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Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): May we have a statement from the Attorney-General next week about the remarkable headline on the front page of this mornings Daily Mail? It finds a Member of the other place guilty of charges in connection with a current inquiry. Every time there is a leak from the inquiry, MPs of the Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist parties release highly prejudicial statements, so how on earth can a judge for the case be foundlet alone jurorswho will not have had his mind made up by the press and politicians?
Nigel Griffiths: The judiciary takes very seriously issues of prejudicial comment and contempt of court. I am sure that editors will be aware of that. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for issuing that reminder, but it is very much a matter for the courts and the judiciary, and not for the Government at this stage.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether we can have a statement shortly from a Treasury Minister about that Departments policy in respect of answering written parliamentary questions? Last week, I tabled a question for answer today about the Treasurys estimate of the public cost of meeting the ombudsmans judgment on the failure of occupational pension schemes. I was told that it was a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions, not the Treasury. However, I put the question to the Treasury on purpose, as I want it to answer, not another Department. Will the Deputy Leader of the House explain why I cannot have an answer from the Department to which I directed the question?
Nigel Griffiths: The hon. and learned Member should seek an explanation from the Table Office. Its staff are highly qualified and give advice about which Departments are responsible for answering questions. It is not uncommon for Members of Parliament to fail to seek that advice, or to ignore it, and as a result put a question to the wrong Department
Nigel Griffiths: The hon. and learned Gentleman has been given very clear advice. If he wants his question addressed by the relevant Department, he should follow that advice. I am sure that staff in that Department will respond to the best of their ability.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Will the Deputy Leader of the House explain why a request from the Defence Committee for an extension to Wednesdays debate on Trident was not granted? Is it too late to extend the debate from 7 pm to 10 pm, as that would give more Back Benchers a chance to contribute? We have just had two days of debate on a subject that is not of great importance to people outside the House, and it therefore seems wrong to devote only one day to the Trident debate.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend, as I think that such a major constitutional change merited two days of debate. There are tremendous pressures on the Houses time, but I believe that there will be adequate time on Wednesday for as many Members as possible to express their views. Moreover,
all Members of the House will have an opportunity to vote on the matter. The debate will be the first of its kind to be held in advance of a decision on such an issue, and it shows the Governments commitment to making sure that that decision is subject to the fullest and frankest discussion. In the spirit of my hon. Friends question, I accept that the matter is one of the most serious currently facing the House.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Two years after it was commissioned, the report on the terms and conditions of service of Gurkhas in the British Army has been released. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), today issued a written statement to the effect that Gurkhas who left the service after 1 July 1997 would get the same pensions as those offered to other Army personnel. However, those Gurkhas who left before that date still live in poverty in Nepal, and often depend on charity for survival. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell the Minister that it was entirely inadequate to announce that important change in a written statement, and that he should come to the House to make an oral statement so that hon. Members can question him about it?
Nigel Griffiths: I think that the whole House welcomes the action being taken by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to ensure justice for serving Gurkhas, but applying the change retrospectively would be a completely different matter. I am sure that hon. Members will have opportunities to raise the issue, if not on the Floor of the House, then in Westminster Hall and in Adjournment debates. They will be able to put the case about which the hon. Member feels so strongly, and to secure an explanation from a Minister in the Ministry of Defence of exactly what is being done, and why. I hope that such an explanation will wipe the slate clean.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): When can we discuss the report published today about the abject failure of drug policy in Britain since 1971, when harsh prohibition was first introduced? At that time, there were fewer than 1,000 addicts in this country, and virtually no drug crimes or deaths. Now, however, 36 years later, we have 280,000 addicts and the worst levels of drug crimes and deaths in our continent. Should we not turn away from the years in which we pursued policies based on the criminal justice system? They were popular and appeared to be tough, but they failed. Should we not adopt the bold policies based on health solutions that have succeeded in other countries?
Nigel Griffiths: I know that my hon. Friend has taken a keen and concerned interest in this matter throughout his time in the House, but he will accept that there are no easy or proven solutions from other countries for tackling the problem.
I hear what the hon. Member says from a sedentary position. Of course, legalising drug use means that no crime is committed, but this Government do not intend to introduce any such measures. Action
has been taken, and the Governments drug strategy has been successful in cutting the use of non-class A illegal drugs. The amount of crime related to those drugs is also down. Part of the explosion in drugs use, as I think that my hon. Friend for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) will acknowledge, is due to affluence and peoples ability to buy illegal drugs, and to the fall in their price. A number of my constituents have suffered tragedies, and I am sure that all hon. Members could say the same. I know that there is an overwhelming resistance outside the House to any softer line on drugs. The Government must reach an informed judgment, and I will make sure that my hon. Friends comments are passed on to the Ministers responsible for drugs policy.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Last night, this House voted decisively for reform of the upper House. The Deputy Leader of the House has made clear his views as to what business is appropriate for next week, but does he agree that we should have a debate on reform of this House as well, given its woeful failure to hold the Executive to account? Would not our deliberations on reforming the other place have much greater credibility if we were prepared not just to think about removing the speck from our neighbours eyes, but about removing the beam from our own?
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): After the unseemly manoeuvring we witnessed last Friday over two popular and well supported private Members Bills, in particular the Temporary and Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill, is there any prospect of either the Deputy Leader of the House or the Leader of the House introducing a saner and more rational method of debating and deciding on the worth of private Members Bills?
Nigel Griffiths: The House has considered, and indeed reviewed, how private Members Bills should be dealt with during my time in Parliament. The issue is kept under review by Back-Bench colleagues on the appropriate Committees. If the Modernisation or Procedure Committees make proposals, I hope they will be available for debate and deliberation. We all support improvements, but when the matter was last considered suggestions about changing the day and times would have brought consequential changes that would not, I believe, command the support of the House. However, the process is not set in aspic and is worthy of consideration at any appropriate stage.
Dr. Evan Harris: I notice that no statement on immigration policy was announced in next weeks business, but if there is one in the future, will the Deputy Leader of the House reflect on the sort of language used by the Home Secretary, when he talked about foreigners coming to this country and stealing services such as the NHS? Will the hon. Gentleman explain how someone who is unconscious or has HIV can steal treatment from the NHS? Given the Labour partys previously proud history of promoting race relations, is he surprised that Members on the Government Benches, as well as on the Opposition Benches, express concern about language from a Home Secretary that can do nothing to improve race relations?
Nigel Griffiths: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is forthright in his language at all times. Quite frankly, anyone entering this country illegallyand there is no reason why anyone shouldwho then uses services to which they have not contributed and to which they have no entitlement, deserves no comfort from the House or from the hon. Gentleman. The advice that he and his party should give is that people should come to Britain only legally; they should not cross other countries to come to Britain, make legally unfounded claims and take resources that should go to other people. If the hon. Gentleman wants to defend pushing his constituents to the end of a queue because treatment is being given to someone who has entered the country illegally, he can do so. I will not; nor will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Next week, may we have an urgent statement from a Health Minister about waiting times for patients needing operations in Leicestershire? My constituent, Mark Golding, has been waiting four months for a hernia operation and is in absolute agony. His surgeon and his GP suggested that he write to me to get the matter brought before the House, so may we have a debate on the subject? I realise that the Government have put a huge amount of money into the local health service, but examples such as I described are very depressing indeed.
Nigel Griffiths: I welcome my right hon. Friends warm words about the huge steps that have been taken to cut waiting lists by 383,000 to record lows, which stops people waiting between 18 months and a year for operations. I hope that he will have the chance to put his question to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health at Health questions on Tuesday, to draw her attention to the matter and to explain why he believes that category should be the Governments next priority.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Can the Deputy Leader of the House give us an assurance that the wording of the motion on Trident next Wednesday will not be watered down from a clear commitment to continuing to possess, after Trident, a nuclear deterrent based on submarines and Trident missile systems? As the Government are apparently worried about a revolt on their Back Benches, such a watering down of the terminology of the motion would, first, be ineffective in heading off such a revolt and, secondly, be unnecessary given the solid support for the White Paper that they can expect from those on the Conservative Benches?
Nigel Griffiths: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to congratulate the Government on actually tabling a motion at all. That certainly did not happen under the Conservative Government whom he supported. A motion will be tabled this week and I am sure that it will be clear and that it will allow people to vote accordingly.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
In a spirit of cross-party unity, may I express my complete agreement with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in his request for a debate on the Act of Union? It would be an excellent idea to hold such a debate next week, or at
least before 3 May, to allow us to focus on the consequences to Scottish jobs of setting up barriers between Scotland and its main market. It would be pointless to set up a Scottish central bank that had no control over the currency. There will be consequences to England and Scotland from tearing up an economic union that has served both countries well for 300 years.
Nigel Griffiths: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Such a debate would be welcome, and I am sorry that it is not in next weeks programme. The debate would of course be held in a spirit of persuasion, not in the spirit of bullying Scottish businesses as the leader of the Scottish National party is alleged to have done by Sir David Murray. It is important that there is debate, and even though there may not be detailed debate in the House, it is certainly taking place in Scotland.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that unarmoured, so-called soft-skin vehicles are no longer being used on patrolling duties in southern Iraq, yet on the front page of the Hull Daily Mail on Monday the 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment was pictured using just such a vehicle. May I ask that the Secretary of State for Defence comes to the House this week to explain why our soldiers are being exposed to that sort of danger, and whether there will be a quick resolution about armoured vehicles in those theatres?
Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman should have had a chance to ask an urgent question on that matterI do not know whether he did so and it was rejected. There is no time for such a statement in the House this week, but I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the issue and ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a response to the legitimate concern that he has raised. I cannot comment on the accuracy of the report, but doubtless my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to give the hon. Gentleman an answer.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on the excellent Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill, introduced by Lord Dubs. I hope it finds it way to this place.
While we are still in the throes of radical reform, can we look at the last great anachronism of Parliamentthe Lobby? Is not it about time that we put a searchlight on how the Lobby works? We should call for greater transparency, end unattributable briefings and make sure that Parliament is properly reported. Is not that something the Government could bring forward either in a debate or a White Paper?
Nigel Griffiths: Obviously, various institutions in the House have undergone reform and the Lobby is no longer subject to the contempt proceedings that would bring its members on bended knee before the House to apologise for inaccurate or misleading reports. Doubtless, the Lobby will have heard my hon. Friends words, so I am sorry to disappoint him by saying that the Government have no plans to investigate the matter. Indeed, it would not be appropriate for the Government to do soit would be very much a House matter.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): TV Licensing has just announced a change in policy, and is now saying that anyone who says that they do not have a television set will be inspected. That means that a Government inspector will knock on the door, demand to go in and look in every room to see whether there is a television set in it. Can we have a statement next week on this change of Government policy?
Nigel Griffiths: I cannot promise the hon. Member a statement, but the vast majority of people are very honest about stumping up for their television licences. I am very pleased that the over-75s now get free television licencesa great achievement by the Government. Those who do pay expect everyone else to pay. As long as there is a reasonable suspicion that someone is evading paying for a TV licence, I certainly see no problem with people being checked to establish whether they have a television. I do not think that a burden should fall on honest people because of the actions of dishonest people.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I wonder whether time can be set aside in next weeks Government business to discuss the state of Scottish politics in the light of a report on the front page of this mornings Daily Record, in which a major political party is described as lacking strategy, lacking initiative and lacking direction. It further argues that the chair of the party should be removed immediately. Apparently, the report was written by the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and it made reference to his Conservative MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
a simple lack of thinkers
on the Tory Benches at Holyrood. I think that he is being far too generous and that the lack of thinking stems from here, just as the lack of policy comes from here. It is wrong to blame colleagues in the Scottish Parliament for their weak and ineffective opposition up there. I know that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is on his way to Scotland. Doubtless he will leave the airport tomorrow morning, pull up at headquarters and, in the immortal words of Winston Churchill, an empty taxi will draw up and Mr. Cameron will get out.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the debacle under which so many of our constituents have had their bodies contaminated by tainted blood products? When the Secretary of State for Health comes to debate the issue or perhaps to give the House a statement, can we have the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) present, as she was the Minister with responsibility for public health at the time? Perhaps she could advise the House whether she sought clarification from the permanent secretary about whether there was a conflict of interest by virtue of the fact that her husband was working for one of the companies implicated in the scandal?
Nigel Griffiths: I reject such slurs against my right hon. Friend. I do not need to remind the House that the problem originated under a previous Government, not the present Government, and it is yet another rather tragic mess that we were left to sort out. I would have hoped for some humility on the part of the hon. Member and his colleagues over the role played by the previous Government and that we might reach a cross-party consensus on how to sort out the problem rather than cast aspersions against individuals that have absolutely no foundation in fact and are merely designed to smear someone. I deprecate such behaviour.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate next week on brain tumours, given that they account for 2 per cent. of all cancers, but receive a disproportionately small share of research funding? They are the biggest single disease killing children and, sadly, survival rates have not risen in line with those for childhood leukaemia or a significant number of other cancers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we urgently need a debate about how to tackle this scourge, which has caused far too much suffering to far too many people for far too long?
Nigel Griffiths: I respect the hon. Member far too much to make a political point about this and he has quite rightly paid tribute to success in other areas of cancer treatment. I cannot promise a debate, but I hope that he has a chance to raise the matter at Health questions on Tuesday. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of the issue and provides a response to a question that concerns many people.
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