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Mr. Hoon: Of course, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is still in his place and still continuing his shadow role. I just hope that he has not been spending too many of the last 24 hours with his telephone.
On the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, that is a matter for the Prime Minister, who will resolve it in good time. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, having whinged about not having a debate on police restructuring, is whingeing again now that we are having one. Clearly, whingeing is the current stance on the Conservative Front Bench, but I suppose that I should not be particularly surprised about that. I am sure that, in due course, we will have time to debate energy supplies and, indeed, trade justice issues. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, important negotiations on trade justice issues are about to commence.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Earlier this week, the Government announced that they were consulting widely outside the House on the Pensions Commission report. On our return after the Christmas recess, may we have an Adjournment debate on the subject so that Members can also offer their views to the Government?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising an issue that is regarded as important throughout the House and, indeed, throughout the country. I certainly anticipate that we will have opportunities to debate that important issue and I shall certainly try to find time to debate it as soon as possible.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
I welcome the debate on police restructuring, but can we have an urgent debate on the Metropolitan police's use of section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police
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Act 2005? It was sold to us on the basis that it was intended to prevent terrorist acts against the House, but it has now been used to convict a young lady, Maya Evans, for reading out by the cenotaph a list of British soldiers killed in action in Iraq.
May we have an urgent debate on the landmark judgment by the House of Lords today that evidence obtained from torture anywhere in the world is not admissible in legal proceedings of any sort in this country? I note that the noble Lord Brown of Eaton-Under-Heywood said:
That leads me to ask for an urgent debate on what is euphemistically called "extraordinary rendition". The Prime Minister, in an extraordinary response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), said:
I do not know whether he was surprised or being disingenuous, but the facts have been widely published and come from authoritative sources. May we have a debate in which we can ask how long we have acquiesced in the United States' policy, for what reason there have been so many of these flights and why the Foreign Secretary has been busy writing to the US Administration asking what all this is about, given that it is clear that the Prime Minister has known all along?
Mr. Hoon: First, all hon. Members would expect to see the law of the land upheld. I am sure that that is true of the Liberal Democrats, although sometimesif I may speak frankly to the Housethe hon. Gentleman chooses which laws he believes should be upheld. In this case, legislation that is widely supported in this House requires that an application be made before a demonstration can be organised. That legislation has worked remarkably well. Since it came into force on 1 August, there have been some 63 applications for demonstrations; those have been granted and demonstrations have taken place perfectly properly. In the particular case to which the hon. Gentleman refersin rather hysterical terms, as eversuch an application was not made. There was no good reason for not making an application, other than simply to challenge the law. There is a strong tradition in western democracy of people seeking to challenge laws with which they disagree, but of course, those people recognise that the consequence of doing so is that they then face criminal penalties. That is precisely what happened in this case.
The Government will have to study this morning's decision by the Law Lords extremely carefully. We do not in any way condone the use of torture, and a complex decision of this kind obviously needs careful analysis. But again, I hope that all hon. Members will support the Government and me in saying that we as a country must use effective measures to deal with the threat of international terrorism. I hope that that applies even to the Liberal Democrats.
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The hon. Gentleman will know full well that there is no exact definition of rendition. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has written to the US Secretary of State on the question and has received a full and detailed response. I hope that both my right hon. Friend's statementand, indeed, that of the US Secretary of Stateis a very full explanation of the position.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): There is great concern about attacks on firefighters; indeed, there have been 185 incidents against fire crews in Greater Manchester so far this year, and it is unfortunate that a high proportion of those have been in Salford. Following this, the Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Manchester Evening News have got together and are campaigning with Greater Manchester MPs to bring our legislation into line with that in Scotland. In the light of that, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate on the safety of fire crews, and will the Government consider supporting the private Member's Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams)?
Mr. Hoon: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important subject, which has been raised, for example, by the Trades Union Congress on behalf of a wide range of public servants. The shocking fact has been highlighted that public servants doing their very best to help protect members of the public are being subject to attack in the course of carrying out their duties. This problem is not isolated to firefightersit is faced by a number of other dedicated and distinguished public servants. I find that deeply shocking and my hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The Government obviously must have careful regard to it and take action, if we can, to demonstrate ways in which to prevent these appalling acts of violence against dedicated public servants. My hon. Friend, other Members and I will want to pay tribute to the work that firefighters in particular do on behalf of all our communities.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I should like to support the earlier comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). The Leader of the House and I have been present for business questions in recent times, so he and I both know that the mood of the House was very much for a debate on police restructuring on a substantive motion, thereby allowing the House to express an opinion. Given that he has returned from his overseas visit in a more refreshed mode and has granted that debate, perhaps he might find time to go on another trip, so that he can return next week and tell us that we can have a debate on a substantive motion, allowing the House to express an opinion on a matter that the Home Secretary has said is more important than any other on his current agenda.
I am always extremely grateful for protestations of concern about my health and welfare, especially from Opposition Members. I shall be representing the UK next week at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and I hope that that will have a suitably refreshing effect. It is sad that, for five years, it did not have that effect on the right hon. Member for
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Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but as we approach the Christmas season I hope that all hon. Members will be refreshed at the prospect of a break.
Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): May I ask whether it might be possible to have a debate about the way that local authorities close primary schools? In my constituency, Dudley's Conservative-controlled council plans to close two very good schools, Highfields primary and Sycamore Green. The consultation process has been very unsatisfactory, to say the least. The council has failed to consider any alternatives, such as Sure Start schemes, children's centres or other community facilities, and it has not even replied to letters and petitions submitted by parents and governors who, together with councillors Ridney, Finch, Davies, Aston, Mottram and Johnson, have fought such a great campaign.
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