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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): As the Leader of the House has not yet decided on the recesses for next year—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Are you going to congratulate him?

Andrew Mackinlay: No, I am not, as I want my right hon. Friend to do something—I want him to ensure that Parliament sits in September, although it would not be required to legislate at that time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Parliament should not sit only when there is legislation to consider? I want the House to sit in September for ministerial statements and parliamentary questions, and there is no reason why that could not happen. Although no votes would be held, Ministers would be required to attend and those hon. Members who so wished could probe them and find out what was going on. Those who allegedly observe us would also have to be here, whereas at present the Press Gallery is like the Marie Celeste.

Mr. Hoon: As ever, I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his voluble suggestions about how we should conduct business. He makes a good point, and it is obviously important that the Executive should be held to account. The question of September sittings is something that I will have to consider before I announce the recess dates. I am a member of the ministerial trade union club, and I can tell my hon. Friend that I would be delighted to see all hon. Members participating in the House's activities next September, not simply those who would like to attend.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has had a thoroughly good idea and I commend it.

Mr. Skinner: Would the Liberals turn up if there were no votes?

Mr. Heath: I would.

I appreciate that the next two weeks are, rightly, dominated by the measures to counter terrorism, but may I suggest an innovation for a week when the Home Office does not have a queue of new legislation with which to deal? Could we institute a countryside week, which would allow those of us who represent rural areas to have a fair share of parliamentary time? On Monday, we could have the first debate in five years in Government time on agriculture, including the parlous state of the dairy industry and the problem of bovine tuberculosis. On Tuesday, we could debate a Bill to amend the Licensing Act 2003 to do something to stop the costly chaos that is enveloping village halls and small shops. On Wednesday, we could discuss the lack of rural housing, the effect of the iniquitous planning policy guidance note 3 on rural areas and the lack of public transport. On Thursday, we could discuss the unequal
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funding of public services in rural areas, including policing, our schools and our health service. Would not that be a useful way of spending a week?

Mr. Hoon: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting his press release out early. He made an interesting suggestion. At the time, only two Liberal Democrat Members were in attendance—one was just inside the Chamber—so I was going to say that it was a little rich for Liberal Democrats to talk about attendance, but I now see he has a recruit, so I will not make that observation.

Countryside issues are enormously important to the House and to the Government. Certainly, we believe that they should be debated regularly.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House organise an early debate on the role, powers and responsibilities of the coroners courts, which seem to be beyond the pale, and their relationship with the other parts of the criminal justice system? Such a debate would allow us to explore the variable competence that coroners bring to the exercise of their duties and may inform the legislation that I understand is being prepared in one of the Departments.

Mr. Hoon: I shall certainly take that as a representation to the Lord Chancellor, who I assume is the Minister responsible for coroners and their courts. It is an important issue that is not always well understood. I will ensure that my hon. Friend's views are passed on to the Lord Chancellor.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May we have a debate on the health service, in which I could highlight the fact that, according to ministerial answers to my questions, more than 100 hospital beds have been cut in recent years in Basildon and Southend hospitals? In that debate, we could try to ensure that money is spent on front-line services, so that our constituents get the health care that they deserve.

Mr. Hoon: As I told the House last week, the Government would be delighted to debate health. Last week, hon. Members were very concerned about the need to have a debate on health. The Opposition have a day on Monday and what have they chosen to debate—licensing. That demonstrates perhaps that the priorities of Opposition Members are not shared by their Front Benchers. I suggested last week that Opposition Members should put pressure to debate health on their Front Benchers rather than on the Government. It is important that we debate health because we would like to make it clear that the amount of public investment in the NHS since 1997 has doubled, and will treble by 2008; that we have 79,000 extra nurses, 27,000 extra doctors and 100 new hospital building projects; and that, compared with 1997, the NHS does 500,000 more operations each year. That is a remarkable achievement.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that yesterday, on a deferred vote, the House voted for a European-wide marketing consent for a genetically modified corn, despite hon. Members knowing that the vast majority of people in this country seek not to eat such foods and despite there
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not being a single debate on the issue on the Floor of the House. He may not share my opposition to GM foods, but does he agree that our arrangements to scrutinise European matters are in great need of modernisation?

Mr. Hoon: Certainly, I believe—not least as a former Member of the European Parliament—that it is important to look carefully at the way in which the House scrutinises European legislation. I am of the opinion that we could do better and that we could engage in the debate about such legislation rather earlier in the process. Certainly, I know that it is something that particularly interests the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a statement on the Floor of the House so that Ministers can be questioned about the decision to reinstate immediately to Sinn Fein its Assembly allowances worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and the intention to reinstate allowances and privileges in the House? Is not it wholly unacceptable that that should be announced in a written ministerial statement? Should not it come before the House? Will not people in Northern Ireland note the fact that the Government are proceeding contrary to the recommendation of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which states that the IRA is still involved in criminality? Will not any future attempt to tell the people of Northern Ireland that they should abide by IMC recommendations be rejected on the basis of the way that the Government are acting?

Mr. Hoon: It is important that I set out for the benefit of the House the precise legal position on allowances. Allowances for parties represented at Westminster have been available for some time. Obviously, the position of Sinn Fein was considered very carefully and that led the Government to propose a motion suspending Westminster allowances for a 12-month period, but that was contingent on the way in which Sinn Fein was operating and behaving. In the light of the IRA statement of 28 July, including the indication that the armed struggle was over, the situation is clearly different and one to which we are bound to apply the relevant legislation, which requires those payments to be made. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has concluded that he should lift the suspension of the allowances with effect from 1 November. That is a perfectly straightforward situation and it is wholly consistent with the relevant legislation as it affects the House.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Health to end the uncertainty about the Government's policy on banning smoking in enclosed workplaces in England by making a statement next week? Does he agree that such a statement should preferably announce the intention for a complete ban in enclosed workplaces in the whole of England or, if not, support for the Liverpool City Council (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill? Has he noted that the lives and health of non-smokers at work are now to be protected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and
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does he agree that the lives and health of workers in England, especially those who are non-smokers, is equally important?

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