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The House of Commons expressed a clear view last night. It was indeed an historic moment for the House, but we must of course respect the right of the other House both to debate and to vote on reform next week.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last night that he believed that a cross-party working group should reconvene in the near future, and expressed a willingness to talk to minority parties. Once we have taken stock of the decisions of both this House and the other place, my right hon. Friend will come to the House to make a detailed statement on the way forward, following reflection.
Mr. Vara: My thanks to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. I understand that the Leader of the House is unable to be with us today because he is on an awayday with the rest of the Cabinet. The idea of the Prime Minister, along with the Chancellor and the rest of the Cabinet engaging in team-building exercises is somewhat breathtaking. Perhaps on their return the Prime Minister could give us a statement as to who were the team playersor perhaps more importantly, who was not.
As the Deputy Leader of the House has said, last night was a truly historic occasion. I welcome his preliminary comments. However, there are some detailed issues that need to be addressed. This House voted for a substantially or wholly elected upper Chamber, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, said afterwards, it is only a first step and raises further questions. Indeed, two options were approved, there was obvious tactical voting by some hon. Members and there were reports of Government Whips encouraging Members to vote for a wholly elected Chamber in order to wreck the reform. Will the hon. Gentleman make a statement on how the Government interpret what is the settled view of the House?
Mr. Vara: The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position that he just has. If she were listening carefully, she would have noted that there were warm words but nothing specific. I am asking for specific responses.
Last night, the Leader of the House gave us his immediate thoughts on the next steps and I am grateful for that, but the next steps for reform of the other place will be complex, controversial and undoubtedly will take time. Will the Leader of the House come to this place and set out a clear timetable for the next steps? Is the expectation of the Government to fulfil their manifesto pledge and to legislate in this Parliament? Now that the Chancellor has finally expressed his views, will he confirm that the Chancellor will drive forward these reforms?
Last night, this House clearly voted against the 50:50 proposal put forward by the Leader of the House and as such the House rejected the White Paper. Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that the White Paper is now scrapped? Will there, following the cross-party talks that he referred to, be a statement from the Leader of the House saying that there will be a new White Paper based on the votes of last night? When any legislation is put forward, will he undertake that all stages of the legislative process will take place on the Floor of this House, and not in Committee?
As I said, last night was a momentous occasion but, given the complexity and controversy inherent in this constitutional reform, we must do all we can, working together, to ensure that reform does indeed go ahead. I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House would enlighten us with his thoughts.
Nigel Griffiths: I congratulate the hon. Member. I realise that he has a difficult job to do. He has to reconcile the very diverse opinions on his side after the late conversion to the cause of reforming the House of Lords, and he has to overcome the difficulty of this being, in the words of his leader, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), a third-term priority. For us, it is a priority. Having sat through most of the 40 plus speeches that we had on the issue, it is clear that the overwhelming will of the House of Commons is for change in the upper Chamber. That is what was decisively voted on last night. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given us an undertaking that this subject will be considered again by, I hope, the cross-party working group on House of Lords reform, which sat eight times to deliberate on the matter in the lead-up to the White Paper. The time for White Papers is, I believe, over. Indeed, after 98 years considering the issue, the time for talking is over. Now it is time for us to take action. We await the House of Lords consideration of the issue next week. Then will be the time when we decide the way forward to achieve what are clearly the wishes of the vast majority of Members of this House from both sides, as well as, of course, the wishes of the people of the country.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just announced that he will be publishing a climate change Bill next Tuesday. This will be a ground-breaking piece of legislation, and it will have a period of pre-legislative scrutiny, which means that Second Reading is some way off. Will it be possible for a statement to be made in the House on publication so that Back Benchers will have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State?
Nigel Griffiths: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just sat down after answering questions on this matter. I welcome the support that my hon. Friend is giving to the statement that will be made next week. It will undoubtedly be the subject of debate in this House. I hope that it will also be the subject of consensus among hon. Members from all parties. Climate change is an issue that is exercising everyone. It is time that even more action was taken; drastic action is necessary. I am sure that a vision will be set out next week to which mostI hope allhon. Members can subscribe. I assure my hon. Friend that that will be the subject of proper consideration and debate by the House.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
After last nights votes, I can fully understand why the Leader of the House wants time away to think. To mark what was clearly an historic vote, whatever its consequences in this placeI hope that there is not now a queue of noble Lords asking for a refundthere is a need for a statement, as the Deputy Leader of the House suggested,
from his right hon. Friend after the Lords have had their debate and vote. Such a statement will need to set out the Governments intentions, but must not hide behind the normal conventions regarding the Queens Speech. We want now not a White Paper but legislation to be put before this House in the next Session of Parliament so that we can resolve this matter once and for all.
To show that I believe that some good work does happen in the other place, may I ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether he will find time properly to debate two private Members Bills that emanate from the Lords? The first is the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill in the name of Lord Dubs, which builds on the intergovernmental conference on cluster munitions and the Oslo declaration. Many of us feel that it is time that cluster munitions were banned. The Bill will provide the opportunity to do so.
The other Bill is the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, in the name of my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) yesterday. Those excellent measures should be given proper time for debate in this House.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the future of the medical training application service? It is in complete disarray. Many junior doctors find it impossible to make proper applications for the jobs that they should be pursuing in order to further their careers. The Secretary of State has said in a statement that the service is to be reviewed, but the appointment process is continuing. Can she be brought to the House to explain why she is not suspending the process until such time as proper arrangements can be made before irreparable damage is done to the careers of many young doctors and some of them are lost to the country?
A lot of play was made in the debates of the past two days about the importance that the House attaches to its right to vote on Supply. Will the Deputy Leader of the House explain why on Monday we will have an estimates day, but we will not consider the estimates that are put before us? We will not have a debate on those estimates. We will not have any real opportunity to amend them, and many of us would like to have the opportunity, for instance, to look at the supplementary estimate of £587,000 extra to go to the Deputy Prime Ministers office for functions that, frankly, elude most of us in this House.
The Ministry of Defence obviously keeps the effectiveness of, and the consequences of the use of, munitions under constant review and acts accordingly. The Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) mentioned at Prime Ministers questions yesterday was supported then by the Prime Minister, as the hon. Gentleman will know if he was there. I am sure that it will also be incorporated in todays discussions on the important issue of equality that will be before us later. Health questions are on Tuesday, so the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to put his points directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health then. However, I should tell the hon. Gentleman that his proposal to suspend the application process is absolutely cuckoo. Many dozensindeed, hundredsof young doctors are going
through that process, so to suspend it without replacing it would be absolute folly. My right hon. Friend is revising the procedures to take on board the criticisms that have been made, and the British Medical Association and other organisations are very much part of that process.
The Liaison Committee of this House can examine the estimates issue, as can its other Committees; it is less a Government matter than a Committee one. On the Lords, I recognise that the hon. Gentleman, who had problems with some of his Back Benchers concerning the definition of predominance, is on very weak ground. It is not the Government whom he must persuade to have this issue debated here; he will have to go 300 yd away to the other House and persuade some of his noble Friends, such as his former leader, Lord Steel, who said that the minute that there was an elected second Chamber, it would destroy the relationship between the two Houses. Does the hon. Gentleman subscribe to what his former leader is saying, and how will he persuade him to take a constructive part in endorsing the present Liberal Democrat policyfor as long as that lasts?
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): May I be greedy and request that, after last nights historic moment, we have another champagne moment? May we consider, on international womens day, introducing gender-neutral language into all future legislation in this House?
Nigel Griffiths: I am a strong supporter of that, which I understand has been achieved by the Scottish Parliament and, I think, the Welsh Assembly. Ministers are endeavouring to ensure that gender-neutral language is used where possible. I can see no cases where it cannot be used, so I will ensure that they are aware of my hon. Friends strong feelings on this issue; I think that she speaks for many in this place.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): In 2004, the Secretary of State for Health announced an annual £40 million to go towards the treatment of incarcerated drug offenders, yet recent meetings seem to suggest that only half the prison estate is being covered. It certainly will not be covered by 2008 if the funding carries on at the same rate. Can the Secretary of State make a statement to the House on where we are in rolling out the programme to ensure that we get the integrated drug treatment that we agreed on?
Nigel Griffiths: I will ensure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the hon. Ladys concerns. He will be grateful that there is support and encouragement in all parts of the House for tackling some of these tricky issues, and I am sure that doing so is already on his list. Although I cannot promise a debate on the Floor of the House, there are many opportunities for the hon. Lady to raise this issue, have it debated and have a Minister respond.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab):
Will my hon. Friend consider setting aside time for a discussion on the capping of the police precept in Wales? Police budgets in Wales have gone up by 33 per cent. over the past 10 years and include a 273 per cent. increase in the police precept in north Wales. Those increases would be understandable if the funding was going to frontline
services, but the North Wales police authority is spending £300,000 on police horses and £3.5 million on refurbishing and redecorating its headquarters. Other expenses include baseball caps for police officers, electric bikes so that police constables do not have to pedal and blogs and websites. Yesterday, the Tories and the other opposition parties in Wales decided to vote against capping the North Wales police authority. Does that decision run contrary to the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor
Nigel Griffiths: Obviously, the spending of local police budgets is a matter for the chief constable in conjunction with the accountable police authorities andI would hopein consultation with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly. I note that my hon. Friend has highlighted a few anomalies and doubtless he will want to press the chief constable for an explanation of each of those spending categories and priorities.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I invite the Deputy Leader of the House to address the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) about how last nights result should be interpreted? Has the Deputy Leader done an analysis of the voting figures to determine how many right hon. and hon. Members voted for an appointed House or even for a unicameral Parliament and then subsequently voted for a 100 per cent. elected upper Chamber? Does not that suggest that a number of Members voted for a 100 per cent. election simply to embarrass the Government and frustrate their policy? Those Members voted for what amounts to not a revising Chamber, but a rogue Chamber, about which the Governments White Paper says hardly anything.
Nigel Griffiths: They should also ask for a debate, and I am not sure that the last question did so. We seem to be having the debate now. Let me be frank with the hon. Gentleman and say that I do not think that there was any inconsistency. Some hon. Members are unicameralists and wanted to abolish the House of Lords. That was the first vote. After that vote was disposed of and they did not get their first choice, they then firmly believed that the House of Lords should be fully elected. Other hon. Members will have gone through similar thought processes in the votes. Some decided to vote, as I did myself, for each of the elected options as they came up, although some votes were not called. That is the honest explanation. The end result was that the vast majority of the House who voted did so for at least the 80 per cent. option and even more voted for the 100 per cent. option. Each individual Member of Parliament must of course explain that to his or her constituents.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
I voted for up to 80 per cent. last night, and that had a large majority in favour. If there is to be a statement next week to tell us that talks and negotiations are continuing
or will take place arising from those historic decisions, would it not be useful to making progressbearing in mind one of the important votes last night in which there was a clear majorityfor a brief Bill to be introduced to amend the House of Lords Act 1999 and remove the remaining 92 hereditaries who sit in the Lords solely because they are hereditaries? Would it not be useful to make progress in that direction as quickly as possible?
Nigel Griffiths: After 98 years, I am reluctant to advise my hon. Friend that we could bring in a fast Bill, and act in haste and repent at leisure. I apologise if my hon. Friend has inadvertently misinterpreted what I said about a statement. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does not intend to make a statement next week, but to wait for the House of Lords to deliberate on the decisions of this House, to reflect on them and then make a statement on the way forward. My hon. Friend and everyone else will then have a chance to question him and make their point of view clear.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House about a point of procedure? If and when legislation is introduced to deal with the other place, will it be exempt from the programming regime because it is a constitutional matter? Secondly, to pick up a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), which the Deputy Leader of the House did not answer, will it also have all its stages taken on the Floor of the House, including the Committee stage?
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to stop this here. These questions should be about the business for next week. This is more like proceedings on a statement on the reform of the other place. The Deputy Leader of the House has already said that a statement on that will come, and that is when such questions may be put. Unless questions are on the business for next week, I shall stop them dead.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Will the Prime Minister come to the House next Wednesday and, in the light of the decisive vote for reform last night, tell us that he respects the wishes of the House and will make no more political appointments?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Following the clear success of the huge number of Downing street online petitions, will the Deputy Leader of the House persuade a Cabinet Office Minister to come to the Dispatch Box next week to make a statement giving us a categorical assurance that all the data and information will not be passed on to the Labour party for electoral advantage, which would be in breach of the data protection legislation?
It is usual for any political party to target supporters with mailings. I gather that among the petitions he mentions there were not too many people supporting the Governments position on matters, so I would caution my right hon. Friend the
Minister for the Cabinet Office against coming to the House and explaining how it might be useful to spend money targeting those people. On a more serious point, all the information is of course covered by data protection legislation, but I think that the House welcomes the use of petition proceduresas has also happened in devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is considering recommendations for how the House may more effectively use the petitions procedure, as happens in the Scottish Parliament.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): What progress may we expect on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill in the next week or weeks? Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the channel ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise, which claimed 193 lives and was the worst peacetime maritime disaster since the loss of the Titanic. It resulted in P&O European Ferries being charged with, but not convicted of, corporate manslaughter.
The emergency services were heroic on that night, but the support provided by the ships crew has never been fully acknowledged. Will my hon. Friend make every effort to progress the Bill, but will he also join me in paying tribute to the bravery of the crew on that terrible night in 1987 and to the Dover counselling service, which to this day is still dealing with the aftermath of that awful night?
Nigel Griffiths: I certainly do pay tribute to those heroic people and their efforts. I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend for being a tireless champion of that cause. As he knows, ministerial colleagues have introduced a Bill to ensure that, whatever the circumstances, never again can those at the top of a company avoid the responsibility for their actions, whether for reasons of cost-cutting or not. I make no reference to previous cases that have resulted in the deaths of people. There must be some level of personal responsibility at the top of the company and the Government are determined to ensure that we have a practical Bill that will bring that about.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): What progress has been made towards having a debate on the Act of Union? The Leader of the House has said that he wants to have that debate. The other place is able to debate the Act of Union, so why cannot we have a debate in here?
Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that his party is winning that debate, but he deludes himself. As far as I know, his party has not managed to persuade the people of Scotland of the value of what some comparable smaller states have achievedthat is, value added tax at 25 per cent., an income tax rate of 50p and a pint of beer costing £8. However, I wish him all the best in his attempts to spread that message to as many people as possible. If he does not do that, I certainly will.
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