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Mr. Hain: This is of course a matter for the House authorities and ultimately for the House of Commons Commission. However, I understand the points that my hon. Friend is making. The cleaners perform a vital role for all of us, especially at a time when security is of paramount importance in the Palace. It is vital that they are treated properly and that their wages, albeit paid by private contractors contracted by both Houses, should be decent. Cleaners and their representatives from the Transport and General Workers Union came to see me this morning. Frankly, I could not live on their wages, and the whole issue should be looked at again in the negotiations to come.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Leader of the House asked why we had not called for a debate on housing and mentioned in his statement a forthcoming debate on decent homes. You, Mr. Speaker, certainly know, as the Leader of the House should, that yesterday at questions to the Deputy Prime Minister I asked for an explanation of why the Government are building only half as many social houses as the last Conservative Government did each year. The answer I received was about as useful and stimulating as a game of Scrabble against the Deputy Prime Minister. So that the forthcoming debate can be better informed, will the Leader of the House make an urgent statement on why the Government are building so few social houses and why they are letting down 100,000 peoplea record numbertrapped in temporary accommodation? Those people are being cheated by the Government.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in housing; it is an interest that every Member shares.
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He pointed to the past record and current performance, so may I remind him of the reality? When we came to power, the reality was that people were living rough in Londonall over the streets and under the arches. The reality was massive problems of homelessness. The truth is that we have refurbished 1 million council properties and we are putting huge investment into social housing, every million pounds of which would be cut or at risk under the Conservatives' £35 billion cuts. The hon. Gentleman should sort out his Front-Bench colleagues on this matter. Let us have a common approach to dealing with social housing, providing more opportunities for housing, instead of savage cuts across the board, as the Conservatives promise.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): In more than 40 years as a Member of the House of Commons, I find it inconceivable that any previous Administration, including Mrs. Thatcher'sbecause I asked John Wakeham about itwould have denied the House a serious debate on the question of Iraq or any similar situation. Does the Leader of the House understand that it is not good enough simply to say that the House has been kept informed? Especially after the Iraq elections, Members in all parts of the House have views on the very serious situation of what might occur with the Kurds. They have views on relations between Iraq and Iran, which, heaven knows, are delicate enough. Why are we being denied the opportunity to express those views? Bluntly, without raising the anger of MPs from Northern Ireland, to spend a day on the electoral register in Northern Ireland, yet not to discuss Iraq, will be seen as very odd outside the House.
Mr. Hain: I do not agree that the day to be spent on the electoral reform needed in Northern Ireland is unimportant. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland certainly takes that view, and I think that everybody involved agrees.
Obviously, I defer to my hon. Friend the Father of the House, with his 40 years of experience, but surely he must recognise that we were the first Government to permit a vote on going to war; no previous Government had done that. That is important. It was an important debate. We have always reported to the House and given every opportunity for hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, to express their views. [Interruption.] I respect the disagreement that my hon. Friend has with the Government on the original decision to topple Saddam and invade Iraq, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary came at the first opportunitythe first day back after the elections and made a statement to the House. He has kept the House informed continuously. I simply do not recognise the picture that my hon. Friend has painted.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP):
May I say to the Father of the House that we would happily give up the day for the debate if he wished. May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the welcome report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which has made it clear that it would recommend the exclusion of Sinn Fein from office were the Northern Ireland Assembly sitting? May we have a debate on the
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matter as soon as possible so that we can establish a consensus, call on the Government to recall the Assembly and support the passing of a motion to exclude Sinn Fein, take the necessary action and rectify the anomaly of Sinn Fein's privileged position here at Westminster?
Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman knows that all these matters have been agreed and implemented as part of the peace process and of cementing its detail. Obviously, as we set up the Independent Monitoring Commission we take any report from it or recommendation that it makes seriously, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take careful note of what it says.
Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House share my regret at the comments made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) about the nation of Scotland? Does he agree that the remarks were offensive and insulting and that the people of Scotland share that feeling?
Mr. Hain: Particularly as my grandfather and grandmother were Scottish, I think Scotland is a fantastic place to live and to be proud of, second only to Wales. I agree with my hon. Friend.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): On 23 February there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on House of Lords reform. As this is a subject on which Ministers have a range of conflicting views, can the Leader of the House give me an assurance that the Minister who replies will be a Minister who supports the Government's manifesto commitment to a more democratic and accountable House of Lords?
Mr. Hain: That is a very good question from my right hon. Friend and I will think about it carefully. Any Minister replying for the Government always supports the Government's view.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): As the Leader of the House will be aware, Kofi Annan is in London today speaking on his recently published report on the future of the United Nations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a vital document? Will he facilitate a debate on it on the Floor of the House as soon as practicable?
Mr. Hain: It is a vital document. Given the pace of legislation now going through the House, I cannot promise an early debate, but my hon. Friend is free to apply for one. I hope that there will be an opportunity for such a debate because, as my hon. Friend says, it is crucial for international stability and security, and the future of the world, that we have a powerful United Nations and a Security Council reorganised to deliver the UN mission right across the world.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):
May I support the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) for a debate on the Government's selective and partisan use of the Freedom of Information Actin particular the refusal by the Deputy Prime Minister to publish under
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the Act the report that he has already received from the inspector about a planning proposal in my constituency to build up to 10,000 houses on the green belt? It has national significance because it will be the biggest ever encroachment on the green belt. The Deputy Prime Minister has received that report, but apparently wants to put off publication until after the general election. He admits that encouraging public debate is important, but says that publishing the document would not help with public debate. Can we have a debate on this rather contentious matter?
Mr. Hain: I recognise the constituency point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will note carefully. I reject the right hon. Gentleman's central charge that there is some kind of selective release of informationofficials advise on the release of information. In the instance of Black Wednesday, no Treasury Ministers were involved in the decision on the release of information. Indeed, the former Prime Minister, John Major, acknowledged as much on the "Today" programme this morning. The permanent secretary to the Treasury is in charge of all these matters. I am sure that, as a distinguished Secretary of State himself, the right hon. Gentleman would not want to accuse permanent secretaries of any partisanship, so I am sure that he was not doing so a moment ago.
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