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Mr. Hain: I am not used to being congratulated at the Dispatch Box.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): We love you really.

Mr. Hain: I do not think that I want that kind of congratulation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). The Modernisation Committee's report on sitting hours was excellent, and I shall certainly bear in mind her comments. However, this year the House is not sitting in September because, as she knows, security work is being undertaken, as stipulated by the House authorities. We want to keep the matter under review but, because we are changing term times, we should not make a premature decision.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the funding of political parties? In our part of the United Kingdom, we have the only party that, if the opinion of the Chief Constable is correct, funds itself through criminal activities, be they drug money from Colombia or the robbery of the Northern bank. Is it not
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quite improper that one party in the House receives facilities, allowances and offices in the Palace of Westminster and funds its activities both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic to the disadvantage of nationalist parties north and south of the border and other parties that campaign legally, correctly and properly under electoral law on the funding of parties in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said when answering questions following his statement to the House a few days ago, the Government want to keep that and other issues under careful review. Nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out, but it is not in anyone's interest, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand as a representative from Northern Ireland, to take precipitate action. The key objective and focus must remain to get the peace settlement locked in, with all the parties to it practising democratic politics, not indulging in any kind of criminal activity.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may be aware of the key role that the South West of England Regional Development Agency has played in helping me and helping the Government to set up an urban regeneration company. As a consequence of that, Gloucester stands on the verge of a £1 billion regeneration in Gloucester docks. Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing time for a debate on the James report, which would asset-strip the RDAs and jeopardise £1 billion worth of regeneration in Gloucester docks, should the Tories ever come back to power?

Mr. Hain: I would be enthusiastic about finding time to debate the matter. We will see what we can do. As my hon. Friend says, the regional development agencies in the south-west and across England are playing a vital role in regional regeneration and are widely supported, especially in the business community, for the backing that they give to the creation of a dynamic regional economy. The fact that the Conservatives want to abolish regional development agencies and would, as my hon. Friend says, use the James report to asset-strip those key levers of public policy, on top of some £35 billion worth of cuts and £15 billion worth of extra spending, means that there is a £50 billion black hole in their economic strategy, which would put the whole economy at risk.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Among the prerequisites for a free and democratic election are the creation of an electoral register, the ability of those conducting the election to verify that those voting are entitled to vote, and the ability of those voting to vote in peace and without fear of intimidation. Given the Government's support for the elections in Iraq at the end of the month, which the Leader of the House endorsed yet again today, could he find time for a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House well before those elections, in order that the House may be satisfied that those elections will be free and fair, and that the results will be anything other than meaningless?
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Mr. Hain: The Foreign Secretary will wish to keep the House closely informed about progress. With Foreign Office questions coming up in a short while, there may be an opportunity for a report to the House. The momentum for the elections is building and there are now 111 lists containing more than 6,000 candidates registered to contest the national elections. I understand that some 15 million eligible voters have been registered. That is a big advance in democratic terms, compared with the tyranny under Saddam Hussein. It must not be allowed to be disrupted or blown apart by terrorist action, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Gently, may the Father of the House say to the Leader of the House that in parliamentary terms, the answer that he has just given to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) on Iraq will not quite do? The Leader of the House says the Foreign Secretary will report to the House. It is high time that the views of the House of Commons were not truncated. They should be expressed in a one or preferably a two-day debate. Unlike the hon. Member for North Thanet, I think that it should be held shortly after the elections, rather than before the elections. Last night in Committee Room 12 the World Service gave a presentation, during which Paul Reynolds quoted Sir Jeremy Greenstock, of all people, as saying that the situation in Iraq had become ineradicable and irredeemable—yes, ineradicable and irredeemable. Those are the words that were used. Would it not be a disgrace if the House of Commons did not debate these crucial matters, preferably in the first week in February—and on an amendable motion?

Mr. Hain: I will bear in mind the request from the Father of the House. The Foreign Secretary will be answering questions on 25 January—

Mr. Dalyell: Questions are not good enough!

Mr. Hain: I am sure the Foreign Secretary will want to keep the House informed—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is nice to see that the Father of the House has recovered, that he is well and that he is giving the Speaker a difficult time.

Mr. Hain: I agree. I, too, am delighted to see the Father of the House back. [Interruption.] I do mean it. I have a great deal of respect for him. The more he wants to heckle me, with the Speaker's permission, the happier I will be. I just want to ask him a question. [Hon. Members: "You can't."] I want to raise a point, then, with the Father of the House, in the best spirit. Do we want the elections to proceed or not? Exactly the same arguments were made in respect of Afghanistan. The Afghans have now had their first ever democratic election. It was not perfect, but it is a massive advance for democracy in that region. When the elections take place at the end of the month in Iraq, we will see a massive advance for democracy and a defeat for terrorism. Surely we should make common cause in that objective.
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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): I understand the Government are keen on job training schemes. Today the Prime Minister is making a speech on the economy and the Chancellor is meeting world leaders. What conclusions can we draw from that?

Mr. Hain: The conclusion we draw is that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are together facing up to the fact that we as a Government have the most successful economic strategy of any Government in living memory, and that there are big challenges facing our economy in the future because of global pressures—the threat from China, India and other competition from abroad. With our economic stability and success, this Labour Government are taking the economy into a position where Britain can be successful in the world, compared with a Conservative Government, who would throw that success out of the window and risk everything that the British people have worked so hard to achieve in recent years.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Would the Leader of the House publish the true picture of the impact on Commons catering of the changes in sitting hours that we voted for some two years ago? An awful lot of misinformation is being circulated in order to persuade us to go back to the absurd spectacle of the House voting on laws of the land late into the night. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opponents of change need to come up with stronger arguments?

Mr. Hain: There will be an opportunity to put the record straight when we debate these matters on 26 January—Wednesday week. It would be good to do so. I am advised that takings in the Refreshment Department are significantly up. I am a great fan of the Members Dining Room and try to get there whenever I can, but the Adjournment restaurant and the Portcullis café arrangements are now much more popular than used to be the case for catering facilities in the House. People's habits are changing. One cannot attribute that entirely to changed sitting hours, but we should make our decision on sitting hours according to what the House of Commons ought to be like in the 21st century, not how it was in Victorian times.

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