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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a debate is taking place in the country about our military presence in Iraq? In order to clear the air, would it not be useful to hold a debate on the subject in the Chamber, as many Members would like? It seems odd that the country and
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the media are discussing the subject, which is of great importance, but that we are not. I therefore suggest an early debate.

Mr. Straw: I entirely understand what my hon. Friend says and it echoes what the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) said a moment ago. We will look carefully to see whether time can be found, but as my hon. Friend will understand, given the pressures on time in the closing weeks of a parliamentary Session, that will be difficult to do. I reiterate that there will be an opportunity to discuss the subject in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, which is only three weeks away.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Will the Leader of the House advise the Home Office that police authorities in Wales are concerned about the £1.3 million that they spent, at its behest, on the botched plans for the amalgamation of Welsh police forces? They were promised repayment six weeks ago, but nothing has happened since. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pass that on. In addition, may we have a debate on the police funding formula as it applies to Wales, as there are serious disparities within Wales?

Mr. Straw: I shall certainly pass the first point on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. On police funding, I can say, wearing my hat as a former Home Secretary, that there are always questions about the police funding formula, the policing of rural roads and all sorts of other things. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there are serious anomalies and justifiable concerns, I suggest that he follow the matter up with the police Minister.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the future of the steel industry in the UK? Steel remains a strategically important industry and a major employer in many parts of the UK, but further moves and speculation about possible takeover bids for Corus can only lead to uncertainty in the sector, so may we have an early debate?

Mr. Straw: I accept my hon. Friend’s concerns. The steel industry is one of the great successes of British manufacturing, and that is often forgotten, given the background of news of some major closures. I will certainly pass my hon. Friend’s concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope that my hon. Friend is able to ensure that the matter is raised, either in an Adjournment debate or in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the Chamber next week to make a statement, so that he can clear up confusion and reassure the country that he lives in the real world, rather than cloud cuckoo land? On the day that the Prime Minister made his statement at No. 10 that only a few hundred jobs would be lost in the health service, the local hospital in my constituency announced 250 redundancies, which reaffirmed the belief of normal people outside the House that up to 20,000 jobs have been lost in the health service.

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend will be here, as usual, at Prime Minister’s questions next Wednesday.
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He always enjoys the occasion, and, after yesterday, it will be the Leader of the Opposition who absents himself next week, given the appalling notices that he received this morning. I have two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, there have been endless stories about compulsory redundancies in the health service, but in most cases those redundancies have not been made, and any adjustments in head count have been due to natural wastage or voluntary redundancy—mainly natural wastage, in fact. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman holds out to the good people of Chelmsford the prospect of more spending on the health service under a Conservative Government—

Mr. Burns indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw: It does absolutely no good to do that, because we know that, under a Conservative Government, less would be spent—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Mr. George Howarth.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is currently contemplating legislation on the reform of the upper Chamber. Will he reassure Labour Members and Members from other parties who are unicameralists that we will have an opportunity, under any legislation that he introduces, to vote for the abolition of the House of Lords?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I can certainly tell my right hon. Friend that it is my plan that, in any debate on the future composition of the Lords, the first vote would be on the question of whether there ought to be a second Chamber; only if that was defeated would we come to issues about its composition.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Modernisation Committee has taken a great interest in the citizenship curriculum in schools, believing that it is important to increase knowledge and understanding of Parliament and the democratic process from an early age. Does he therefore share my concern, and that of other colleagues, that Ofsted has reported poor standards of teaching in citizenship, and will he make time for an urgent debate on that important matter?

Mr. Straw: First, may I commend my hon. Friend’s continuing interest in, and pushing of, the subject? Secondly, I certainly share her worry; the matter is of concern across the House. The introduction of a compulsory element of citizenship in the national curriculum was welcome, but it is no good if it is squashed in with PE or religious education, as it has been in too many cases. There must be an elevation of the teaching of citizenship as a serious subject that is respected in the staffroom, as well as in the classroom. I shall certainly pass my hon. Friend’s concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. I hope that, at some stage, it will be possible to have a debate on the matter.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): According to credible estimates, there have been more than 100 knife-related incidents in our schools since children returned for the
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autumn term just last month. Does the Leader of the House agree that an urgent debate is required on that pressing matter, and that more needs to be done to make schools safe and secure environments in which our youngsters can learn?

Mr. Straw: I am almost dumbstruck. More does need to be done in respect of violent crime, and it would be extremely helpful if the Liberal Democrats voted for such proposals. They have failed to vote for almost every measure that would help to control crime in the past 10 years— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) might get answers that he does not like, but he must not shout at the Leader of the House—it is not called for.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for time for a debate on YouTube? I am aware that several hon. Members have found and used that website, but I am more concerned about a posting from my constituency. Entitled “Milton Road Fight Club”, it shows a man being attacked in the street and kicked in the face until he is unconscious. I am worried that acts of violence and instances of happy slapping recorded on mobile phones are being transferred to the web for wider consumption. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have a debate in this House so that we can discuss how to stop this?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that my hon. Friend mentions that. We will discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill during the next week, and I hope that he raises the matter in relation to an appropriate amendment. There is a very serious issue about how such videos should better be controlled.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Following the Leader of the House’s fascinating reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), can he arrange for a debate next week on the difference between an adjustment of head counts and redundancy?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Member for West Chelmsford has disappeared from the Chamber, presumably because he was shamefaced about asking the question on the very day that the Conservatives are proposing between £20 billion and £30 billion of tax cuts and announcing the most reckless public spending and economic policy that we have seen.

On the other matter, the Conservatives need to be clear about what they are arguing—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have expressed my disapproval to the Leader of the House on these matters. This is not about the business for next week. These things can be talked about in the Tea Room, but not here at this hour.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): May we have an early debate on taxation policy? In my constituency, we have benefited hugely from policies such as the working families tax credit, which has
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radically changed the life chances of the 20 per cent. of my constituents who live in the lowest quintile of economic activity. They would be hugely disadvantaged if we adopted a taxation policy that took money away from them. It is enormously important that the House has a serious debate about taxation policy to reassure those people that future Governments will support their needs.

Mr. Straw: I will try to stay in order, Mr. Speaker.

I very much hope that we can find time for a debate on tax policy in which we consider all the available alternatives. Perhaps the Conservatives will decide to use one of their days on the Queen’s Speech to discuss tax policy—they would show great courage were they to do so. If not, we will certainly find an occasion. It would make for a good and timely debate following yesterday’s and this morning’s reports of their “cut tax, spend more” policy and given that the shadow Chancellor has said:

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Last week, it emerged that 1,649 dentists quit the service in the first three months of the Government’s disastrous new dental contract. Given that chaos, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to attend the House to explain the debacle over which she has presided and to tell us what remedial measures she will put in place?

Mr. Straw: I do not think that I can promise that. The truth is that we have been trying to sort out a long-term problem that goes back to much earlier changes in dentists’ contracts in 1991 and 1992, which were the mother and father of all the difficulties that we have faced subsequently. I know that some dentists have refused to accept the contract. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I looked at them last week. Overall, however, I think that going back to the base of 1997 there are more NHS dentists doing more NHS treatments.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): May I press the Leader of the House again on a debate about Iraq and Afghanistan? It seems absolutely extraordinary to many people outside this House that we should have had the report by The Lancet, rumours of policy changes in the USA, and the general’s comments about the presence in Iraq, and yet no debate in this House. May I press him, seriously, to have an urgent debate on the presence of British and American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can debate the alternatives, which I believe should be withdrawal from those places?

Mr. Straw: I note what my hon. Friend says and fully accept the importance of this. I hope that he accepts, too, that there is pressure from legislation at this time of year. Without making promises, I will discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. Let me also say, at the risk of repetition, that I want to see more regular debates on foreign policy. We have regular debates on all sorts of things, but there have never been scheduled debates on foreign policy. I
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hope that that will require us to have slightly fewer debates on other subjects that are much less well-attended than they should be.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Could we have a debate on the efficacy of the immigration service? One of my constituents, who was born in this country, whose parents were born in this country, and who is married to someone born in Turkey, is now expecting their second child since they first applied for what ought to be perfectly proper permission to live and work here. Many decent people are unable to work for more than 20 hours a week and to keep their families although they have, in every sense, a right to be here. They have been told that it will be another two years before this incompetent service provides them with an answer to a very simple question.

Mr. Straw: I have a very heavy immigration caseload myself. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in such a case, which in my experience is rather unusual, he asks to see the Home Secretary or the Minister responsible for immigration to try to sort out the matter. If the facts are as he stated, as I am sure they are, a decision should have been made long ago.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): One of the Government’s major achievements in education policy is the reform of the 14-to-19 curriculum and the planned introduction of vocational diplomas. While some people may have preferred the Government to take on board more of the recommendations of the Tomlinson report, I welcome the fact that the first five vocational diplomas are due to be introduced in 2008. I understand that there are serious concerns about the likelihood of that time scale being achieved and that a considerable amount of work is yet to be done in terms of preparation of the curriculum and materials and of the training of teachers. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is crucial for the credibility of the qualifications system that a time scale is adhered to and that the process is managed effectively; and may we have a debate to ensure that everything is in place?

Mr. Straw: I accept the importance of this, and I will pass my hon. Friend’s concerns on to my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning. I have not heard of such difficulties, but that does not mean that they do not exist.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): May we have a debate on the availability of Alimta for the treatment of mesothelioma? I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that a postcode lottery is operating in relation to that drug, which is the only one available for victims of mesothelioma. On 27 October, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will rule on whether it could be made available on the NHS. Many Members such as myself who have local factories where workers have suffered from asbestosis are seriously concerned about this.

Mr. Straw: I understand the great concerns in areas where there were asbestos factories. We had a gas mask factory in Blackburn during the war, and the effects of the use of asbestos there are still continuing. It is
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reasonable to await the decision by NICE. I am glad that there is an increasing consensus that that process is the way forward.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State responsible for the BBC? Given that both the charter and the licence fee are under discussion, is not it fair to have a debate subsequent to the decisions, with substantive votes, so that we can evaluate the role of the BBC properly? There has been continual debate about the change in the licence fee arrangements and the way in which the fee is now collected. That point arose in the debate on Monday. Given that the BBC is a state corporation, it is right and proper for this place to have a proper say in the way that it carries out its duties.

Mr. Straw: I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, aka the Secretary of State responsible for dealing with the BBC. I accept the need for a debate and understand my hon. Friend’s case for it to be on a substantive motion, although I cannot promise to provide that. He will acknowledge that, when possible, I have introduced greater use of substantive motions, because that is the way forward instead of basing subject debates entirely on Adjournment motions.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on why thousands of car drivers in the borough of Telford and Wrekin have their journeys disrupted every day as a result of the decision by the council’s Labour leadership to introduce new traffic signals at the Ketley Brook and Trench roundabouts? If the Leader of the House does not believe me, I invite him to come and see for himself.

Mr. Straw: Of course I believe the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think much of his powers of advocacy if he cannot get the phasing of the traffic lights turned round.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): It has already been said that the tax credits system has been a huge success in alleviating poverty and helping low earners. That is certainly true in my constituency. However, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the possibility of amending the law on tax credit appeal rights so that we can consider extending the jurisdiction of the independent appeal tribunal to cover overpayments of tax credits, as happens with other welfare benefits? Tax credits are a huge success but extending the jurisdiction of the independent appeal tribunal would be a fairer system of dealing with overpayments.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall personally draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.


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