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Mr. Straw: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am surprised that although the Conservatives have well over 15 Supply days each year, they have not so far chosen to use any to debate taxation and all the alternatives—cutting taxation and thus cutting £21 billion in spending, including by slashing investment in the health service—to which they give a wider audience on the internet for just a couple of hours before they suddenly realise their error.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the first private Member’s Bill that is supposed to be debated tomorrow is the St. George’s Day Bill, which I introduced. However, according to the Order Paper, the House is not sitting tomorrow. Will he make time for the Bill to be debated? If he does not, there will be widespread disappointment throughout England, where people want the English national day to be celebrated, and many people may consider that to be a device that is being used by the Labour Government to stop England celebrating its day?

Mr. Straw: Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an Essex man. I spent many happy days in his constituency when I was a younger man. I, too, would like a proper celebration—although we have a celebration—on St. George’s day. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the House is not sitting tomorrow, but it was a nice try— [Interruption.] I know that the Bill is on the Order Paper. The Order Paper says:

so the situation is absolutely clear. The hon. Gentleman knows that he will have plenty of opportunities to bring forward such a Bill through the ballot for private Members’ Bills or as a ten-minute Bill. I wish him luck.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), although the Leader of the House is not in control of the interpretation of the powers of the Select Committee, he is in control of what will be on Tuesday’s Order Paper. May I draw his attention to early-day motion 2835, which 50 hon. Members have signed to support the case for a station at Woolwich?

[That this House notes the interim decision of the Crossrail Select Committee that there is an overwhelmingly strong case on both transport and regeneration grounds for a station at Woolwich, noting that the Woolwich station has a much better benefit/cost ratio than the Crossrail scheme as a whole, and noting the comments of the Select Committee Chairman that it is unprecedented for a Secretary of State to dismiss the view of a Hybrid Bill Select Committee and that in consequence the Select Committee has now suspended its sittings for a week to reflect on the implications; and calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to enter urgently into discussions with the Crossrail promoters, the London Borough of Greenwich and other interested parties to explore the options for delivering a Woolwich station in the most cost-effective manner, so enabling the Crossrail Bill to make further progress through its Committee Stage without further delay. ]

The signatories are reasonable hon. Members because they are asking for more time to look into the merits of
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the arguments in favour of a station at Woolwich. Will the motions on the Order Paper next Tuesday allow for that?

Mr. Straw: I have discussed this matter with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is well aware of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. The question of what is in order will be a matter for the Chair, not for me, but it is true that what goes on the Order Paper is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and me. We will consider the matter further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham wishes to make progress—so do I—but it must take place in the context of overall Government spending, which is a matter for Governments, rather than Select Committees. The transport allocations throughout the country must be fair. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent constituencies outside London, such as those in Merseyside, constantly ask for additional funds for transport projects, but they are denied because of investment in London. Balance is needed and I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is considering the matter carefully.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Yesterday, the Law Commission produced a report recommending a two-track approach to post-legislative scrutiny. The report arose because of concerns about the quality and quantity of recent legislation. The first stage proposed is a review by the Department that promoted the legislation and the second is the formation of a Joint Committee with powers to take evidence and produce a report. There has seldom been a poorer piece of legislation than the Hunting Act 2004 because of its dire consequences for animal welfare—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Is the hon. Gentleman relating his point to the business of the House?

Mr. Williams: Does the Leader of the House think that that Act would be a good pilot for such scrutiny, and when will the Government put in place structures to allow hon. Members to take part in the process?

Mr. Straw: I do not wish to be tempted down the road of nominating pilots because there is quite a lot of competition for poorly drafted Acts— [Interruption.] Such Acts have been produced under all Governments. I have met the chairman of the Law Commission and I am grateful to him and his colleagues, who include a retired first parliamentary counsel, for their work on the important report, which we are considering carefully. As parliamentary counsel recognise, the quality of legislation can be improved not only by going for more pre-legislative scrutiny, as we have done, but by learning lessons from both elegantly drafted and well thought through legislation, and measures that are not quite in that category.

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Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House on the continuing delays to the Better Healthcare Closer to Home programme in south-west London? The provision of local care and services at the Nelson in my constituency has been delayed owing to the Secretary of State’s erroneous decision of last December, which was retracted in July. She has now asked the chief executive of NHS London to undertake another review, despite a two-year consultation and the presentation of a business case. Will the Leader of the House also ask the Secretary of State to reply to me on behalf of the chief executive for NHS London, who seems incapable of writing me a reply to a letter written more than two months ago? Will he ask the Secretary of State to confirm to me by letter that the Nelson hospital local care provision will be in the first round of funding this December?

Mr. Straw: I will certainly pass on the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. However, I should say—this is a point for the whole House and ought to be an all-party matter—that there is no doubt that the number of health procedures undertaken by the health service has greatly increased for all sorts of reasons. However, there is also much more day care than there was before and more clinics have been established to carry out specific tasks. When we are improving health care and health delivery, changes need to be made to the configuration. I think that the hon. Gentleman understands that and I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of early-day motion 2786, which refers to the recent deal between Pfizer and Unichem.

[That this House expresses deep concern over the decision by Pfizer to award the contract for sole supplying of its pharmaceutical products to one wholesaler Unichem; is alarmed that this has created a de facto monopoly for Unichem in that pharmacies have no choice about who they deal with if they want to purchase Pfizer products; is concerned that whereas choice and competition have kept prices down this action will lead to a worse deal for local pharmacists, the NHS and ultimately the general public; is deeply alarmed that if Unichem had a crisis in its distribution then other wholesalers would be unable to fill the gap left and thus people might not get the pharmaceutical products they absolutely rely on; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading and the Department of Health to investigate this issue with a focus on, respectively, the effect of this decision on unfair business practices and public health.]

The deal effectively excludes all pharmaceutical wholesalers except Unichem from distributing Pfizer’s goods. While the deal is obviously a commercial decision taken by private companies, may we have a debate on how the monopoly might affect the pharmacists who dispense the drugs and, more importantly, the patients who depend on them?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I understand the concern that my hon. Friend raises. I hope he is able to get a slot for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall. I
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will pass on his concerns not only to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, with his responsibility for competition policy.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Given the number of recent high profile court cases in Northern Ireland where relatives of victims have justifiably demanded that the scrapping of 50 per cent. remission in sentences where those who are convicted of extremely serious and vicious crime should be reviewed, and given that a Northern Ireland Office Minister is already conducting a review of that, may we have a debate at an early opportunity to discuss the matter, which is causing widespread concern right across Northern Ireland?

Mr. Straw: I understand the concern. It is probably best if we wait until the outcome of the review before there is necessarily a debate on the matter, but I will pass on his concerns to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Earlier, the Leader of the House said how proud he was of the way the NHS has been handled by the Government. That means that he is happy with the decision that will result in West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust board closing the Hemel Hempstead hospital. All acute services will close and 750 jobs will go, including those of doctors and nurses. May we have a debate in the House entitled “The worst year ever in the NHS”, rather than the laughable comment from the Secretary of State for Health, “the best year ever”?

Mr. Straw: I do not know the full details of the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises, but it is a verity across the country that directly as a result of improvements in health care, changes in procedures and vast investment made by the Government in the health service—dramatic investment—there must be consequential changes which at any one time may cause difficulties, such as those that the hon. Gentleman describes. In his constituency, as in every other constituency in England and Wales, the number of people being treated in hospital or by clinics or GPs has increased and their health has improved dramatically over the past 10 years.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): My constituent, Henry Stableford, is in prison in Italy and two other constituents are prevented from travelling overseas as a result of an international arrest warrant issued by Morocco, on which another constituent, John Packwood, was arrested in Spain and spent almost 12
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months in a Spanish jail. It relates to incidents that took place in 1997. Mr. Packwood was graciously pardoned by His Majesty the King of Morocco once he got to Morocco. May we have a debate on worn-out arrest warrants and what help the Foreign Office can give to those who face those warrants preventing them from going about their lawful business internationally?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman has opportunities on the Adjournment in the House and in Westminster Hall, and I hope he is able to obtain a debate. From my experience as Foreign Secretary, may I say that the Foreign Office at ministerial and at official level takes very seriously the plight of British citizens who are incarcerated in foreign jails or who are prevented from travelling, especially if they are unconvicted? Of course, I will pass on his concerns.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In a recent poll of 800 of its readers, the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph discovered that 88 per cent. were in favour of a ban on the retail sale of fireworks, given the injuries caused, especially to children, the alarm caused to animals and the use of fireworks in antisocial behaviour. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the possibility of banning the retail sale of fireworks?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, which is a cause of concern across the House. There is the Fireworks Act 2003. I will take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and see what further can be done. I will ensure that I or my right hon. Friend writes to the hon. Gentleman.

Fraud Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

1.34 pm

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I beg to move,

We had a full debate in Standing Committee. I hope hon. Members will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Fraud Bill [Lords]

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Abolition of offence of conspiracy to defraud

‘(1) The common law offence of conspiracy to defraud is abolished for all purposes not relating to offences wholly or partly committed before the commencement of this Act.

(2) An offence is partly committed before the commencement of this Act if—

(a) a relevant event occurs before its commencement, and

(b) another relevant event occurs on or after its commencement.

(3) “Relevant event”, in relation to an offence, means any act, omission or other event (including any result of one or more acts or omissions) proof of which is required for conviction of the offence.’.— [Mr. Heath.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.35 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, in clause 15, page 6, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) The Secretary of State may not appoint a day by order for section (Abolition of conspiracy to defraud) until he has received a report on the operation of this Act, and in any case not earlier than three years after the commencement of the Act.’.

Mr. Heath: It is a pleasure to return to the discussions on the Bill, which seem to have taken place some time ago in Committee. I hope everyone’s recollections of the Committee stage are as clear as mine. I shall not delay the House long on either group of amendments, as we had a constructive debate in Committee. We went about our business then with considerable expedition and I see no reason to prolong our debate today.

However, I wanted to give the Solicitor-General the opportunity to consider again the abolition of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud. There is a great deal of commonality in the views of all parties on the subject. We all agree that the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud is probably not one that should be maintained. We hope that the provisions of the Bill will meet the needs of successful prosecutions in a wide context. Irrespective of our starting point on the need to abolish the conspiracy offence, we acknowledge that proper reservations have been expressed, not least by Lord Justice Rose’s Committee, so we should take account of the proper operation of the Bill when it becomes law before proceeding with abolition.

That much is common ground. We heard from the Solicitor-General in Committee the approach that prosecutors will take in deciding whether to use the new offences or the old conspiracy offence. The Solicitor-General told us that the draft guidance will state:

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and further,

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