the Foreign Secretary make a statement on that, and in particular say what representations the Government have made to Syria, and whether the ambassador has been asked to explain the current situation?