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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing Bill.

Tuesday 9 November—Remaining stages of the Civil Partnership Bill [Lords], followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 10 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Human Tissue Bill, followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 11 November—Opposition half-day [unallotted]. There will be a half-day debate entitled "Government's Failure to Support Family Doctor Services" on an Opposition motion, followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments.

Friday 12 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 15 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Tuesday 16 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 17 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 18 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

I inform the House that business in Westminster Hall on Thursday 18 November will be:

Thursday 18 November—A debate on the report from the Work and Pensions Committee on the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive.

In respect of Prorogation, I hope that it will be possible to prorogue no later than Thursday 18 November. The House will understand that that is subject to the progress of business in both Houses.

Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for the business, although I must say that it seemed a tad repetitive.

When can we expect the pre-Budget statement? We normally have news of it by now. Will it even occur in November? Where is the draft Civil Service Bill, which has been promised for almost a year?

Turning to the situation in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said before the Leeds castle meeting in September that the moment of decision could not drag on indefinitely. Today's third report by the Independent Monitoring Commission makes bleak reading: paramilitaries have not wound down their activities, violence is at disturbingly high levels and a policy stalemate has been reached. Can we expect a statement before Prorogation setting out the Government's intentions for the future of government in Northern Ireland and do the Government have a plan B?
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May we have a debate on the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy and the details of the single farm payment, which is causing farmers confusion? Farmers are planting their crops, to which those rules will apply, but the Government have not yet introduced the necessary rules, which would be extremely helpful to clarify the situation.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he would give local authorities greater powers to ensure that they can take immediate action in the courts to deal with Travellers who flout planning laws. He also said that he is re-examining the matter to ensure that the powers are adequate. Can we have a debate about the planning process and Traveller sites? Planning permission is being obtained under the Human Rights Act 1998 for greenfield sites that no one else would be allowed to develop. Although the Government's proposals seem to allow stop notices to force any building work to stop, is it not the case that so far nothing has been done to address those difficult planning issues?

Yesterday, I raised again with the Leader of the House the question of Government co-operation with requests from Select Committees for witnesses and papers. Is he able to say that the Government are taking a new, more positive approach to this issue?

Finally, the Leader of the House will be aware of the concerns that have recently been expressed in the House about the protection of those who work for businesses that are subject to animal rights campaigns. Those campaigns now target shareholders and workers in associated businesses, including building companies and suppliers. There are still difficulties in relation to the approach of the Department of Trade and Industry to the privacy of shareholders registers and concerns that police powers may not be adequate. Would it be possible to have a joint Home Office-DTI debate in Government time on that subject?

Mr. Hain: That latter point is very important, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it. Unfortunately, an official from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—who has since been prosecuted—divulged the names of individuals working on research to animal rights activists, allowing them to target and terrorise those individuals. That must be clamped down on.

On the pre-Budget statement, we will be able to give notice of that as soon as we are ready to do so.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the draft Civil Service Bill will be published by the end of the Session.

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about the Northern Ireland report's findings, including the reduction in some paramilitary activity. That underlines our view that there must be a complete stop to all such activity, including organised crime. As for a plan B, we do not want to get into plan As or plan Bs—we want to get the Assembly back up and running and a proper peace agreement. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, working closely with the Prime Minister, is trying to ensure that that happens. As soon as there is any news, the House will be informed.

On the mid-term review, the hon. Gentleman knows that we have led the way across the rest of Europe for reform of the common agricultural policy. It is
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absorbing far too much of the European budget and is a waste of money. We have already achieved major reforms and will continue to drive that process forward.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Travellers flouting planning laws. We are all concerned about that and it has been persistently raised on the Floor of the House. We are taking forward action on that front.

On information and documents for Select Committees, I gave evidence to the Liaison Committee in which I said that there should be a presumption that such documents should be made available on request and that officials, including special advisers, should appear before Select Committees. That does not mean, however, that such requests will be agreed to. There is a presumption in favour of openness, but in the end the decision rests with the Minister because of ministerial accountability—we are accountable to this House. That is a much more positive approach to the whole matter than has been evident until now.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) (Lab): At yesterday's Prime Minister's Question Time, the Leader of the Opposition made a disgraceful accusation against a Department for Culture, Media and Sport civil servant, whom he virtually accused of engaging in what could amount to corrupt activities. May we have a debate about how we handle such matters in this Chamber, because although we can stand up and defend ourselves in here and in the media, civil servants cannot?

Mr. Hain: Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you agree that it is important always to maintain high standards across the Floor in debate and in questions. I can only agree with my hon. Friend that there has been a severe deterioration of standards in the questions that are being asked, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition. We have seen a deliberate attempt to smear a civil servant that has frankly become all too typical, and was repeated by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Last night, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, flatly denying both reports and his claim, and making the point that casinos are subject to money-laundering regulations. Tough questions are fine but the sooner we get back to questions of high integrity the better.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): In the aftermath of the United States presidential election, the Prime Minister has given new impetus to the middle east peace process. Yet there are mixed messages from Washington. Those from Vice-President Cheney are much more aggressive than those from President Bush. May we have a full debate as soon as possible specifically on the middle east peace process, and not simply discuss it as part of a general foreign affairs debate? The matter is clearly urgent, as the Prime Minister said.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister make a statement on fire and rescue control centres? Dubious financial savings are said to be involved. Fire chiefs throughout
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the country doubt the merits of the proposal. Although they are prepared to answer parliamentary questions, the Deputy Prime Minister and his Ministers refuse to discuss the implications of the proposals with Members of Parliament from all over England, despite the requirement for consultation under part 1 section 2(5) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. I presume that Members of Parliament are considered appropriate consultees.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the former leader of Neath-Port Talbot council, Councillor Noel Crowley said:

Why should lives be saved in Wales but not in England? Surely we can accept that what is good for Wales should be good for England.

The Leader of the House has previously said that he is sympathetic to a debate in Westminster Hall on the important House of Commons Commission report. When can that be timetabled?

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