Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have an early debate on the Government's plans for reform of the House of Lords? At the weekend, the Lord Chancellor hinted that there would be a fresh initiative to take forward the stalled reform but, since then, the line appears to have gone cold. May we have a debate or will the Leader of the House tell us what is going on?
Mr. Hoon: The Government clearly set out their position on the House of Lords in our manifesto. I checked the Conservative party's policy on that but it is difficult to determine. [Interruption.] I hear groans from Conservative Members, but my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor clearly said that there needed to be some consensus on the matter. That requires the Conservative party to think about what its policy might be on House of Lords reform, not least because we have never been entirely clear whether it continues to support the concept of preserving the rights of those who inherited their seats in our legislature. If the Conservative party was clear about that, there might be an opportunity to hold a debate.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab):
May we have a debate on the future of the winter fuel allowance? It would give us an opportunity to remind the public of the great contribution that the allowance has made to alleviating fuel poverty and that the Opposition parties voted systematically against it, and to consider, if the Chancellor were inclined to increase the allowance in a future Budget, whether it would be better to convert it into an energy efficiency allowance rather than simply increasing the cash payment. That would avoid simply increasing the profits of the multinational utilities by
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increasing household energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. May we have a debate on the matter?
Mr. Hoon: I recently confirmed the date of the Budget. I take my hon. Friend's carefully thought-through, well-reasoned argument to be an early submission to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I assure my hon. Friend that there will be every opportunity to debate the Budget in the subsequent days.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Earlier, the Leader of the House failed to answer the final question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), so let me give him another opportunity to do so. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) asked the Prime Minister:
Mr. Hoon: I did not respond directly to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead because, as all hon. Members know, there is a continuing inquiry, the results of which will be set out in the appropriate way shortly.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that 10 years have passed since the horrific massacre of a teacher and children at Dunblane? Does he agree that now is therefore an appropriate time for a debate about what has happened since? We could then discover, for example, why we have no central register of gun licensees. I acknowledge that other measures have been introduced and they are appreciated.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a subject that continues to be a source of great sadness. It was a terrible tragedy. Cutting gun crime in this country remains one of the Government's top priorities and I hope that she accepts that we have taken several steps to achieve that. I recognise and share the disappointment that the national firearms licensing management scheme has taken so long to deliver. The Government remain fully committed to the project, which is planned to be rolled out in all forces in England and Wales from June, assuming that the final pilot in May is successful.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Irrespective of the outcome of the inquiry by Gus O'Donnell, does the Leader of the House believe that it would be timely to hold a debate on the ministerial code of conduct to remind Ministers of their responsibilities, whatever their complicated personal circumstances, and so that we can work out whether the code is worth the paper it is written on?
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can simply say that there should be such a debate
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"irrespective" of a continuing inquiry, not least because the inquiry demonstrates how seriously my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister always takes such matters. The ministerial code exists to govern the conduct of Ministers during and after a period of office. All Ministers are made aware of it and, in my estimation, consistently adhere to it. The Prime Minister has shown his continued commitment to the code and its enforcement. The hon. Gentleman should accept that.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): We all welcome the introduction of free pensioner travel, but will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the anomalies associated with it? Unfortunately, in Lancashire, the availability of free travel will vary from district to district unless we can reach an agreement on the matter. We all recognise that, when we discussed free local travel, we intended it to apply within county areas, not districts. Pensioners in Wales and Scotland have free travel across the country, and we need to ensure that that also applies to England.
Mr. Hoon: That sounds like an ingenious rephrasing of a previous question that I failed to answer. I am not going to get drawn into the difficulties of ensuring free pensioner travel across Lancashire, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport deals with the matter.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that, in Scottish questions, a great deal of anxiety was expressed about the propriety of Scottish Members voting on English-only business. May we have a debate on that issue? The House needs to assert the principle of accountability, which means that Members of Parliament are accountable to their constituents. If their constituents are not affected by the decisions that they take, there is no accountability, and that infringes on the basic principle of democracy.
Mr. Hoon: I am not sure that I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This is probably not the occasion on which to have a profound debate on the nature of our constitution, but the truth is that right hon. and hon. Members routinely vote on matters that do not directly affect their own constituents. I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be a strong supporter of the Union, and he has in his time been a member of the Conservative and Unionist party, so I am slightly surprised by the implication of his question, which would be to challenge that Union. That is not something that I, or, I hope, he would want.
[That this House considers that the work of the Department for International Development is of the highest importance; notes that only half an hour per month is allocated for questions to the Secretary of State; believes that hon. Members should have one hour per month for this purpose; and calls upon the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, to make this necessary change at the earliest opportunity.]
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The motion calls for an extension of the time allowed for questions to the Secretary of State for International Development. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that half an hour just before Prime Minister's questions is clearly insufficient for a subject in which so many hon. Members take a keen interest? Will he seriously consider this request?
Mr. Hoon: I have seen the early-day motion. Indeed, I have also seen correspondence dealing with the matter. In the course of planning the parliamentary timetable from week to week and month to month, it is difficult to ensure that appropriate priority is given to all the subjects that are debated here. The difficulty that I face on behalf of the business managers is that if more time is given to one subject, less must necessarily be given to another. When the hon. Gentleman considers making a further submission on this matter, perhaps he could suggest what might be cut out of the parliamentary calendar, rather than what should be added to it.