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When asked how many people had been removed when all their appeal processes had been exhausted, he said:

Therefore, can we have a debate on the chaos in the Government’s prisons and immigration polices?

Perhaps that is why, in a recent speech, the Prime Minister revealed that he was asking the Chancellor to examine how the Treasury could be involved in ensuring the protection and security of the public. When asked if that meant that the Home Secretary would have to refer to the Chancellor before making any decisions, the Downing street spokesman said:

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Presumably, that will be in contrast to the relationship between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Up until now, the Chancellor has been the roadblock to reform, so can we have a debate in his future role in public sector reform?

Finally, in an article in the Eastern Daily Press, the sacked former Home Secretary said of the recent reshuffle:

So the former Home Secretary says that the Government lack direction, the Health Secretary is in denial, and the Home Office is in meltdown—no wonder this is a Government in paralysis.

Mr. Straw: I shall deal in turn with the points raised by the right hon. Lady. We are doing a great deal to apply pressure where that is required, as I can confirm from my five years as Foreign Secretary. We took the lead in the EU in pushing for an end to unacceptably high and restrictive subsidies to farmers across Europe. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary used to be Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was in the lead in negotiating the deal on the future of the common agricultural policy.

In addition, we are also pushing the US and other key partners in the Doha round, and especially the much larger states from the non-aligned movement, such as India and Brazil. Those states must also make some movement, and especially in respect of non-agricultural market access. I assure the shadow Leader of the House that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters in the regular six-monthly debate due to take place just before the European Council in mid-June. That will be a full day’s debate, and I hope that she and the rest of the House will take that opportunity to discuss the matters that she has raised and other key foreign policy issues coming up before the Council, such as Iraq, Iran and the funding of Hamas.

The right hon. Lady asks about the health service. She is not correct in claiming that thousands of people will lose their jobs under changes in NHS funding. She asks where the money has gone. It has gone, first, on dramatic increases in the number of clinical staff in the health service. Overall, there has been an increase of 85,000 in the total number of nurses in the health service, including an increase of nearly 3,000 in the health area covering her constituency.

Secondly, the money has gone on ensuring that nurses and other clinical staff are better paid. The number of nurses has increased by well over a quarter since 1997 and, alongside that, the pay of nurses, in real terms after inflation, has also increased by over a quarter.

Thirdly, the money has gone on new hospital buildings, to an astonishing degree, including in my constituency and in most constituencies in the country. Fourthly, it has gone on equipment. That is why there are difficulties with the health service—there always will be—but overall, on the question of whether the health service is doing the job for which the taxpayer is paying, yes it is, which is why levels of patient
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satisfaction are higher and why overall, on any measure, patients are receiving better care faster, and mortality and morbidity rates all show improvement.

The right hon. Lady asks about asylum and immigration. Asylum numbers are significantly lower than when we came into office in 1997. I have every reason to remember the catastrophic record of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who had ordered a computer system, failed to finance it properly and, at a time when numbers of asylum seekers were rising, slashed by 1,200 the number of staff in the immigration and nationality department dealing with asylum seekers. On top of that, he had declared an amnesty in which 30,000 of those people were allowed to stay in the country without further proper inquiry.

Numbers are now down, and we have passed the tipping point where the numbers leaving the country are higher than the numbers applying to stay. We have reduced the time taken to process applications from20 months to about two months.

On the number of illegal asylum seekers, the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday of the following:

That is what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe said in 1995. There are slightly better estimates these days, following work by Professor Salt for the research and information directorate of the Home Office, who estimated that the total number of people who are wholly illegal was between 310,000 and 500,000. Those are not asylum seekers; we know how many asylum seekers there are.

I am glad to see the shadow Home Secretary sitting next to the right hon. Lady. Whatever other promises he makes at the next election about how life will be so much better when he becomes Home Secretary—that every prisoner will become compliant, every criminal will stop committing crime and, probably much easier to achieve, that there will be no illegal immigrants because they will be scared off by the disaster of the Conservative Government—I strongly advise him not to claim that he will be able to produce an accurate estimate of the total number of illegal immigrants. That would be very unwise, as he knows. Why? Because people who are wholly illegally in this country, as in every other country, have escaped immigration control and thus, by definition, do not appear on any database. No country in the world has accurate figures for wholly illegal immigration: not the United States and not the country held up as having the greatest and most efficient system of law and order in Europe—if not the highest respect for human rights—namely, France. The French have hundreds of thousands of people who are “sans papiers.” They do not know the numbers and they do not take much interest in them.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that the Government have done an awful lot to recognise the tremendous contribution of our war veterans. As we approach
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veterans day, will he use his good offices to ensure that we reward the land army and the Bevin boys?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I will certainly use my good offices in that respect and talk immediately to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister with responsibility for veterans.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): From these Benches, may we join the tributes to Eric Forth? Business questions was his natural stage, and one on which he always excelled. Even at his most provocative, he was never less than entertaining and never less than perceptive. No one was ever in any doubt what Eric Forth thought about anything, and behind the undoubted style there was real substance. He was an ornament to the House, and he will be sorely missed.

May we have an urgent debate on nuclear power in this country? It is clearly no good waiting for the results of the energy review, because the Prime Minister has transparently decided to pre-empt the results of that review. Therefore, given the reservations that have been expressed, quite openly, by a former Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the fact that the Treasury has said that the costs are likely to be eye-wateringly large, is it not time that the whole House had an opportunity to debate the matter?

If and when orders are introduced for the regionalisation of police forces—given the difficulties that have been experienced over recent days in Wales, that may not happen—can they be brought before the whole House, so that all hon. Members have the opportunity to raise the issues that are relevant to our constituencies?

It was two weeks ago, I think, that the Government was reshuffled, but still no list of ministerial responsibilities is available. Can the Leader of the House sort that out? We apparently now know what the Deputy Prime Minister is doing, but it would be nice to see which Ministers feel that they have which responsibilities, so that we can perhaps hold them to account rather better than we would otherwise.

Lastly, may we have a debate on the Human Rights Act 1998? Two weeks ago, the problem was the then Home Secretary; now it seems that everything is down to the exercise of the Human Rights Act. Frankly, the Prime Minister has been saying some very silly things about that Act over recent weeks. Given that some of us believe that the finest achievement of the Leader of the House, when he was Home Secretary, was to introduce the Human Rights Act, may we have a debate to defend the reputation of that Act and of the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Straw: On nuclear power, I cannot promise when there will be a debate on the issue, but the energy review will be published and then, in due course, there will be a debate on this country’s future energy needs, including the role that nuclear power should play. Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that people forget that nuclear energy currently plays an extraordinarily important part in energy generation. It accounts for 75 —[ Interruption ]—terra-watt hours. I am learning.

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Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Explain!

Mr. Straw: I am very happy to explain, but afterwards. That is 20 per cent. of total electricity generation. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will know that, because of the decline in North sea production of gas in particular and oil, unless we take other steps to rebalance the generation of energy, including nuclear power, we will become quite unnecessarily reliant on overseas sources of energy. He will also know that the idea that renewables could possibly replace the loss of generating capacity from nuclear power is simply not the case. Even in a country such as Germany that has huge numbers of wind farms—far more than I think would ever be found acceptable here; its generation of electricity by wind is only a third of that generated by nuclear power in this country.

On the regionalisation of police forces, the orders will go through the House in the normal way. I cannot recall the procedure exactly, but I think that many of them will be taken upstairs. On the reorganisation of police forces, I know, as a former Home Secretary—everybody in the House knows it—there is simply no necessary connection between the efficiency of a police service, the degree to which the service is delivered at a local level and the overall size of the constabulary. Moreover, the current boundaries were in effect settled following the royal commission report on the police in the early 1960s. Forty years on is not too short a time to reconfigure police force boundaries to take account of the dramatic changes in our social structure in the meantime.

On a list of ministerial responsibilities, there are in the Library of the House and available on the website letters that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent to each departmental Minister setting out responsibilities. The detailed list of ministerial responsibilities will be published in the normal way. However, having watched oral questions every day since I became Leader of the House, I cannot say that the absence of the list has caused any difficulty whatsoever to either Ministers or Members.

On the Human Rights Act, the hon. Gentleman says that it was the finest thing that I ever did as Home Secretary. If he does not mind, I would like to say that it is one of the finest of a long list. Future historians of the Home Office may say that the finest thing that I ever did as Home Secretary was to survive four years.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): We have been here four years since you got up.

Mr. Straw: Five.

There needs to be a proper debate about the Human Rights Act. That is what we are proposing. Following 11 September, the circumstances today are very different from those anticipated at the time of the passage of the Act. There are some who say that the Human Rights Act is a problem; there are others who say its interpretation is a problem. Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but look sensibly—which is what the Prime Minister wants—at how the Act is working and whether it or its interpretation should be changed.

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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Might we find time to debate the extent to which the tabloid virus is beginning to infect BBC television news? Has the Leader of the House noticed that newscasters increasingly no longer read news to camera, but walk around the studio like a couple of ham actors emoting? I think that it is called news with attitude. Did he notice that last night’s 6 o’clock television news was cynically edited to delete the fact that the Prime Minister, inhis reply to the right hon. Member for Witney(Mr. Cameron), quoted the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)? That had to be reinstated—no doubt after complaints—in the 10 o’clock news bulletin. Does he agree that if the BBC cannot do better than that, it is going to have difficult, justifying its licence fee?

Mr. Straw: Editorial decisions of the BBC are for the BBC and, to make a serious point, cannot be for the House. However, I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s remarks are passed on. On the issue of whether newscasters should prance around studios or sit at a desk and read the news—that is what it seems to me they are paid for, and paid too much—personally I prefer the latter to the former. On the issue of accuracy, all journalists, including those at the BBC, have a responsibility to ensure that quotations are attributed accurately.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): As Eric Forth’s neighbouring MP in Bromley, may I just say a few words in addition to the very fine tributes by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House? As they have said, he will be mainly remembered as a stout defender of the role of the House of Commons and a great House of Commons man. Not everyone in the House may realise, as I did as his neighbour, that, in many ways, he was an old softie at heart. The comments made by the shadow Leader of the House about the reaction in the Tea Room reinforced that. He was a very good neighbour to me and when I faced some difficulty in the last general election, he was the first to come and help out. He was there early in the morning; no nonsense, getting on with it and saying, “I will deliver anything you want.” The House may like to know that, in Bromley, he was regarded with great affection, as well as great respect, for an outstanding independence of spirit. He will be greatly missed.

Mr. Straw: Allow me to say that we all share in the hon. Gentleman’s tribute. As Eric’s neighbour, he has good reason to know of the affection in which Eric was held by his constituents, as well as by the House.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I associate myself fully with all the eloquent tributes that have been paid to the late Eric Forth? He will be greatly missed.

May we have a debate, as a matter of urgency, on the decision of the local health authority in Leicester to cut £161 million from the pathway project? Although I accept everything that the Leader of the House has said about the amount of money that has gone into the health service in Leicester, both the Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for
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Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) and I, in our last manifestos, specifically mentioned the amount of money to be spent on refurbishing our three hospitals. That is now going to be cut, which will mean that the hospitals cannot be refurbished. May we please have an urgent debate on this important issue?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend has put the position of the NHS in Leicester in context. There has been a significant improvement in funding in Leicestershire. The number of nurses is up 1,600 in the health authority area, there are nearly 700 more doctors, including 250 more consultants, and a lot of capital investment. I cannot promise him a debate on the Floor of the House, but there are many opportunities to raise the matter on the Adjournment, including in Westminster Hall, and I hope that he will take them. As his next-door neighbour, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health is fully aware of the issue; indeed, I know that she is.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I associate myself with the many tributes to the late Eric Forth. He had a great love of and respect for this House and he will be missed by us all; especially those of us who sat within hearing range of his occasional sedentary comments.

May I give the Leader of the House an opportunity to distinguish himself above those who have previously held his office by addressing an issue that has yet to be satisfactorily addressed as far as the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is concerned? It appears that there are one or two Members—perhaps three—who are vetoing the idea of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee meeting in Northern Ireland. A meeting of the Grand Committee is being arranged. Will the Leader of the House use his influence to ensure that it takes place in the Province?

Mr. Straw: I will indeed use my good offices in that respect to see what can be done to ensure that there is a venue for the Grand Committee in Northern Ireland. I thank the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for, as I understand it, attending the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Union. I accept the point that he makes and I will pursue it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I also associate myself with the tributes to the late Mr. Forth?

May I ask my right hon. Friend about the case involving the death of a young boy in a secure training centre and the inability to raise that matter in the House because of a two-year delay in holding the inquest? There are indications now that the inquest may be put off until next year and there are unconfirmed reports of a further serious incident in a secure training centre. Will he look into the continuing lack of effective scrutiny in this place of that important subject?

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