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Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman says, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were here this afternoon to answer questions from both sides of the House. I simply do not accept the picture that he paints. A full statement was provided to the House in the proper way in response to the report, and its lessons will be learned. I do not understand why he has got into such a fuss about it.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab):
Can we have an early debate on adult numeracy and literacy standards, so that I might feel better
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equipped to explain to my constituents in Hall Green the ITN Osborneism that a £35 billion reduction in planned spending is actually an increase, rather than a cut?
Mr. Hain: I have to agree with my hon. Friend. It is pretty obvious that if you take 35 away from some number, you have less, do you not, Madam Deputy Speaker? If one has a number minus 35, one ends up with a lower figurethat is the point. I would have thought that even a primary school child taking the most basic maths class would understand that any number minus 35 is 35 lessso in other words, £35 billion of cuts are being suggested.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Leader of the House was present when the Foreign Secretary answered a question asked by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). He said to her that there had been opportunities to ask questions on the statement made by the Attorney-General, but as she sat down, she said that that did not happen, and that there was no opportunity to ask questions in Cabinet. The Leader of the House was present during that Cabinet meetingso who was telling the truth and who was telling the lie?
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take the Leader of the House back two weeks? On 3 March, I asked him, as is recorded in column 1110 of Hansard, if we could have a debate on the monarchy, and he replied that he had "absolutely no intention" of having such a debate. He went on to say that the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs had made a statement in which he explained the position on the royal wedding in two weeks' time. Can I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that it has since become quite clear that Clarence House did not understand the Government's position. Indeed, the spin doctors at Clarence House are, wrongly, blaming the Government for giving the wrong impression. We know from the reply to a parliamentary question this week that when Charles becomes king Camilla will become queen. As a consequence, in two weeks' time, when Camilla marries the Prince of Wales she will become the Princess of Wales. There is a genuine need for a statement. On 9 December 1992, John Major made a statement to the House at the time of the separation of Diana and Charles, and in December 1936, Stanley Baldwin
Will the Leader of the House replace the debate on defence in the UK with a debate on the Floor of the House on the important subject of international development? I put it to him that the Government's tendency, whenever they have nothing better to table, simply to lob on to the agenda an Adjournment debate
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on Wales, the European Union, defence in the UK or defence in the world, is unsatisfactory. There are huge issues in the international development debate, including effective aid, good debt relief, the pursuit of trade justice and the fight for improved governance in Africa, and there is a compelling argument to debate those matters on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman may have a point about defence. We are obliged by convention and tradition to hold five debates on various aspects of defence policy. If the Conservative Front-Bench team is making representations to me that that should be handled differently
Mr. Hain: I have noticed that. If the Conservative Front-Bench team were to support the hon. Gentleman in that endeavour, that would be very interesting, and I would consider any such representations very sympathetically.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I understand that the Parliamentary Communications Directorate, which provides our computer equipment, is going to put out to tender the contract to provide hand-held devices for Members. Can the Leader of the House tell us what consultation has been conducted among Members? I am quite unaware of any.
Mr. Hain: I certainly have not been consulted on this matter, and although I have been advised that there have been some discussions, I am not satisfied that proper consultation has taken place. I hope that the House authorities will look at the matter carefully and consult in more depth to ensure that any decision will be made in the full knowledge of Members, and in the best interests of the House.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Many loyal and hard-working public servants in my constituency have written to me to express concern about possible changes to their pension schemes. They would expect a change of that nature that affects a large number of people and has significant impact on morale in the public services to be at the heart of the parliamentary agenda. However, if such matters are debated at all, it is done through statutory instruments. Can the Leader of the House ensure that when proposals are introduced to change public sector pension schemes they are given the due prominence in the business of the House that people would expect?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. He will welcome the statement following the discussions between the Deputy Prime Minister and the local government unions that resulted in consensus on the way forward. Everyone accepts that the existing method for funding public pensions, particularly an unfunded scheme such as the local government one, is not sustainable and that we must find a way forward in the
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new circumstances created by an ageing society. If there is an opportunity for the House discuss these matters, we will obviously seek to use it.
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of widespread concern about the draft guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence on drugs to treat Alzheimer's and related diseases. Sufferers and their families believe that medical advances can alleviate these heart-rending conditions and give people hope. Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate before a final decision is made?
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May we have a debate on today's controversial report by the Science and Technology Committee on human reproductive technology and the law, to ensure that the House makes it clear that it rejects the extreme libertarian and deregulatory thrust of that report in favour of a precautionary, gradualist approach that respects the dignity of all human life?
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the joint report on electoral registration published today by the Select Committees on Constitutional Affairs and on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? I doubt whether it would be fruitful to have a debate about electoral registration before 11 AprilI noticed that my right hon. Friend did not mention 12 April or any subsequent dates when he announced the businessbut after a general election, will he bear in mind the need to debate the matter fully, as both the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister need to respond? As I will not be here to contribute, could special attention be given to the evidence that I produced for the Committees? It was almost entirely ignored, but it was clearly the most incisive stuff presented to them.
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