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Mr. Straw: Yes, and I understand the distress that has been caused to that young persons family, but also to my hon. Friend and her constituents more widely.
There is a problem about the procedure relating to coroners. There is a Coroners Bill, which I think is currently before the other place. It will not solve all the problems, but it should solve many. It will modernise the coroners system. I know from my experience as Home Secretary just how traumatic such cases can be and, of course, I will discuss the matter further with her.
I appreciate the fact that the new Leader of the House bothers to attend debates and statements. He came to the Opposition day health debate and noted my disgust that the Secretary of State for Health refuses to grapple with the situation in Shropshire in which early-stage breast cancer sufferers with Cheshire, Staffordshire or Welsh addresses can get Herceptin on the NHS paid out of their taxes, while those with a Shropshire address have to pay £47,000. I have raised the matter on several occasions at business questions. Will the Leader of the House please try to get the Secretary of State to come to the Chamber and answer questions directly, or, even better, effect a meeting between me and the Secretary of State? We now have the horror of breast cancer sufferers being camped out overnight at the primary care trust offices. The situation is dreadful and, in a civilised society such as ours, intolerable, so I would be most grateful if the new Leader of the House would intervene on it.
Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman mentions, I was indeed present for the Opposition day debate on the health service. I listened carefully to the opening speeches made by the Opposition spokesman and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. The hon. Gentlemans criticisms of the way in which my right hon. Friend responded to the question are not justified. As I sat next to her, she tried to address the difficult issue. I understand the hon. Gentlemans concern and that of his constituents, and I think that there is about to be some clarification on Herceptin. However, if I am wrong about that, I will of course write to him and put a note about that in the Library.
Everyone in the House has to recognise that when new drugs are developed or are specific to not only conditions such as cancer, but certain stages of cancers, there will be fine judgments to be made about when and where they ought to be used. I think that that is the problem with respect to Herceptin, but that said, and although I think that the hon. Gentlemans criticism was uncalled for, I will discuss the matter further with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has been following with interest the demutualisation of Standard Life. If, like me, he is a member, he will have been inundated with pro-demutualisation material. The ballot makes a local authority stock transfer look positively balanced and objective. Is it not about time that having set standards for the asset lock, the House has the
opportunity to debate such demutualisations so that there is balance in the way in which they are performed?
Mr. Straw: I do not think that I am a member of Standard LifeI am sure that I would know if I wasbut I have been a member of other mutual societies, so I entirely recognise what my hon. Friend is saying. I accept, too, his case that there ought to be a better balance. I know of his distinguished record as a member of the Co-operative party, and I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I agree with what has been said about Eric Forth. He was an awkward customer and if he was here today, he would undoubtedly be the one person who would dissent from the otherwise unanimous enthusiasm for his achievements in the House.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that it is quite remarkable that a year after the general election, we have yet to have a debate on the Floor of the House about Iraq? That is a country in which British troops continue to die and it poses for the Government their greatest foreign policy dilemma, so, recognising that he will no longer have to reply to such a debate, will he show a little more enthusiasm about having one?
Mr. Straw: As a matter of fact, I was very enthusiastic about having such a debate. As I told the House last week, I was putting in requests to the former Leader of the House for a debate on Iraq, Iran and the middle east more generally. Iraq has been discussed on the Floor of the House on many occasions, although, as far as I recall, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct in saying that a formal debate on Iraq has not been flagged up over the past year. There will be an opportunity next week further to discuss Iraq in the context of the Armed Forces Bill. As I said in reply to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), there will be another opportunity to discuss it in the middle of June in the debate on the European Council. As Iraq will be before the Council, I believe that it will be entirely in order to debate it at length.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): One of the biggest challenges facing the United Kingdom and the world is climate change. Under the UN framework convention on climate change, the UK has a commitment to mitigate emissions and make progress on adaptationdealing with effects. The Government have a good and enviable record on mitigating emissions, but their record on dealing with effects and adapting to the inevitable climate change that is coming is, frankly, woeful. We have done almost nothing to adapt to the situation. Greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect have been known about for more than 30 years and the European Union is to produce a Green Paper on the matter by the end of the year, but we are in danger of fiddling while the world burns. May we have a debate by the end of October, bearing in the mind the EU deadline, on dealing with the effects of climate change?
Mr. Straw: We have just had Environment questions, but I will do my best to ensure that there is a debate by the end of Octobermy hon. Friend seems to make a reasonable request. However, I resist his criticism of our record. I cannot recall any Government in the industrialised world who have been more in the lead on trying to tackle climate change than the British Government. Our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put the matter right at the top of the G8 agenda, not because it was an easy subject or comfortable for other G8 partners, but precisely because the subject was difficult and he believed that all G8 partners needed to do more on climate changehe actually forced them to do so. I could give my hon. Friend all the numbers. He said that we have cut emissions. Our scheme reduced emissions by 1.5 million tonnes between 2002 and 2004. However, this is an international problem. Even if we were to abolish our emissions altogether, without international action by other parties, including, especially, the United States, China and India, we would be making only a marginal contribution. We are in the lead and the matter is a profound priority for the Government.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): All Prime Ministers who have been in office for many years become worn out, start to make mistakes, blame other people, start to fire their senior colleagues and lose touch with reality. Would the Leader of the House favour rushing through legislation to put a maximum term limit on a Prime Minister of nine years?
Mr. Straw: No. That would be a bad career move for the Prime Minister, and suggesting it would be a much worse career move for the Leader of the House. The hon. Gentlemans knowledge of history is slightly defective. Plenty of successful Prime Ministers have indeed gone on and on and on.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend set time aside to discuss counterfeit drugs? My constituency has the main transporter of drugs to the Scottish health service, pharmacies and hospitals. I was shocked last week to find out that there are 2,400 sites on the internet supplying drugs. It is reckoned that 80 per cent. of those drugs are counterfeit. A man was arrested in London last year who had a lab in his kitchen that was capable of producing 1 million tablets a day. Ten years ago, there were only seven transport companies distributing drugs throughout the United Kingdom, but today there are more than 400. It is very easy to set up such a company. One pays £1,500 for a licence and
Mr. Straw: The illegal production of illicit drugs and the counterfeit production of drugs that are otherwise lawful is a serious problem. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised it and I, in turn, will raise it with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health and the Home Secretary.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): May I bring the Leader of the House back to the subject of nuclear
power, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)? The need for an urgent debate on the subject was illustrated by the right hon. Gentlemans answer, in which he managed to ignore microgeneration and energy efficiency measures, both of which would be interfered with by a decision to go nuclear. Will he comment on the view that seems to be coming from Downing street that that vastly important and potentially dangerous change in energy policy might be achieved without primary legislation? Will he ensure not only that there is a full debate in the House on the change, but that the House has an opportunity to vote on it?
Mr. Straw: The legislative base for any increase in nuclear generating capacity will of course be clear, but there is little point in the House wasting its time legislating in respect of powers that already exist. It is a classic Liberal Democratic approach: never mind the demands for new laws that are needed; let us debate laws that are not needed. There will of course be debates on the energy review and the White Paper when it is published.
Mr. Straw: And renewables. I have to say that I would find the Liberal Democrats claims that they oppose all nuclear and want only renewables more convincing if, at local level, they were more consistent in respect of planning permission for wind farms. I recollect that they oppose almost all planning applications for wind farms and for developments of other renewable sources of energy.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): As a fellow Scot, I associate myself with all the comments on the late Eric Forth. If there is life after death, I can look forward to enjoying exchanges with him and the late Robin Cook.
A former Member of this House who is still a Member of the other place was given a lengthy prison sentence for acting irresponsibly and endangering peoples lives, but when company directors act irresponsibly and not only endanger peoples lives, but cause their employees and other people to lose their lives, they are given a paltry fine, which is probably tax deductible. What are the Government doing to end that unfair and inconsistent practice and to right that wrong?
Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In fact, a quite high level of responsibility is imposed on company directors, and that has increased. Whether we should amend the law in respect of corporate manslaughter is a separate issue, and my hon. Friend may be aware that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has plans to do that. He is considering legislation, but is anxious to ensure that it is fair both to victims and potential victims and to company directors.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his handsome and generous tribute to my right hon. Friend the late Eric Forth? As others have said, the important thing about Eric Forth is that he was deadly serious about defending the rights and freedoms that over the generations this House has hard won from over-mighty Executives, and he believed, rightly, that we should do that better. We shall genuinely miss him.
The Leader of the House will, I am sure, have heard that I am to chair a big public meeting in East Grinstead tomorrow night as part of the formal consultation on the Governments wicked plan to impose excess further housing in the south-east of England. Does he agree that, by any stretch of the imagination, the scale of the developments is clearly in breach of the Governments own benchmark for sustainability? Given the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) yesterday in his urgent question on the water supply, and given the inadequacy of the roads and railways and the fact that public services in the area are extremely overstretched, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we in this House have a chance to debate the infrastructures inability to keep up with the Governments plans for increased house building in the south of England, particularly in Mid-Sussex?
Mr. Straw: First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his tribute in respect of Eric Forth. The reason why the tributes have been so full is that Eric Forth cared about this place. In my judgment, caring about Parliament is not a matter of sentiment; it is absolutely fundamental to the working of our democracy and to good government.
Of course I had heard that the hon. Gentleman is to speak at the meeting tomorrow night. I am pleased to say that the news had even reached Blackburn, and I believe that train reservations are in hand.
I noticed a flicker of a smile cross the hon. Gentlemans lips as he described the plans as wicked. Let me say to him and to other Membersparticularly Opposition Memberswho represent rural and suburban constituencies in the south-east that nothing would please Environment Ministers more than if no plans were necessary to increase the number of available houses in the south-east. The truth is, however, that demand for housing in the south-east greatly exceeds supply. I wish that many of the hon. Gentlemans constituents would recognise the attractions of the north-west, including my Blackburn constituency, and move there, but they are not going to. The choice for the Government, for him, for his local authority and for every other Member of the House is between allowing a dramatic and continuing increase in house prices to squeeze out the very people who need to live in those areas, and ensuring a sensible increase in housing so that prices decrease and those who live in those areas are able to stay there. That is the choice, and the debate is not helped by the use of extravagant adjectives. Every house in the country was new at one time.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Eric Forth was a close personal friend and I am deeply distressed by his early passing. Hon. Members right
across the House have rightly paid generous tribute to him, and that is well merited. May I ask the Leader of the House, who gave a most generous personal tribute, to arrange a debate on how the authority of this House and the authority of the Government and the Executive might be rebalanced? There could be no better tribute to the late Eric Forth than to redress the balance between the Executive and Back-Bench Members of the House of Commons.
Mr. Straw: I know of the close friendship between the hon. Gentleman and Eric Forth. Both could often be found in the Tea Room talking about over-mighty Governments, particularly during the period of the Major Government.
The hon. Gentleman, as a former Chairman of the Procedure Committee and a member of the Modernisation Committee, will know that there are many opportunities to debate that subject. He will also know that, in a public session of the Modernisation Committee yesterday, we received evidence from three academics, one of whom made the point that the accountability of Ministers to Parliament had been strengthened significantly in the past 50 years, not least through the introduction 25 years ago of the Select Committee process. I am strongly in favour of improving the accountability, and the perception of accountability, of Ministers, but we must not believe that the position has worsened in the past 50 years when, in fact, it has got significantly better.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On BBC2s Newsnight last night, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said that it would take at least 10 years to clear the backlog of illegal immigrants in this country. Residents of my Kettering constituency and elsewhere think that it is scandalous that those in government who are supposed to defend our country and protect our borders seem to be completely unable to do so. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in calling for an urgent debate on immigration and asylum in this country.
Mr. Straw: There are plenty of occasions to debate that issue, but if the Opposition feel really exercised about it they have a number of Opposition days coming up, which I am sure that they will put to good use. [ Interruption. ] I see the Opposition Chief Whip confirm that. I am always happy to suggest subjects to the Opposition for their debating time.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality gave that time scale because of the time that it will take to introduce the e-borders arrangements, so that we have accurate data on the numbers going in and coming out of the country.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman tells his constituents that in 1996 the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe(Mr. Howard), decided to abandon disembarkation controls in Dover and other ports, which covered about 40 per cent. of those leaving the country. He also got rid of all the staff and the budget for them. When I became Home Secretary, it was clear that there was no point in maintaining embarkation controls in respect of
the other 60 per cent. because people who wanted to leave illegally would go through the other ports. The system that the Conservatives had maintained meant that even when disembarkation cards were taken off people, they were put in a room and nothing was done with them.
We must change the system, and that is what the Government are seeking to do. I wish that there had been slightly more help from the Opposition in respect of part of these arrangements, especially on identity cards.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I associate myself and my hon. Friends with the glowing tributes to Eric Forth. When showing new Members round the House, I would always point out Eric Forth, and the description colourful character would always feature.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House saw the programme on the BBC over the weekend that showed that 52 per cent. of the British public believe that Scottish Members should no longer be able to become Prime Minister. I am certainly sure that it was not missed by No. 11. Does not this show that the public are way ahead of the House and the Government in their thinking about the role of Scottish Members? Should we not have a proper, grown-up debate about the role of us Scots MPs so that we get up to speed with the public on this issue?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman has a particular viewhe would like to see Scotland separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is not the view taken by the vast majority of people in Scotland, nor is it the view taken by the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom. We should celebrate our Britishness. A Prime Minister is the Prime Minister for the entire United Kingdomthat is Great Britain, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. It seems to me that where he or she happens to come from is entirely irrelevant.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): May I also associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to Eric Forth? He was a politician who always made himself available to new Members to give them, as he would put it, good advice.
You have probably read, as I have, Mr. Speaker, the interview of the Leader of the House in The Times of two days ago. I welcome the right hon. Gentlemans aspirations about petitions receiving a certain amount of action rather than just a response. Will he extend that principle to popular early-day motions, which currently receive no Government response or debate in the House?
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