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Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his conciliatory words. As the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) knows, as soon as the issue
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was raised with me—by two Opposition Members who represent Kent constituencies—I took it up. I held meetings with them and the Information Commissioner, which involved the other parties, too, to try to sort through things. However, the difficulty that had arisen—not caused by the House or the then Department for Constitutional Affairs—was that public authorities were getting ready to issue correspondence without so much as a by your leave from Members of Parliament, still less any consideration of the exemptions that might apply. As there was not a word of argument about the fact that Members of Parliament, as Members of Parliament, should not be classified as public authorities for the purpose of the Act, such an action would have been very serious indeed and would have destroyed the relationship between Members and their constituents, which is fundamental to the way in which we operate on their behalf. That is the issue. If we can arrive by other means at the end that everybody sought, we shall all celebrate.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Has the Leader of the House seen the latest report from the Procedure Committee on corrections to the Official Report? Is he aware that a number of Ministers who inadvertently mislead the House still adhere to the obscure and unsatisfactory practice of putting a correction letter in the Library, which of course nobody sees? Does he know that the Procedure Committee is suggesting an innovation—that errors made in the Official Report should be corrected in the Official Report by way of a corrections page, published when necessary, for the benefit of Members, the public and the press? May we have a debate on the report next week? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman assure members of the Procedure Committee that he will take steps to implement its excellent recommendation as soon as possible?

Mr. Straw: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s key question is yes. I welcome the Procedure Committee’s report. He will know that I followed up the representations first made in the House about nine months ago by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and others, and indeed spoke to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) about the suggestion. It is not satisfactory for Ministers either that corrections to the record are scattered through Hansard or are to be found in the Library by those who can scurry through letters in the Library.

The Government welcome the Procedure Committee’s sensible proposals that there should be a dedicated section of Hansard for corrections by Ministers in respect of any proceedings, oral or written, in the House, cross-referenced with the original error. I shall table a motion later today to allow the House to approve the Committee’s report with a view to its coming into force at the beginning of the next Session.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I do not know whether I am on or off message, but may I join the Prime Minister in calling for a wide-ranging debate on the relationship between politics and the media? It has long concerned me that good policies, such as home condition surveys, can be abandoned or bad policies adopted simply to placate the media. There should be more straightforwardness and transparency in the way we make our policy.

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Mr. Straw: I warn my hon. Friend that he is in danger of getting the Chief Whip’s prize for loyalty—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Jacqui Smith): No, he’s not.

Mr. Straw: For this week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) raises a serious problem and I am glad he approves of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. The issue is serious not only for politicians on both sides of the House but for the press. I know from many serious political journalists that they, too, share the frustration felt throughout the Chamber and by many others about the way in which serious reporting of Parliament and politics is squeezed out in the ever-competitive scurry that leads to the dumbing down of newspapers.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): Will it be possible to make time for a ministerial statement on the effectiveness of the child trust fund? Today, a Treasury Minister said that information would be made available about participation in the scheme by different socio-economic groups, but a Freedom of Information Act request shows that research already carried out states that

Given that the research has already been undertaken, will the Leader of the House ask the Treasury to make a statement as soon as possible so that we can discuss the value for money and effectiveness of the policy?

Mr. Straw: I will certainly take that up with Treasury Ministers. There is always a problem in that the more articulate are readier to take up benefits, but that does not undermine the principle behind them. We have to ensure that everybody understands they are available and makes use of them.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): This is a great month for engineers and engineering in the UK. We celebrate the 100th birthday of Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine and, crucially, the Olympic Delivery Authority announced yesterday that its first construction project has been delivered on time and on budget under the stewardship of Howard Shiplee. When can we make time in the House to discuss the role of engineers and engineering and their contribution to our British economy?

Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to what the ODA has been able to do—I am chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics, and have therefore watched progress. We must make sure that progress continues, but projects could not be delivered without the fine service and great skill of British engineers. I shall certainly bear what my hon. Friend says in mind.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Although the police in our country face daily perils, for which I salute them, the tasks and hazards involved in making arrests and detentions in, say, Brixton pale in comparison with the tasks and hazards faced by our
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armed servicemen trying to arrest insurgents and terrorists in, say, Basra. It is desirable that there should be different legal jurisdictions for those activities, reflecting the very different circumstances. May I take it that that is still the Government’s view? If it is, what are they going to do about the House of Lords ruling that has applied the Human Rights Act 1998—on top of the tri-service discipline legislation and the International Criminal Court—to all the legal problems faced by our armed servicemen, thus putting them in an increasingly impossible position? I invite the Leader of the House to allow a debate on this subject. Is there any chance that a Minister will give a statement to the House at an early date?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Law Officers are studying the judgment with care. As I understand it, the judgment indicated that the Human Rights Act applied in respect of British-run detention facilities in Basra, and not elsewhere. The House of Lords did not make a judgment on the merits of the particular proceedings initiated on behalf of Baha Mousa, who died while in British custody. That has to be the subject of a separate trial. We will consider the matter very carefully.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May I ask for a debate on pricing policies at UK departure points? I bring to my right hon. Friend’s attention early-day motion 1599, which has the support of all parties in the House.

[That this House expresses its concern that the British travelling public are treated as captive audiences at the UK's ports, airports and railway stations in terms of charging for goods and services; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the pricing policies at these departure points on behalf of British consumers.]

The motion calls on the Office of Fair Trading to investigate why the British travelling public are seen as a captive audience when they enter an airport, an aircraft, or a train. Surely the travelling public have a right to know why they are being charged inflated prices at departure points throughout the UK.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important issue for retailers, as well as for Government. I will pass his concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in the near future on the hospital conditions at Selly Oak? It was my sad privilege last Saturday to visit Corporal Nick Davis from Newark, who lost his right leg and buttock in an incident in Afghanistan. Conditions of security were curious, but the staff were absolutely first class and our wounded heroes conducted themselves wonderfully. That is curiously at odds with the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), who said:

Will the Leader of the House join me in distancing himself from those disgraceful words?

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Mr. Straw: I understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises, and I pay tribute to all the staff at Selly Oak hospital, as well as saluting the courage of the very brave men and women who find themselves there. There will be a debate next Thursday on defence personnel, which will be a good opportunity for him to raise his concerns.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): When can we debate early-day motion 1690 about the refusal yesterday by the Government to support a proposal to have a commemorative stamp on veterans day to mark the sacrifices of those who have been lost in Iraq?

[That this House notes the Government's refusal to support the proposal to issue commemorative stamps displaying the work of war artist Stephen McQueen on Veterans' Day, because that day's events are celebratory; and believes that the work, Queen and Country, which depicts photographs of 98 British soldiers killed in Iraq, printed in a stamp format, should be used for a commemorative issue on Remembrance Day to respect the wishes of the artist and the loved ones of the fallen soldiers and to provide a powerful reminder of the true cost of war.]

The stamp would be based on the work “Queen and Country” by the war artist Steve McQueen, which shows the portraits of 98 of those who have fallen in Iraq. If that cannot be done on veterans day—for understandable reasons, because the day is designed as a celebration of the work and sacrifices of soldiers—why can we not have a commemorative stamp on Remembrance day to remind us of the true cost of war?

Mr. Straw: I understand the basis of my hon. Friend’s proposal. There will be an opportunity for him, too, to raise that matter more extensively today week in the debate on defence personnel. That will be an ideal opportunity.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Chancellor has been talking a lot recently about reforming the House and making Members of Parliament more accountable. Surely a good place to start would be by looking at the Scottish Member of Parliament and his role in the House. May I helpfully suggest that we try to resolve the issue consensually? Perhaps we could consider an all-party initiative to report to the House and make some recommendations.

Mr. Straw: I know that the hon. Gentleman, who is entitled to his view, wishes to see Scotland wholly detached from the United Kingdom. I do not think for a second that he has the support of the Scottish people for doing that. The role of Scottish Members of Parliament is the same as that of English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. We are happy to have a debate with him at any stage about the nature of devolution, but he knows that this House is sovereign in respect of the whole United Kingdom, and that is why Members of Parliament, wherever they come from, deserve equal rights.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend had any success in finding a date on which the Foreign Secretary can be here for a long-awaited debate
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on Zimbabwe? That is particularly important in the light of the view expressed by Chancellor Merkel last week that Mugabe should be invited to any summit between the European Union and the African Union.

Mr. Straw: As I made clear last week, we continue to seek to identify a date when the debate will take place. I have promised—and I continue to do so—that, God willing, it will take place before the summer recess. I recognise its importance and the impatience of my hon. Friend—and Opposition Members as well—when it comes to the urgent need to debate this issue.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): As the right hon. Gentleman has such a proud record of ensuring that the flag of our country is flown on the parliamentary estate, may I draw his attention to early-day motion 1653, and ask him to raise the matter urgently with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that this Saturday, for trooping the colour, the flag of the Falklands Islands, and those of all Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, are flown from Horseguards parade?

[That this House looks forward to the 2007 Trooping the Colour ceremony on Saturday 16th June to mark the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; notes with pride that the flags of all the nations of the Commonwealth are already displayed in and around Horse Guards Parade in preparation for this great occasion; and calls on the Government to ensure that the flags of all Her Majesty's Realms and Territories are also flown in time for the ceremony, including Her Majesty's Crown Dependencies of The Isle of Man, The Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey and Her Majesty's Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Ocno Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cuhna, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Island.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is bizarre that the flag of a republic such as Mozambique is flown, but the flags of British territories are not?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I am not quite sure that I will be able to deliver that as quickly as he wants, but I will take it up.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): On Saturday, the Cardiff-based Actors Workshop will be putting on extracts of a play called “The Lady of Burma” to mark the 62nd birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in her 12th year of house arrest in Burma. When may we have a debate to discuss what more the Government can do to end that deplorable situation?

Mr. Straw: Like the whole House, I pay tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi for her courage and forbearance in the face of a most terrible regime in Burma. We will certainly look for an opportunity to do what my hon. Friend seeks.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have an early debate in Government time on
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the two reports by Sir Hayden Phillips on party funding, neither of which has been debated in the House despite their importance to every hon. Member? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot promise a debate, will he give an assurance that, before his possible transfer elsewhere in Whitehall, he plans to bring to a successful conclusion the inter-party talks that he is chairing?

Mr. Straw: We did have a full discussion on the day of the publication of the Hayden Phillips report, on an oral statement that I made to the House. The right hon. Gentleman—he is normally well informed, and I am sure that he is well informed on this matter—knows very well that part of what was agreed between the parties was that Sir Hayden Phillips, not I, should chair cross-party talks on the issue, and those cross-party talks continue. I am sorry that, as I am not clairvoyant, I cannot predict when they will end.

Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): Following the welcome statement on child sex offenders made yesterday by the Home Secretary, which has received universal support, may we have an early debate on child protection issues so that we can not just examine the excellent record of the Labour Government in the past 10 years in this area, but look seriously at the real challenges that we face in the future if we are to make our children even safer?

Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his expertise and the way in which he has pursued the issue. We will certainly look for an opportunity to hold a debate.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): In response to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about elder abuse, the Leader of the House said that he hoped that the report published today would stimulate discussion, and perhaps lead to action later. Given that the report shows that more than 342,000 older people are the victims of neglect, theft and even sexual assault, surely it is not a question of discussion; it is time for action. May we have a statement from the Department of Health setting out that action, and assuring us that it will go beyond simply reissuing the guidance that has so far failed? We should instead place on a statutory footing the measures that are necessary to safeguard vulnerable adults.

Mr. Straw: Of course there is a serious problem, but if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health had come before the House today and said, “A report has just been published; this is what we’re going to do”, the Liberal Democrats would have been the first to complain that we had not had a chance to digest the report and come to sensible conclusions on it. They need to get serious. Of course the issue is urgent, but the report is the first objective scientific assessment of the prevalence of abuse against the elderly. The prerequisite for effective action, which is what we all want, is to consider the report carefully, although as quickly as possible.

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