I have never suggested that the foreign policy debates in the Queens Speech, or the opportunity for hon. Members to speak on foreign policy mattersincluding Iraqat any stage in that five-day debate, are sufficient [ Interruption. ] Well, may I say to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that I mean that they are not sufficient for the whole Session? The opportunity is coming up
shortly and I have already told the House on several occasions that I hope that we can have a better arrangement for earmarked foreign policy debates. I would query whether they should be specifically targeted on issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but even if they are not, they will be dominated by those subjects.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House next week following the report yesterday by the Independent Police Complaints Commission on the Derbyshire police, in which the local commissioner for Derbyshire said that the forces response in the Tania Moore case was abysmal? In that case, a lady who had been stalked on numerous occasions was ignored by the local police and was tragically murdered. I hope that lessons can be learned from that case for Derbyshire police and the rest of the country.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that dreadful and appalling case. It is for the Derbyshire constabulary to make the appropriate decisions following the report by the IPCC, and it would meet with approval from the whole House if it took the report very seriously and acted on its recommendations.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): The Governments introduction of the right for carers to request flexible working is welcome, but can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how that right will operate in practice? Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), have joined me in drawing attention to the fact that the system of financial support for working carers is a disincentive to work and serves to ensure that working carers are kept in poverty.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I shall certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and other ministerial colleagues understand the force of her argument. If we can find an opportunity for debate, of course we will.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that hon. Members of all parties, but especially Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, are concerned about the future of NHS facilities in their constituencies. If it is not possible in this Session, will he try and find time early in the new Parliament for a debate on the future of the NHS? I represent Macclesfield, where our unit providing in-patient paediatric, maternity and obstetric services is under threat. It is viable and popular, and it is supported by all the clinicians. Before important decision are taken, should not these matters be explored on the Floor of the House? Surely, that is what the House is about?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Lady says that those opportunities arise on Opposition days, but I remind her that almost a whole day of legislative time next week is devoted to NHS Bills. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is very adept at making sure that his remarks are in order when it comes to anything that has the label NHS attached to it. Of course I understand the concerns that arisein communities when there are changes in the arrangements for NHS facilities, but we must do more than shout at each other about the matter. We need to have a serious conversation, which must acknowledge that, in cash terms, spending on the NHS has almost trebled since 1997 and that, in real terms, it has doubled. Moreover, the total number of staff has increased by 300,000, there have been substantial rises in the numbers of clinical staff in every constituency, and outputs are also improving. At the same time, changes in medical practice mean that fewer have to stay in hospital, with more people being day-care cases. While those changes will not affect the improvement in outputs or in morbidity and mortality rates, they will affect how the NHS is delivered on the ground.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on foreign vehicles operating in the UK? They do not contribute to repairing the wear and tear that they cause on the roads or the other damage that they create, and the wagons do not meet the stringent safety and emission standards that we expect. Our hauliers are put at a disadvantage, and the danger is that they could be put out of work as well.
Mr. Straw: I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is very aware of the fact that some foreign truck drivers have lower practice standards than UK drivers, and of the difficulties of enforcement. That is why a good deal of effort is being made at ports and elsewhere to ensure that the drivers and owners of foreign trucks get the message that they will be checked much more often in this country, and that they can expect high penalties and even custody if they are found committing offences while driving.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary to clarify once and for all the Governments policy in respect of an inquiry into the war in Iraq? In this weeks debate initiated by the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, the right hon. Lady consistently ruled out any such inquiry, only for the Defence Secretary to say that one would happen when the time was right. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to rule out such an inquiry. What is the Governments position on the matter? Why has it been left to the SNP and Plaid Cymru to put it at the heart of the political agenda?
I think that we will wait a long time before the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru put anything at the heart of British politics. Sometimesshock, horrorMinisters say slightly different things, and I think that the hon. Gentlemans
question is like dancing on the head of a pin. All three of my right hon. Friends to whom he referred made the position absolutely clear.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend intercede with the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement and lead a debate on the facilities and processes involved in tracing missing personsespecially missing childrenand the results that are achieved? The first Adjournment debate that I held in this House took place on the second anniversary of the disappearance of Vicky Hamilton, a 15-year-old girl from Falkirk in my constituency. Ironically, she disappeared from Bathgate bus station, which is now in my constituency area of Linlithgow. She went to school with my children and lived in our community. She has never been traced and yesterday her father launched another private-sector initiative to find her, with the EMCOR group putting photographs of missing children on 450 of its vans. Another initiative involves the charity PACT, which was founded by Lady Meyer. I hope that people know that they can phone 0808 100 8777 if they have any information about missing children, or that they can look at the website www.missingkids.co.uk. However, the problem is that, despite the private initiatives, people do not understand why 100,000 children go missing every year in the UK, many of whom are never traced. I believe that we should have a debate to bring the matter to the public notice, and ensure that we have a consistent approach to it. Vicky Hamilton would have been 30 today, but let us hope that other children can be returned to their parents.
Mr. Straw: Some of the cases are indeed tragic, and all are desperate for the families concerned. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the matter. The Association of Chief Police Officerswhich covers England and Wales, although I am sure that the same is true of its equivalent in Scotlandhas an upgraded and very good approach to tracing missing persons,. I recently heard a report about that on the radio.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The Economic Secretary appears inadvertently to have misled the House last week about the freezing of Abu Hamzas assets, while the Evening Standard reported that Hamzas son, who has been convicted of terrorist offences in Yemen, has sold the family house. Would it not be more appropriate for the Economic Secretary to make a statement to the House next week, instead of holding discussions behind closed doors with my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) on the subject?
Mr. Straw: I was never suggesting that a conversation between a Minister and a Member of this House was a substitute for a statement to the House, but we should welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has offered that. I am not familiar with the right hon. Gentlemans claim that my hon. Friend inadvertently misled the House, although I think it unlikely. Anyone who has had to deal with tracing criminal assets knows that it is a very complex problem that has taxed all Governments, and that we are constantly tightening the law.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The great increase in the number of British citizens travelling the world inevitably means that many will get into complex difficulties in countries far from home. Recently, constituents of mine in other countries have been involved in serious road traffic accidents or been arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned. In more than one case, constituents of mine have been murdered. That raises important questions about the Foreign Offices capacity and procedures when it comes to providing assistance through our embassies to British citizens involved in complex legal cases. May we have a debate on the matter?
Mr. Straw: I made a statement about this matter when I was Foreign Secretary. My hon. Friend will recall that the manifesto on which he and I fought the last general election promised a comprehensive review of our consular services. That has been held, and we have as it were upgraded the consular offer that we make to all our citizens. I know that my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary would be very happy to take up any specific cases that he raises. Overall, we reckon that our consular services, which are heavily used, are at least as good as the best in the world, but people who travel abroad have to take out their own insurance to cover the risks they incur. Of course, the FCO service is a backstop, but representation by lawyers, medical care and repatriation are matters for which the individual should bear the cost, rather than taxpayers as a whole.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Leader of the House has given us a calendar for next year, which is splendid. However, may we have an early debate to consider the circumstances in which Parliament is recalled? Many of us believe that the initiative should not lie with the Government, so may I commend to the right hon. Gentleman early-day motion 2695?
[That this House believes that Mr Speaker should have the power to order its recall both at his own discretion and in the event that he receives a formal request from no fewer than 75 hon. and right hon. Members.]
Mr. Straw: Indeed. I have it before me on the Dispatch Box for greater accuracy. As you will recall, Mr. Speaker, formally you call the Commons back following representations by Her Majestys Ministers.I have been involved in all three cases over the last10 years when Parliament was recalled; in each case the Government were not unwilling to recall Parliament and in 1998, when I was Home Secretary[ Interruption.] I am saying that the current arrangements work pretty well, because they ensure that where there is a real demandfrom the Opposition, for exampleParliament is recalled. I am happy to discus the matter with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the Tea Room or elsewhere
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): Recently, a visually impaired constituent contacted me in Braille and I was dismayed to find that there were no facilities in the House to have the letter transcribed and to help me respond in Braille. As that directly affects my ability to respond to a constituent, will my right hon. Friend look into the matter?
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The Leader of the House will be aware that pressure on the NHS to address long-standing budget deficits by the end of the current financial year is having a predictable impact on services in many areas, particularly physiotherapy. Given that the vital role of physiotherapy services is not explicitly recognised in waiting list targets and is thus more vulnerable to cuts, may we have an urgent debate on the future of physiotherapy services? Among other issues, it could address the precise reasons why93 per cent. of this years 2,900 physiotherapy graduates have no job to go to? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation demands the further attention of the House?
Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are plenty of opportunities to raise such matters on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. I have to say again that it does not make much sense, even for Opposition Members, to imply that there are continual cuts in the health service when in the hon. Gentlemans constituency, as well as everywhere else, there have been significant increases in the numbers of all clinical staff, including physiotherapists, since 1997.
Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that next week is road safety week, and he will also be aware that road accidents are the single biggest killer of young people. Given those circumstances, will he consider a debate on the Floor of the House about early-day motion 2899, signed by Members on both sides of the House?
[That this House deplores the fact that in 2005 846 young drivers were killed on UK roads; notes that the introduction of a graduated licensing system in New Zealand led to a reduction of 23 per cent. in car crashes involving drivers aged 15 to 19 years and a 12 per cent. reduction in crashes involving drivers aged 20 to 24 years, and that the introduction of a graduated licensing system in California led to a 20 per cent. reduction in crashes where drivers aged 16 years were either injured or caused the crash; acknowledges that Department for Transport research suggests that a 12-month minimum learning period would reduce UK deaths and serious injuries by 1,000 each year; and calls for the Government to introduce a graduated licensing system incorporating a minimum 12-month learning period and restrictions on
novice drivers for the first two years following their test, including the size of engine they can drive, time of day they can travel, and number of passengers they can carry, to allow young drivers to build skills and experience gradually and help prevent the tragic deaths of young drivers, their passengers, other road users and pedestrians.]
It calls for a graduated licence scheme for new and young drivers to enable them to build up their driving skills, thereby minimising the risk of loss of life to their passengers, themselves and pedestrians.
Mr. Straw: There will be a good opportunity for my hon. Friend to take part in a debate about the needfor such a scheme during the five-day debate on the Queens Speech, if he is able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Meanwhile, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to what my hon. Friend has said.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on whether the sex offenders register is protecting people as it was designed to do? Recently, I asked a question of the Home Office about how many people were missing from the registerfor example, because they were trying to get away from the police so that the police did not know where they lived. The answer was that such figures are not held centrally. How can we have a sex offenders register if we do not have a central register of where sex offenders are?
Mr. Straw: A great deal of information on sex offenders is held centrally. In this case, I will draw the hon. Gentlemans remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate, following the decision of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust to cut £15 million-worth of services to local people? That will include a freeze on advertisements for new staff and on filling temporary gaps in employment in the health service and restrictions on the prescription of drugs. I appreciate what the Leader of the House said to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton)the Government have spent a huge amount on the health service over the last 10 yearsand I also appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State for Health is a Member of Parliament for Leicester, but the cuts astonish local people and we need an explanation of why they are happening. May we please have a debate?