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First, I will announce the Second Reading of the Finance Bill when I am in a position to do so. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman knows, farmers' grants were brought up during DEFRA questions just before I rose to make my statement, and I know that there is an issue there.
Thirdly, on the Nottingham police, crime in Nottinghamshire has fallen by 10 per cent. during the past year with even bigger reductions in vehicle crime, robbery and burglary. Nottinghamshire Members of Parliament have been critical of the chief constable's comments, particularly as there are 102 new community support officers under Labour and the number of support staff has risen by 294 since we came to power. As for the hon. Gentleman's preposterous suggestion that more police officers will be recruited under the Conservatives when they are proposing £35 billion-worth of cuts
He repeated that on the "Politics Show" on 18 January when he said that the Conservatives would spend about £35 billion less than Labour. That is the equivalent of all the police officers in the country, all the nurses in the country and all the teachers in the country. That is what the public will face in Nottinghamshire and throughout the country if the Conservatives win the next election, according to their own promises and their shadow Chancellor.
The hon. Gentleman sat on the Modernisation Committee which produced the report on programming on which the House voted, so he knows that there never was a golden age of parliamentary scrutiny. Prior to programming, whole shoals of clauses would often fly past in Standing Committee or on Report. If he was so concerned about programming, why did the Conservatives this week not vote against two programme motions?
On Second Reading of the Constitutional Reform Bill this week, virtually no Conservatives were present and they gave no serious scrutiny to the Bill because they are just playing games, as the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) knows. He also knows that consistently[Interruption.] On the question of scrutiny, if he is really concerned why did the Conservatives not even turn up to debate the private Member's Bill on self-defence against burglary, which resulted in the Bill falling? The truth is that under this Labour Government the Prime Minister is more
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accountable than ever, makes more statements and takes more questions from Parliament. The suggestion of rubber-stamping is nonsense.
On the hon. Gentleman's points about forthcoming Bills and what may happen to them in the event of an early electionif there is oneI hope that the Charities Bill, the Disability Discrimination Bill, the Identity Cards Bill, the Child Benefit Bill and a whole number of other crucial Bills of interest and concern to the public will be subject to constructive negotiation so that they can become law, as everyone in the country wants.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Albeit that the late Robert McNamara metamorphosed from Lyndon Johnson's aggressive Defence Secretary on Vietnam to president of the World Bank, could we have some sort of statement on the British Government's attitude to the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz? I am not necessarily saying that it is a bad appointment, but were the British Government consulted and do they think that it should simply be in the gift of the Americans?
Mr. Hain: I am happy to explain the Government's position on that and I am grateful that my hon. Friend has asked the question. It is for the bank's board to take a decision on the appointment of the president. We should wait and see whether there are any other candidates and wait for the outcome of the process. Obviously, we would be involved in consultations with the US and others about the appointment and we would look forward to hearing Mr. Wolfowitz's views on several issues that concern us, such as debt cancellation, free basic education and other crucial development questions.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): Can the Leader of the House investigate and make an early statement on the Chancellor's Budget leak to the Evening Standard yesterday? The Leader of the House will be aware that a very early edition of the paper, which was certainly printed before the Chancellor rose to his feet in the House, contained considerable detail, includingextraordinarilydetails about the Queen Mother's memorial. That information may not be market sensitive, but the Leader of the House will know that on previous occasions Mr. Speaker has had to ask the Chancellor to come and explain what went wrong. Can the Leader of the House investigate that matter?
As the Leader of the House is responsible for the orderly dispatch of business through Parliament, will he review, during a quiet time in the Easter recess, the scrutiny process in and between the two Houses? Is he really satisfied with the way in which they work at present? Does he accept that the major concessions eventually made by the Home Secretary last week on the house arrest legislation clearly demonstrated that the original proposals were flawed? In the end, the Home Secretary accepted major improvements. Is the Leader of the House satisfied that such vital concessions should be made in the other place, and in night-time wrangles in the other place and between the two Houses?
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the extraordinary position of Lord Birt, who seems at one and the same time to work for a global media consultancy firm and to advise the Government, with paid civil service support, on the future of public service broadcasting?
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The Deputy Leader of the House made an interesting statement on Tuesday about the role of the Law Commission in the particular circumstances of pre-legislative scrutiny. May we have a fuller statement on that important issue?
Mr. Hain: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that last point. The Law Commission has accepted our request to look into the issue. As Leader of the House, I have been anxious to promote not only pre-legislative scrutiny, which has taken place on a scale never seen before in the past few years, but post-legislative scrutiny to examine how laws are implemented and what lessons can be learned.
On the question of the Evening Standard report, there was no leak from the Treasury. Yesterday's article was entirely speculative and Ministers will address the real issues arising from the Budget statement. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not raise the important issue of the battle lines that have been drawn up on the future direction of the country, between a Labour Government committed to more public investment and maintaining economic stability, as the Chancellor did yesterday, with even some fiscal tightening on the eve of an electionpossiblyand the Conservatives, who had pre-election Budget sprees that doled out lots of money and plunged the country into exactly the cycle of boom and bust that we are determined to avoid. The choice is between £35 billion of cuts under the Conservatives and continued investment in economic stability under Labour.
The hon. Gentleman raised important points about the relationship between the two Houses, how scrutiny can take place and how it can be improved. The behaviour of the House of Lords, with its big "C" and small "c" Conservative majority, calls into question the primacy of the House of Commons. We need to consider the matter. In an age of electronic mail, I cannot explain to members of the public, who find it mystifying, how it took hours and hours between the Lords making a decision and this House being able to transact the subsequent business, and vice versa. We need to speed up our procedures and subject them to a more modern scrutiny processes.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): At a time when there is so much emphasis on tackling world poverty and disease, as shown, for example, in the excellent report by the Commission for Africa, would it not be appropriate for the House to have an opportunity to comment on the US nominee for the presidency of the World Bank? Do we take it that the UK will support that nominee? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Wolfowitz makes his current boss, the US Defence Secretary, seem quite moderate by comparison? We should debate the issue at the earliest opportunity.
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