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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Last July, my friend the Prime Minister disappointed me by saying that he would not end the practice of awarding hereditary knighthoods. Is not there a case for an early debate on the honours system after the scandal of Mark Thatcher, who has been convicted in the South African courts, but whose knighthood is apparently inviolable? Should not we strip Mark Thatcher of his baronetcy, which is a hereditary knighthood?

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Just say yes.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman suggests from a sedentary position that I say yes. Mark Thatcher is a baronet, and it would require primary legislation to remove a baronet's title. The Government have no plans to introduce such legislation.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): In the context of the debate on licensing next Tuesday, can we have a more measured Government response on the issue—from the Home Secretary, I presume—than we have just had from the Leader of the House? Has he noticed that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who I presume is not just an opportunist, has this morning appealed for the changes in licensing to go slowly? A full report in the Evening Standard today has the headline, "Our cells overflow with drunk yobs". What is the Government's response to that? It is not just politicians but the police who are asking for the process to be slowed.

The Leader of the House said that legislation on the European constitution would be introduced sooner rather than later. Can he be more specific? When does he anticipate that the Committee stage, which will presumably take place on the Floor of the House, will be completed and, after a necessary delay, when does he expect Third Reading? What date has he written in for completion of proceedings in the House of Lords? If he thinks that that is all going to be completed before 6 April, which many of us have in our diaries as a possible date for the Dissolution of Parliament, surely he has got another think coming. What advice has he given the Prime Minister on those dates?

Finally, did the Leader of the House notice that this morning an important decision was made about trans-Europe co-operation on serious crime? He may recall that a schoolgirl from my constituency, Caroline Dickinson, was murdered in Brittany nine years ago. Her father, mother and I have been pressing ever since for better co-operation across Europe, particularly on issues of DNA. This morning, an important development took place, and that co-operation is
 
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guaranteed in future. That is good news, but it has taken nine years to get there. Can the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to give us a statement on that issue?

Mr. Hain: I understand the predicament of Caroline Dickinson's family and I know that they appreciate the consistent support that the hon. Gentleman has given them, as do his constituents. The Home Secretary will want to consider the issue in the light of his intervention.

On licensing and binge drinking, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner told the Evening Standard today:

The proposals are not for 24-hour drinking in every pub and club across the land. They put sensible flexibility in the hands of local authorities and local police, so local residents can apply immediate pressure if they think that there are abuses. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, as a Liberal Democrat who believes in decentralisation and empowering local communities and residents, would be right behind the measure, instead of jumping on the Tory bandwagon. When the fuss has died down, people will realise that they not only have more power under the legislation for flexible and sensible licensing hours so that, for example, theatre-goers can pop in for a final pint or a glass of wine before they go home, but more power to crack down on yobbery and the drunken, violent minority who all come out of our pubs at the same time of night. I am sure that he will want to review his apoplectic intervention in the light of that common-sense advice.

On the European Union Bill, I cannot be more specific, but the hon. Gentleman made an intriguing observation about the coming months. I do not know where he got 6 April from—perhaps he is better informed than the Leader of the House. I do not think that there would be a problem from the Liberal Democrats, but it would be interesting to know whether the official Opposition would give a cast-iron guarantee to speed the Bill through the House. If they did so, they and the shadow Leader of the House would have an opportunity to keep pressing me every week on when the referendum will take place. However, there is no such offer from Conservative Front Benchers to help with the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I hope not.

Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman and his anti-European supporters, who want to take Britain out of Europe, will want to obstruct the progress of the Bill when it is introduced.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): In the run-up to the debate on sitting hours next Wednesday, is my right hon. Friend aware of a rumour that has been circulating among some right hon. and hon. Members? It is suggested that, if the House votes for a return to the dark ages and later hours on Tuesday, that will automatically mean that Members will be free to leave at 5 pm on Thursday. Would he like to set the record straight?

Mr. Hain: I have heard lots of rumours in the past few days, including that one. The proposal that I am tabling
 
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would allow the House to sit an hour earlier on Thursday at 10.30 am but keep the finish time at 6 pm, when there is usually a vote. That would have two benefits. It would allow people to continue to return home to Scotland, the north of England and the far west that evening, but it would also allow us to complete a full day's business with a vote. All too often—for all I know, it may well have happened last night—the place thins out on a Wednesday evening, because it is not easy to take whipped business, legislation or Opposition debates on a Thursday. If there were any attempt to encourage part-time membership of the House by moving the time forward to 5 o'clock, and if that were suggested as an inducement to do something else, as my hon. Friend described, that would be wrong, and I would resist it strongly.

Mr. Forth: May we have an urgent debate on procedure in courts martial? Was the Leader of the House as alarmed as I was about the publication of what can only be described as very prejudicial pictures during the course of a judicial and legal proceeding? Does he think that that was wrong, is he worried about it and can something be done about it? Does he think that this will leave the whole process wide open to appeal?

Mr. Hain: For once, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point that he makes is very important, which is why the Attorney-General wrote to the newspapers last night about this matter. It is very important that there is a fair trial, and we should do nothing to jeopardise that.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us an opportunity to discuss the conduct and stewardship of our police forces, against the background of concern among Members across the political spectrum about the professional standards department—it used to be known as CIB3—of the Metropolitan police? It is felt that there are police officers who have been suspended for an inordinately long time, often unjustly, and that some police officers who are innocent are in prison and that some people who have put them there are guilty. This is an unspoken and unrehearsed issue, but it needs to come out into the open, because there is widespread concern not only about the Metropolitan police, but about two decades of very poor stewardship of the Sussex police, for example, and systemic failures there.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend always raises important and serious matters, as he has just done. The Home Secretary will want to pay careful attention to what he said, and my hon. Friend will have the chance to question the Home Secretary on Monday week.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have an early debate about access to the Post Office card account system? Serious issues remain in relation to the inability of many people, but especially the elderly, to operate the system properly and to get through when there are difficulties and get proper answers from customer services. Members of Parliament are not given a direct line through to those involved to help
 
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constituents in these important issues. May we have an early debate to try to air some of the problems, get answers and get the problems fixed?


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