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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Now that the Leader of the House has had a week to think about it, has he thought of a reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) last week? Does he have any plans to act on the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee to establish a business management committee so that we can have proper debate on the plethora of Bills that come forward rather than having that truncated by guillotine?
Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a debate in another place today that has been secured by a Labour peer to "call attention to the workings of the British electoral system in the 2005 general election"? Might it be time for this elected House to consider that matter and especially to debate a voting system that allows a Government to be elected with a substantial majority by significantly less than 25 per cent. of the country's population, and also the avoidable loss of integrity of the voting system due to the postal voting system?
When we adjourn in July for a quarter of the year there will be no effective scrutiny of the Government in this place. We know we will be unable to use the Chamber during that period, so if the Government should engage in some adventure, are there contingency plans in place so that the House can reassemble and debate matters?
May we have a debate in Government time about the workings of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and especially the role of the Deputy Prime Minister, as many of his functions seem to have been removed? I am indebted to the No. 10 website for telling us:
Mr. Hoon: As ever, a long list from the Liberal Democrats. I shall do my best to deal with each and every item on itperhaps not this week, but in due course. The House established the Modernisation Committee in the previous Parliament and, although this is a matter for the House, I would strongly support any initiative to re-establish it. It seems to me that although valuable work has been done, further work is needed. That will include a consideration of many aspects of the management of business.
As far as electoral reform is concerned, I met yesterday with representatives of the Electoral Reform Society and we discussed aspects of their proposals. Whenever the hon. Gentleman talks about integrity and principle, I am unaccountably struck by the fact that the Liberal Democrats always support a particular form of electoral representation in the electoral system that just happens to favour them. That must be a coincidence.
I recognise that there are something like five different electoral systems in operation in the United Kingdom. That is being considered in a review by officials in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It is important that the House allows that review to continue so that we examine properly the practical effect of those systems, rather than simply reaching for the system that favours one political party in the process. I know that the Liberal Democrats would not dream of doing that. That would be a terrible accusation, and I do not make it.
There are contingency plans in the event of the House having to be recalled when the Chamber is not otherwise available. I am certain that when it comes to Question Time for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, he will demonstrate the wide range of responsibilities that he enjoys. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will be able to ask him about them.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that at the beginning of the last Parliament, a determined effort was made to get the Select Committees up and running very fast, although there were one or two minor frissons. He knows that there are no troublemakers in new Labour, so he should have no difficulty in speeding up the process. If that does not happen, the Prime Minister's excellent innovation in appearing before the Liaison Committee on a regular basis may lose its impetus and people may suspectquite wronglythat the Government are trying to put off the next meeting of the Chairman and the Prime Minister.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would be much better described as a minor frisson than as a troublemaker. I recognise the importance of getting the Select Committees re-established. As Leader of the House, I want that to happen as quickly as possible. However, I repeat that it is a matter for the democratic processes of the political parties represented in the House. The Labour party has set in motion its process. I hope that other parties do the same.
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Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Given that this year commemorates the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgara battle won by a son of Norfolkwhat plans do the Government have to celebrate that great event in the House and across the country, to fly the flag for Norfolk and for England?
Mr. Hoon: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, extensive plans are emanating from the Ministry of Defencea matter on which I have a passing acquaintance. I am sure that he and all other right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate the efforts that will go into providing an extensive fleet review, which will take place quite soon to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar. I look forward to any suggestions from hon. Members as to how the House may suitably commemorate the event. I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that one of the largest ships in the fleet review will be provided by France.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): The Government pride themselves on the amount of scrutiny to which the Prime Minister and Ministers submit themselves on European matters, but that relies on the Liaison Committee, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred, and the Select Committees being up and running. Is it not paradoxical that during the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union, there appear to be no plans to provide for scrutiny by this place, for additional statements and for the submission of the Prime Minister to examination on the presidency? Pending the setting up of the Select Committees, which should be done with expedition, may I invite the Leader of the House to consider extraordinary innovative arrangements, whereby the Ministers principally concerned, including the Prime Minister, make themselves available, in public, to Members of the House of Commons for probing and scrutiny in the Committee Room?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend consistently raises questions of scrutiny, and quite rightly; I do not object to his observations. I have a large document sitting on my desk, as yet unread, about the way in which this House might improve its scrutiny of European affairs. It is important that the House has the opportunity of asking appropriate Ministers for their observations about the development of the UK presidency. I am sure that my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members will use the statements that I am sure Ministers will make, as well as Question Time, to ensure that the House is fully informed of the excellent progress I anticipate being made during the UK presidency.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast,North) (DUP):
The Leader of the House will agree that with the continued suspension of devolution in Northern Ireland and with the Northern Ireland Assembly unable to sit, it would be sensible and right to subject direct rule Ministers in Northern Ireland to as much accountability as possible. To that end, would it not be right that during this Parliament, for the first time, the Northern Ireland Grand Committee be allowed to meet in Belfast in the same way as the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees meet in their countries? Would not that make the
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Committee's workings, and Members of this House from Northern Ireland, more relevant to the people of Northern Ireland?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable suggestion. It is important that those Ministers appointed to deal with affairs in Northern Ireland for the moment should be available to this House and to its Committees. I will look carefully at his suggestion.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time to organise a debate on the excellent role that the voluntary sector can play in the provision of public services in a non-bureaucratic and flexible way? Such a debate would allow me to commend the services provided by more than 30 volunteers at the Hemsworth and South Elmsall Home Start, providing services to more than 320 families in 19 villages in my constituency, and would allow me to oppose the proposals made by some consultants that would see the end of that excellent service.
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