Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House now answer the question put to him earlier about the report from the Electoral Commission? It makes recommendations that would reduce the dependence of all parties on large donations and would encourage smaller ones, a proposition that the Government resisted earlier. Can he find Government time for an early debate on that report?
Mr. Hain: I am very sympathetic to the idea of a debate on that and I should be interested to see whether the shadow Leader of the House pressed for one as well. It might be possible, on an all-party basis, to move towards extendingnot introducing for the first time, but extendingpublic funding for parties in designated areas. The Electoral Commission suggests, for example, increasing the policy development fund, which is some £2 million at present. Such a move could connect parties more closely with civic society and their local communities. In that respect, it is interesting that the Electoral Commission has recommended tax relief on donations of up to £200. We can consider the proposals in due course, but such matters are best addressed on an all-party basis, because all parties have already benefited to the tune of millions of pounds of public funding over the years.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Niger delta produces 20 per cent. of oil supplies at present. However, the population of the area has a major problem with armed gangs running riot. I join the calls for an international affairs debate on the Floor of the House in Government time to look carefully at the whole international scene and the deterioration of the situation in the Niger delta.
I visited the Niger delta when I was Africa Minister and I know that the points my hon. Friend raises are valid. I cannot promise him an early debate,
16 Dec 2004 : Column 1824
but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will want to bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend makes.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Leader of the House will be aware that before he entered the Chamber, the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement on the reorganisation of British infantry. Numerous hon. Members were unable to question the Secretary of State on that statement, despite the best efforts of Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy Speaker to call hon. Members from across the country, and the fate of the Welsh regiments was not addressed. The Leader of the House will know, as he is also Secretary of State for Wales, of the concern in Wales about the issue. Indeed, we have the barracks in Brecon, and training of all UK infantry takes place at Sennybridge in my constituency. Will he try to find Government time for the issue to be debated once again on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Hain: I visited both Sennybridge and Brecon to see the Army establishments there. The hon. Gentleman will be encouraged to know that Commander Ian Cholerton will shortly hold a press conference in Cardiff to welcome the news as far as the regiments in Wales are concerned.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Shortly before I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I received information from my constituency that Parkside International, which owns a factory in the small town of Darton in my constituency, will tomorrow announce the closure of that factory through the receiver, with the loss of 437 jobs. The union on site tells me that suggestions of management malpractice have been made. It is not the first time that Parkside International has closed factories in that way. My constituents, especially those in the small town of Darton, will suffer intolerably because there will be no enhanced redundancy and they will not be able to get their redundancy pay for six to eight weeks. Some people will have a very bleak Christmas.Will my right hon. Friend ask the Department of Trade and Industry to watch for the receiver's report, scrutinise it to see if any management malpractice took place and, if so, take the appropriate action? At the same time, will he
Mr. Hain: I will certainly ask my office to contact the DTI right away and ensure that it is aware of the serious situation in my hon. Friend's constituency, especially with the plight of the work force.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Given the insultingly short time that the Government will allow Committees to scrutinise the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill and the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Billand, I suspect, the Identity Cards Billdoes the Leader of the House expect the House of Lords to expect a correspondingly longer period of time to give proper scrutiny to those Bills? Sadly, the amount of time that the Government
16 Dec 2004 : Column 1825
allow this House to scrutinise Bills is so short that we must look to the House of Lords to perform the function of parliamentary scrutiny for us.
Mr. Hain: I have difficulty with the idea of the right hon. Gentleman as the champion of the House of Lords, but perhaps he wants a move down the Corridor. I enjoy his bellicose questions from the Back Benches, just as I used to do when he asked them from the Front Bench.
[That this House agrees with Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, that his organisation would be ridiculed in parliament on the publication of a letter sent by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association to 800 hunt masters warning of the nationwide 'shortage of foxes' and urging landowners to breed more foxes to 'solve the problem'; and welcomes this further evidence that foxhunting is unconnected with pest control but is devoted entirely to sadistic pleasure derived from the protracted torment and death of foxes.]
It draws attention to a letter sent by the Masters of Foxhounds Association to 800 hunt masters, complaining about the shortage of foxes and demanding action against farmers and landowners who refuse to breed foxes. Does not that prove absolutely that there is no connection between fox hunting and pest control and that the whole purpose of fox hunting is the pleasure gained by the hunters from chasing, tormenting and killing a small, defenceless animal that has been bred for that purpose?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Returning to the Law Lords' significant judgment today on the Belmarsh prisoners, does not the Leader of the House understand that a written statement from the new Home Secretary is wholly inadequate, because we cannot question him? To suggest that Home Office Question Time on Monday is any substitute, when, due to the shuffle, there may be no relevant opportunities, is also inadequate. Will he pass on to the new Home Secretary that that arrogance is unacceptable and that he has started at his Department in an unsatisfactory way?
Mr. Hain: I am really disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman, who is a serious parliamentarian, seeks to make a point in that aggressive fashion. The judgment was handed down earlier this morning, about mid-morning. The Home Secretary made a written statement right away. When he has studied the document in detail, I am sure that there will be an opportunity to inform the House. Indeed, he has promised that future legislation will be required in the new year. In any case, the Home Secretary will answer questions on Monday where he can be quizzed on the matter, when he will have had a chance to look more carefully at it over the weekend.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab):
Given that, under the Child Trust Funds Act 2004, parents with qualifying babies will start to receive their vouchers in January, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would
16 Dec 2004 : Column 1826
be interesting to have a debate about whether those funds legally belong to the children concerned or whether a future Government, who were hostile to trust funds, could take them away?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend raises an interesting question. The Opposition parties are committed to withdrawing or abolishing the child trust funds, so in that case will they be involved in bond snatching? Will they go to the many tens of thousands of children across the country who will have had the opportunity to receive between £250 and £500 and snatch that money away from them? When those children are seven years old, will the Opposition parties deny them the further £250or £500 in the case of low-income familiesthat the Government have promised? The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have to answer that question.