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Mr. Hain: That is a very interesting question. Perhaps the public and the House might take the view that the millions of poundsI think that it is more than £3 millionthat the Conservative parliamentary Opposition get in Short money is not being well spent. As such a poor, extreme and pathetic Opposition are being subsidised by taxpayers, those taxpayers might want to consider whether they are getting value for money from the Tory party.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Returning to serious matters and to the quite dreadful situation in Zimbabwe, notwithstanding the fact that British cricket correspondents will now be allowed into that country, might I tell the Leader of the House that the overwhelming majority of people will share his view that the English cricket team should not be there? Might I also put it to him that it is a pity that his robust line has not been taken up by the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers? As the situation will unfold in a very difficult way during the next week or two while the team is there, may we at least have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that Foreign Office Ministers will be on hand constantly to come to the Dispatch Box to make appropriate statements as and when necessary?
Mr. Hain: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are at one on this matter, and I pay tribute to the way in which he has constantly drawn the House's attention to the abuses of freedom and the oppression in Zimbabwe. I will certainly bear in mind his point about Foreign Office Ministers, and I am sure that they will want to report to the House if there is any major development.
One of the things that I find most despicable, on top of the pile of horrendous acts for which Mugabe is responsible, is that he is now apparently banning food aid from the United Nations World Food Programme because he says that starvation is not happening and that people have enough food, when everyone knows that the people are destitute in Zimbabwe and that starvation is on the increase in a country that was able to feed not just itself aplenty, but the rest of southern Africa. He is responsible for a record of really awful rule.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab):
May I urge the Leader of the House to make time available soon for a debate
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on the important subject of public service broadcasting and, in particular, the threat to public service broadcasting in our regions? He may be aware that Ofcom is consulting on a proposal to cut by half non-news regional outputthe requirement to do non-news programming in the regionsfrom three hours to one and a half. That will remove some distinct and popular programmes from the schedules and, for me, it would be a personal tragedy if "Granada Soccer Night" disappeared. May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to urge Ofcom to come to the House to explain its proposals to Members? The issue is of genuinely high importance to our regions and their economic prosperity.
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend makes his point very well and convincingly. I am aware, as I know the Secretary of State is, of the problems of regional programming, which is now being questioned by Ofcom's consideration. I know this from Wales where ITV Wales faces cuts in programming, and this is not acceptable. We want a high quality alternative to the BBC, we want variety, and we want ITV Wales to be available right across Wales. Indeed, we want ITV UK to provide proper regional programming, especially in news and current affairs.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): May I reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), the passing shadow Leader of the House? In the light of what happened yesterday, there really is a need for a debate on foreign affairs. Although I perfectly understand that the Foreign Secretary could not be here because he was conducting important business in Egypt and Israel, the fact is that the two ministerial contributions at the beginning and end of the debate did not, for example, deal with the European Union constitution referendum Bill, which is the flagship of the Government's programme for this Session. Will the Leader of the House consider whether such a debate could be granted before Christmas?
Mr. Hain: As I understand it, in that debate the Minister dealt with the European Union constitution referendum Bill, which appeared in the Queen's Speech and will come forward in due course. I think that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has asked to make an early statement on his visit to the middle east, and that will provide an opportunity for a range of issues to be raised. I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con):
Last week, the Prison Service ombudsman published a report in which he blamed ill-thought-through policies, the setting of unachievable targets and the design and construction of buildings unfit for purpose as the reasons behind the fire and serious incident at Yarl's Wood removal centre in February 2002, which cost £100 million and endangered scores of lives. As the Home Secretary did not consider it necessary to come to the House to make an oral statement about these
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accusations, could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate so that the Home Secretary has a chance to come to the Dispatch Box and explain which part of this policy fiasco has contributed most to a safer Britain?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman has quite properly raised this matter, which affects a prison in his constituency. Obviously, consideration has been given to this important report and the Home Secretary will want to study carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will want to join with Labour Members in welcoming the enormous expansion of the Home Office budget, which would be put at risk if the Conservatives were to be elected as there is a £1.5 billion cut in Home Office spending planned by the Conservatives in their first two years of office.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I believe in safer streets, safer villages, safer towns and safer cities, so can we have a full day's debate on policing in this country? I know that Lancashire constabulary is facing a £7 million shortfall this year and that violent crime in Lancashire rose last year by 47 per cent. Since 1997, we have seen the closure of, and reduced hours in, police stations in Lancashire, so I want the Home Secretary to tell us how many police officers will be taken away from chasing murderers, rapists, muggers and thugs and will now be chasing fox hunters after 19 February.
Mr. Hain: The situation affecting local police stations or resourcing has nothing to do with fox hunting, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. That question shows the obsession of Conservative Back Benchers with issues such as fox hunting, instead of concentrating on making Britain a much more secure and safe place in which to live. I hope that he and the Conservatives will back all the Government's legislationmeasures on counter-terrorism and serious organised crime, the drugs Bill and the clean neighbourhoods Bill, which tackles antisocial behaviour. I also hope that they vote to support the identity cards Bill as well, because that will help to tackle terrorism, illegal migration, organised crime
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): How?
Mr. Hain: Simply because when the police apprehend someone, they will know who that person is if he is carrying an identity card. That is the point[Interruption.] I make the prediction, as I am being heckled by the Liberal DemocratsI encourage them to do more of itthat they will do a U-turn on identity cards, just as they did on antisocial behaviour, because they know that the measure is extremely popular across the country.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP):
I draw the Leader of the House's attention to today's report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office on waiting times for treatment in hospital. Although I welcome the reduction in the past two years, since 1996 there has been an horrendous increase of 42 per cent. Some 3,235 people are on the waiting list for 18 months in Northern Ireland, compared with 552 in-patients on the waiting
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list in England for 12 months and more. Can we have a statement that allows us to understand why the list has not been reduced to the same ratio as the rest of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hain: I am not familiar with the figures in Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. However, he is aware, as he just made clear, that waiting lists in England are plummeting. In a year or two they will be down to just 18 weeks from the time of the initial contact with the GP. Northern Ireland can learn from England's policy on waiting lists, as can Wales. The benefit of devolution is that we can all learn from each other's best practice.
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