|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is obviously in lively mood now that the Liberal Democrats have started the process of voting for their new leader. I understand that there is a determined write-in campaign on his behalf to ensure that the current rather narrow field is expanded somewhat by his addition. Labour Members would strongly support that campaign, if only we had access to the ballot papers. Given that Liberal Democrat MPs, who can nominate two people, also get two votes in that election, I sincerely hope that they will use at least one of them to support his campaign.
I want to make clear the importance of the Carter review, which the Government will deal with very seriously. I have set out clearly our position on local government reform, and there will shortly be a statement and an opportunity for Members to ask questions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As for replaying parliamentary debates, it would be useful for the House to hear from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)probably daily; otherwise, we will not be able to keep track of the various changes in policy that he announces.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend consider having an early debate on the BBC charter? This is a crucial time to discuss the role of the BBC in the coming years, and many of us are concerned not about the range of programmes that it provides, which is generally good, but about the independence of its news broadcasting. Many of us believe that it too often follows the 75 per cent. Tory-owned press, rather than giving a firm, independent and dispassionate view of the news, be it on Venezuela or anything else. May we have an early debate on the quality of the BBC news service and the charter?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The BBC charter is vital to those of us who believe passionately in public service broadcasting. I
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1011
assure him that there will be every opportunity to discuss the matter once it is brought to the Floor of the House.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on South America in general, not just Venezuela, given the lurch to the left in recent years in that country and in Bolivia? Moreover, there are nine other presidential elections in that region. Is he aware of the potential renationalisation of British Gas assets in Bolivia worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and does he share my concern at President Fidel Castro's instigating what he calls a crusade against capitalism, which will undermine British investments in the region?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the subject of South America. It is an important part of the world, where significant events are not always well served, either by debates here or generally in the British media. I cannot offer an immediate prospect of an early debate, but I recognise that he raises an important matter that we should take very seriously.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Commons Bill has made progress in another place and is due to come to this House shortly. It contains a number of important provisions and closes a loophole affecting the registration of town and village greens across the country, including my constituency. Given its importance for a number of current cases and applications, will he ensure that the Bill comes before the House at the earliest opportunity?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter, which is important for towns and villages across the country. The provision of public spaces is of vital concern to our constituents. I certainly undertake to ensure that the Bill is dealt with speedily, as soon as we are in a position to do that.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in calling for a statement on the funding of local theatres next week? The Haymarket theatre in my constituency of Basingstoke is being threatened with having its Arts Council funding withdrawn. That would jeopardise its future, only eight months into a 36-month recovery plan. Will he make time for an urgent statement on the matter next week, so that we can get a commitment on Government support for theatre outside London, and ensure that the Arts Council's approach is constructive in all cases?
Mr. Hoon: As a thoroughgoing provincial, I entirely share the hon. Lady's concern about the need to support the theatre and other arts around the country. I cannot offer her the prospect of an urgent debate next week on the theatre in Basingstoke, but I suspect that she has made her point as she intended.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab):
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will want to join me in welcoming this week's announcement of a knife amnesty, but will he also support the decision taken by the chief constables of
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1012
many UK police forces to have an amnesty on airguns this year? My constituent Andrew Ross was shot in the head last year, and airguns have affected the lives of many of our constituents. Will he urge the Home Office to give the amnesty its full support? We need it to be successful, so that those dangerous weapons are taken off the streets.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has campaigned assiduously on this important matter, and I hope that he accepts that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes the dangers posed by knives and airguns very seriously. The possession of such weapons is every bit as serious as their use, not least because unfortunately, people who take knives out with them tend to use them, with catastrophic consequences. The Government take the matter extremely seriously, and am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the review of public administration in Northern Ireland? We had a very short debate on it in Westminster Hall, when there was not even enough time for the Minister to reply. The issue is of critical importance for the future of Northern Ireland, and especially for the public bodies involved. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot find time for such a debate in the House, will he call a sitting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, preferably in Northern Ireland, to discuss the matter?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has raised this important issue for the people of Northern Ireland with me on a number of occasions. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is keen to ensure that public bodies are able to discuss the full range of issues affecting the people there. The matter that he raises is part of that debate.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): For reasons that I have never been able to understand, I have never been included in the list of the sexiest MPs. [Interruption.] As I say, the reasons are totally incomprehensible to me. However, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that Labour Members are pleased that agreement has been reached in respect of the House of Commons cleaners employed by outside contractors. This is an issue that has been raised only by Labour Members, but now the cleaners are going to get a pay increase, with new sick pay and holiday pay arrangements implemented immediately. That is very good, but will my right hon. Friend do all he can to see that a proper pension scheme is negotiated, too? We receive pensions, so it is only right and proper that those who clean up after us do too. It is an important matter, very much connected to last night's 100th anniversary of the parliamentary Labour party. We continue to fight for social justice, as we have done for the cleaners.
I suspect that my wisest course would be not to comment on my hon. Friend's first observation, but I am delighted that a difficult dispute has been settled. I am grateful to him and other hon. Members for raising an important issue, and it is right to ensure that those who serve us so well in this House, and in Parliament in general, are given appropriate recognition
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1013
in their remuneration. In particular, we should recognise the importance of their pensions and other ancillary arrangements.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that today's main business is of considerable constitutional significance? That being so, should not part 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House? Why has he failed to make provision for that to happen?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Surely the shadow Leader of the House is right to say that we ought to have a debate on the Carter review, which is a fundamental review of the legal aid system? We need to look at the spending priorities of the former Lord Chancellor's Department, now the Department for Constitutional Affairs. When my right hon. Friend was a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department in 1997, £700,000 was spent on outside consultants. Last year, however, the Department spent £9 million on consultants. This week, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) has raised the fact that there have been cuts of £3 million in specialist legal aid services. May we please have a debate on this very important subject?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|