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Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend's point, but he should appreciate that there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the number of rail passenger journeys since we came to power, and more than 1,500 more rail services are timetabled every weekday. Nineteen new stations have been built, nine have been reopened and more than 2,000 have been improved. There are still problems owing to the dreadful legacy of underinvestment that we inherited, but things are improving and services in my hon. Friend's area will continue to improve as well.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I am sure that Members will be grateful for the concern about the post office closure programme that the Leader of the House expressed earlier, but they will also be aware that there is probably little chance of a debate before Prorogation. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House, following the questions she was asked about post office closures at Question Time?

Post offices are currently being closed. Two sub-post offices are being closed in Newton Abbot, and the Crown post office is being relocated. A single bidder is involved: there is no open competition. Will the Leader of the House arrange for that statement to be made, and also urge the Post Office not to proceed with any more closures until the Trade and Industry Committee has reported and negotiations with the unions on the closure programme have been completed?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman's points are well understood by the Secretary of State and she will have noted what he has said. I am a great fan of local post offices, including high street Crown post offices. The problem is that local post offices are not used as much as they were because customers are behaving differently. That is why we have supported the rural post office network with hundreds of millions of pounds—I dare say that includes post offices in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—and why we will work with the Post Office to preserve a national network that offers the best possible quality.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will have noted the dreadful news from Darfur
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this week. On the eve of the American presidential election we witnessed the antics of the Sudan Government, who used their own army and the police to organise clearances of the most deprived people in the region, the internally displaced persons. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and I observed the same antics in Omdurman, where again people were forced out and made to re-buy pieces of land on which they had previously kept their squalid possessions. Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that there is a limit to how long we will sit back and hope that the north-south dialogue continues in Sudan, while seeing these dreadful incidents occurring time and again?

Mr. Hain: I think that everyone will be sympathetic to the points that my hon. Friend has made so eloquently. The Prime Minister visited Sudan and, following his tough representations, the Sudan Government changed their approach. The Foreign Secretary has also been there, as has the Secretary of State for International Development. We will continue to put pressure on the Sudan Government to ensure that the current desperate situation is alleviated and the conditions that are plaguing people there are eliminated.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House try to find time as soon as possible for a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the draft Charities Bill? I am sure that it would be beneficial if, before the Government produce a Bill, they could hear the views of Members in all parts of the House and also the huge constituency outside that is extremely interested in the draft terms that will eventually come before us.

Mr. Hain: The Bill is very important. It is one of our flagship Bills and we hope to make early progress with it. The pre-legislative scrutiny was very positive and I do not see a case for a debate on the outcome of that scrutiny before the Bill is introduced. I think that when it is introduced, the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged to note that many of the excellent points made during the scrutiny have been taken on board. I hope that he will be supportive and that the Bill will be given a fair wind by the Opposition.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I strongly agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts).

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what I consider to be a growing crisis in the freight industry? There is road and port congestion and poorer links to the continent of Europe, which is so vital to our economy. The Government have rejected the Central Railways scheme and feeble quantities of freight are being transported by rail. We need a serious debate about the future of freight, especially rail freight. Will my right hon. Friend make time for that and also find out what the Government can do to rebuild our freight sector?

Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend's points, although increasing amounts of freight are being
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transported by rail as our railways benefit from the Government's extra investment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will pay close attention to what my hon. Friend has said, and my hon. Friend can of course try to secure a debate in his own time. However, I think that he should acknowledge the fantastic improvement that is feeding through the railway network as a result of our huge investment.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Since the abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, it has been much more difficult to table questions relating solely to agriculture and to have them answered in the Chamber, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has wider responsibilities. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on agriculture as soon as possible, given the serious position in which most dairy farmers now find themselves?

Mr. Hain: The dairy farmers' position is certainly of concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is very alive to that and is working with the dairy market and the dairy farm industry to try to help them in whatever way she can. I am not sure that there will be an opportunity for an early debate before Prorogation, but my right hon. Friend will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the effectiveness of the Bill on fireworks control which was introduced last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) and supported by the Government? According to the feedback I have received, the Fireworks Act 2003 has proved very effective. A debate would enable us not just to discuss its effectiveness but to clarify the Liberal Democrats' position. One of their senior spokesmen, quoted this week in The Western Mail, seemed to imply that the Bill was an attack on civil liberties.

Mr. Hain: I, too, was astonished by that statement. There was cross-party support—although it seems not to have included the Liberal Democrats—for an important measure, widely welcomed in our communities, to control the abuse of fireworks. With all this flip-flopping by the Liberal Democrats, we do not know where they stand on anything. In fact, they usually stand on more than one thing at the same time, depending on which part of the country is involved.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): The Leader of the House will be aware of the urgent debate taking place in the Home Office and the Metropolitan police on whether serving police officers carrying firearms should have greater personal protection under the law. Can we debate that subject in the House, because there is much concern at the fact that, for the past 30 years, the thousands of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland and the thousands of officers who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary were never given any special protection under the law in carrying out their duty?

It is somewhat ironic that Sir John Stevens is promoting a change for the Metropolitan police, because if there is to be legislative change it should apply
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to all police forces and all soldiers serving in the whole of the United Kingdom in the fight against terrorism, rather than being the preserve of the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Hain: I understand the strength of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. We are all indebted to the bravery of police officers throughout the United Kingdom who have to intervene in the most dangerous and difficult situations involving firearms in order to deal with them. Lessons are being learned, and they should be applied across the country.

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