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Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): While I do not agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) in relation to Equitable Life, is the Leader of the House aware that many Conservative Members agree that there should be a full debate, to provide the opportunity to express the extreme dissatisfaction felt by many constituents at the recent Treasury statement on Equitable Life?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to express his views when there is a debate in Government time at the Government's initiative. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire was making a different point about a substantive motion. If the hon. Gentleman can persuade members of his Front Bench to initiate a debate on a substantive motion, the Government will be happy to debate itand to oppose the motion, if we cannot agree with it.
Mr. Hain: Today's Order Paper for the House of Lords contains two motions on co-operation and carry-over. We are content with that situation and hope that on Monday, those motionswhich have been tabled by
Rather than employ tactics to wreck the Bill, there is now the opportunity for proper scrutiny that will deliver the Bill because the Opposition, through the usual channels, have committed themselves. That arrangement will allow us to move forward but also raises the question of which is the supreme House of Parliament. That must be the House of Commons. It is good that the lordships involved in the negotiations have now agreed to deliver a Bill after a plea by the Leader of the Opposition, after previously sayingin the words of one Opposition Front Bencherthat they should bin the Bill. They are not going to bin the Bill. They will discuss it in a serious fashion and the will of this House shall prevail.
Mr. Bellingham: Can there be a statement on the extraordinary state of affairs in Zimbabwe involving the arrest of so-called mercenariesincluding a British citizen, Simon Mann, who is a former SAS and Scots Guards officer? He may be an adventurer but if he intended to launch a coup against Equatorial New Guinea, he would hardly have started in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mann is currently imprisoned in squalid conditions and possibly faces the death penalty. Has the high commissioner been to see Mr. Mann? Have consular officials offered him any support?
Mr. Hain: I am not aware of the detailed consular arrangements but British citizens are entitled to full consular access and support, whatever their situation and whatever they might have done. I am sure that the Foreign Office will take a close interest in the hon. Gentleman's request. That situation is rather bizarre but almost everything that happens in Zimbabwe is not just bizarre but more serious. The situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers will have to be investigated and I am sure that the Foreign Office will provide the hon. Gentleman with the assurances that he seeks.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Following the terrorist atrocity in Madrid last Thursday, does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of the police in anti-terrorist work is more important than ever? Greater Manchester police are fortunate to have a record number of officers in post. The House has many opportunities during the year to debate defence policy but there are few debates specifically on policing policy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Opposition are finding it difficult to identify a subject for debate next week, that occasion would provide a perfect opportunity for the House to discuss the funding and role of the policeparticularly the impact of any cuts in police spending on anti-terrorist work?
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I have urged my right hon. Friend before to make time for a full debate on all aspects of housing beyond the Budget debate. I welcome the excellent report by Kate Barker, which identifies the fact that many more houses are needed. It is clear that the private sector is not prepared to build the number of houses, houses in the right places or types of houses required. There is a strong case for reinventing local authority provision of first-class, quality housing. A debate could encompass, for example, the abandonment of stock transfer schemes, transferring stock back to local authorities, and the re-establishment and expansion of direct labour organisations for house building and housing repairs, which worked so well in the past.
Mr. Hain: I have always been a great admirer of council housing programmes, especially since the war. The role played by Labour Governments over many decades was exemplary. We want to encourage opportunities for more social housing, whether provided by local councils or housing associations. The Barker report points up severe problemsin particular, the lack of affordable housing. We are seized of the need to do something, which is the reason for the Chancellor's positive welcome to the Barker report and to its recommendations for encouraging the relaxation of planning regulations and identifying different locations by changing the regime and encouraging the use of more brownfield sites. At least the publicespecially first-time buyersare confident that under this Government, mortgage rates will remain low because of the economic stability locked in by the Chancellor and endorsed by yesterday's Budget. Under Conservative Governments, mortgages went sky-high and were treble what they are now, creating uncertainty in the housing market and a nightmare for many first-time buyers.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend to review the local government electoral systems in England and Wales? I respect my right hon. Friend's long-held views on the alternative vote but does he share the view of many right hon. and hon. Members who believe in the first-past-the-post system that electoral reform in favour of proportional representation for local government in Scotland would be a disaster?
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge and respect my hon. Friend's long-standing commitment to first past the post. I have been a long-standing opponent of proportional representation, which destroys the relationship between the Member of Parliament and his or her constituency, which can judge its MP and get rid of him or her if it wants. There are all sorts of anomalies and contradictions in PR systems. We fought the
Mr. Hain: I plead guilty. I took through the Government of Wales Act 1998 together with the then Secretary of State for Wales. The way the system operates has proved seriously anomalous and unacceptableone reason for its operation being reviewed by the commission under Lord Richard. I hope that a much more sensible situation will emerge in future. I look forward to discussing those matters with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson).
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): On 6 April, during the Easter recess, the provisions of the Sunday Working (Scotland) Act 2003 will become law. My right hon. Friend will recall that I was fortunate enough to introduce that legislation as a private Member's Bill. It extends to shop workers in Scotland the right not to work on a Sunday should they choose not to do soa right already enjoyed by shop workers in England and Wales. Will he take this and every opportunity to promote its provisions, so that shop workers in Scotland who are following the proceedings of this House will know that, from 6 April, people in my