16 Nov 2006 : Column 129

16 Nov 2006 : Column 129

House of Commons

Thursday 16 November 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business of the House

10.33 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the coming weeks?

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.

The business for next week will be:

Monday 20 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: communities and local government, and environment, food and rural affairs.

Tuesday 21 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Bill.

Wednesday 22 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: foreign affairs and defence. Followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments and messages.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received.

Thursday 23 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: home affairs and transport.

Friday 24 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: Treasury, and work and pensions.

Tuesday 28 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses Bill.

Wednesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill.

Thursday 30 November—A motion to approve a European document relating to the Hague convention, followed by a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Subject to be announced.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

It may assist the House if I inform Members that I have today issued a written ministerial statement that
16 Nov 2006 : Column 130
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.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced earlier this morning that the pre-Budget report and statement would take place on Wednesday 6 December.

Finally, may I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on his appointment to the Front Bench as shadow Deputy Leader of the House?

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.

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 Queen’s 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 Queen’s 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:

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): At least the Home Secretary was honest.

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 Government—a number of them containing measures on antisocial behaviour—and 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.

When will the Government lay before the House the money resolution to pay for the Deputy Prime Minister’s new office?

May we have a debate on the criteria used by the Department of Health to decide which maternity units
16 Nov 2006 : Column 131
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:

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 Queen’s 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 vision—and 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.

It remains our commitment to bring a coroners Bill before Parliament as soon as time allows, and in advance we shall take whatever steps we can to bring about important interim improvements.

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
16 Nov 2006 : Column 132
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 challenges—and any good ideas in the Queen’s 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 ago—a settlement with the Spanish Government—

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): It is a sell-out.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman says that it is a sell-out—it 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 Queen’s Speech and say whether the Conservatives welcomed them. However, there has come into my hands—I have a copy for greater accuracy—the Conservatives’ briefing on the Queen’s Speech. I note that they disapprove of just two Bills. Despite their apparent synthetic scorn of the Queen’s Speech, they welcome 23 Bills. We look forward to them proving their welcome in the Lobby as we deal with each of those Bills.

16 Nov 2006 : Column 133

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on winning the Fenner Brockway medal for 2006. It is well deserved.

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?

Mr. Straw: I thank my right hon. Friend for his congratulations on my award on Tuesday of the Fenner Brockway medal.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What was it for?

Mr. Straw: What did I get it for? For being a good friend of India. [ Interruption. ] Whoever said “quite right,” I will pass his approbation on to the organisers of the event.

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. Friend’s 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 Queen’s Speech. As usual, 140 pages of briefing material were provided to the press in advance of the Queen’s Speech, but was not made available to the Opposition parties—or 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 year’s 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 yard’s worth of Home Office legislation alone. To save printing costs, can we mark the Bills “Provisional until the next the Queen’s 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 Queen’s Speech. Presumably, it has been driven out by the latest criminal justice Bill. There is a need to
16 Nov 2006 : Column 134
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 himself—this is an important matter—on 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:

That is very serious, if substantiated, and I would like the Leader of the House to make a statement on that.

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 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the marine conservation Bill—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Be quick.

Mr. Straw: I shall be quick. We are proposing a draft Bill on marine conservation.

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.

Next Section Index Home Page