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Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Earlier this week, a report was produced on the prescribing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, including anti-depressants such as Seroxat, and it highlighted a number of problems. There was no ministerial statement on the issue. Bearing in mind that depression affects one in four of our constituents, are there any plans to debate the matter on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Hain: I realise the concerns about this matter. I think that a Select Committee investigation is being carried out on it, and its report will be considered in due course. However, the hon. Lady would have the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Health on the issue if she tabled a question to him.
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend cannot help but be aware of the impending statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on the infantry review. May we have a debate on the outcome of that review? My right hon. Friend will be aware from the Adjournment debate that I was lucky enough to secure on Tuesday on the future of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers that, if the Army were to recommend cutting one of the two remaining fusilier battalions in that regiment, one of the unintended consequences would be that the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment would have to be merged and possibly lose their titles, thus decimating three of the most successful super-regiments in the British Army.
I know that the Secretary of State is considering all representations on this matter, and I applaud the way in which my hon. Friend has mobilised opinion in her constituency and led a campaign on behalf the many recruits from Rochdale who went into that regiment. She will find that
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the Secretary of State has listened closely to her representations, although I cannot prejudge the outcome of the review.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Government have an ambitious legislative programme, with 27 Bills and 10 draft Bills, to which the Leader of the House is adding by the minute. Some six of those Bills will have had a Second Reading before Christmas. On the basis of experience so far, can he tell us how many of the rest of the Bills are likely to hit the statute book, should Parliament be dissolved before Easter?
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know of the importance of the report of the United Nations high-level panel on threats, challenges and change, which was published last week. Will he give a guarantee that there will be a major debate on this matter in the House, because it touches on issues that affect us all, including the future of the United Nations, reform of the United Nations, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and failing states. This matter is too important for us to allow it to slip off the agenda.
Mr. Hain: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I acknowledge, as I am sure the whole House will, the work that he, as an expert Back Bencher, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) have done on this issue. We all want the United Nations to be reformed, so that it becomes a product and a reflection of the modern world, rather than of the colonial world in which the Security Council was constituted immediately after the second world war. We want the Security Council to reflect all the continents of the world, and to reflect some of the more powerful nationsJapan and Germany, for examplein a way that it does not at the moment. That, coupled with earlier intervention and the reform of the United Nations, is imperative; we all back those proposals.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance on the
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truthfulness of statements made by Ministers, both in this House and in Westminster Hall? On 2 March this year, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), promised me that
I have learned today, however, that the Government have changed their mind on that matter, and are now going to introduce legislation that will take the numbers down lower. That is in direct contradiction to the assurance that the Minister gave me in March. May we have an urgent statement or a debate on this matter?
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Has the Leader of the House heard about the plight of Dover Athletic football club, which, in common with many other charitable trusts, is facing bankruptcy or possible closure because of retrospective VAT liabilities? Will he arrange for a debate on the Floor of the House to examine the impact of the complex VAT rules on small struggling clubs such as Dover Athletic which add so much value to local communities?
I was very concerned to hear about the predicament of Dover Athletic football club, because such clubs play a vital role in the local community, especially by bringing youngsters into creative forms of energy use rather than the alternatives ones that often disfigure our local communities. I know that my hon. Friend has strongly supported the club, is having discussions with the chiefs of the VAT collection service in the south of England, and is making representations to Treasury Ministers. As a result of his representations, let us hope that we can find a way to make sure that Dover Athletic is not plunged into bankruptcy, which it now faces.
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Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Irish Prime Ministerthe Taoiseachtravelled to Belfast to publish an important set of documents: their proposals for a comprehensive agreement in relation to the political process in Northern Ireland. I want to explain to the House the background and the significance of those proposals.
Just over a year ago, the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly changed the political landscape there. Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party became the leading parties of their respective communities. At the time, there was much speculation that bringing those two parties to agreement together would be a difficult, if not impossible, task. In the months since the election, our efforts have been dedicated to building the trust and confidence necessary to enable those parties to lead an inclusive and stable Executive.
In February, we began a review of the Good Friday agreement involving all the parties. We spent many months discussing possible changes and improvements to the operation of the political institutions. In June, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach met the political parties at Lancaster house and identified four areas that needed resolution to enable devolution to be restored in Northern Ireland. First, there had to be a complete and decisive end to paramilitary activity by the IRA; secondly, the process of decommissioning illegal weapons had to be completed within a clear time scale; thirdly, in that context, Unionist parties must agree to operate the power-sharing institutions in a stable and sustained fashion; and, finally, we had to create the conditions in which all parts of the community in Northern Ireland could support and participate in policing.
The documents published yesterday, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, represent a series of statements that would have been published in sequence by the Governments and the other relevant organisations if there had been an overall agreement. Those proposals include commitments in the form of a statement from the IRA that the causes of the conflict would be removed by the implementation of this agreement and that IRA paramilitary activity would cease immediately and definitively; and that decommissioning of IRA weapons would be completed by the end of December this year, under the supervision of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. I shall return to that issue later.
There were further commitments to the effect that after a period during which the good faith of the earlier commitments had been demonstrated, an inclusive power-sharing Executive would be established in March 2005. The restoration would take place on the basis of agreed changes to the operation of the institutions under strands 1 to 3 of the 1998 agreement. Finally, the proposed agreement sets out a time scale in which republicans would support policing and the policing structures established under the Good Friday agreement, in the context of the devolution of policing and justice powers, as envisaged by the agreement.
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Any observer of the political process since 1998 will recognise how significant and substantial the progress represented by those commitments is. Before I turn to the outstanding area where agreement has not yet been reached, I want to pay tribute to all those involved. The leaderships of the DUP and Sinn Fein have negotiated tirelessly and in good faith. I have no doubt that they want to reach a final accommodation. I also want to pay tribute to the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Alliance party and the Progressive Unionist party, all of whom have made essential contributions and without whom the progress that we have already seen in Northern Ireland would not have been achieved. And, as always, our partnership with the Irish Government has been close and decisive in driving this process forward. The progress of recent months owes much to the energy and determination of officials of both Governments.
The House will know that, despite this remarkable progress, there remains an outstanding issue that could not be resolved: the transparency with which the decommissioning process should be carried out. That issue will be familiar to right hon. and hon. Members who have followed the twists and turns of recent years. They will understand the significance of the promise of a completion of IRA decommissioning by the end of the year. But both Governments also recognise that public confidence in the process is critical to the success of any settlement and wider political stability in Northern Ireland.
For that reason, the Governments set out in the documents published yesterday a proposal that we regard as a fair compromise. Under the proposal, set out in annexe D to the document, photographs of weapons to be decommissioned would be shown privately to political parties in January and published at the time when the Executive came to be established, in March. We believed that this proposal should be acceptable to all.
I would have liked to be telling the House today that a final comprehensive settlement had been reached that would enable devolved government to be restored. That is the shared aim of all parties in this House and, more importantly, the firm desire of the whole community in Northern Ireland. Despite the efforts of so many and the remarkable progress made, we are not quite there yet and that announcement will have to wait a little longer.
I am absolutely convinced, however, that the day when the final piece of the jigsaw can be put in place is not far off. I remain optimistic that we will be able to resolve the outstanding issues and restore devolution. We have published the proposals now so that the people of Northern Ireland can discuss and debate the issues. The Governments will continue to press forward so that the remaining gap can be bridged. To that end, I will be meeting the Irish Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern, and we will engage jointly with the parties next week. There will also be a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference on Thursday 16 December. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will have the opportunity to meet again at the European Council the following day.
The outstanding issue is about more than photographs. It is about confidence and trust between the parties. We will strive to encourage and build that trust. I know that in these efforts to move on from the
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legacy of the past, I can rely on the support and good will of the whole House. Anyone who has followed the political process in Northern Ireland over the past number of years will appreciate that yesterday was a very significant milestone in that journey towards lasting peace and stability.
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