Mr. Hoon: I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman's point about the number of written ministerial statements is. I assume that he is saying that they should have been made, and that he is not saying that he would have preferred a smaller number, so he has left me in some difficulty as to what his precise point is. After all, each of the Ministers who have made those statements have informed the House, which I assume is precisely what he would have wanted.
On the length of the recess, I am a little surprised that this is the first time that the hon. Gentleman has addressed the issue. He made no observation about it when I announced the date of the recess, and he made no observation yesterday in relation to the summer Adjournment debate, when the matter could properly have been raised. I am left with the slight feeling that perhaps only when the Daily Mail rang him up and asked him about it did he think that it was appropriate to make a commenta subject to which I might return next time he complains about a Minister not coming to the House and not keeping it properly informed. It might be that he prefers to see his name in the Daily Mail rather than in the pages of Hansard.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I have always been against a 10-week break, but as someone who was on the picket line yesterday, with my hon. Friends and no Tory MPs, may I ask whether efforts will be made before the beginning of the summer recess to try to resolve that industrial dispute? If it is not resolved, is there not every possibility that further action will take place? The cleaners have a very strong case indeedthey are not being treated the same as those who are directly employed by the Commons. Those who jeer should try living on £5 an hour with no holiday entitlement and no pensions. Such hypocrisy is unacceptable in the House of Commons. I am pleased, however, that the House of Commons Commission is apparently to provide better accommodation than the squalid rooms that I mentioned last week. At least that is one step forward.
My hon. Friend has raised this matter repeatedly. On the last occasion, I indicated that I would raise the matter in the House of Commons Commission,
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which was done on Monday. As he has mentioned, the House of Commons Commission will be finding better accommodation for the cleaners, which is right. As far as the industrial dispute between the cleaners and their employers is concerned, obviously, efforts are being made by the employers to seek an appropriate and satisfactory solution.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): As we enter what I consider to be an excessively long recess, and at the risk of being accused of being the first to call for the recall of Parliament, may I express the hope that there will be no practical impediment to recalling Parliament if events demand that course of action, and that Ministers will find a way of keeping all Members, not just Front Benchers, advised of developments in security matters?
I have just one other question for the Leader of the House, on Iraq. When he was Secretary of State for Defence, whatever our differences, I recognised that he was assiduous in keeping the House informed of developments by making statements. We have British forces in the field, who, sadly, occasionally take casualties. We have a deteriorating situation with, we are told, 34 civilian deaths in Iraq every day, and many people assessing whether Iraq is approaching civil war. And even as cautious an observer as Senator Joe Biden has said:
Can it therefore be right that we have not had a single statement or debate specifically on Iraq in this Parliament? Indeed, the last statement was six months ago, and the last debate more than a year ago. Is not the House entitled to have a view on the conduct of our policy in Iraq?
Mr. Hoon: Clearly, should the House need to return during the previously announced recess, it is important that that should take place. I made it clear that should such a requirement arise, there will be no practical difficulty for the House to reassemble, wherever that might be. The hon. Gentleman, and other Members, will understand what I mean, given that the length of this recess has largely been dictated by the need to improve the security arrangements in the Chamber.
As far as Iraq is concerned, the hon. Gentleman is not entirely fair in being so critical. There has already been a defence debate, which was an obvious opportunitymy recollection is that the title of the debate was "Britain in the World"to raise the question of Iraq. Only this week, we have had Foreign Office questions, and there are four-weekly opportunities to question Defence Ministers. I do not therefore accept the criticism that there have not been opportunities in this Parliament to deal with the question of Iraq.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab):
The Leader of the House will be aware that two days ago the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality made an important statement changing the treatment of refugees, who will now be given five years' leave to remain instead of immediate settlement. No consideration appears to have been given to the impact of that change on children, who face the prospect of having their lives torn apart twice if the proposal goes
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ahead. Can the Leader of the House assure us that we will have an opportunity to discuss this matter as soon as Parliament returns in October?
Mr. Hoon: I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have given full consideration to the impact on families. That is a necessary consequence of the very difficult decisions that he and his colleagues have to take. Certainly, however, there will be further opportunities to debate and discuss this matter when the House returns in the autumn.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Earlier this year, the House passed legislationwith the support of the Procedure Committee, the House authorities and indeed, you, Mr. Speakerto enable Parliament square to be restored to its normal peace and tranquillity. Placards remain evident directly opposite New Palace Yard even though we are in a time of heightened security, so can the Leader of the House say when the authorities will carry out the wishes of Parliament and restore Parliament square and the pavement to peace and tranquillity?
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that appropriate legislation is in place to allow effective action to be taken. Obviously, it is necessary for those responsible for enforcing the legislation to determine the correct balance between people's freedom to demonstrate and communicate their views, security requirements, and hon. Members' need to get on with their work properly and in peace.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that George Cubie, one of the House's senior officers, will have retired by the time the House returns after the summer? He has only put in 39 years' service and could not stay on to match my 40, but he beats anyone else in the Chamber today. As Clerk of Committees, he presided over the greatest transformation in the back-up services available to Committees in 25 years, and all the Committee Chairmen are grateful for that. He has been a wonderful source of advice to me and to the other Chairmen here today. We will miss him, as he has been great to work with. Will my right hon. Friend join us in wishing him a very happy retirement?
Mr. Hoon: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. When the members of the Modernisation Committee spontaneously elected me as their Chairman recently, I was able to pay tribute to George Cubie's work on behalf of that Committee. He has taken forward a very considerable programme of change and I know how widely admired he is by previous members of that Committee and how much the House will miss his services.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House reflect on the number of written statements issued this week? There have been 156, and that is out of all proportion. Although he has defended that this morning, I believe that he should think carefully about this matter. He has referred to the
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Modernisation Committee, which agreed that hon. Members should be able to table written questions during the recess. That provision was supported by his predecessor, so why are the Government so opposed to it now?
Mr. Hoon: I make the same point to the hon. Gentleman that I made to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Does he think that there should be a smaller number of written statements, or that written statements should not be made to inform the House of developments in the work of Government Departments? I should have thought that he would welcome the number of written statements and their quality, as they make clear the Government's determination to keep hon. Members fully informed. Obviously, it is important that hon. Members retain the ability to solicit information from Departments during the recess. I am sure that they can take advantage of the generous allowances made available for secretarial facilities and write to Ministers, who would expect to respond.