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Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): Since the disappointing and depressing statement made by the Secretary of State on Tuesday, it has emerged that £10 million of the £26 million stolen from the Northern bank in Belfast is in untraceable notes, which is a huge boost to the IRA war chest. Again we see Sinn Fein-IRA giving a two-finger salute to our Government, the Irish Government and the American Government. Democratic parties participating in the House and the people whom they represent in Northern Ireland are outraged at what they perceive as inaction against Sinn Fein-IRA.
Further to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), will the Leader of the House make it possible for us to have an early debate so that we can discuss the criminal activity attributed to Sinn Fein-IRA, and provide the House with an opportunity to offer some constructive suggestions as to how there could be political progress in Northern Ireland which would exclude Sinn Fein from the
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Executive and cease to punish truly democratic parties? Such a debate would also provide an opportunity for the House to approve suggestions for proper sanctions against Sinn Fein for their illegal, criminal activity.
Mr. Hain: We share the strength of the hon. Gentleman's feelings and all want to see an end to criminal and illegal activity from whatever group or source. Equally, the hon. Gentleman must recognise that Sinn Fein has a significant electoral base. It is a major political party in Northern Ireland. While firmly stamping out illegal or criminal activity by anybody in Northern Ireland, it is important that we find a way of getting the devolved legislature back in business and the peace settlement locked in for good.
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may not be aware of the difficulties that commuters on the Harwich to Liverpool Street main line, which passes through my constituency, are experiencing. They have occurred following the change in the franchise from First Great Eastern to a strangely titled company called one, which has implemented a new timetable. Fewer trains run at peak times and arrival and departure times are confused compared with the previous timetable. As a result, trains are more crowded than they were and standing is the order of the day. Given the difficulties, which are a particular problem for my constituents in Kelvedon, will my right hon. Friend instigate an early debate on procedures for proper consultation with season ticket holders before a new railway timetable comes into force?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which he is right to raise on the Floor of the House. I will draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, who will see what inquiries he can make and get back to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Does the Leader of the House recall the Committee composed of senior Privy Councillors of all parties and from both Houses that reported on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in a document published on 18 December 2003? It unanimously concluded that intercept evidence should be permissible in British courts. Does he further recall that the Government promised to respond to that proposal by early 2004? The White Paper preceding the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, "One Step Ahead", promised that their response on intercept evidence would be available to the House by June last year. During the course of the autumn, the then Home Secretary made it clear that the response on that important matter would be with the House by the end of last year.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is now in Committee, and next Tuesday I hope to move an amendment on behalf of the Opposition to allow intercept evidence to be used in British courts. Does the Leader of the House understand how helpful it would be to the Committee and to the House if the Government were to produce their response on that important matter, which has been delayed for too long?
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Mr. Hain: I commend the hon. Gentleman on the thoroughness of his question. I confess that I am not familiar with all the details, but I am sure that the Home Secretary will take those points seriously.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): Those of us who, unlike many Ministers, campaigned for years against Saddam Hussein find the suggestion that because we opposed the war we supported Saddam Hussein deeply insulting. Can we have an urgent debate on the elections? It should be made clear that if the four provinces where most of the violence is occurring do not participate, half the Iraqi electorate will not participate in the election. How can that possibly be free and fair? Is it not time we had a debate on Falluja, where a war crime, for which somebody must be made to answer, has almost certainly occurred?
Mr. Hain: I did not say that my hon. Friend and others who opposed the war necessarily supported Saddam. I said that we must all take account of the fact that, as a result of military action, Saddam's brutal and murderous tyranny, which I acknowledge that she, like me, opposed, is no longer in power, which is a good thing. On the elections, we obviously want every eligible voter to participate. The elections are being organised under terrorist threat, and we cannot allow terrorists to stop them, which would stop the prospect of democracy being entrenched in Iraq, by intimidating some voters and denying them the opportunity to vote. We cannot give in to terrorism and must ensure that democracy progresses as best it can in the difficult circumstances.
[That this House notes the concern of aid charities that funds will be more difficult to raise on a continuing basis after the initial publicity surrounding the disaster fades; welcomes the support of many workers and companies for the proposal to donate a day's salary to the Tsunami appeal either in January or throughout the year; notes that such an initiative ensures a continuing flow of funding, attracts gift and relief aid and introduces more people to payroll giving; and further calls on the House authorities to make the facility available to honourable and Right honourable Members to allow them to participate in the continuing campaign in addition to their own existing contributions to constituency and national fundraising.]
In particular, early-day motion 475 includes the suggestion that the House authorities should make available to hon. Members the facility to donate one day's pay to the tsunami appeal through the gift aid scheme. Has the Leader of the House had a chance to take up the matter with the House authorities, and will he make a statement?
If any hon. Member wants to make such a donation by means of the payroll, I am sure that the House authorities will help, but I do not want to impose a universal scheme on hon. Members because the level of donation is an individual decision. I am sure that we have all contributedI have, and I know that the hon. Gentleman hasand we can do that without having our
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donations docked from our pay. If hon. Members choose to donate in that way, however, I am sure that the House authorities will respond positively to a request from the hon. Gentleman or any other supporter of the motion.
Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): Given the upset and outrage felt by many TV licence holders throughout the length and breadth of this country about the screening of the programme, "Jerry SpringerThe Opera", on Sunday on BBC2, which has led to an unprecedented level of complaints, will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the standard of programming in the BBC as part of the charter renewal programme?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend has made his point, but the matter is for the BBC. Many hon. Members would criticise me if I said that Ministers should determine the programme content of the BBC, or any other major broadcaster.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the Minister explain why the Government have not yet introduced the animal welfare Bill, which was promised in the Queen's Speech and on which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reported in the autumn? Given that the clock is ticking towards a general election, which we expect later this year, will he assure the House that the Government expect that Bill to have completed all parliamentary procedures before the general election?
Mr. Hain: Since I do not know when the general election will be, I cannot possibly give such an assurance. However, our legislative programme is dynamic. We are making enormous progress on Second Readings, in Committee and even on remaining stages, and the animal welfare Bill is part of that process.
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