The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Mr. Speaker, you have already announced to the House the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address. It may assist the House if I repeat the subjects for debate, while making it clear that it is open to Members to speak on any matter within the scope of the Loyal Address on any of the days for debate.
It may assist the House if I inform Members that I have today issued a written ministerial statement that
sets out how Members can submit evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body on the triennial review of parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances. Written evidence should be submitted before the deadline of 8 December.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government published a draft coroners Bill earlier this year. There is a need for reform, particularly of death certification following the Harold Shipman case, yet there is no reference to that in the Queens Speech. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will indeed produce a legal services Bill to reform the coroners system this Session?
Also missing from the Queens Speech was any reference to a terrorism Bill. Yesterday, on the Today programme, the Home Secretary said that if there was a requirement to extend the period of detention without charge beyond 28 days:
If such a case is made to me, I will reveal it, probably first on the Today programme Jim, and then take it to Parliament.
Mrs. May: I was rather hoping that it was just an off-the-cuff remark and that the Leader of the House could indeed confirm that any such proposal would be brought first to Parliament and then to the Today programme.
It has been revealed that not only the Home Office but the Metropolitan police do not have figures showing how many days terrorist suspects are held before being either released or charged. Will the Leader of the House confirm that any proposal to extend the 28-day period of detention without charge will be based on proper figures, as the Home Secretary promised?
May we have a debate on antisocial behaviour? We have had more than 50 Home Office Bills from the Governmenta number of them containing measures on antisocial behaviourand another one is promised this Session, yet too many communities across the country, like residents in Murrin road, Maidenhead and London road, Twyford, in my constituency, are still disturbed by mindless vandalism, nuisance and petty crime. The Government promised to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. It is time that the House debated the causes of crime and what can be done to stem the tide of crime.
May we have a debate on the criteria used by the Department of Health to decide which maternity units
to close? That is needed following figures showing that of the 21 units closed or threatened with closure only four are in Labour-held seats. We need to debate that party political manipulation.
I am sure that, as a former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman understands the need for clarity of roles in the Foreign Office team. At the end of the last Session, Members were surprised that in Foreign Office questions the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), was not allowed to answer questions on Europe. On 18 May, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), whom I welcome to his new post as shadow Deputy Leader of the House, asked the Foreign Secretary if any changes had been made to the role of the Minister for Europe. Six months later, on 7 November, he received the following reply:
It has not proved possible to respond to the hon. Member in the time available before Prorogation.
Effectively, it has taken six months for the Foreign Office to say that it does not know what the Minister for Europe does, so may we have a statement on ministerial responsibilities in the Foreign Office?
I am sure that it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Speaker, that the new James Bond film goes on general release today. May we have a debate on the impact of popular culture on our political life? That would enable us to learn from characters in the Bond films. For example, I think that the Health Secretary, who is constantly refusing petitions to keep wards and hospitals open, is none other than Dr. No. Jaws? I suspect that that can only be the Chancellor, particularly after the Prime Minister's comment yesterday about the big clunking fist. As for Odd Job, that could only be the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Queens Speech yesterday promised us more of the same, whoever is Prime Minister. It showed a Government who have run out of ideas and have no visionand any good ideas came from us. Therefore, can we have a debate on the challenges facing the country so that we can help the Government and give them the vision and hope that they are so sadly lacking?
Mr. Straw: I had the hope during the short recess that the right hon. Lady would sack her speechwriter so that she would not embarrass herself each week with these awful gags. Sadly, my hopes, which are based on an entirely selfless interest in her preservation, have not been fulfilled. I will return to her point about popular culture in a moment.
On the terrorism Bill, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well known as a tease, and I am quite clear that he was speaking through the airwaves courtesy of the Today programme to wind up the right hon. Lady. I will offer him some comradely advice, to the effect that he ought to make any announcement about a new terrorism Bill to the House. He of course accepts, being serious, the need for that to
be evidence-based. That is why, although we strongly supported the principle of 90 days, if we are to bring that proposal back, the House having decided that it should be 28 days, it will be based on evidence, following the current review of terrorism.
The right hon. Lady talks about our running out of ideas. Now, apparently, we have failed to respond to challengesand any good ideas in the Queens Speech were hers. Would that that were the case. Let us just take the issue of antisocial behaviour. When I was sitting on the Opposition Benches as shadow Home Secretary, I put forward proposals for antisocial behaviour orders, for what later became dispersal orders, for greater powers for the police to deal with disorder, and for reform of the juvenile justice system. Each of those was dismissed as a gimmick by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), and it was the Conservative party that was unquestionably running out of ideas, ignoring the scale of the problems of antisocial behaviour afflicting our communities.
I hope that the right hon. Lady is not saying that in the nearly Labour-free area of Maidenhead it is the Labour party that is to blame for the antisocial behaviour of young people, from reasonable homes, who are out of control. She must look to those parents and to her own local authority. [Interruption.] Oh, it is the Liberal Democrats; that explains everything. But the truth is that in her area, as in every other area, the powers available to the police and local communities better to control antisocial behaviour have been dramatically improved, and that is why, in my area as across the country, the incidence of antisocial behaviour has greatly reduced.
The right hon. Lady asked me about my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. He has performed a brilliant job as Minister for Europe [Interruption.] And so did my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). I point out to the right hon. Lady that one genuine triumph of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is the settlement over Gibraltar, about which the Conservatives were scoffing when I began the negotiations four years agoa settlement with the Spanish Government
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman says that it is a sell-outit is certainly not a sell-out, and that is not the view, I believe, of the Chief Minister in Gibraltar. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) says that it was a sell-out four years ago. Well, if it was, under me, that just goes to show how much better my right hon. Friend the current Minister for Europe has performed his task.
I noted that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) did not go through the list of Bills in the Queens Speech and say whether the Conservatives welcomed them. However, there has come into my handsI have a copy for greater accuracythe Conservatives briefing on the Queens Speech. I note that they disapprove of just two Bills. Despite their apparent synthetic scorn of the Queens Speech, they welcome 23 Bills. We look forward to them proving their welcome in the Lobby as we deal with each of those Bills.
When can we have a debate on the operation of the Judicial Appointments Commission? It has been in existence for six months. We were told that the new commission would be independent of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, but from replies to parliamentary questions that I have tabled, it appears that the vast majority of staff have been seconded from the DCA. Recently, advertisements have gone out for new High Court judges. It is important that we review the operation of the JAC. May we have a debate on that as soon as possible?
On the Judicial Appointments Commission, I understand the concerns because there have also been other concerns about, for example, delays in the appointment of fee-paid immigration judges. I will communicate my right hon. Friends concern to the Lord Chancellor and if there is an opportunity for a debate, I will ensure that one happens.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Another year, another Queens Speech. As usual, 140 pages of briefing material were provided to the press in advance of the Queens Speech, but was not made available to the Opposition partiesor certainly not to Back Benchers. We also have another raft of legislation, all of which we are told is urgent and essential, but much of which we know will not be brought into effect, and some of which will be repealed before it is implemented.
May we have a debate on the fixtures and fittings of the House? I spend quite a lot of time in the No Lobby and I have noticed that there is not enough room for the statutes if this years programme goes through. There will not be enough room to fit all of the laws that this Government have brought in on to the shelves. Indeed, the laws that this Government have brought in exceed in width those that were made between 1235 and 1947. There is a full yards worth of Home Office legislation alone. To save printing costs, can we mark the Bills Provisional until the next the Queens Speech? Then we can avoid an awful lot of damage to the environment.
Talking of the environment, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on marine conservation? As the House knows, there has been a great expectation that work would begin on improving marine conservation measures, but that was not covered in the Queens Speech. Presumably, it has been driven out by the latest criminal justice Bill. There is a need to
address marine conservation and I hope that the Government will make a statement.
Lastly, may we have a statement from the Leader of the House himselfthis is an important matteron parliamentary questions? A senior civil servant made it known this week that there were instructions within the Department for Work and Pensions to mark parliamentary questions under a traffic light system of either red, amber or green. The civil servant said:
Embarrassing issues are marked in red and replies are either distorted or delayed. The most embarrassing questions are simply thrown in the bin.
Mr. Straw: It is all very amusing to discover that legislation made between 1235 and 1947 fits into less shelf space than that made in the past 10 years. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that we should go back to the conditions for people in 1947, let alone 1235? He needs to explain what his point is. Much of the legislation that has been passed since 1947[Hon. Members: Too much legislation.] The Conservatives say that, but they have welcomed all but two of the proposed Bills, so they need to be clear about this.
It is also time for the Liberal Democrats to spell out which pieces of legislation they do not like. Did they object to the National Health Service Act 1946 or to many of the other major social changes that were encapsulated in very large Acts? Are they saying that we should get rid of those? Are they saying that we should get rid of the minimum wage legislation or the other major improvements that have followed as a result of legislation?
The Liberal Democrats say that they would repeal some legislation, but the total volume proposed would fill a tiny amount of shelf space as they are proposing to repeal not whole Acts, but sections. For example, they are proposing to repeal 10 sections of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and sections 9 and 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
I hope that every voter whose support the Liberal Democrats are seeking will receive a leaflet through their door explaining the terrible consequences that would arise from the Liberal Democrat commitment to remove the power to hold DNA samples taken at the time of arrest. That power has led to the conviction of dangerous criminals, including rapists. The consequence of the Liberal Democrat proposal would be that such people would end up going free.
On parliamentary questions, I wholly refute what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) says about the system of traffic lights used in the Department for Work and Pensions. The system was introduced so that the Department could better cope with the huge increase in written and oral questions, and to ensure that difficult questions requiring a full answer received one on time.
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