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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
As the head of Scotland Yards counter-terrorist unit has made it absolutely clear that a leak could have put lives at risk and as The Guardian this morning has alleged that the Home Secretarys special adviser could have been the person who caused the leak, is it not strange and unfortunate that the director of Libertys request under the Freedom of Information Act dated 6 February has not been dealt with by the Home Office? Will the
Leader of the House assure us that he will not only look into the matter, as he has promised he will, but make a statement very soon indeedin the next few dayson what the outcome is? It is unacceptable that this Freedom of Information Act request is being delayed; it is harming good government.
Mr. Straw: I have already given an answer to that. However, I point out that under the Freedom of Information Act members of the public, including the director of Liberty, have clear rights to seek information, but public authoritiesin this case, the Home Secretaryhave rights to consider the application and, in appropriate circumstances, to resist it. I do not know anything in particular about this case, but that is the Act that this House and the other place agreed to.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The Leader of the House will no doubt have followed the story of the proposed takeover of Boots by KKR, which would be another private equity financing deal. Although he will know that KKR has made certain guarantees about job securitythey are very welcomedoes he recognise that there is disquiet about private equity companies because the work force, suppliers and customers have much less certainty about the future strategy of such companies? Is it not time that we had a debate in this place to discuss the impact of these companies on the British economy?
Mr. Straw: Of course I recognise the anxiety that a work force always feel when there is a change in ownership. However, private equity companies say that their record in terms of job creation is better than that in the economy as a whole, and that needs to be weighed in the balance. I cannot promise a specific debate on the issue, but with ingenuity and the agreement of the Chairman of Ways and Means, my hon. Friend might be able to find an opportunity to raise these concerns during the consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill at the beginning of next week.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May I support the request for a debate on the splitting up of the Home Office? No doubt the Leader of the House will loyally defend that, but is he aware that he is alone among former occupants of the post of Home Secretary in advocating it? The unlikely alliance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Members for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is far from alone in questioning the wisdom of changes that will lead to one Department, the Home Office, being in charge of reducing offending, and another Department, a Ministry of justice, being in charge of reducing reoffending.
I saw that comment too. I do not feel lonely, but I am always grateful for the consideration that the hon. Gentleman shows for my welfare. If we examine experience elsewhere in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, we see that the exact dividing line between interior and justice Ministries varies. In some countries, the prison and probation services and the lead on criminal justice are with the Ministry of the Interior; in most countries, however, it is with the Ministry of Justice. That is what
is to happen here. I do not believe that it is an earth-shattering change. Of course, there were bound to be some transitional issues, which are being worked through carefully. This has happened with considerable noticeunlike, if I may say so, many changes to the machinery of Government that happened under the Conservative Administration whom he will recall, which happened just like that.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Although I completely support the creation of a Ministry of justice, I also support the call by the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) for a debate on the matter, bearing it in mind that this week Lord Woolf said that in his view Britains unwritten constitution was being changed without consultation. Clearly, we need to modernise the system and to have a separate ministry of justice, but it is important that the House debates these issues before, in the words of the Home Secretary, they are fully embedded by the end of June and beginning of Julyalthough the change will take place on 9 May. Please may we have that debate as soon as possible?
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): On a point of clarification, the point that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made about the Upton Nervet rail crash concerned my constituent, David Main, who received an assurance from the Legal Services Commission that he should receive public funds to cover his time at the inquest. That was opposed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We need a debate into the increasingly bizarre decisions being taken by that cash-strapped Department. It has taken the matter to judicial review and lost, and is now appealing, which is costing it much more than it would cost to give Mr. Main the money. Meanwhile, the inquest is being held up for all the victims of the rail crash. Will the Leader of the House make that point in his communication to the Lord Chancellor?
Mr. Straw: I understand, of course, the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises and the distress to his constituents. I promise to raise the matter with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. Before doing so, it would be convenient for me to have a word with the hon. Gentleman at the end of this session.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Next Thursday, I will visit Larkhill primary school in my constituency, where the children are having a mock election, to talk to them about their manifestos. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an excellent example of the practical application of the citizenship agenda in schools, which encourages children to be engaged in the democratic process at an early age; and will he make time for a debate on citizenship in the House?
Yes, I do agree. The earlier that we are able to provide children with good teaching stimulation about being good citizens, the better it is for this country. I am of a generationmy hon. Friend is not
quite of that generation, but approaching it [ Interruption . ] I was trying to be helpful, but I withdraw that outrageous slur. I put my foot in it, and then did so again. I shall just speak for myself. My hon. Friend will not remember this, but in the 1950s, following the terrible divisions of the war, there was a very intense view about the importance of citizenship. I remember that it was a subject that was given the highest priority at the primary and secondary schools that I attended. We want to get back to that.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Can we have a debate on open government? Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust has set up two working parties, one to look at the future of maternity services and the other to look at the future of childrens services at Horton general hospital in my constituency. It refuses to publish the names or professional qualifications of the members of those working parties, or even to acknowledge a request for that information under the Freedom of Information Act. Can the Leader of the House think of any conceivable justification for my constituents not knowing the names and qualifications of the members of those working parties, who are going to determine the future configuration of health and hospital services in the general hospital in my constituency?
Mr. Straw: No, I cannot. It may well be that the health trust or the health authority has a good explanation, in which case it is up it to give it. The Act is there to ensure that such information is made available; it certainly has been in my area.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): May we have a debate on the potential break-up of the United Kingdom? Does my right hon. Friend share the concerns of 150 Scottish business people, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and serious commentators such as the Financial Times that those promoting the break-up of the UK are embarking on a dangerous journey that would be disastrous for the people of Scotland?
Mr. Straw: Yes, I hope that we can in time have a debate on exactly that. There is no doubt at all that a break-up of the United Kingdom, the separation of Scotland, or even an Administration in Scotland dominated by a party that is seeking separation would be bad news for Scotland. I note that Mr. Jim Mather, the Scottish National partys enterprise spokesman, as quoted yesterday in the Financial Times, says that he would use fiscal fairy dust to help the economy of an independent Scotland. He says:
There is no orthodoxy we will not challenge
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con):
May I press the Leader of the House again on whether the Home Secretary should make a statement next week about an inquiry into the leak at the Home Office? Yesterday, the Prime Minister pressed Conservative Members for evidence on this matter, but surely we have plenty. We know that a leak to the media took
place even before the arrests were undertaken. We know that that leak was not authorised by the police. We know that very few people were in a position to know that sensitive information. We know from other areas of Downing street and Whitehall that it is easy to track communications between individuals using electronic devices. Given the importance of this matter and that lives could have been put at stake, as the police said yesterday, will the Leader of the House press his colleagues to come forward with a leak inquiry?
Mr. Straw: I do not diminish for a second the seriousness of what took place. It is precisely because I regard it as very serious that I think that the appropriate avenue, if there is any prima facie evidence, is a police inquiry rather than a leak inquiry.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the exploitation of migrant workers in this country? My right hon. Friend may have seen the recent investigative report by the BBC. Although the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is working hard to eradicate the problems of the exploitation of migrant workers, he will be aware that its remit covers only the agricultural industry. There is now clear evidence that gangmasters are moving into the construction industry, endangering the lives of not only migrant workers but indigenous workers, and are using migrant workers to undermine and undercut the wages and conditions of indigenous workers. It is time that we extended the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to cover those working in the construction industry.
Mr. Straw: First, I think that the House will commend my hon. Friend for promoting the Bill that set up the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and for his concern about the issue. Secondly, I have seen the reports and I believe that the House would wish the matter to be debated, albeit perhaps in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment, not necessarily in a full debate here. The issue is important and I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are also concerned about it.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that in December last year the Government began a consultation about giving votes in local and general elections to convicted prisoners. That followed an extraordinary judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that we should overturn the Forfeiture Act 1870, which forbids prisoners the vote. Given that the Liberal Democrats are going around the country campaigning for thatthey want murderers, paedophiles and rapists to be able to voteit is a matter of concern.
I hope that we will be told in a statement how long the consultation will last and given a guarantee that the House will have a chance to debate the matter. I also hope that the Leader of the House will give a personal assurance that he opposes the
proposal as fiercely as I am sure most hon. Members do. I certainly do, as do my constituents.
Lib Dems policy as I understand it is that criminals should be allowed a vote. Is that right?
Accepting that the bulk of prisoners should retain the right to vote, whilst a minority of serious offenders should not, is a nuanced response to a difficult issue.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) is right: Liberal Democrat policy is to allow not only those who have been convicted but those who are serving a sentence for paedophilia, robbery, burglary and so on to have a vote while they are in prison. It is not a policy that I support.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate on sex education in schools? Given that a recent online survey of no fewer than 2,200 university students undertaken by the Terrence Higgins Trust in conjunction with the National Union of Students found that 10 per cent. of those students did not know how to put on a condom correctly, 16 per cent. mistakenly thought that wearing two condoms at once was safer than merely wearing one, and almost 25 per cent. wrongly supposed that other forms of contraception would effectively protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, is not it imperative that the House debate the issues and consider the priority given to the subject, the funding provided for it, and whether such education should be made compulsory in all schools?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We are all concerned about the transmission of such diseases. We have done a lot, as did the previous Government, on education about sexual health. I will consider a debate but I cannot promise one.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May we have a debate on young people and social mobility? I am sure that the Leader of the House knows about the research that the Centre for Economic Performance, which is part of the London School of Economics, conducted last year, which showed that social mobility in Britain is declining. Clearly, the issue is complex and requires a cross-departmental response, but may we have a debate to flush out the issues and find some consensus on the action that needs to be taken?
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House be kind enough to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport
the chaos surrounding the hastily announced closure of the driving test centre in Kettering on 15 June? Anyone who wants to take a driving test will have to go to the Wellingborough test centre, which clearly does not have the capacity to deal with the thousands of my constituents who want to take their test in the near future. The situation is serious and I would be most grateful for appropriate Government action to tackle it.
Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): May we have a debate on Government policy on leak inquiries? In recent years, the Government have undertaken leak inquiries into relatively minor matters such as details of the refurbishment of 10 Downing street, but they will not undertake an inquiry to find out, on the balance of probabilities, what happened in the case of the leaks to which Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke referred. Those leaks have put peoples lives at risk. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that Government policy on leak inquiries is to hold one if the leak embarrasses the Government but not to hold one if the identity of the leaker would embarrass them?
My point is not that the allegations are trivialthey are notbut that it is precisely because they are serious and potentially involve interference with a criminal investigation that, if anyone has prima facie evidence, not simply newspaper reports, it is a matter for a police inquiry.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on midwifery? Not enough student midwives are being trained and a significant number who are trained have no jobs at the end of their training due to a freeze on midwifery jobs. Given that the Secretary of State for Health made another eye-catching headline a priority over Easter, may we have a debate to find how she will fulfil her promises without tackling the shortfall in midwives?
Mr. Straw: I accept that there is a problem in some parts of the country. Last time I examined the figures, I noted an increase in the number of midwives in training. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is genuinely concerned to ensure continuing improvement in midwifery services. If the hon. Gentleman has specific problems and lets me have details, I will follow them up.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): New data out today from all the police forces in the country show that a policeman is being assaulted on Britains streets every 20 minutes. Given that the Home Office has introduced 50 Acts of Parliament, many of which were designed to help protect our police, perhaps we can have a debate on the extent to which legislationas opposed to encouraging social responsibilitycan be used as a means of preventing the attacks rather than simply a means of protecting the police when they happen.
Mr. Straw: I would be delighted to have a debate comparing our record on reducing crime with that of the previous Administration, under whom crime doubled in 18 years. Any attack on a police officer is deplorable, but the last time I examined the figures, I was struck by the fact that improvements in safety, equipment and training for the police and the much tougher sentences included in the 50 or so criminal justice measures, meant that attacks and assaults on police officers had decreased, as had injuries and days off work.
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