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Mr. Hoon: Over the past few weeks, I have become used to being grateful for the kind observations emanating from the Opposition Front Bench, not least in relation to identity cards. I am sure that Labour Members look forward to discovering what precisely is the Opposition's position on that important issue. When they find their identity, no doubt we shall all be reassured.
I must say the same in respect of political protests in and around the precincts of Parliament. Following a detailed debate, the Government have sought to put into legislation the recommendations of the cross-party Procedure Committee, which in the last Parliament was chaired by a Conservative Member. If the Opposition Front Bench is now disowning the results of a detailed piece of work done in the House by, among others, Conservative Members, I regard that as a matter of considerable regret.
The hon. Gentleman raised again, quite properly, the question of Zimbabwe. As I said a few minutes ago, an Opposition day is forthcoming. We have yet to hear from the Opposition what the subject of the debate will be, but it presents the hon. Gentleman with a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate just how sincere he is by ensuring that Zimbabwe is debated. I am sure that Members in all parts of the House would be delighted about that.
We shall certainly look carefully at the decision of the European Court of Justice on food supplements. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will ensure that we observe the terms of the judgment precisely. As for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the regulations be suspended, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend writes to him accordingly.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am trying to be as helpful as always. Would it not be useful if, prior to the Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill, there was a full and frank discussion in Cabinet, as there was originally, and during which some Cabinet members apparently expressed reservations? Such a full and frank discussion would give the Cabinet an opportunity to decide whether the measure should go through, bearing in mind the concerns expressed in the past 18 months to two years about the possible failure of biometricsthere seems to be not much doubt about thatand the vast expense: it is now being said that the card will cost in the region of £300 rather than the original sum. Should not all that be taken into account before 28 June?
Mr. Hoon: I assure my hon. Friend that all discussions in Cabinet are both full and frank. The Cabinet has discussed this point. We set out the position of the Labour party in our manifesto, upon which we achieved success in the general election. I know that my hon. Friend has considerable reservations about identity cards, but it is the settled opinion of the Government that the legislation should go forward, which is why we have put it into the programme.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say, in answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), that he will soon bring forward proposals for the proper scrutiny of European legislation. Given that we had yet another Adjournment debate on the European Union yesterday, which I am sure was valuable in its way but which was unfocused, is not there a clear need to have a proper process of scrutiny of what our Ministers do in the Council on behalf of this country? At the moment, we have no such scrutiny proposals.
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the report issued today by the Public Accounts Committee on non-attendance at court, which has become a very significant problem? Might we also debate the comments of the chief constable of Avon and Somerset, Colin Port, who suggests that perhaps what we need is a national agency, along the lines of the US marshals, responsible for tracking down fugitives and bringing them to justice? That would certainly merit debate.
Can we have a standing slot, on a regular basis, for a debate that might be called, "New policies announced by Ministers but of which details have unaccountably never been given to the House"? There we could, for instance, consider the ambitious plans announced for first-time buyers, which we still do not know anything about, and discover when the free travel for pensioners on buses will be implemented, which is a question that is often asked. Moreover, it might decrease the number of
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opportunities that Ministers have for making statements outside this House instead of coming here and making a proper statement.
Lastly, could we have a debate on the serious medical condition of amnesia? It seems to me that some right hon. and hon. Members simply cannot remember the position that they took only a matter of months ago on ID cards, demonstrations in Parliament square, or the extradition treaty with the United States.
Mr. Hoon: On amnesia, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the considerable work of the Modernisation Committee on European scrutiny. I have been looking carefully at those recommendations. It is a matter that we need to resolve. I agree that it is important that we should improve the quality and quantity of European scrutiny. It is clear from elections here and votes in countries such as France and Holland that the European population is anxious to see an improvement in the way in which we deal with European issues. I am sure that this House, which has always set the standard for scrutiny, will look carefully at the proposals when they are brought forward, and when I have thought about them.
As for the PAC report on non-attendance at court, we very much welcome those recommendations. A great deal of work has been done over a number of years to improve case management before the courts, and it is obviously necessary that that should continue. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's observations in that respect. It is of course the case that Ministers always report new policies to the House first, and I have continued to emphasise that to my right hon. and hon. Friends. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are especially concerned about that, and I give you my assurance that my colleagues will observe the proper rules and practice of the House to ensure that right hon. and hon. Members are fully informed as new policies are announced.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations on ID cards, although I daresay that they were directed not at the Government but at other Opposition Members. The Liberal Democrats have always been consistent on the issue, but sadly they have been consistently wrong.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate about religious and sacred desecration? I have tabled an early-day motion today that condemns such an act at a Jewish cemetery in my constituency and welcomes the solidarity of the local multifaith community, which has condemned the incident and stood alongside those who have suffered as a consequence of that barbarous action.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that important issue. The Government deplore all anti-Semitism, especially the appalling expression of it that we saw in her constituency recently. Before the general election, I spoke at the annual fundraising meeting of the Community Security Trust, which does so much important work protecting our Jewish community. It is important that we do not allow anti-Semitism to operate in this country.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an Education
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Minister to make an urgent statement to the House on adult education funding? Had he been here for Education questions earlier, he would have heard that many Labour Members are extremely concerned about that issue, as are Opposition Members. In my constituency, Dunstable college faces a £600,000 cut in adult education provision. The staff will have to decide next week which courses they will not offer, but budgets could be rearranged by taking money from the headquarters bureaucracy of the Learning and Skills Council to deal with that problem. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Minister is available to deal with that issue next week?
Mr. Hoon: I was not present for Education questions, but I am always impressed by the number of Education Ministers we have. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have had the opportunity to raise his question. I draw to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends the points made at business questions and I will ensure that that point is drawn to their attention.
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