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I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman reasonably makes. I am advised that the
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difficulty is that the system needs an upgrade, and if it is not done sooner rather than later the problem will develop into a bigger one. It is better to do it over a weekend than during the working week. However, I will bear his comments in mind, and I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms will want to take careful note of them.
Richard Younger-Ross: The Government recently published a document called, "Iran's Nuclear Programmea Collection of Documents". Skipping over the fact that I always thought that a collection of documents was called a dossierperhaps we are not allowed to use that word any morewill the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on that? In particular, can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether the UK would give assistance to the US in relation to any military intervention in Iran, and whether the Prime Minister will make it clear to Mr. Bush after his "do" today that we will not support any such action?
Mr. Hain: Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have already made it crystal clear that such action is not on the British agenda at all. In respect of the document, the Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions on Tuesday.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland concerning the statement made on RTE by an elected Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin, that the murder of Mrs. McConville, who went out to help a British soldier who was shot and did what any woman would have done to comfort him in his last moments, was not a crime because it was sanctioned by a court martial of the IRA? Does not it further corrupt the body politic when such things go unchallenged?
Mr. Hain: Criminality and murder must be no part of a democratic future in Northern Ireland, and any groups that want to be part of that future must eliminate it from their practices and beliefs. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will want to take careful note of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): May I remind the Leader of the House that on 13 October the Scrutiny Committee recommended a debate on a Commission document on the fight against fraud in the European Union, and that on 12 January the same Committee recommended a debate on another document relating to the so-called European Anti-Fraud Office? Are we failing to have those very important debates because the Government condone fraud and malpractice in the EU or because they do not care about public expenditure?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, most of this fraud, which is a scandal but has been tackled much more energetically in recent times than previously, takes place in member states rather than in Brussels. He will be aware that a debate on fraud in the European Union
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is taking place in Westminster Hall next Wednesday, and he will have an opportunity to make his points there.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On the subject of our sitting hours, may I gently point out to the Leader of the House that to this particular Scottish Member it makes not a whit of difference whether we finish at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock on a Thursday, because neither time will allow me to get home on a Thursday night?
I associate myself with the call by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) for a statement on the operation of Post Office card accounts, and bring to the House's attention the situation that recently faced a post office in my constituency that was flooded after the very high tides resulting from the bad weather and had its electricity supply knocked out. As a result, pensioners in that part of Orkney were unable to get their pensions because they had access only through the computer system, which was obviously not available to the post office. Surely that situation is not acceptable.
On sitting hours, I appreciate that even if we stopped at lunchtime on a Thursday, the hon. Gentleman still might not get back that evening. I am sorry, but I cannot change the geography of the Orkney islands.
Mr. Bercow: May we please have a debate in Government time on the long overdue and much needed further reform of the House of Lords? Given that a cross-party group of Members of Parliament, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), and the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), has called for a predominantly if not overwhelmingly elected Chambera view with which I happen to agree, as does, I suspect, the Leader of the Housedoes he agree that it is vital, not least in the name of self-respect, that we should have an early debate, reach a conclusion and proceed accordingly? Surely that is in the interests of parliamentary scrutiny and democratic legitimacy alike.
Mr. Hain: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman's general pointhe invited me to agree with him, and I do. I have long supported such reform of the Lords, as he acknowledged, although I am not sure how long he has supported it.
Mr. Hain: That is excellent. We need to reach a conclusion not only on the composition of the Lords but on its powers. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that. The proper role of the Lords is that of a revising, improving Chamber, not a vetoing Chamber on the decisions of the House of Commons, which is how it has acted for the past few years in particular.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
Does the Leader of the House recall the double act by the two
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Chancellorsof the Exchequer and the Duchy of Lancasterat an election poster unveiling, an event that featured all the humour but none of the charm of the Two Ronnies? May we have a statement about the use of Government cars by Ministers and their flunkies attending events of that sort, as they are evidently going to become more and more frequent in the weeks ahead?
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): May we have a debate on the state of the United Kingdom film industry? Last year only 27 films were made solely in this country and solely by UK producers, 40 per cent. fewer than last year, and a number of productions scheduled for this year have already been shelved. The main reason that has been given is a change introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the tax relief that the film industry used to enjoy. It is pointless Ministers' rubbing shoulders with the glitterati and celebs on the red carpet if they will not ensure that film producers and their technicians can shine by backing the industry.
Mr. Hain: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise if he looks into the matter in detail, a loophole was being exploited and abused. It has now been closed, but the Chancellor has also provided separate and quite proper targeted relief to support the film industry, which now enjoys the prospect of a very bright future.
Mr. Speaker: I am aware of the interest in the actions of British servicemen in Iraq, stimulated by the publication of photographs in the press yesterday. While passing reference may be made to the general standards of conduct of British forces, the Chair will not allow any comment on cases before a court or a court martial, which are clearly covered by the House's sub judice rule.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I welcome your statement, but the point of order is about a different matter. Have you received a request from any senior Minister, perhaps even the Prime Minister, to come to the House and make a statement that the Labour party will not accept Short money when it loses the general election?
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