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On Iran, yes, of course I will encourage my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statementit may have to be a written ministerial statement, rather
than an oral onein respect of any conclusions by the Security Council following resolution 1737. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke this morning in his interview on the Today programme about the issue of military action and Iran.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the 2012 Olympics and the budget. I happen to know a great deal about that, as I chair the Cabinet Committee dealing with the Olympics. We are examining very carefully and very rigorously all the possible costs that can arise, and in due course an announcement will be made. As the Liberal Democrats supported the Olympic bid as much as anybody else, this should not be a subject for cheap shots[Hon. Members: Expensive shots.] The sedentary remarks make my point. The preparations for the games are more advanced and more under control than those for any previous games of which I am aware.
The hon. Gentlemans last point was about false economies. There are many topics that the House should deal with, but a policy on the changing of light bulbs is a matter that should be dealt with at a local level, not in the House.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on gun crime? The media will soon move on from the subject of gun crime until the next particularly frightening occurrence, but for my constituents in Hackney, gun crime and the youth culture from which it flows are an ever-current problem. In a full debate we could discuss not just issues of educational failure and support for families and communities, but the practical problem of offering people proper witness protection. With gun crimes, it is not usually a secret who has committed the crime. The difficulty is finding people brave enough to go to court and give evidence.
Mr. Straw: I welcome the forthright position that my hon. Friend has taken on the matter. We will consider whether we can provide an opportunity for a debate. I accept entirely what she says about witness intimidation. I can tell her that convictions for witness intimidation have increased by more than 30 per cent. in the past five years, but I accept that it is still a major problem and that that is no comfort to those who are the subject of the most terrible intimidation in circumstances of which, sadly, she is all too well aware.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Prime Minister is to leave office fairly soon, in effect driven out by his colleagues. Given that, may we have a very early debate on a motion to censure the Prime Minister in respect of his conduct of the war in Iraq? Most of us think that the war was illegal, unwise, unnecessary and profoundly dangerous, and it was justified by an assertion of facts which have proved to be inaccurate. It is surely right, therefore, that the House should have the opportunity to criticise the Prime Minister personally for the evil that he has done.
Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the wrong party. It is the Conservative party that drives out its leaders; we have never done so. I know that he disagreed with the war in Iraq, and he has been entirely consistent about that. It was not illegal or unlawful, although we can argue about its merits. As for securing a resolution against the Prime Minister, it is open to the official Opposition at any stage to table a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or a motion to reduce his salary. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to pursue that course, I suggest that he has a conversation with his friends in the shadow Cabinet.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): May I ask for a debate about the facilities in this House? Curwen school from my constituency will be visiting tomorrow, and I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that it deserves a quality experience. I understand that the House agreed that we would have a visitor centre back in 2004, and it has yet to be completed. We have all been living with the consequences of that build since I have been in this House. I wonder whether there might be a finish date.
Mr. Straw: I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise finish date. I can only say, to be frank, that what has happened in respect of the visitor centre has been quite lamentable. It was due to be finished in September, and it is a matter of great concern to you, Mr. Speaker, I know, as well to the House of Commons Commission. [ Interruption. ] I am told that that is a different buildingthis is a reception centre. Meanwhile, there are various plans for a visitor reception centre. Some of them were going to be too expensive and went way outside the House. I have been discussing informally with our hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran), who chairs the Administration Committee, whether better, quicker and much less expensive arrangements can be made either within the curtilage of the House or using buildings that are already there on the edge of our properties.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As I have this morning received a written assurance from the Prime Minister that the climate change Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, which I am sure the whole House will welcome, will the Leader of the House tell us when he expects the Bill to be published and the House to have a first chance to debate it?
South Staffordshire Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves. I am disgusted. Sir Patrick has said that he will stand next time as an independent, and if he does, I would help him canvass for him
without hesitation and regardless of what you will never be given a job threats will be thrown at me by the whips.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): May I associate myself with the comments that my right hon. Friend just made? The point that I wanted to raisethe Whips are now looking at me, as you may notice, Mr. Speakeris that, as he will be aware, a minority of unscrupulous employers use the exemptions allowed by agency workers legislation to utilise east European migrant workers to undermine pay and conditions, particularly in my patch, in South Elmsall and South Kirkby. That is leading to disruption of community relations and the growth of extremist parties. Will he indicate what the Governments position is in relation to the agency workers directive in Europe and, more particularly, will he ensure that enough time is made available for the moderate and reasonable proposals contained in the Temporary Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill, a private Members Bill that is to be debated next Friday, 2 March?
Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill is coming up a week on Friday. We are giving consideration to the position that we take. We understand what he says about the way in which some agency workers are exploited, and there is a difficult balance between exploitation and not having the whole labour market seize up.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Returning to the matter of the Department of Trade and Industrys £68 million cut in the research councils budget, may we have a debate specifically on that issue, albeit that I might have to declare an interest as an academic? Earlier this morning, the Minister for Industry and the Regions said that this was simply a matter of clawing back underspend, but the universities understand that it is in fact a £68 million cut across the entire spending review period, and thus an important blow to their finances.
Mr. Straw: There are plenty of opportunities to debate this matter, but I hope that although the hon. Gentleman belongs to another party, he will acknowledge that one of the finest aspects of this Governments record in the past 10 years is the fact that we have doubled the budget devoted to science. Any downward adjustment in the budget is obviously to be regretted, but this is a very small adjustment against the totality [ Interruption. ] It is. Even by Liberal Democrat standards of confetti money, there has been a significant increase. We have put almost £10 billion into the science budget for the current three-year spending period. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is doing his best to ensure that this necessary adjustment does not impact adversely on universities.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I wonder whether we could have an early debate on the ship-to-ship transfer of crude oil in the firth of Forth, now that new concerns have been reported that SPT, the marine services company involved in the bid, has admitted a previous spillage of 35,000 gallons of oil in 1995 off the gulf of Mexico. Let us just imagine the sheer devastation that a repeat of that event would cause along the coastline of my beautiful constituency.
Mr. Straw: I understand the great concern of my hon. Friend. As she knows, there are opportunities to raise these matters on Adjournment debates or in Westminster Hall, and I shall do my best to facilitate that.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I wonder whether we can have a statement on apprenticeships in the UK. Far from the picture of eager learners acquiring key competencies at the knee of experienced craftsmen, many apprenticeships have become virtual affairs with little or no workplace element. Indeed, in north-west England, half of apprenticeships have no employer engagement. Such fictional training was highlighted on the wireless programme File on Four a few days ago. Will the Leader of the House conjure up a statement so that our apprentices can receive something more than Mickey Mouse training?
Mr. Straw: I am afraid that Mickey Mouse training is what was practised by the previous Administration, whose record on training was absolutely terrible. I am very happy to have a debate about what we have done for apprenticeships, because we have done a huge amount for them, including, I think, 70,000 more apprentices in manufacturing. I am not suggesting that the situation is perfect, but if the hon. Gentleman has a constituency problem, there are plenty of opportunities to raise it, to ensure that the standards for all apprentice training are up to the best.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The all-party markets group recently sent out a survey seeking information from hon. Members about street markets in their constituencies. There has been a fantastic response, with 170 hon. and right hon. Members expressing an interest in taking part in a national MPs and their markets week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows a very high level of support for street markets in this House, and will he make way for a debate?
Mr. Straw: I congratulate my hon. Friend on that initiative. I am one of those who responded to her questionnaire, and I will look at opportunities to have the matter raised on the Floor of the House.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): The Leader of the House is, I know, a football fan, even though he supports Blackburn Rovers. Recently, the Minister for Sport criticised sky-high season ticket prices in the premiership, which are driving working class people away from football matches. Has the Leader of the House seen the campaign in The Sun and early-day motion 888, which criticises premiership clubs for the price of their season tickets?
[That this House recognises the excellent quality of football in the English Premiership and popularity it commands; wishes the growth and success of the Premiership to continue but in a sustainable way; regrets that season tickets to see top football clubs in England are the most expensive in Europe and cost four times more than in Germany, Holland and World-Cup winning Italy; further regrets that individual tickets are also beyond the reach of many fans; welcomes the comments of the Sports Minister criticising sky-high ticket prices'; and urges the Premier League to use at least some of the extra £325 million it has recently obtained in overseas TV rights to reduce ticket prices.]
Mr. Straw: I applaud The Sun and its campaign on this serious issue. I recently had to pay £45 to watch Blackburn Rovers being beaten at Stamford Bridge. The truth is that some clubs, of which Blackburn Rovers is one, are doing their best to ensure that more people are attracted to watch the game, while others are fleecing the ordinary spectator and pricing them out of the market, and making it increasingly difficult to fit in attendance at games with family timetables by shifting around the times of matches. All those issues should be debated.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): In his deliberations about a debate on gun crime, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House time to debate the merits of a gun amnesty? The last amnesty in 2003 resulted in 66,000 weapons and 1 million rounds of ammunition being handed in. Amnesties are not the only answer, but they are effective in taking guns off the streets.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Surely the House deserves and requires an urgent statement on the financial train wreck that is the London Olympics. My constituents particularly want to hear why their lottery money is being diverted from good causes and grass roots sports in Scotland to pay for regeneration and housing in east London. Surely the House should consider all those issues.
Mr. Straw: Scotland supported the bid, which will greatly benefit the United Kingdom as a whole. There will be huge opportunities for athletes from Scotland and from the other three nations of the United Kingdom to participate in the Olympics. Our economic record, built by a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer, in ensuring that all parts of the United Kingdomnot least and particularly Scotlandhave benefited from the increase in prosperity in the past 10 years is second to none.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend say when the Coroners Bill will be introduced? Is he aware that the inquest on Gareth Myatt opened last week in what is, I think, a directors box overlooking the pitch at Rushden and Diamonds football ground? It is a fine place, but on the second day the team came out to train, and I could hear more of that than I could of what was going on in the room. Does he agree that we should have a proper, modern coroner service with dedicated premises?
Mr. Straw: I am not in a position to give a precise date at the moment, but we accept the need for a greatly improved coroner service. As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is under careful scrutiny at the moment.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The House is rightly concerned about the spending of taxpayers money. An earlier question drew the Houses attention to the fact that the European Union has fined the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs £300 million-plus because of its incompetence in handling the single farm payment. Is not it outrageous that UK taxpayers money should be paid to the European Union? Will not the Leader of the House arrange for a statement in which Members of the House can indicate that the money, far from being paid to the European Union, should be given to the hard-pressed British farmer?
Mr. Straw: I make no excuses for what happened in respect of the Rural Payments Agency, and neither has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is on the job, trying to secure a solution. The hon. Gentlemans reputation on Europe goes before him, but it is a matter of fact that we have been net contributors ever since we joined the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I worked hard to reduce that as much as possible for the next period. Some people voted no in the referendum in 1975, and some voted yes.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the YouGov poll published earlier this week showing a strong majority among the British electorate for an elected element in the second Chamber. He will know that his decision not to proceed with a ballot to eliminate the various options for reform has cast into considerable doubt the ability to get reform through the House of Commons, showing once again the failures of Parliament to democratise itself. What additional steps can he take to ensure that that does not happen?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend knows that the option that I preferred, and the one that he preferred, was unfortunatelyalthough it is a matter for the Housenot going to gain support, and there was no point pushing it. Of the nine resolutions on the Order Paper, six will relate to a partly or wholly elected second Chamber. I say to my hon. Friend and those of us who wish to see reform that it is crucial that when people cast their votes they do not make the best the enemy of the good. We will have a motion before the House so that we can vote on the resolutions, notwithstanding that one is inconsistent with the other. That will allow us to get a clear picture at the end of the evening of exactly where the House stands. I hope that all Members recognise their responsibility to ensure that the House comes to a decision, even if the decision is for no change.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has asked for a debate about the Rural Payments Agency, and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has asked for a statement. Given that the Secretary of States handling of the crisis has increased the amount of moneytaxpayers moneyset aside from £131 million to £305 million, does the House have a way of holding the Government to account, or are we just experiencing the legacy of Jo Moore of burying bad news?
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