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As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, the nominee will be subject to the normal process. We will want to know, as a Labour Government who are leading the world on debt relief, on international finance facilitiesso far resisted by the Americansand on
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doubling overseas aid and development budgets throughout the world, where Mr. Wolfowitz stands on those issues. They will be crucial to the World Bank playing a progressive role to eliminate world poverty, rather than a regressive one.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for announcing what he has about the Finance Bill. Is he likely to be able to say any more about the way in which the House might take the Bill forward, and what might need to be agreed in the event of the Prime Minister announcing a general election?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurancedespite, I think, his unsympathetic and, I hate to say it, ill-informed view about programmingthat whatever the outcome of the election, the House should have an early opportunity to debate programming? With about 40 per cent. of clauses and schedules in major Bills not being debated, surely this cannot be the way in which the House should proceed, leaving such heavy responsibility upon the House of Lords to do the work that this House should do.
Mr. Hain: On the specific question of what work should be done in the House of Lords compared with the House of Commons, I accept the principle that the hon. Gentleman is expressing. Obviously, we should be in pole position. The hon. Gentleman will understand the difficulties that we have because of emergency legislation and the need to get that through Parliament quickly. I would have liked to give more time for consideration of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which was emergency legislation, if that had been possible. In future, I would still like to do that.
I acceptwe have repeatedly debated this in private and in publicthat the hon. Gentleman and I take a different view on programming. I respect his view. The Modernisation Committee produced a report on the matter. We voted on it and implemented the necessary motions last autumn. The Procedure Committee has also considered the matter under the hon. Gentleman's expert chairmanship.
I still think that there is a big advantage to the House and the public of knowing when chunks of business concerning any particular Bill will be taken and where everybody stands. For example, interested members of the public or groups know that they can go to a Committee on a particular day and a particular time and will hear the subject that especially interests them debated, rather than never knowing whether the debate will take place in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning, as happened consistently in the past. It is a matter of getting the balance right. There were big failures under the previous system, but I am always happy to keep the existing system under review.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab):
Can my right hon. Friend possibly find the time to squeeze in a debate on the important issue of the £200 council tax rebate for pensioners that the Chancellor proposed yesterday in the Budget, and on the pie-in-the-sky, cash-limited,
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means-tested amounts that others are proposing? It is important that the House should have the opportunity to discuss these proposals, so that people know exactly what is on offer.
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend encourages me to see whether I can re-jig the business of the next few weeks, because I would relish the opportunity to debate the Conservatives' fantasy island proposals on council tax, which would actually help the wealthiest pensioners in the homes of greatest value who pay the highest council tax to get the most benefit. Pensioners who pay only partial council tax will get the full £200 council tax refund, tax free, under Labour
Mr. Hain: Well, obviously for the first year[Interruption.] The Chancellor never ever announces future programmes unless he is in a position to do so, and this is an example of that. We are putting money in to help the poorest pensioners while keeping economic stability constantly in mind. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and the public will want to know that, under Labour's plans, 3.7 million more pensioner households will get a council tax refund than under the Conservative plans. That shows that Labour is delivering for pensioners on council tax, and not the Tories.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the vote on the war in Iraq. A motion of impeachment is before us, and there is compelling evidence that the Prime Minister misled the House in taking us to war. Is it not high time that we held him to account
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend will know that responsibility for enforcing parking regulations has been transferred from the police to local authorities. There is huge disquiet in my area about the aggressive way in which Parkwise, which is run jointly by the county and district councils, enforces parking regulations. It is very inflexible indeed. Would it be possible to invite someone from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to come to the House and give us an update on how these arrangements are bedding in across the country?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend raises, and I know that this has caused his constituents particular discomfort. The Ministers responsible will want to take a close interest in the matter, and perhaps to respond to him so that his constituents can be better satisfied.
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On the previous question, I do not think that the debate on Iraq is assisted by stunts that are deliberately contrived to get a headline. The future of Iraq is about building a democracy and not succumbing to terrorism, and I wish that the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) had made that point, rather than engaging in that particular stunt.
Mr. Forth: Does the Leader of the House realise the extent to which we now have more proper parliamentary scrutiny carried out by the House of Lordsworking more days and longer hours, without timetabling by the Governmentthan, sadly, is carried out by the House of Commons? Is he ashamed of the fact that he and his colleagues have now reduced the role of the House of Commons to that of a Government lapdog, leaving the unelected House of Lords to do the real parliamentary work? When is something going to be done about this, or is the Leader of the House going to continue to allow this shameful parliamentary position to carry on indefinitely?
Mr. Hain: Just because the Conservative party and its allies have a majority in the House of Lords, with which they are able to try to thwart the will of the elected House of Commons, he now wants to invoke the House of Lords in the Conservative party's aid rather than rely on democratic decision making and debate here. On his point about less scrutiny, I just do not accept it at all. I do not accept that the House of Lords subjects legislation to better or more scrutiny. I find that very rich indeed coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who is the biggest filibusterer of all time in the House of Commons and who has no interest in real scrutiny
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to call for temperate language. I have never known the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to filibuster. Any time I have been in the Chair, he has always kept within the rules of the House.
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) (Lab): May I press the Leader of the House on the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) raised? The Leader of the House referred to the Conservatives' policy on council tax as a fantasy, but it is worse than that: it is a nightmare. When the Chancellor made his very welcome statement yesterday, he may have noticed that Conservative Members raised not two but five fingers, to signify the £500 rebate that they are proposing. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on this issue, so that we can examine these policies? If the Conservatives were to implement their proposed freeze on local government funding for two years, followed by a 1 per cent. increase, it would create a £4.2 billion deficit in local government funding. That would lead either to savage cuts in services, which would affect pensioners and others, or to huge hikes in council tax, which would mean that pensioners would probably have to pay £500 more than they are paying today, rather than receiving £500 back.
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