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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Reverting to the question about the Butler report, will the Leader of the House set out next Thursday the detailed arrangements for publication; and can he confirm that the debate to which he referred will take place before the House rises?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly try to comply with the right hon. Gentleman's first request, which is very reasonable. It is an independent report and, as with the Hutton report, we are reliant on Lord Butler and his team to make the arrangements that they deem appropriate, with which we will fit in. I will certainly give details next Thursday if I am able.
We will try to have a debate as soon as possible, because it is in the House's interests to do so. I note, howeverI do not know whether it will happen on this
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occasionthat the clamour for a debate on the Hutton report before its publication was followed by a rather subdued whimper afterwards. Relative to the massive series of attacks and allegations that took place before the debate, virtually no serious interest was expressed subsequently.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention back to the proposed loss of tens of thousands of civil servants' jobs? If 550 out of 650 local benefits offices close, they will not be in London, but in Leeds, Liverpool, York and possibly Halifax. In view of the devastating effect that that will have on employees, who will almost certainly be made compulsorily redundant, and the effects on our constituents as vital services are lost, can we have a full, at least one-day debate in Government time before the recess?
Mr. Hain: I reassure my hon. Friend that, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) a moment ago, the intention of this whole exercise is to devolve more resources and front-line opportunities to staff in the Department for Work and Pensions, including in benefits agencies, precisely to provide the face-to-face contact and assistance that our constituents need. It is simply not the case that wholesale benefits agency closures are planned. No decision has yet been made on the precise configuration. Full consultation is occurring and will continue to occur with the trade unions. I assure my hon. Friend that the intention is to enhance local provision and use new technology and efficiency measures to switch priorities from backroom operations.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): When the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes to the House next week, will the Leader of the House ask him to incorporate in his statement details of how he will manage the United Kingdom's economy in future when there is an European Union constitution? When the Prime Minister made a statement on 21 June, I asked him what voting method would be used for co-ordinating EU economic policy. He replied that the treaty made it clear that member states determined their economic policy, but he did not specify the voting method. A few moments later, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) repeated the question but he still would not specify the voting method and I therefore tabled a written question. The Prime Minister referred it to the Minister for Europe, who replied by citing article 1.11(3) of the draft constitutional treaty, which states that part III determines the arrangements. I have studied part III, which clearly states that, because the voting method is not specified, the default applies as per article 1.22(3), thereby making proposals subject to qualified majority voting.
The hon. Lady and her colleagues have an obsession with attempting to show that the new draft constitutional treaty is a threat to Britain's interests
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when the rest of the European Union views it as a triumph for Britain and our negotiators. Only the Conservatives and their allies in the media and elsewhere cannot recognise that.
On tax and the central economic decisions that the Chancellor makes, this Government are the sovereign body. On co-ordinating economic policy, we have been responsible for driving forward an agenda for economic reform in Europe that was determined at the Lisbon summit some years ago. It included liberalisation of energy policy, so that our companies, which were previously denied the opportunity to get into markets such as France and Germany when their companies had access to ours, were given free access on a level playing field under single market rules. That is co-ordination of economic policy. Such matters are normally decided by unanimity at the European Council. All decisions at that level are made by unanimity.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): We read in the newspapers about the likely huge expansion in city technology colleges. The Times cited 500 and there have been other estimates of 200. Will the Secretary of State for Education and Skills make a statement about that next week? May I encourage my right hon. Friend to schedule a full day's debate on that major policy announcement?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend must be referring to press reports about city academies, not city technology colleges. When the Secretary of State for Education and Skills comes to the House to report on his five-year departmental plan, my hon. Friend will appreciate the huge focus of resources on inner-city areas where youngsters have been denied the opportunity for far too long to benefit from educational advance. The academies are designed to assist them. Where they have been established, they have an excellent record of improving standards and opportunities. Throughout the country, we are providing improved opportunities, choice, standards and outcomes. When the Secretary of State makes his statement, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the programme is exciting and radical, and designed to raise standards for people from all backgrounds, not only those at the top of the income bracket.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con):
My hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House has already mentioned the lack of concern of Liberals in Birmingham, Hodge Hill about an important matter to many people who live in the Birmingham areathe siting of mobile phone masts. Will the Leader of the House consider a more general debate on mobile phone safety issues, following the jailing last week of a Sutton Coldfield man for grooming a 13-year-old girl through text messaging? A massive growth in mobile phone sales, especially to youngsters, has occurred. The industry should help parents and children to promote the best possible safety practices in the use of mobile phones. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously
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consider holding a debate on the matter so that hon. Members of all parties can stress to the industry the importance of promoting children's safety?
Mr. Hain: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's work in bringing to the House's attention the important issue of the use of mobile phones and the text messaging system to groom vulnerable youngsters. I hope that he continues to campaign on the matter. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is aware of his anxieties. He has tabled many questions on the matter and he can be satisfied that the Government take it seriously. I hope that mobile phone operators will take it much more seriouslythat is partly the cause that he is prosecuting.
I am intrigued by the way in which Conservative Members are desperately trying to fight the Liberal Democrats for second place in the Hodge Hill by-election. Both parties are trading propaganda and attacks on the Floor. Long may that continue.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the list of Standing Committees on page 2070 of the Order Paper? Will he considerand perhaps hold discussions through the usual channels and with Departmentswhether longer notice of delegated legislation Committees can be given? That would improve deliberations because it would allow people to volunteer to the Whips to serve on Committees. The current position means that Whips, including my hon. Friend the mute hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), have to muster Back Benchers to serve on Committees in which they are not especially interested when other Committees in which they have a specific interest could be meeting simultaneously. For example, I am interested in landfill tax but horse passports do not exercise me, although some hon. Members consider them to be important. Cannot we have square pegs in square holes and get Departments to give longer notice so that hon. Members of all parties could volunteer to serve on Committees? That would lead to meaningful deliberations rather than hon. Members doing their correspondence in Committee.
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