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Mr. Hoon: I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman suggesting by implication that there has somehow not been a thorough investigation of circumstances leading to the conflict in Iraq. There has been a series of reports, both within the House and beyond it. I have to say that the conflict has been investigated probably more than any other in history.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Shortly before he took advantage of the Government's policy on paternity leave, which he had voted against, the Leader of the Opposition made an interesting proposal to abolish the royal prerogative. Given that nobody, not even the royals, appears to be opposed to the proposal, would it be possible to have a debate so that we could find ways of speedily implementing it? Would such a debate not also give us an opportunity to discuss other aspects of our constitution and progress on reform, not least of the House of Lords?
I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is examining a range of constitutional issues. As far as I can recall, we have never heard such a suggestion before from the Conservative party, so it is useful. Perhaps the Conservatives are recognising that they are in for a further and prolonged period of opposition, because those matters were never raised while they were in governmenta point I have made directly to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has been appointed to have responsibilities in that area.
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My hon. Friend referred to the royal prerogative, linking it to the royal family. He will know, of course, that the royal prerogative is exercised by Ministers. Most constitutions have arrangements that allow for ministerial discretion. Indeed, most constitutions would say that those discretions are a necessary part of the process of government. Although it is important that we continue to discuss the extent of those arrangements, simply saying that it is possible to abolish the royal prerogative is a rather simplistic approach to a complicated subject.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I thank the Leader of the House for responding positively to my business question last October by visiting Andover in my constituency earlier this week? It was much appreciated. On Tuesday, the Government avoided serious embarrassment by allowing a free vote on what had hitherto been a Labour party manifesto commitment. Would it not make sense to build on that important reform by having a similar dispensation for the education reform Bill?
Mr. Hoon: I repeat my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his hospitality in his constituency. I had an extremely interesting and illuminating visit. I hope that I shall not be required to visit every constituency to which right hon. and hon. Members are gracious enough to invite me, but I found the visit very interesting.
As for the free vote on smoking, I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would congratulate the Government on delivering more than their manifesto commitment. Governments are usually criticised if they deliver less than their manifesto commitment. On this occasion, we delivered more than we promised the electorate, which seems a wholly sensible arrangement.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): May we have a debate on the honours system? In 2004, the Public Administration Committee made a number of wide-ranging recommendations about getting rid of knights, dames and name-changing honours, but all that was shelved. There is growing concern that the system is open to abuse and that people are, in effect, buying honours. Is it not time that we had an early debate on the matter?
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not given credit for the way in which the Government have opened up the process. We have ensured a great deal more transparency in the honours system and that many ordinary people can benefit from honours in recognition of the considerable service that they provide to the community, which is often unpaid and done on a voluntary basis. I should have thought that he would support an arrangement whereby we recognise the contribution that individual citizens make to the way in which our society works.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con):
In social security upratings, there is something that is normally missed because neither the Government nor the previous Government have changed it. I refer to the anomaly whereby people who have state pensions in this
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country do not receive upratings for inflation if they go to Canada, but do if they go to the United States. If they go to South Africa or Zimbabwe they do not, but they do in many other countries in Africa. It is time that Parliament had a debate to see whether fairness can be brought on that account.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is referring to long-standing arrangements put in place by the Governments of the respective countries. They have been in place for a very long time, under not only this but previous Governments. It would require a great deal of careful thought before we could replace such long-standing understandings.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be pleased that I am not going to mention my early-day motion on Sunday trading, because I know who to go to on that and which Department to tackle. However, can he find time for a debate, and I would be grateful to know who is the relevant Minister, because I do not know who to tackle, on the costs and effects on the delivery of joined-up government services of the proposed simultaneous reorganisation of the fire, police and ambulance services, primary care trusts, education, and local government in my constituency?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that my hon. Friend does know who to go to, but I appreciate that he is trying to save on postage costs by not contacting a number of my right hon. Friends. I recognise that there is a requirement for reorganisation in a number of areasI am tempted to say that he has mentioned all of thembut it is important that such changes continue to deliver effective services to his constituents, my constituents and people across the country. Those reform processes are a necessary consequence of the significant investment that has been made in each of the services that he mentioned. The country rightly expects more money to be made available for those services, but it also expects that money to be used efficiently, wisely and successfully. That is why those reorganisations are necessary.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Slavery has been abolished in this country for a very long time, but young women are being trafficked from central Europe to this country to be sold as sex slaves, and they are working in the most appalling conditions. However, the Government have failed to sign the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. I believe that that is a fit subject for a debate.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
When may we have a debate on the world shortage of diamorphine, which means that anyone dying in a third-world country has only a one in 20 chance of gaining access to that vital pain reliever? Would it not be more sensible to employ our troops in ensuring that the Afghan farmers can be licensed to use their poppy crops to supply the world with diamorphine, rather than using them to destroy the only means of livelihood for farmers in Helmand
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province, which will lead to great danger for our troops and will not add to the world production of diamorphine?
Mr. Hoon: I was not aware that there was a shortage of diamorphine. I recognise that, in some parts of the world, the cost of the drug will probably be beyond the means of many people who would benefit from its use. I am not sure, however, that I agree with my hon. Friend's observations about Afghanistan. Far too much of the Afghan economy is already based on the production of opium, and it is vital that we persuade farmers there to adopt alternative livelihoods so that, in the future, Afghanistan is not a country that is totally dependent on the production of a harmful drug.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): This week, we have seen the first operation of the office of the alternative Prime Minister, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer making speeches on Government security policy. Bearing that in mind, and given the job share that is taking place between No. 11 and No. 10 Downing street, what alterations will the Leader of the House make to the operation of Prime Minister's Question Time to enable us, where appropriate, to question the alternative Prime Minister?
Mr. Hoon: I see that Opposition Members are in a light-hearted mood as they approach the recess. They are providing us all with regular entertainment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully engaged in his responsibilities. Inevitably, as one of the longest-serving and most successful Chancellors that this country has ever had, he is necessarily involved in looking across the board at the impact of our very successful economic policies, and it is right that he should do so. I have indicated to the House that he continues to concentrate on the economy, and he will do so when he makes the Budget statement in due course. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his successful stewardship of the economy over such a long period.
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