Mr. Hain: On taxation, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have cut taxes for hard-working families and reduced to 10p the rate of tax paid by the lowest earners. We have also introduced working tax credits and child tax credits that have made work pay. Under the Toriesbefore there was a minimum wage and before there were tax cutsit was more sensible for many families and individuals to stay on benefit. This Government have made opportunities available to people by rewarding work, and by encouraging them through tax credits and the minimum wage. We have ensured that work pays, and the right hon. Gentleman's charge against the Government is therefore entirely false.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall that the 2001 Labour party manifesto contained a promise to review electoral systems. When does he expect to make an announcement about that review?
Mr. Hain: There was such a review. [Interruption.] I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner); I do not support proportional representation and have never done so. I have always favoured electoral reform to introduce the alternative vote, but that is my personal preference and not Government policy. We did have a manifesto commitment and we are committed to a review, and that will be conducted.
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD):
I remind the Leader of the House that he has an obligation to be fair to both sides of the House. He should perhaps turn over a new leaf to go with the new Session and remind himself that excessively partisan media statements are the province of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has been specially appointed for that purpose. Will the Leader of the House now convene the round table meeting to discuss the timetable for this year's legislative programme, as recommended by the Modernisation Committee and approved by the House? Does he accept that, given the likely length of this Session, there might
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be some strong reasons to see how far we can agree on the management of the Government's proposed business?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for motion No. 24, printed in the Remaining Orders and Notices today, on British troops in Iraqit has been signed by all my right hon. and hon. Friendsto be debated in the House in the near future?
I note what the Leader of the House said about the police and local government settlement. Will he confirm that separate statements will be made and that separate opportunities to vote will be allowed on those two very important matters, which raise different and significant issues in many parts of England and Wales?
On the issue of a legislative programme being planned by a round table, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government always intend to do such things by consensus. We introduce Bills and decide on timetabling by agreement through the usual channels, so I do not see any need for a round table of the sort he proposed.
I will certainly look into the other matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I wish to take this opportunity to wish the Liberal Democrat spokesman a speedy return to health. I hope that he will be back next week.
[That this House congratulates Macmillan Cancer Relief on the successful launch of its exciting new Better Deal campaign to get a better deal for people dealing with cancer, especially from the benefits system; notes that three quarters of people surveyed by Macmillan who have had a cancer diagnosis say they suffered financially as a result; further notes that, for some people affected by cancer, money worries are second only to pain as a cause of stress; welcomes Macmillan's resolve to champion these issues and campaign with people struggling to meet the unexpected extra costs resulting from the debilitating effects of treatment, including travel to hospital, hospital car parking and higher heating bills; supports Macmillan's call for the Government to ensure that every cancer patient is offered specialist benefits and advice at diagnosis and to change the law to improve cancer patients' access to disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA); and calls on the Government to stop cancer spreading to people's finances and to act urgently to ensure that the DLA and AA schemes are fast, fit for purpose and fair for people dealing with cancer.]
The motion addresses not only the health effects of cancer but the serious financial problemsfinancial desperation in some casesexperienced as a consequence. Will he consider making time for a debate on the issue?
I understand the importance of the points that my hon. Friend raises and I will study the early-day motion carefully. As he knows, we have prioritised
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treatment for cancer and reduced waiting times, as a result of which people suffering from cancer have received a better deal under Labour.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Three weeks ago, the Leader of the House promised legislation that would deal with the mess in Parliament square. Indeed, you referred to that on the day of the State Opening, Mr. Speaker. When might we expect that legislation?
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill has been introduced and will be debated before Christmas. He will have the chance to make his views clear on that legislation, which will deal with the problem.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Has the British Government raised with the European Commission the Spanish Commissioner's meeting with Hamas, which is labelled as a terrorist organisation even by the EU itself?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend may have heard the Foreign Secretary say on the radio this morning that he had not yet had a chance to speak to Mr. Solana about the issue. As she knows, Javier Solana is a highly respected international negotiator who has gained much credibility for seeking to bring peace to the middle east, as well as for his other work, notably in the Balkans. She will be aware also that Britain has proscribed the military wing of Hamas and that the EU has listed Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Javier Solana obviously will do all he can to try to promote peace in the middle east and we want to work with him on that. On the radio this morning, he was quoted as saying that he had talked to Hamas and been in contact with people who have been with Hamas. Obviously, we need to get the details directly from him.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in the Chamber as soon as possible on the funding of education and library boards in Northern Ireland, all of which face serious financial difficulties? The Western education and library board predicts a shortfall of £23 million over the next three years. The Southern education and library board, based in Armagh, estimates a £28 million shortfall over the next three years. The Belfast and South Eastern boards are already the subject of a special inquiry into their overspendingmore than £5 million each in the last financial yearand, to stay within budget, the North Eastern board has cancelled everything except emergency maintenance. That is happening despite the fact that £50 million of the Northern Ireland Department of Education budget was underspent last year and that a further underspend is predicted for the current financial year.
Mr. Hain: Obviously, I am not aware of the details of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will want to take careful note of what he said.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab):
I thank my right hon. Friend for the announcement of the
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debate on the fishing industry next Thursday. I am conscious that that will probably be a busy day, so will he assure the House, especially Members who represent fishing communities, that we will have sufficient time to give full consideration to important matters that currently affect many coastal communities? If necessary, will he consider moving a business motion to ensure that we have enough time for contributions from not only Front-Bench speakers, but Members representing coastal communities?
Mr. Hain: I am aware that the matter is of extreme concern to my hon. Friend. Fisheries policy is extremely important, not least for the many Members of Parliament who represent coastal areas. My hon. Friend will be aware that I have tabled a business motion, which will mean that the debate will be protected; there will be a full three-hour debate. I take this opportunity to say to Front-Bench spokesmen and women on both sides of the House that the shorter their contributions the better, to allow lots of Members to participate in the debate.