Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that unemployment in the north-west of England has come down by 48 per cent. and youth unemployment has been virtually removed since 1997. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on this important success story, because we do not want any slippage back to the bad old days under the previous Administration when unemployment in my constituency used to be in double-figure percentages?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, but we have had a debateit was called the general election campaign. As I travelled up and down the country, I was constantly reminded, even in Conservative-held seats, that the people of this country want a stable economy, full employment and the kind of training and educational opportunities that were not available before 1997. We do not need a debate to remind the country of those achievements, because people voted for them at the general election.
Given the Home Secretary's assurances that he is prepared, albeit in the face of almost certain defeat, to talk to Opposition parties to try to reach a consensus, it is likely that a raft of Government amendments will be tabled on Report. Is the Leader of the House prepared to re-examine how long the Bill spends on Report, which is currently scheduled for Wednesday next week, if it is necessary to extend consideration to Thursday in order to do justice to the Government amendments?
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Is Monday a convenient day for a statement on the funding of the council tax this year, given the Local Government Association's expectation that on average council tax will rise by more than £100 to meet a £2 billion deficit, and the almost daily petitions to this House from constituents who are protesting about the iniquity of the present system?
Finally, in a spirit of consensus, may I join the Leader of the House and the Conservative shadow Leader of the House in saying that our constituents who visited us yesterday, whose efforts went largely unreported because of the brouhaha, deserve greater recognition for raising the important issues of trade justice and ending poverty? It is time that we debated those subjects.
Mr. Hoon: I repeat what I have said about the ministerial codeit exists to govern the conduct of Ministers during and after their period of office. It is vital that it command confidence, which is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the matter so seriously.
As far as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is concerned, if there are difficulties about the timing of any stage of the process, I anticipate that they will be raised through the usual channels and considered appropriately.
On council tax funding, a Second Reading debate is taking place on Monday. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman needs a statement on top of that, because I am sure that he is capable of raising the issue. In the light of last year's experience, the LGA announcement is probably an opening bid. I checked last year's opening bidthe hon. Gentleman might like to do the samewhich involved the same kind of comments about the need for a large increase in council tax, although interestingly that was not the final result. We are seeing a carefully calculated effort to impress the Government, but I anticipate that the final result will be very different from the LGA's opening position.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that last year's referendum on regional government in the north-east demonstrated little or no public support for an additional layer of politicians? Does he also agree that the numerous quangos that operate in our regions need to be held to account? Is he prepared to examine the possibility of hon. Members taking on that task, perhaps through grand committees of the regions?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the result of the referendum in the north-east showed that that particular proposal was not supported there. However, I do not entirely accept my hon. Friend's observations on additional tiers. As happened in Scotland and Wales, a single tier of local government has allowed for the development of national Parliaments and Assemblies in those countries. Nobody would have strongly supported the idea of an additional tier of government without obvious changes to the way in which local government was administered. It remains to be seen whether the issue is taken forward.
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The Government have never suggested that we should add a tier of regional government without considering the structures for local government, which are often confusing to our constituents, who are not sure which tier of local government is responsible for which activity. I certainly take seriously my hon. Friend's suggestion about the way in which we should supervise quangos.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for that suggestion from the hon. Gentleman.[Interruption.] I am sure that promotion will come in due course. No Government have taken the question of antisocial behaviour more seriously than this one. We have legislated and taken action across the country to deal with the threat. I accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of further action as part of the necessary consideration of these issues that the Government undertake on a routine basis.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): The disengagement plan that the Israelis implemented in Gaza has caused more problems than it has solved, and Israel is being very provocative over its handling of affairs in Jerusalem. Iran's provocative statements about Israel are also causing problems, and Iraq and Afghanistan are giving rise to many concerns among Members. When may we have the long-promised debate on affairs in the middle east?
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes such a pessimistic view of the middle east, and particularly sorry that he regrets Israel's disengagement from Gaza. My contacts in the Palestinian community have strongly welcomed that as an important step towards a two-stage solution for the middle east. That is why we believe that this is a contribution towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is also the view that most of my Palestinian friends have taken.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear the Government's position in relation to the outrageous remarks by the Iranian President, and I do not believe that I need add anything to that. I know that I speak for all Members of this House in condemning those remarks and the destabilising characteristic of what the Iranian President has done.
As for Iraq and Afghanistan, my hon. Friend may be more pessimistic than I am. I believe that we have made very significant progress, with elections taking place and a constitution being approved in both countries and steps now under way towards providing not only a transitional Government in Iraq but a permanent one.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
On the sub judice rule raised by the shadow Leader of the House, the Government owe the House a debate on
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the report produced by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament. The Committee is not willing to proceed with a further inquiry until it has received the Government's response and had a debate on that report. I hope that the Leader of the House will treat that seriously.
On a more important point, I was unfortunately unable to attend the Modernisation Committee yesterday because of a very important funeral, but I understand that it took a decision to look into the legislative process. May I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that the legislative process is very much the responsibility of the Procedure Committee, which has for many decades had responsibility for those aspects of the House's activities? Will the Leader of the House agree to have a meeting with the Procedure Committee, which is chaired impartially by a Back-Bench Member rather than by a member of the Cabinet, to ensure that there is no duplication between its work and that of the Modernisation Committee?