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8 Jun 2006 : Column 399

Business of the House

11.32 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming weeks?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 June—Second Reading of the Fraud Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 13 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Work and Families Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Administration Bill.

Wednesday 14 June—A debate on European Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 15 June—Second Reading of the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill [ Lords].

Friday 16 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 19 June—Second Reading of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 20 June—Remaining stages of the Children and Adoption Bill [ Lords].

Wednesday 21 June—Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 June—A debate on defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 23 June—The House will not be sitting.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was interested to see yesterday’s Council of Europe report on rendition. The Prime Minister did not answer questions on it yesterday. When will the Government respond to it?

This morning it was announced that the police had been given more time in which to detain the suspected terrorists who were arrested in the Forest Gate raid last Friday. They can detain them for up to 14 days, although under the Terrorism Act 2006 the period for which suspects can be detained without charge was extended to 28 days. I think that Members will be surprised to hear that the period of detention in this case is only 14 days. When the Act was passed, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were adamant that an extension was needed. Indeed, on 9 November last year the Prime Minister said

However, under section 39 of the Act the Secretary of State must make an order to implement a particular section. That has not yet been done to implement the extended period of 28 days’ detention. The Home Office has not got around to it yet.

Is it not true that by the Government’s own standards, the incompetence of the Home Office is putting the lives of British citizens at risk? Will the Home Secretary make a statement explaining this further lapse by the Home Office?

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We are, however, becoming rather used to the way in which the Government say one thing and mean another. The Home Secretary said that he had 100 days in which to sort out the Home Office; the civil servant responsible says that it will take two years. Ministers say that there are no job cuts in the NHS; yesterday we heard of work force reductions. And this morning we heard that despite the hosepipe ban, a hosepipe can be used in the gardens of No.10 because it is actually a bowser with a dowser.

Yesterday’s statement by the Secretary of State for Health revealed that the NHS deficit had doubled over the past year. Jobs will be lost, not just those of administrators but those of doctors and nurses. Dr. Paul Miller, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants’ committee, has said that there has been

He says

He also says that the Government should stop reorganising the NHS,


Yesterday, in her statement to the House, the Secretary of State for Health said that primary care trusts that stayed within budget or made a surplus would have to give money to those that were in deficit. That means that they will have to

If a trust is in deficit, services will suffer. If a trust is in balance or surplus, services will suffer. How is that the “best year ever” for the NHS?

Back in 1997, the Labour party told us that it had 24 hours in which to save the NHS. Will the Secretary of State for Health now come to the House and tell us how long the NHS will have left if someone does not sort out the problems caused by the Government?

On 16 March, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions dismissed the finding of the parliamentary ombudsman in her report “Trusting in the pensions promise” that the Government had been guilty of maladministration. The Government have said that it would cost too much to accept the ombudsman’s findings: £15 billion, to be precise. It has now been revealed that that was a gross overestimate of the cost. Yesterday it also became clear that the Government’s proposals for pensions reform would mean that about 1.5 million pensioners who had built up nest eggs for retirement would lose £450 a year. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State clarifying the Government’s position on both issues, and explaining how the Government have let down Britain’s pensioners?

The Leader of the House has made it known that he would like to be Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): So would I!

Mrs. May: Ah, we have had another job bid from the right hon. Gentleman.

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The Leader of the House has also said that he thinks the Prime Minister should step down “well before” the next election. Of course, the Prime Minister did promise that he would serve a full term. That means either that the Prime Minister is not going to fulfil his promise to the British people, or that the Leader of the House is clearly a Brownite now. Which is it?

Mr. Straw: I will deal with the right hon. Lady’s first question, about the Council of Europe and rendition, in a second.

The right hon. Lady asked about the order to be made under section 39 of the Terrorism Act. She said that if the order was not made shortly, lives would be at risk. I suggest that the right hon. Lady needs to be extremely careful about implying that lives would be at risk in this case; that comes close to pre-judging cases currently before the courts. She really needs to think about what she has been saying.

Secondly, the right hon. Lady knows very well that, under Home Secretaries of both main parties, there is always some time between the passage of an Act and the laying of orders under it. I do not remember that the Conservative Opposition, either here or in the other place, were helpful in getting the legislation in question through. If anybody is to blame for the delays, it is the Conservative Opposition—here and in the other place.

On the national health service, the right hon. Lady asked whether we were right to say—on 30 April 1997, I think—that there were only 24 hours to save the national health service. Yes, we were, because there is no question but that, if the Conservatives had got back into power in 1997, the inexorable decline of the health service—which had happened year by year by year, in my constituency and in hers—would have continued. We have more than doubled funding in real terms.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): By sacking nurses.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman may say that we have done that, but what we have actually done, including in his constituency, is increase the number of nurses by 85,000—by a third—and we have increased their salaries by a quarter in real terms. There has been an improvement in health care in every single constituency in the country, based on spending that we voted for and the Conservatives voted against. There has been a dramatic improvement in the number of both doctors and nurses in the right hon. Lady’s own constituency; she knows that. Indeed, just four years ago, 113 people in her area were waiting for in-patient treatment for more than nine months, and in addition, 311 were waiting for in-patient treatment for more than six months. Today, the figure in respect of both periods is zero—thanks to Labour’s spending and no thanks to the position of the Conservatives.

On the pensions debate, about which the right hon. Lady asked, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made an excellent statement just over a week ago, and there will be parliamentary questions to the Department for Work and Pensions next Monday. We have also promised—and there will be—a full debate on the pensions White Paper, when all the issues that she wishes to raise can be raised.

Mr. Graham Stuart: When?

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Mr. Straw: Very shortly. [Interruption.] Before the summer.

The right hon. Lady asked about the Council of Europe, a body that the Conservative party sometimes wishes us to withdraw from, so that we can withdraw from all our international obligations under it, but I put that point to one side. She also claimed that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and, by implication, I, have not answered any questions in respect of rendition. She knows that to be totally incorrect. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we have said everything we needed to say on that, and indeed we have. She knows very well that nobody could have provided more information to the House, either orally or in writing, about the issue of rendition—about the fact that there were four cases of requests for rendition, all of which occurred when I was Home Secretary, before 2001, and under the Clinton Administration. Two were granted, two were refused and there have been no cases since 2001. I have given undertakings to the House, and the simple truth is that if people read the report—the disreputable report—by Mr. Marty of the Council of Europe, they will see that he makes no substantive allegations. I hope that the right hon. Lady does not join that bandwagon.

I announced that there will be a full-day’s debate on 14 June to discuss the prospects for the European Council. I hope very much that the right hon. Lady and the shadow Foreign Secretary will use that opportunity to deal with what The Daily Telegraph described this morning as David Cameron’s broken pledge on Conservatives in Europe. First, we heard yesterday from the shadow Foreign Secretary that a clear pledge, debated endlessly in this House before the election—[ Interruption.] They do not like it. The clear pledge, debated endlessly in this House before the election, to withdraw from the common fisheries policy has been torn up, and the clearest pledge to remove the Conservative party from the European People’s party and to join a barmy army of obscure right-wing politicians will also be broken.

Mr. Speaker: May I remind the House that we are discussing the business for next week?

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Last autumn, oxygen was used to help revive a 14-year-old boy who had been restrained at a secure training centre. That followed an incident in which a 14-year-old boy died after being restrained at the same secure training centre. Does my right hon. Friend understand the fury that some of us feel about the inability to raise the issue and to have it properly debated on the Floor of the House because of the continuing delay in reconvening the inquest? Will he ensure that a statement be made or a debate held on the Floor on this very important matter—one boy has died, and another has required oxygen—to set out what happened and what is being done to end those practices, which are causing such damage to young people?

Mr. Straw: I certainly understand the deep concern of my hon. Friend on the issue; I am sure that it is shared across the House. She will know that there are always difficulties in raising matters in this House when court proceedings are pending. That said, I take full note of
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what she has said today and will, along with appropriate ministerial colleagues, do my very best to ensure that she and the families concerned are provided with as much information as possible, and an explanation, in advance of the inquest.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I thank the Leader of the House for his prompt response following the last business questions on the issue of the Bichard inquiry; that was in marked contrast to the performance of the Home Office.

The Greater London authority inquiry into 7/7 threw up yet another unfulfilled recommendation of a major public inquiry. May we have a debate on the way in which we keep track of these matters and on how we ensure that when serious inquiries into disasters are held, the recommendations made are adhered to and implemented at the earliest possible opportunity?

Following the welcome news of the apparent demise of al-Zarqawi in Iraq today, no one would be naive enough to think that that spells an end to the violence in Iraq. This is the tenth time at business questions that I have asked for a proper debate on the foreign affairs aspects of Iraq. When he was Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House indicated that he would have welcomed such an opportunity. The time is right for such a debate; will he ensure that we have one before the summer recess?

I also noted the fact that we are to have a debate on Europe on Wednesday 14 June. Given that some parties do still have friends and influence in Europe, will the Leader of the House suggest to the Minister for Europe—his predecessor—that he comes to the House on that day to spell out the Government’s position on putting an end to the absurd charade of moving the European Parliament to Strasbourg permanently, with all the costs to the British taxpayer that that entails. It is time we put an end to this nonsense once and for all, and this country should be setting a lead in the matter.

Lastly, may we have a debate on fixed-term contracts? I noted the attempt by the Leader of the House to enliven the Prime Minister’s monthly press conference today, and the Secretary of State for Health’s offer in her statement yesterday to be fully accountable for future failures in the health service. If we had fixed-term contracts for Cabinet Ministers, we could have targets, appraisals and tests for value for money. We could see whether premises were being used. Most importantly, we could ensure that people did not outstay their welcome in Cabinet posts.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman’s first question was in respect of the inquiry into the 7 and 21 July terrorist outrages last summer. Full account is always taken of inquiry reports and there was a meeting recently of the Cabinet Committee on international terrorism, which looked carefully at the conclusions of the GLA inquiry and discussed many of its findings. That will continue, because it is in everybody’s interests that we learn the lessons from what happened last 7 July, and indeed on 21 July.

On the issue of the death of al-Zarqawi, let me say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has
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described it—on this occasion, I happen to think that it is entirely appropriate that it should be so described—as good news, because that man was an evil butcher who was killing Iraqis, as well as coalition forces, in large numbers. Nothing was going to stop him, I am afraid, until he was stopped in this way. I may say that I hope that we can put on record our admiration for all those in the Iraqi forces and the coalition forces, as well as others, who were responsible for his apprehension.

I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman says about the case for a full debate on foreign policy. I am alive to that, as is my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. Our only difficulty is finding the time, alongside many other requests. There is an opportunity to raise those matters in the debate on Europe next Wednesday, because Iraq— [ Interruption.] Well, he makes a sedentary gesture—a polite but critical sedentary gesture, indicating that he does not entirely accept what I am saying. I have to say to him that before the European Council will be Iraq, Iran and the middle east, so there is every reason for him to use that opportunity, along with his right hon. and hon. Friends, to debate those matters next week.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament. That arrangement is now friendless, except for those in the host country. I am sad to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just reminded me, that was one of a number of errors made by the Major Government in 1992, because they set that arrangement in concrete. We all have to deal with that.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about fixed-term contracts. I do not think that there is a case for them, and I would put this request way below, for example, a request for a debate on the tax system. I hope very much that the Liberal Democrats will use their next Opposition day for a debate on it, because what is clear from the announcements being made today is that they are ditching higher rates for the rich for higher taxation for everyone.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend might have noticed the launch of the Commission for Global Road Safety report at the QE2 building this morning: eight nations are backing a call to take seriously the fact that 1.2 million people die every year on the roads, mainly in the developing world.

Many of us in the developed world have brought down the number of people killed and badly injured on the roads, but in the developing world that is one of the most common causes of death and serious injury. Will my right hon. Friend urge an early debate on that matter and its global implications? We cannot talk about global sustainability when we exclude what is probably the fifth largest killer in the developed world. Will our Government adopt a higher profile by pursuing the aim of bringing this dreadful, useless loss of human life to an end?

Mr. Straw: I commend my hon. Friend’s interest in that matter and in the conference. Many of us will have heard our friend and former colleague Lord Robertson speaking about the issue on the BBC “Today” programme this morning.

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