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Mr. Hain: First, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the date of the Budget yet. Secondly, I have already answered his question about a foreign affairs debate. Thirdly, he quoted rather selectively from one French person on the question of the European constitution. The truth is that, at the end of the process, every newspaper in France, Spain and Germanyand right across Europeconsidered it to be a victory for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and for Britain's vision of Europe. That vision is based on a partnership of nation states, not a federal superstate.
The policy advocated by the Conservatives would put Britain in a risky position of isolation. That would not be in our interests. We are a leading European power, and always have been. Under this Government, we intend to be right at the heart of Europe. We shall not be isolated and left to whinge on the fringe.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) asked me to withdraw what I said about Northern Ireland, but I will not. I have attended repeated statements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and witnessed many debates, and I have seen the Opposition engage in sniping and petty point scoring. When Labour was in
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opposition, we gave the previous Conservative Government 100 per cent. support for what they were doing to tackle terrorism and ensure that the peace process was driven forward. I just wish that Tory Front-Bench Members would do exactly the same, in the interests of the nation and of the people of Northern Ireland.
I remind the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire that this Government introduced the Freedom of Information Act. We want it to work well. The information that has come from the Treasury about Black Wednesday has nothing to do with Ministers. However, the previous Conservative Government were responsible for what was an absolute disaster for Britain and the Opposition are embarrassed about that. That is why the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue. I can assure him that requests under freedom of information legislation will be answered in due course and in the proper way. That has started to happen already.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Further to the congratulations and good wishes of the Leader of the House, supported by the shadow Leader of the House, following the announcement this morning that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will remarry, may I, as Second Church Estates Commissioner, say that the Archbishop of Canterbury has warmly welcomed the statement? The arrangements have his strong support and are consistent with the Church of England guidelines on remarriage, which the Prince of Wales fully accepts as a committed Anglican and as prospective Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As there are no constitutional implications, can I assume that there will be no statement next week?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD):
I very much welcome what the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) said. Prince Charles is Duke of Cornwall, which, as the Secretary of State for Wales will know, is his premier title. He has shared in our delights and disasters, most recently the floods in north Cornwall. I am sure that the people of Cornwall will be especially delighted by
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today's news. On their behalf and on behalf of my hon. Friends, I wish Prince Charles and his future wife every happiness for their marriage. We shall all celebrate with the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on 8 April.
Can the Leader of House say whether a statement will be made on nuclear energy? He has a consistent record of opposition to the expansion and extension of the nuclear option. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has previously said:
However, she now seems to have made a U-turn, so can we have an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that there is no prospect, before or after the general election, of a change of policy on nuclear energy? Will he give us that assurance now?
May we also have an urgent statement about the advice apparently given to the Secretary of State for Transport by the Strategic Rail Authority? This morning, The Guardian quoted the SRA as saying that there may need to be a cut of 25 per cent. in the national rail network if investment levels are not raised. Has that forecast been dealt with, can we be sure that the current overall pattern of the rail network will be maintained, and when can we expect to see a real end to the chaos and terrible consequences of the worst effects of the bungled privatisation of the rail network by his predecessors?
Mr. Hain: On the bungled privatisation by the last Conservative Government, the hon. Gentleman and I are absolutely at one. It was a disaster, and we have been clearing up the mess ever since we came to power. Despite his point, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in passenger journeys on the railways under this Government, 1,500 more trains running and record investment, all of which would be at risk if the Conservatives ever got into power and implemented their planned cuts.
I note the hon. Gentleman's congratulations and I welcome the House's unity in supporting the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Parker Bowles. As Secretary of State for Wales, I must dispute the hon. Gentleman's comment that the Cornish title is the premier title.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab):
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 673, signed by myself and many of my hon. Friends, concerning the position of House of Commons cleaners?
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[That this House recognises the invaluable contribution made by House of Commons cleaners towards ensuring the smooth running of this House; is dismayed with the poor pay and working conditions of the cleaners who are paid a miserly £4.85 per hour with only 12 days' paid holiday per annum, statutory sick pay only and no company pension; finds these employment terms and conditions shameful and totally unacceptable in 21st century Britain; wholeheartedly supports the claim made by the Transport and General Workers Union, who represent cleaners in the House, for better wages and improved working conditions; believes that the cleaners' claim should not be ignored or their work continue to be taken for granted; and urges the House authorities and the contractors that employ the cleaners to accept their claim for £6.70 per hour, 20 days' paid holiday per annum, company sick pay and a company pension to ensure they receive a fair deal.]
Their employment situation is outrageous; they have low wages, no proper pension scheme and derisory holidays. Does my right hon. Friend, in his role as our representative on the House of Commons Commission, believe that the contracts awarded to third parties should be of concern to the Commission, especially in terms of the wages and conditions of some of the people on whom we depend enormously for the good functioning of the House? They are in many ways invisible, but they are necessary for us to carry out our jobs properly and they should be remunerated accordingly and their firms should not be allowed to pay them such lousy wages.
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