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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I express my surprise that a decision has apparently been taken on September sittings without the House being properly consulted? However, I will leave it at that for the moment.
Will the Leader of the House review our consideration of the Terrorism Bill over the past few weeks? I ask him to do so not for the obvious reasons, but because even though, in anybody's book, this is a very serious matter on which there are firmly held opinions in all parts of the House, a significant number of clauses and amendments were never considered, whether in Committee or on Report. The Bill will pass to another place without those views having been expressed in this elected House.
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Just a few moments ago, the other place commenced a debate, led by Lord Mayas the Leader of the House knows, he is president of the Royal Societyon climate change. Lord May will express the opinion that this country is going to fail to meet its Kyoto targets, which is a matter of importance to us all. Can this House have a similar debate?
Lastly, should we ever have a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster again, could heor shecome to the House to account for the regulatory impact unit, which I believe is within his bailiwick? As was pointed out in consideration of a Bill on Monday, the accompanying explanatory notes contain the following extraordinary statement:
Mr. Hoon: I have made plain the position on September sittings. It is strongly supported in the House, and although the hon. Gentleman may have a different view, I am confident that it will also be supported elsewhere. It is important to emphasise that the Terrorism Bill, notwithstanding the fact that it did not come through Report stage in quite the form that the Government would have wished, nevertheless contains a wide range of measures that are important in tackling terrorism. That is something that we support. We want the Bill to come into effect and deal with the threat to the UK's safety and security that international terrorists pose.
On climate change, I have met Lord May on several occasions. I am not a scientific expert, and at school was always encouraged to abandon scientific subjects, so I shall not quarrel about the advice that he has given, but his views and opinions are not shared by the Government. We believe that it is possible for this country to meet its Kyoto targets, and will go on working to that end.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman got rather tied up in regulatory impact assessments. One of the joys of being Leader of the House is that I am required to look at the regulatory impact assessments of any new legislation that is introduced. They are fascinating, detailed and enthralling documents. When the unit decides that one is not necessary I, at least, am extremely grateful.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab):
Does the Leader of the House recall that the move to hold a fortnight of sittings in September was approved by a vote on the Floor of the House? Yes, opinion was divided, but does he agree that we should be adult enough to accept that, although consultation is necessaryI do not know who was consulted at the
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timeit is also important to have a debate and reach a decision? The House will know what to do, and it may be possible to hold those sittings again. There will be some inconvenience, perhaps to the Liberal Democrat party conference, but the House has a duty to vote on the matter. That is how we started it, and that is how we must finish it.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I support the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The Leader of the House will recall that one of the main arguments in favour of September sittings was that they would allow the House to hold the Government to account during the long summer period when they would otherwise have a completely free ride. I have a positive suggestion for the right hon. Gentleman that, if he allows it, we can follow up in the debate requested by the hon. Member for Bolsover. Why cannot the House come back in September and sit in the normal way except for three weeks when it would sit on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? That would allow those ludicrous conferencesif we must have themto take place over a weekend. Real people could then attend them, instead of the ones who normally do so during the week.
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman makes a helpful suggestion. I am certainly happy to listen to the political parties and learn whether they are willing and able to alter their arrangements. That is a logical consequence of my announcement, and of the contact that I have established with the parties to determine their future arrangements.
However, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is a former Minister and knows full well that Governments do not get a free ride in September. He regularly writes to Ministers and raises issues with them, and they are required to respond, whether or not the House is sitting.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): The decision to renege on September sittings confirms many hon. Members' suspicion that fitting the security screen was just an excuse. Does my right hon. Friend recall that the decision to hold sittings in Septemberwhich my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly says was agreed by the Housewas originally described by the late Robin Cook as a deal, in exchange for which we had family-friendly sittings to coincide with the school half terms? He may have detected some dissatisfaction in the House with September sittings, but a wholly different perception prevails among people outside. They think that we ought to hold the Government to account during September, and I cannot see why we should not. May I urge my right hon. Friend to allow the House to debate the matter, so that hon. Members can hear the arguments for and against?
Again, my hon. Friend is conscientious about holding Ministers to account, whether or not the House is sitting. He writes to Ministers regularly, and they reply to him: that has always been a way of holding the Government to account during recesses.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said that a wholly different perception about September sittings prevails outside the House. However, hon. Members consistently tell me that in that period they are able to attend events, meetings and organisations in their constituencies in a way that is simply not possible when the House is sitting. My hon. Friend has made observations about this matter to the media on a number of occasions, and he may need to make it clear that hon. Members work in their constituencies as well as in the Chamber of the House of Commons. That is an important point to get across.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I be helpful to the Leader of the House and move off September sittings? Does he accept that when two senior, experienced, ex-Cabinet Ministers table an early-day motion, the House should take careful note? Does he agree that he should read early-day motion 994 in the names of my right hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell)?
[That this House condemns the unprecedented campaign to mobilise chief constables to lobby honourable Members in favour of Government policy; fears that this is a damaging step towards the politicisation of the police; understands that the Government's threat to merge police forces has put additional pressure on chief constables, all of whom may shortly be up for reselection, to acquiesce in demands for them to endorse Government policy; regrets that some chief constables gave the measure their backing even though they and their forces had no local experience of the problems allegedly making it necessary; calls on them in future to leave lobbying and advocacy to others; praises the police for their courage and dedication in tackling terrorism; accepts that police have a duty to offer Ministers in confidence advice and evidence based on that experience; but believes the essence of Ministerial responsibility is that Ministers alone are responsible for the advice and evidence that they accept and the policy conclusions they reach; and deplores the Government's attempts to escape that responsibility by invoking the authority of public servants thereby embroiling them in politics.]
It states clearly that it is wrong for the Government to encourage senior police officers to intervene in the political process. This politicisation of the police is most unwelcome in our democracy. Can we have a guarantee that when the Terrorism Bill returns from the House of Lords, this disgraceful exercise will not be repeated?
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