Previous Section Index Home Page

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1471

Mr. Straw: There is an Adjournment debate today on defence, when those issues not only can be raised, but will be raised and have been raised in the past. Our policy on Iraq is of fundamental importance to our defence forces, because they are implementing it. Furthermore, there will be a debate on armed forces personnel, which is another opportunity to raise the issue. I do not accept the premise of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Before I ask my question, I should point out to the House that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was incorrect, because “Every Day I Love You Less and Less” is sung by the Kaiser Chiefs, not the White Stripes, which demonstrates that in popular culture, as in other things, the Conservative party has got it completely wrong. With reference to the right hon. Lady, I am tempted to refer to the Artic Monkeys’ song, “Mardy bum”, but I shall be more gracious, and say, “I bet you look good on the dance floor”.

Following the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to this House last week, and given the hugely significant events in the middle east, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on the peace process in the middle east? Recent Adjournment debates on that subject have been absolutely packed—

John Bercow: Yours.

Mr. Wright: Thank you. Given the UK Government’s vital role in the peace process, such a debate would allow hon. Members to discuss the issue, Government policy and future prospects for peace in the middle east.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his corrections in respect of the poor research by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). I say to her affectionately that that shows the danger for those of us of a certain age—[ Interruption]—I am speaking for myself—in trying to pretend that we have knowledge of the younger generation.

I understand the concerns about the need for a wide debate on middle east foreign policy. The programme until the summer recess is under considerable pressure, but we will do our best.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The House has a genuine problem. The Chancellor of the Exchequer regularly makes speeches on issues beyond his Department, such as Trident, Northern Ireland and sub-Saharan Africa. You, Mr. Speaker, would rule us out of order if we were to ask the Chancellor about those subjects at Treasury questions, so we need a mechanism for the Prime Minister-elect, as I think that he would like to be known, to come to the Dispatch Box. Will the Leader of the House relieve the Deputy Prime Minister of his Question Time—which the Deputy Prime Minister, who no longer has any responsibilities anyway, clearly dislikes—to allow the Chancellor to come to the Dispatch Box to answer questions beyond his Department, which we would find very interesting?

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1472

Mr. Straw: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity. We all make speeches that range more widely than our immediate responsibilities, and we have always done so.

Mr. Mackay: We do not all get the front page.

Mr. Straw: If the right hon. Gentleman were to come to Blackburn town centre on a Saturday when I am doing my soapbox sessions, he would see that I range across Government policy, which I hope that I remember correctly.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House bring forward the date for the next energy debate? Energy security should be at the core of the debate because it is the most important issue. Incidentally, “Keep on running” by Spencer Davis would have been a better response to the shadow Leader of the House.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Member for Maidenhead has started something. Perhaps we will keep it going next time.

Energy security is of fundamental importance, and it is one of the reasons why we are currently conducting a full review of energy policy. A White Paper will be presented to the House in due course, and once it is before the House, it will be debated.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that yesterday Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor called for a review of abortion law in the light of the fact that most babies born at 24 weeks now survive and that last year there were more than 3,000 abortions at or after 20 weeks. Will the Leader of the House facilitate a Committee of both Houses to examine the matter in measured and considered terms and then make time for a debate on that Committee’s conclusions?

Mr. Straw: I understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman, His Grace Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and many others have about this, but he will appreciate that equally strong views are held on the other side of the argument. The hon. Gentleman requests the establishment of a Joint Committee of both Houses. Joint Committees are sometimes established, but usually for specific purposes. I have not yet heard a good case made for establishing a Joint Committee for this purpose. We have a very adequate arrangement in this House called the Select Committee on Health, which, if it wishes, can establish its own inquiry into the matter. Then, depending on the weight of its recommendations, we would consider whether to provide time on the Floor of the House. I think that that is the appropriate way to proceed.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) and I have different perspectives on the middle east situation, but I fully endorse his request for a debate in
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1473
Government time on the Israel-Palestine situation. His Westminster Hall debate was very well attended by hon. Members from both sides of the House with widely differing opinions, and it was exactly the same story a few months ago in a debate called by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), when more Members wanted to speak than there was time available. If my right hon. Friend looks at the Order Paper, he will see an early-day motion that already has 93 signatures, calling for both sides in that conflict—not one side, but both sides—to renounce violence, and for a return to a negotiated settlement, not unilateral actions. This is a matter of great concern to Members on both sides of the House, and I endorse the call for an early debate to give everyone a chance to express a view on this key matter for world security.

Mr. Straw: I note what my hon. Friend says. I understand his deep commitment to the issue, which is widely shared, from different perspectives, across the House. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Chief Whip. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but in turn I ask him, and the House generally, to understand the pressures on the parliamentary programme.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Is the Leader of the House aware that on Tuesday the Northern Ireland Grand Committee had one of its shortest meetings, following a protest by several Members about the Government’s failure to resolve the issue of permitting the Grand Committee to meet in Northern Ireland, which left only three of Northern Ireland’s 18 Members of Parliament present in the Committee? On 8 June the Leader of the House wrote to me indicating that he would not be surprised that there remains an absence of consensus on this issue. The Conservatives have said that they would like the Committee to meet in Northern Ireland, and the Liberal Democrats have done the same. The Government have said that they are content that it should meet in Northern Ireland, and the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists have said that they want it to meet in Northern Ireland. That leaves only the Social Democratic and Labour party. Why should three Members of this House be able to veto what more than 640 others might wish to happen? On the BBC website this week, the SDLP’s leader is quoted as saying that his party was not opposed to the Committee meeting in Northern Ireland. If there is now a consensus, will the Leader of the House give us a firm undertaking that the next meeting of that Committee will be in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Straw: The big question is whether there is a consensus. The hon. Gentleman spelled out why that is not the case at the moment. Of course I would like there to be a consensus—but what he describes is not a consensus but a disagreement. I will pursue the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to see whether further steps, to which he is very committed, can be taken to reach the consensus that so far has proved elusive.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): In 2007, it will be the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, led by the Hull MP, William Wilberforce. My hon. Friend the Minister for Culture is
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1474
visiting Hull next week to see what celebrations we are planning. Will my right hon. Friend say what plans there are for the House to mark this important anniversary?

Mr. Straw: I accept that the anniversary is extremely important. During the visit by the United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, we went to the slavery museum in Liverpool, which was a poignant time for her, just as I had visited the civil rights museum in her birthplace of Birmingham, Alabama, which for me raised the issue of slavery very powerfully. I cannot make an announcement at this stage about plans by the Government or for this House, but I promise to talk to my hon. Friend. I accept the importance of ensuring that this 200th anniversary is appropriately marked.

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that I have served as chairman of the campaign for defence and multilateral disarmament, the object of which is to promote an informed dialogue about the nuclear deterrent. Does he agree that that subject is not only of profound importance to this country, and indeed to mankind, but complicated? May we have an early debate in Government time on the nuclear deterrent and its replacement? It is far too important a subject to leave to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to throw away in a reference—or career move—in a speech at Mansion house, which was subsequently denied by his staff.

Mr. Straw: I have already said that there will be a debate, and there will be a White Paper. Our manifesto was clear on this issue, while the hon. Gentleman’s party’s manifesto, despite having been drafted by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who is now Leader of the Opposition, was completely silent on whether the Conservatives would continue with the nuclear deterrent if they were to be returned. What my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in talking about the long term was entirely consistent with our manifesto commitment, which states:

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s interest and expertise in this field. As he said, it is not only an issue that generates a lot of emotion but a complicated matter, and the more debate there is, the better.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2391, on the International Whaling Commission’s decision to lift the 20-year moratorium on the killing and slaughter of those beautiful mammals?

[That this House notes with concern the fact that for the first time the pro-whaling alliance won a majority of support at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voting to end the 20 year old whaling moratorium; recognises that to end the moratorium a majority of 75 per cent, is required and that the 51 per cent, majority secured is a major shift in the IWC stance; condemns the actions of Japan and other whaling nations such as Norway and Iceland who have campaigned to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1475
countries in exchange for multi-million dollar foreign aid packages; and calls on members of the IWC to put the interests of many and often rare species of whale ahead of narrow self-interest.]

May I ask my right hon. Friend to use his good offices to work with the appropriate Department and Minister to get that decision changed, or to explore ways in which we can ban the sale of products derived from the killing and slaughter of those poor mammals?

As the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), is the only female representative on the Conservative Benches, perhaps “Only the Lonely” would be an appropriate song for her— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): What was the question again?

Mr. Straw: The question was about the International Whaling Commission and what was described as the disgraceful position taken by it. I have a helpful note here headed “Government position”, which is completely blank, and another headed “Lines to take”, which is also completely blank, so I will make it up myself—as I usually do.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan). He will know that the British Government’s position has been consistent in trying to preserve and maintain those beautiful mammals.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I support the call for an early debate on the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility, which seems to have taken some punishment recently? Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to take part in that debate and explain what he meant by what he is reported to have said in today’s edition of The Times, when asked what would happen if he failed to improve the Home Office:

Does the Leader of the House regard that as a comradely remark?

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not referring only to Cabinet Ministers when he mentioned losing four Home Office Ministers—it was four in aggregate. I am happy to say that that excludes me. I was at the Home Office as Home Secretary for four very happy and successful years—some say. There was the most intensive engagement in respect of Home Office issues—law and order, asylum and immigration, passports and much else. During the 2001 general election, I was pursued—almost literally—by the ever-vigorous right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who was then shadow Home Secretary. Despite the Opposition’s campaign, or perhaps because of it, and perhaps because of my record too, I am pleased to say that we won the election, not least on Home Office issues.

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1476

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Last Friday, I received a welcome letter from the prisons Minister confirming that child sex offenders will not be placed in the bail hostel in my constituency, in response to a request that I made to the Home Office more than two years ago. This week there have been interviews with a chief constable who is not, and has never been, connected with my constituency, but is trying to put a different spin on the subject. May we have a debate on whether chief constables should stand for election if they are to be allowed to comment on things outwith their immediate purview?

Mr. Straw: Chief constables are entitled to their opinions, but they must accept that if they go into matters of great controversy, others will criticise them. It is the Conservative party that is currently considering whether to have elected police chiefs.

As a result of provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act 2000 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003, police and probation services have the right to disclose information about sex offenders to the public or other bodies on a selective basis when they consider it appropriate. My hon. Friend’s experience of knowing about offenders and making representations, and the subsequent decision of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, all suggest that that policy is working. However, my right hon. Friend has announced that a Home Office Minister will go to America to consider the current application of what has been called Megan’s law. As I have said publicly, six years after the murder of Sarah Payne and the measures that we originally introduced, it is appropriate to consider whether we can draw on experience from overseas.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate in Government time on the loathsome scourge of human trafficking? Given that the Council of Europe convention on the subject was tabled in May 2005 and that so far no fewer than 24 of the 46 Council members have signed up to it, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a debate would allow the Home Secretary to explain why the Government still feel unable to sign it? After all, it would guarantee minimum standards of protection and treatment for all trafficked people.

Mr. Straw: The Government are not only committed to dealing with what the hon. Gentleman rightly describes as the scourge of human trafficking, but have taken many practical steps to tackle it. I am not immediately familiar with the reasons why we have not signed up to the convention so far. I promise to write to him as well as taking up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. If there is a case for a debate, of course we will arrange one.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend, more than anyone, knows about the continuing tragedy in Darfur. There was some optimism a few weeks ago, and I give due credit to the Secretary of State for International Development for managing to put together a peace agreement. However, since then there has been nothing but obstruction in Khartoum of the attempt to move from African Union
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1477
to United Nations troops coming in to enforce the peace. Sadly, there is much evidence of small arms flooding into Darfur, especially from China, as the rebel groups splinter. Is not it time that hon. Members had a genuine opportunity to discuss in the Chamber what is happening in Darfur? It is a huge problem, and the eyes of the world are on it, but progress remains slow.

Mr. Straw: I accept my hon. Friend’s case. I am familiar with the continuing tragedy and outrage that is Darfur. I was more optimistic when, in January, I spoke firmly to all parties involved in the peace process in Abuja. Not least because of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, we have got the agreement, but as my hon. Friend says, too many in Khartoum still resist implementing it.

I accept that we should have a debate if we have time. On arms flooding into Sudan, one of the reasons for the Government’s commitment to obtaining and implementing an international arms trade treaty is that once it exists, we can take genuine measures against not only the ballistic and nuclear weapons that are there but small arms and light weapons, which are all too readily available and fuel all conflicts, especially in Africa.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I wonder whether time could be found for a debate on the so-called private finance initiative to fund public buildings, services and facilities, which often ends up with the public paying considerably more for less. The scheme for the expansion of Colchester general hospital through PFI collapsed last week, leaving the NHS with a bill of £3 million wasted and the private sector with a bill of £7 million wasted, which it is trying to claim back from the NHS. The result is £10 million lost, no new facility and the voluntary sector in the town, which provides so much support for the health service, being denied its revenue because the NHS says that it cannot afford it.

Mr. Straw: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apply for an Adjournment debate on that issue; it is obviously a good subject for one. I do not know the details of what has happened in Colchester, but I stress that the PFI has generally been successful in ensuring much earlier investment in hospital services than would otherwise be the case. I waited 25 years for promises that the previous Government made to build a new hospital in my constituency to be fulfilled. It never happened, but as a result of a PFI decision in 1998, we now have a brand new district general hospital almost completed, up and running.

Next Section Index Home Page