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Mr. Straw: The delay is not acceptable. Written ministerial statements were delivered earlier this week, both in this House and in the other place, that set out the process being pursued. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in that Department are very concerned about the matter. I am sure that it is no comfort to the bereaved families if I point out that a Bill is before the House that is designed greatly to improve the administration and timeliness of inquests, but I emphasise that the Government understand that the situation is unsatisfactory. I apologise to those relatives for the delay, which has been caused by other factors. We understand their frustration, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that action is being taken to deal with the problem.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend review the way in which Back Benchers can get business debated, both in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House? Will he look in particular at how early-day motions are treated? Hundreds of thousands of copies are printed, and are reprinted day after day. For example, early-day motions take up 200 pages of today’s Order Paper, but none ever gets debated on the Floor of the House. Similarly, every day we reprint other pages that are full of motions that will never be debated; the one that I am showing the House now has been printed 220 times. Should we not be more honest about how business from Back Benchers is brought to the Floor of the House?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important question about the balance of time on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has reminded the House that there was a period when we dealt on the Floor of the House not only with private Members’ Bills but with private Members’ motions, which were debatable and could be voted on here. The House gave up that facility when Westminster Hall was introduced, and it is for the House to decide whether that was a fair exchange. I shall not express my personal view, save to say that the Modernisation Committee will wish to look at the matter. However, I must also tell my hon. Friend—any party aspiring to be in government has to think about this—that only so much time is available to us. The debates on private Members’ motions used to take place on a Friday, so the House used to meet every Friday, not just on some Fridays.

The second consideration that must be borne in mind is that all hon. Members stand for election on manifestos that set out the legislation to be introduced by a prospective Government, and not by private Members. Government legislation, too, takes time, which means that the balance is quite tricky.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): As we approach the wonderful season of garden parties, fetes and proms provided by communities, schools, churches and volunteers to raise money for good causes, may we have a debate that will allow us to expose the perverse interpretation of the newly implemented Licensing Act 2003 by some councils that want to discourage those good works? The Government need to provide clarity about the application of that Act.

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Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman represents Canvey Island, which I know well. If he is saying that the fine people who live there are facing difficulties, I shall do my best to sort the matter out with the relevant Ministers. However, I do not recall that Castle Point has a Labour-controlled council. Some other party must be responsible for what is happening there, and I suppose that it could be the one represented by the hon. Members who sit below the Gangway— [ Interruption. ] Oh, is it run by the Conservatives? In that case, the hon. Gentleman needs to talk to his leader.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): There are regular debates in the House on energy policy, but has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read the excellent report on water resources by a Select Committee in the other place? Is it not time that the House fully debated the water crisis facing the south-east—not least because it could result in a very large hole being dug in my constituency? Is not it time to debate our water strategy?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment made a statement about the water shortages some two weeks ago, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we keep the matter under close review. However, I know his constituency a little and believe that any proposals for reservoirs there are usually resisted quite strongly. There are large reservoirs in my constituency, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have to store our water somewhere.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The unfortunate consequence of an ageing population is that many more people will suffer from dementia. In fact, the number of people being diagnosed with the condition is rapidly increasing. Unfortunately, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has decided to continue to restrict the use of drugs for Alzheimer’s disease in future. May we have a debate on the consequences and the wider health and financial implications of an ageing population?

Mr. Straw: That raises an important issue, but whether there is time for such a debate is another matter. On the issue of drugs to control Alzheimer’s and other dementias, I would say that NICE has not yet published its full guidance to the NHS. There is a formal appeals process and stakeholders have until 15 June, next week, to lodge any appeals. We acknowledge the importance of the appraisal and I hope that the hon. Lady does too, but NICE was established to examine precisely this sort of difficult issue, and it has the expertise and independence to enable it to do so.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): May we have an early debate on management of the likely consequences of climate change, which would allow us to look into the use of desalination plants, such as the one proposed for Beckton, for more water resources and better coastal protection? Otherwise, the welcome for the Olympic games in Britain will be, “Don’t shower while you’re here. These are the dirty games. There’s no water to wash—but be careful in case there’s a flood”.

Mr. Straw: The Olympic games will be a triumph for the United Kingdom— [Interruption.]—and for all the
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parties who have supported it over the years on a bipartisan basis. We have had plenty of debates on climate change, but I strongly take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): May we have an urgent debate on the effect of VAT regulations on the construction of community swimming pools? I ask that because islanders on Mull have raised enough money to construct a swimming pool, but the project is in danger of collapse because of complications in the VAT regulations. Community recreational projects are supposed to be zero-rated for VAT, but Revenue and Customs is threatening to levy VAT in this case. If the Leader of the House cannot find time for a debate, will he at least draw the Chancellor’s attention to that matter? I am sure that the Government would not want this important community project to fail because of VAT complications.

Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman has observed, there are many concessions within the VAT regime to take account of charities and other good works. I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the Exchequer.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On 11 December, just before Christmas last year, the largest explosion that Europe has seen since the second world war took place in my constituency. I praised the Deputy Prime Minister the following day for making a statement before the House. Since then, 4,000 jobs have been put at risk and our water table has been contaminated, but we have received no money from the Government. May we have debate in which some Secretary of State makes it clear who is in charge, as the Deputy Prime Minister has been moved from his position? I do not mean that in any detrimental way, but this is a very serious matter.

Mr. Straw: Of course I understand the profound seriousness of what happened and the importance of the long-term implications, which are too easily forgotten once the problem is no longer in the headlines. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister was personally concerned about the matter, and continues to be so. I shall certainly raise it with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for Trade and Industry and for Communities and Local Government. I will get the hon. Gentleman a response.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): A fortnight ago I asked the Leader of the House to place on the Order Paper a motion to enable the European Scrutiny Committee to sit in public. He said that he would think about it, so I would be interested to hear the product of his thoughts.

Mr. Straw: I am still thinking about it—I say that so that the hon. Gentleman knows that that process does not just take place on the odd Thursday. I intend to have an office meeting to attempt to resolve our
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approach to European scrutiny. As I said to the hon. Gentleman before, I am in favour of the House having greater scrutiny of European matters, as we do not compare favourably in that with the other place. However, we must not embarrass ourselves by setting up systems that subsequently fall into disrepute because of inadequate interest on the part of Members on both sides of the House. That is the problem.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2281:

[That this House expresses concern at the Department of Trade and Industry's decision to review advice on the use of mechanical parts in electrical components; notes that the decision to include mechanical parts under the European Directive on Hazardous Substances will in effect place a ban on most decorative lighting; further notes that no other EU member state is extending the ban to mechanical components in decorative lighting; further notes that the ban will not extend to mechanical components imported into the UK including from competitors from Asia; further notes that the lighting industry believes that 200 lighting manufacturers employing over 4,000 people face bankruptcy under the new guidance; and calls on the Government urgently to review the new guidance on mechanical lighting to exclude it from the EU Directive on Hazardous Substances.]

May we have an early debate on Whitehall’s obsession with gold-plating EU directives? Two hundred jobs in Banbury are at serious risk because the Department of Trade and Industry is interpreting an EU directive on the regulation of hazardous substances on decorative lighting in a way that no other member state is doing. It is a complete nightmare, as companies have had only three weeks’ warning of the change in the regulations. Frankly, it is crazy. This kit is still going to be importable from China and the far east, so the directive is anti-competitive, leading to lost jobs in the UK. It is mad.

Mr. Straw: I have seen early-day motion 2281—but we do not need a debate, because we are as against gold-plating as the hon. Gentleman is. As soon as I became Foreign Secretary, I initiated with other ministerial colleagues a major push against gold-plating. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is equally opposed to it, and there is also the Better Regulation Executive to provide further scrutiny. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will pursue the matter personally with my fellow Ministers, and I do not believe that there is a single Minister who wants an outcome different from the one that he would like. I hope that I am right.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have a statement from the Leader of the House, preferably within the next couple of minutes, on the opportunity afforded by business questions for hon. Members to raise issues on behalf of vulnerable members of society and for the Leader to give non-partisan replies, as he did to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) earlier today? That would allow him to revisit the answer he gave me on 25 May when I raised
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the question of the closure of the emergency walk-in clinic at the Maudsley hospital. He said:

If that were so, Marjorie Wallace of SANE would not have said that there was

and Teresa Priest of Southwark Mind would not have said that it was a matter of “life and death” for people
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with mental health problems. The situation is very serious, so I would be grateful if he reconsidered his response.

Mr. Straw: I do, where appropriate, try to deal with non-partisan questions in a non-partisan way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I occasionally find it necessary to mention the increase in the number of doctors and nurses in different constituencies. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I know of his profound interest in the matter, which I shall continue to pursue with the Health Secretary.

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Points of Order

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your help in your role as protector of Members’ rights against the abuse of their privileges by the Executive. It was my understanding that when Ministers and other Members visited another Member’s constituency, they wrote to them beforehand to explain the purpose of the visit. Yesterday, the Prime Minister visited Frimley Park hospital in my constituency without giving me any notice of his visit. Earlier this week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister with responsibility for veterans visited the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), again without giving advance notice. It seems to me an abuse of the House when Ministers visit constituencies for party political and propagandist purposes without giving due notice, thereby denying Members the right to raise issues of pressing concern to their constituents such as the future of Frimley Park hospital and its upper gastro-intestinal unit. As you well know, Mr. Speaker, that is a matter of deep concern to me and to my constituents, and I would have loved to have the chance to ask the Prime Minister why his Department of Health was closing a world-beating centre. I was denied that opportunity by the arrogance of the Executive.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that the hon. Gentleman should have notification when another Member visits his constituency, but that does not give him the right to question any Minister solely because they are in the constituency. I must say, in defence of the departments of both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, that they are very conscientious about notifying hon. Members. I know that from my own experience, but I will bring the matter to the Prime Minister’s attention and see what is happening in his office.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the issuance of oral ministerial statements on Opposition days, page 358 of the copy of “Erskine May” in the Library states:

your good self, Sir—

In my brief time as a Member of the House, I think that an oral ministerial statement has been made on almost every Opposition day, including yesterday, which held up the very important debate on tax credits. I seek your guidance, Sir.

Mr. Speaker: It is normal for Ministers not to make statements on Supply days, but there are occasions
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when that is not the case. The hon. Gentleman will know that when a Minister seeks to make a statement I have no power to reject that statement. Of course the House has a dilemma: we must consider the importance of the Supply day, but Opposition Members in particular are very keen for Ministers to come to the House to make statements. So we have that difficulty as well.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During his response to my question, the Leader of the House invited me to visit his constituency. As I am a new Member, could you advise me how I could go about organising that?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should go to the Travel Office and get a British Rail timetable.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members have been concerned to see the draft Coroners Bill. During business questions, the Leader of the House suggested that it might be before the House currently. It was my understanding that it would soon come before the House, but I do not know whether he can clarify that. I was expecting it early next week.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter will be before the House in one form, because the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs will question witnesses on Tuesday on that Bill, having expected it to be available some time ago. We now know that it will not be available until Monday, and we may have to find some way to tell the witnesses whom we want to question what it contains. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed, particularly when the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs is offering to provide a completely alternative system of scrutiny in which she chooses the witnesses and the people who carry out the scrutiny.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I just tell the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who is the Opposition spokesman, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that I take note of what they say? I understand that the plan is for the Bill to be introduced very shortly indeed, but I will raise the House’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and hope that we can find a quick resolution of the matter.

Meanwhile, may I tell the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who wants to come to my constituency, that all Tories are welcome in Blackburn, because there are so few whom anyone ever sees?

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Orders of the Day

Compensation Bill [Lords]

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 754, on Compensation Culture, and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6784. The Twentieth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06, Legislative Scrutiny: Tenth Progress Report, HC 1138.]

Order for Second Reading read.

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