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Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab): On a day when my only personal political hero is addressing a rally on world poverty in Trafalgar square, will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate on world poverty, particularly to support us next month when we launch fair trade fortnight?
Mr. Hain: I very strongly endorse the campaign against world poverty in 2005 and the way that the entire world's attention is being focused on it, not least by Nelson Mandela's address in Trafalgar square today and by the action of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in making poverty in Africa the central agenda item of Britain's presidency of the G8 and the European Union. I know that that is widely welcomed right across the House.
Dr. Lewis: Next week, I hope to attend an important conference on the future of Muslim youth in Europe. Does the Leader of the House accept that constructive events such as that are not helped by the use of racial or religious stereotyping in election propaganda campaigns? May we therefore have a debate on that subject on a free vote? The debate could be opened by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the script could be written by the secret committee that includes Alastair Campbell and various close friends of the unlamented Jo Moore. However, by allowing a free vote, people like the right hon. Gentleman and his deputy, who I am sure are quite disgusted at what was done, would be able to vote with us and ensure that nothing like that ever happens again.
Mr. Hain: No one on Labour's side has any time for racial or religious stereotyping. The hon. Gentleman did not make this charge, but for the record I should have thought that that is the last thing that he could accuse me of, given my record on this matter. As he knows, the matter was raised in the House a day or two ago.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know the importance of miners' compensation to our communities, especially as he represents Neath, and the role that the Department of Trade and Industry has in administering the scheme, which has now paid out more than £51 million in Ogmore alone. However, the DTI also has a bigger role in supporting small businesses in my constituency, so will he please find time for a debate on the role of and the possible efficiency savings in the DTI, bearing in mind Digby Jones's statement in respect of the James review:
"The DTI must have the resources to do its job. There is a world of difference between streamlining a department and cutting it to the bone to the point of emasculation."?
Both my hon. Friend and Digby Jones make the case very eloquently for a DTI that provides
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continuing support to sick miners, retired miners or their families or widows, rather than axing from underneath them all the billions of pounds that our Labour Government have paid out to those miners in his constituency, mine and many scores of others across the country. That brings into sharp focus the whole nonsense of pretending that there can be £35 billion of cuts without affecting such absolutely vital services or abolishing the DTI entirely and, with that, all its programmes, as the Liberal Democrats propose. We need a serious debate and I am keen to find an opportunity to have one, so that the way in which those policies simply do not stack up can be exposed.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I am sure that the Leader of the House sees himself as a man of honesty and integrity. Given his eloquence in the past and his readiness to say how unhappy he is with the European food supplements directive, why on earth last week did his put his name to a Government motion that wholeheartedly supports it?
Mr. Hain: I always find that I become a little suspicious when I am accused across the Floor of possessing honesty and integrity, because I wonder what is going to happen next. The hon. Gentleman knows that the issue has been long debated and I have expressed my concerns about it. The other day's decision was taken on a different, although related, matter.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is just over a year since cannabis was reclassified and that there is growing medical evidence of the effect of its use, especially on young people. May we have a debate in Government time on the effect of cannabis resin on individuals as soon as possible?
Mr. Hain: I am sorry to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I cannot promise time for such a debate. However, he is free to apply for one himself in the usual way.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): Earlier today in the Chamber, the Foreign Secretary said that he hoped that there would be a debate on the middle east peace process very soon. May we please have that debate before the Easter recess?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly think about that. The shadow Leader of the House asked me about that because there is a lot of interest in, and concern about, the situation, given both the opportunities and the problems that exist in the middle east. I shall continue to bear the request in mind, but I cannot offer the hon. Lady any encouragement that there will be an early debate, given the current heavy legislative programme.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab):
In Treasury questions earlier today, concerns were again raised about the enormous tax gap. Additionally, my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) touched on the iniquity of tax evasion. Given
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the enormity of the tax gap and the revenue problems that could be solved if it were closed, will my right hon. Friend make space for a debate during which we could discuss the possibility of perhaps increasing the number of tax officers, introducing new and higher penalties for tax evasion and taking other steps to close the tax gap? Could we not also consider what we might spend the increased funds on, because such measures as free long-term care for the elderly could be paid for by closing a tiny fraction of that tax gap?
Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the matter. The Chancellor is just as aware of the issue as my hon. Friend, and he and his Ministers have been bearing down on it. Indeed, although there are several reasons for merging Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, one of them is to make the operation to target tax avoidance and fraud more efficient. I think that my hon. Friend will find that such measures will be pursued with increasing determination.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): A few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the Iranians have been withholding information about their nuclear development programme from the British, French and Germans. Given that last night President Bush said:
"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terrorpursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve",
may we have an urgent debate on the subject of Iran and precisely what action the United Kingdom would take if there were military intervention there?
Mr. Hain: I was encouraged by President Bush's statement:
"We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium re-processing, and end its support for terror."
Such joint action between the USA and Europeand others throughout the worldcan bear down on the problem, as the Foreign Secretary has continuously explained.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) earlier referred to the important statement made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on enabling people who are disabled to get into work. That was an important element of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was put forward in the House by Lord Morris, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and me, although it was kicked into touch by the then Conservative Government.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that medical examiners necessarily have a key role on incapacity benefit and thus the new proposals? However, there are many problems with medical examinations because some people who are not entitled to benefit receive it, while others who are clearly entitled to it are refused. May we have a debate about medical examiners so that we can find out who examines the examiners and ensure that we get this key issue right?
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. I cannot promise him an early debate, although he might
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wish to apply for one in a private Member's capacity. The Government's policy of providing more opportunities for those who have been on incapacity benefit, or are coming on to it, is vital to cut economic inactivity and provide more hope and opportunity for such people. I have seen in my constituencyI am sure that my hon. Friend has, toothe way in which such intensive and quite costly work is liberating individuals who are otherwise trapped at home.
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