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8 Jun 2006 : Column 405

The campaign is absolutely right to highlight that issue. I can think of a country not in the developing world, but in Asia, with the same population as the UK and lower road usage, but with deaths on the road running at nearly 25,000, compared with 3,000 in this country. It is a major epidemic across the world, of both deaths and serious injuries. I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Transport take seriously the need for us to evangelise in other countries on our experience of bringing down road deaths and injuries.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): First, I associate myself with the paean of praise from the Leader of the House to the Iraqi Government over the death of that monster al-Zarqawi. I know that everyone else would join us in that.

No one beats me in supporting the forces in their determination to seek out those who would support terrorist acts in the UK, but a number of people in the Islamic community are now quite concerned that there is a deep game going on among the extremists to try to discredit those who are supportive of the British authorities in their search for such information. The raid in Forest Gate, just down the road from my constituency, and the continuing search, with nothing yet found, for those weapons was matched on Wednesday—48 hours ago—by a raid in Dewsbury and the arrest or, rather, lifting of an individual.

I understand that in the same street in Dewsbury and in the same house—the house of Sheikh Yacoub Munshi—on Saturday 3 June, the director of the Defence Academy, Lieutenant-General Kiszely, visited that family. That man’s grandson was lifted on Wednesday and taken by the police, supposedly in connection with the arrests in Canada. I think that the police are now weakening their position over him, and he may be released.

My concern is simply this: we have a delicate situation, and I am not criticising the police, but I wonder to what degree the various Departments are talking to each other, such that a senior general, for good reasons, visits a family to support those who have been supportive, only to find that same family subsequently targeted. I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement.

Mr. Straw: I take seriously what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, and of course I understand the delicacy of that matter, not least with my constituency background, but I say to hon. Members that there is a dilemma facing not just the intelligence services and the police but every Member of the House: do the agencies and the police act on credible intelligence, knowing, of course, because that is the nature of intelligence, that it might not be fully accurate, or do they ignore it, knowing that it might well be accurate? If they ignored it, and a terrorist outrage followed, the opprobrium on them would be far greater than in the reverse situation. That is the dilemma facing the police and the intelligence agencies. I believe that they carry out their job phenomenally well, and they deserve our full support.

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Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the prospects of any legislation further to deregulate Sunday trading? In view of the extensive opposition on the Labour Benches, and indeed in all parts of the House; the concerns of retailers, large and small, and the opposition of family and Church groups, as well as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, is not this something that the Government would be wise to drop sooner rather than later?

Mr. Straw: I well understand my right hon. Friend’s concern, and I recall that in 1991 and 1992 we shared a similar position on the free votes to amend the shops legislation. We take full account of what he and others have said on the issue and I shall ensure that his views are relayed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the consequences of unskilled immigration? While such immigration may benefit the middle and upper-middle classes, because those immigrants tend to work in restaurants or to clean offices and homes, that level of immigration is not so good for the less well off in our society, who end up competing with the newly arrived for scarce resources such as housing, education, health and jobs. That is creating some unnecessary and unwanted friction in our communities—I suspect not just in my community, but in the community of Blackburn, which is represented by the Leader of the House.

Mr. Straw: I am always happy to see these issues debated. Contrary to myth, there is a high degree of control over immigration, especially in respect of low-skilled workers who have no family connections here. The hon. Gentleman knows that, but he would know more if he talked to fruit farmers in Herefordshire, Kent and many other areas, and not just to people in what he describes as more prosperous areas. I could take him to a factory in my constituency that would not be operating without low-skilled workers from eastern Europe, because the owners could not recruit others to do those jobs. That is a reality, and we have to choose between maintaining employment at its current levels with all the protections, including the minimum wage, that we introduced and he voted against—[Hon. Members: “He was not here.”] Had he been here, he would have voted against them. He is not denying that. I know that he spoke out against those protections in his leaflets, so the fact that he was not here is, on this occasion, irrelevant. I understand the point that he makes, but I do not agree with it.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement this morning by the water services regulator that he intends to fine Severn Trent Water for its appalling level of service to customers? Will my right hon. Friend also speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about making a statement to make it clear that it is the Government’s intention that the fine should be paid from the recently announced excessive profits of the company, rather than by the hard-pressed
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customers who have to suffer the poor service and unique record of leaking pipes, prosecutions for pollution and the fiddling of figures to inflate bills and overcharge customers, recently admitted by the company? It would be much more appropriate for the fine to be paid by those who own the company, not by those who suffer from its appalling service.

Mr. Straw: I certainly get the point that my hon. Friend is not very keen on Severn Trent Water and its record, and I will ensure that his concerns are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): With the Home Secretary telling us that his Department is unfit for purpose, it is hardly surprising that some of us are very cynical about the fact that the order under the Terrorism Act 2000 to extend the period for which terrorist suspects may be detained has not yet been laid. That is a serious matter, and I ask the Leader of the House to insist that the Home Secretary come to the Dispatch Box early next week to tell us when the order will be laid.

Mr. Straw: With respect, I have already dealt with that matter. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of the urgency of the matter, but it has been the practice of successive Home Secretaries from both parties to allow time to elapse between the passage of legislation—the Bill in question was delayed by the Conservative party—and the introduction of Orders under it.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on Iran? I am conscious of the fact that we have a debate on Europe next week, but a debate on Iran would cover the International Atomic Energy Agency and the delicate—one might say, grave—situation of that country’s nuclear aspirations. Other issues include human rights and the status of those exiled from Iran. It is time that the House took cognisance of the situation in Iran and the fact that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is sending a delegation there, which I am very uncomfortable about.

Mr. Straw: My understanding is that the IPU will send a delegation, but that is a matter for it to decide, taking account of any advice that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary may have to offer. I understand the strong case that my hon. Friend makes for a debate on Iran: I am seeking a debate on foreign policy, which could range more widely. I hope to be able to achieve that before the House rises for the recess, but that depends on accommodating the multifarious requests.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that one of the major obstacles to stability in Northern Ireland is the ongoing situation with paramilitary activity and criminality. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, we have until 24 November to resolve all the issues. Will he
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consider putting some Government time aside to discuss the whole issue of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Straw: I will look into that idea, and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): In the past few weeks I have visited two separate debt advice centres in my constituency, and both expressed concern about rising levels of debt among people who have been taken in by television adverts about debt consolidation and other financial products that were inappropriate for their needs and, far from solving their financial worries, actually made them worse. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the regulation of the advertising of personal credit products?

Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friend’s great concern about the issue. It would be difficult to find time for a debate on it on the Floor of the House, but it is an ideal candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate. I wish her well in that.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Is one of the tasks given to the Leader of the House by the Prime Minister that of resolving the impasse over House of Lords reform? If so, can the right hon. Gentleman make a statement before the House rises for the summer recess, indicating the progress that he has been able to make and how his approach differs from that of his predecessor?

Mr. Straw: That is one of the tasks that I have been asked to undertake, and I am doing so with some relish. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we had an interesting, if unexpected, three-hour debate in early May on the establishment of the Joint Committee on Conventions and the issue of Lords reform, so it has been aired. I am seeking to allow the Joint Committee time to reach its conclusions and I will bring forward an order to extend its deadline. I said that I would do so, and I hope that we can agree that. While that is going on, I will hold informal consultations with the other parties, Cross Benchers and bishops about the formula that would be appropriate. In view of that, I am not sure whether I will be able to make a statement to the House before we rise, but I will think about it.

Mr. MacShane: Can we find time for an early debate on relations between Britain and Germany? We will all be cheering England on to Berlin and victory in the World cup, and we want every English fan there to be an ambassador for Britain. In that context, does my right hon. Friend deplore the fact that the BBC has not yet apologised for Mr. Jeremy Clarkson having thrown up his hand in a Nazi salute, or this statement from a prominent personality, quoted in The Independent:

That was said by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). With such vile xenophobia expressed against Germany, how can we expect English football fans to behave differently?

Mr. Straw: We are all looking forward to the opening of the World cup and Saturday, including—please
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God—success for England, and to the opportunity to excise all the ridiculous parodies of Germany portrayed in the media and by some hon. Members.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I hope that hon. Members who are not English will take the opportunity to sign my early-day motion wishing England success in the World cup—including the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who is in his place on the Front Bench.

The Leader of the House knows my constituency well, and he knows that the people of Longridge have traditionally looked towards Preston for their health care. Under the primary care changes, they are being asked to look towards Ribble Valley and Hyndburn, which many of them will find inconvenient. The GPs are up in arms about it and a petition on the subject has more than 3,500 signatures. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to explain why she is not listening to the concerns of GPs and local people about health care provision in the area?

Mr. Straw: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion, which advises support for England even though he is Welsh. His constituency is next door to mine, and I know it extremely well. It is not remotely Welsh; it is as English as any, and I can think of no other career move open to him. I congratulate him on a minor act of survival. He will know that in his area there are 5,400 more nurses—

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): Oh no!

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman says, “Oh, no!” and throws up his hands, but whether he likes it or not, the proper thing to say is, “Oh, yes!” The quality of health care in Ribble Valley, Longridge and elsewhere has increased and will continue to do so.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) asked a specific question about the PCT boundaries. I assure him that I will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ensure that he is given an answer.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be interested to hear that there was an extremely well-attended debate yesterday in Westminster Hall on the question of securing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. However, most Back Benchers present were unable to make proper contributions, largely because the three Front-Bench spokesmen took up a third of the time available. Calls have been made already this morning for debates on Iran and Iraq, so should we not have a full debate in Government time on the middle east?

Mr. Straw: First, I shall pursue the issue that my hon. Friend raises about the use of time in Westminster Hall, which I know causes anxiety for many hon. Members, especially in popular debates. The Procedure Committee or the Modernisation Committee may wish to pursue that matter. Secondly, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I am doing my best in that regard.

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Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to take a personal interest in a matter about which I gave him notice this morning? For some months, those of us who depend on remote access to the parliamentary intranet from our constituencies have been affected by very poor service. Despite the efforts of our Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology department, the problems have still not been resolved. After five months the key fault, which may be external to the House, has not even been identified. My constituents have been inconvenienced by the amount of time that my office has wasted in dealing with this problem, and I am sure that many other hon. Members could make the same complaint.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inject some urgency into resolving the problem? In a commercial organisation it would have demanded a solution within hours rather than months. And when he answers, please will he not begin by telling me how many nurses there are in North-East Bedfordshire?

Mr. Straw: I shall not start my answer in that way. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the notice that he gave me about a problem that I know has frustrated him and other hon. Members of all parties. I shall follow the matter up personally—and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has just volunteered that he too will take a close interest in it. We shall pursue the problem together. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman will wish to know that in North-East Bedfordshire, there were 2,975 more nurses, and 659 more doctors.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Last night the House was locked down for the second time in less than a year—a fact that hon. Members and staff found out about from rumour, anecdote and the rolling news on the BBC and Sky. Will my right hon. Friend discuss security in the House with the relevant officials, and take an urgent look at how we can use new technology, such as e-mail and text and pager messages, to communicate the fact that an incident has happened? Will he also look at the training given to staff? The fire training in the House is excellent, but people need to be trained in evacuation procedures when other emergencies arise. Will he renew the guidance in respect of training and communication in this area?

Mr. Straw: I am sure that the House will take note of the points that my hon. Friend raises, but she will understand that security is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not directly for me. I know that you have taken full account of what happened yesterday, and that you were concerned about it. I also know that the Joint Committee on Security—of which the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), is Chairman—will have the matter on its agenda at its next meeting.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Does the Leader of the House think it acceptable that forces families who have lost loved ones in Iraq have had to wait as long as three years for inquests to take place? Will he get a Minister from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to come to the House and make a statement about why such an appalling state of affairs has been allowed to happen? Will he ensure that the necessary resources are made available to make sure that it is addressed properly?

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