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Mr. Hoon: On a previous occasion, I set out to the House the steps that the Government have taken, both in our own right and through the European Union. On Tuesday my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary issued a written ministerial statement on Zimbabwe. That shows that the Foreign Office is seized of the importance of the issue, and that it is determined to take the matter forward.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that the inevitably lengthy process of appointing Select Committees has meant that the Liaison Committee has missed its normal July sitting, at which questions would have been put to the Prime Minister. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that that sitting will be held as soon as possible after the summer recess, and that we will return to our normal cycle in the new year of question sessions with the Prime Minister in January and February, and in June and July?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister very much values and appreciates the opportunity to meet the Liaison Committee. I know that he will be disappointed if it is not possible to hold a sitting in July, and that he will look for ways to ensure that he meets the Liaison Committee as and when it is appointed.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) was unable to complete his question, but I am sure that the whole House would wish to express its sympathy for the bereaved families of the police officers to whom he referred.
My question refers to the same part of Leicestershire, as it has to do with Nottingham East Midlands airport. The Leader of the House will know that the Civil Aviation Bill will receive its Second Reading on Monday week, but my reading of the long title leads me to believe that it will not be possible to debate the police costs incurred at Nottingham East Midlands airport. The Leader of the House is a Nottinghamshire MP, and he will know that that airport lies wholly within the county of Leicestershire. It therefore follows that it is the citizens of Leicestershire who pay those police costs, even though Nottinghamshire is very pleased to have its name in the airport's title.May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the fair allocation of police costs of regional and national airports, so that my constituents, who live between 30 and 50 miles away
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from Nottingham East Midlands airport, are not obliged solely to pay for a commercial enterprise that is enjoyed by the right hon. Gentleman's constituents?
Mr. Hoon: I join the hon. and learned Gentleman in expressing the Government's sympathy for the families of those two police officers. I assure him that the costs faced by police authorities in terms of the type of policing conducted in those police authority areas is taken into account in the determination of the appropriate grant, so notwithstanding the new title of Nottingham East Midlands airport, the costs of its policing are considered in the process of calculating the Leicestershire police authority grant. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will find other, still more ingenious, ways of raising these questions.
Mr. Speaker: I now understand that the information I received was inaccurate. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has pointed out that the case he referred to is overit is not before the courtsand I will allow him to complete his question.
David Taylor: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) saidin a debate that was triggered at Solicitor-General's questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who asked for a debate about murder, the legal framework and the penalties that are availablethe crime of murder is "uniquely abhorrent". The only charge that could be laid against the man that I mentioned at Stafford Crown court earlier this week was manslaughter. He pleaded guilty to that and was given a sentence of 14 years. He had been in custody for three years; he may be released in four further years. This is no form of justice for the families that had their lives destroyed three years ago by the events that I described. Is it not about time that we looked at the law surrounding murder and the penalties that are available, so that no legal technicalities can stand in the way of justice in the way that the Munn and Moore families endured at Stafford Crown court earlier this week?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am sure that it is kept under constant review in the Home Office. Legal definitions of murder, manslaughter and so on have been the subject of various reviews in the past. It is something that the Government keep under constant notice.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): In the light of the National Audit Office report published earlier this week on the state of readiness of our armed forces, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House and make a statement, which would also provide an opportunity to raise Devonport and its future role as a dockyard and a naval base?
The contents of the report were not unfamiliar to me and I have been slightly surprised by the way in which this matter has been represented, because the report contains a very useful analysis of the way in which the Ministry of Defence and our armed forces prepare in the event of contingencies. I hope that
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the hon. Gentleman accepts that it simply would not make sense to keep all of our armed forces at the highest states of readiness all of the time. That would be absurd, in terms of their equipment and the impact on individuals. It is necessarily the case that armed forces are kept at different levels of readiness, according to the circumstances that they face. What the National Audit Office report concludes, in a complimentary way, about the Ministry of Defence is that for the very first time we have a technique available for identifying that level of readiness in order that we can then go on to improve it. That is a matter for congratulation, not criticism.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): This country continues to suffer from a serious and growing problem of alcohol abuse; we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) an example of the things that happen. But setting aside the problem of crime and disorder arising from alcohol abuse, there are also health questions, and I refer particularly to the problem of foetal alcohol syndrome. Estimates suggest that up to 1 per cent. of babies born are damaged by alcohol consumed by mothers during pregnancy. This is a very serious issue; the number of birth defects is far bigger than that arising from other causes. The Government's strategy on alcohol was published in the previous Parliament, but we have not yet had a full debate on all aspects of the country's alcohol problems, particularly the health problems. I ask my right hon. Friend to make time for a full debate on our alcohol problems.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises a vital issue and, given the importance that the Government attach to dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse, he is absolutely right to raise the question of prevention, which is at the heart of the Government's health policy across the board.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Notwithstanding the welcome announcement of a full day's debate on Africa in two weeks' time, may I appeal to the Leader of the House to find time for an urgent statement or debate on the crisis in Darfur? Given the massive ethnic cleansing that continues to take place in that region, does he accept that the opportunity not for an Adjournment debate, however welcome, but for a full debate on the Floor of this House would be eagerly seized, especially by those colleagues who believe that the Government ought to grasp the nettle and argue the case for a peace enforcement mandate, which with the support of the international community and the backing of the United Nations would allow us to disarm the Janjaweed, to erect the no-fly zone and to offer some hope to the people of Darfur? Thus far, the black African population of Darfur have suffered too much, for too long, with too little done about it.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise this important issue. He has done so consistently and I hope he accepts that the Government have responded to him by allocatingto quote his words"a full debate on the Floor of this House" on the question of Africa. He will be able to raise those issues on 30 June, as he requested at the last business questions.
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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): May I ask for an urgent debate on the responsibility and accountability of regional assemblies? Many people in England are unaware of how powerful these bodies have become. For example, there are plans by the South West regional assembly to build 21,000 more homes on Bournemouth's green belt, yet Bournemouth council is now powerless to stop this and no longer allowed to make its own judgment as to the planning requirements needed for its area.
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