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Throughout our discussions, I never thought that that very large constitution would change significantly the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. Notwithstanding that, because it was called a constitution and was a weighty document, we accepted the case that had been made for
a referendum. The hon. Gentleman, and the whole Conservative party, must consider the fact that when the Conservatives were in office, they brought before the House the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, which, on any basis, provide for major and significant changes and shifts in the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. On those occasions, the Conservative Government refused any suggestion of a referendum [Interruption.] It does not matter how long ago it was; the principle is the same. As for the voting system, it seems curious that the hon. Gentleman proposes an elaborate procedure for something that everybody in the House wants, and everybody in the country would support once they knew the details.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I join the shadow Leader of the House in her kind remarks about the role of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has earned the respect of everybody in the House? May I draw to his attention one of the great successes of this Government: the renaissance in the regions programme money for art galleries and museums? In cities such as mine, many peoplewho would never have had access to museums previously, other than free oneshave gone to art galleries and museums for the first time in their lives because of that finance. If the Government accepted the proposal that seems to have been made to charge for museums and art galleries, would that make those museums and art galleries safe for the people whom I representor perhaps for the Etonians who inhabit the Conservative Front Bench?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We are celebrating a renaissance not just in museum attendance but in the life of cities, including the great city of Manchester. One reason for that renaissance is that we have opened up cultural institutions in those great cities. The proposal from part of the Conservative party to charge for museum entrance, which was first introduced by a previous Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, would undermine not only the renaissance of the cities but the education and cultural enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of our constituents.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Given the successful meeting between the leaders of Scotlands Government and Northern Irelands leaders at Stormont on Monday, would not it be sensible to have a debate in the House to start to facilitate the inevitable further transfer of powers that are needed to govern both Scotland and Northern Ireland better for their respective peoples?
Mr. Straw: The devolution settlement for Scotland has been settled, and appears to be working well. It was always anticipated that it would lead at some stage to a change of control in Edinburgh, and so it has. As for Northern Ireland, it seems curious that even before the ink is dry on the new arrangements in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman, from Scotland, should propose changes.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab):
May we have a statement on the Communication Workers Union dispute? I know that it is not Government practice to
get involved in disputes between employers and workers, but in this case we are a major stakeholder. Surely meaningful negotiation is the only way forward. It is unfortunate that the employers are deliberately misleading the public by saying that the postal workers are seeking a 27 per cent. increase, which is not the fact. Can we do something to get them round the table and talking meaningfully?
Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friends concerns, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It would not assist, however, if the Government were to go back to the time of beer and sandwiches and attempt a resolution of this industrial dispute. The Government and the Royal Mail management have a constitutional relationship, and we are encouraging a negotiated settlement, which will be in the interests of the work force, the Post Office and, above all, customers.
Is the Leader of the House aware that an important delegation from Zimbabwe is currently in London representing a number of political parties, the Churches, youth and students? Before he leaves his current positionI congratulate him on the work that he has done since he was appointed Leader of the Housewill he announce today that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House, in Government time, on the crisis in Zimbabwe, a country that is important to the future of central southern Africa?
Mr. Straw: Even if I am back next week in the same role, may I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished and senior Member of the House, for all his co-operation with me, on the Floor of the House and especially in the Modernisation Committee. On the issue of Zimbabwe, we understand the concern. Subject to the usual caveats, we plan a full days debate on Zimbabwe on 19 July. I am sorry that that has taken some time, but it is now on the schedule.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I, too, join in the tributes to Piara Khabra? He was the first person of the Sikh faith to be elected to this House and is therefore someone who will be remembered very fondly not only by his constituents but by the House.
This week, the British Board of Film Classification banned the video game, Manhunt 2, but on the same day there was rightly controversy about a new video game that shows footage of the abduction of James Bulger. There is a clear need for better regulation of the video games industry. Will the Leader of the House please tell us when he expects a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or by the Minister with responsibility for the creative industries, or when we may have a debate on the social responsibilities of those who make a huge amount of money out of these video games?
As Home Secretary, I had responsibility for the British Board of Film Classification, which covered such videos and games. My right hon. Friend
raises a very important issue, and I think that the concern he expresses is shared across the House. We do not see sufficient social responsibility and understanding by the creators and purveyors of such games. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friend the Minister is made fully aware of my right hon. Friends concerns.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I draw the Leader of the Houses attention to the fact that the Government have invested considerable funds in a new GP surgery in Dedham in my constituency, for which I thank them? However, will he find time for us to debate the surgerys future, as the primary care trust has decided in its wisdom that it should never be opened and that the people of Dedham do not deserve their own GP practice despite the investment of all that money? Is it not an outrage that the health service should be wasting money in this way, and should not we have a debate to pressure the PCT and instruct the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that the surgery does eventually open?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful for hon. Gentlemans thanks in the first part of his question. He illustrates how the doubling in real terms of spending on the health service has had benefits right across the country and potentially in his constituency as well. [ Interruption . ] I said potentially. I will of course draw to the full attention of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary the apparent anomaly, to put it mildly, that he raises.
Today the Department for Communities and Local Government has published a statement on hot water safety in building regulations. Each year, 20 people die as a result of falls into and burns from scalding hot water, and more than 450 children under the age of five suffer third degree burns. That is about the same level of death and injury as is caused by house fires. May we have a cross-departmental debate in the House on accident prevention so that we can get across to people that if they wash their clothes at 40° C, they should also wash their children at the same temperature?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done on this important issue, including the ten-minute Bill she introduced last year. There has been a written ministerial statement today, but I will certainly try to ensure that she has an opportunity to raise the subject on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am sure that the Leader of the House, representing as he does Blackburn and Darwen, is aware of the concern in the Muslim community about the award of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. May we have a debate on the honours system, and how that decision was arrived at?
I am aware of that concern. Let me offer a personal view. I am afraid that I have found Salman Rushdies books rather difficult and have never managed to get to the end of any of them, despite my
basic rule that if one starts a book one has to finish it. I am afraid that his writing defeated me. Of course I understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. That saidI am sure that this would meet with the approval of the whole Housethere can be no justification whatever for suggestions that as a result of this a further fatwa should be placed on Mr. Rushdies life.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): On a topical subject, does my right hon. Friend accept that the British Library and other museums in London see themselves as the main, if not the only, custodians of British culture, and that as a consequence thousands of children and their families in the northern region lack the opportunity to experience the greatness of some of the artefacts that represent their culture? I refer to the Lindisfarne Gospels, which are stored in the British Library, are regularly resting and are usually seen by five people a year, but when exhibited in the northern region invariably get more than 100,000 people looking at them. Is it not time that the House debated the greatness of British culture, but more particularly the importance of returning to their homes the artefacts of the regions of England so that the people of Great Britain can experience that greatness, as opposed to the five people a year in London who are doing so currently?
I fully understand my hon. Friends sentiments. I will certainly ensure that the director of the British Library, as well as the director of the British Museum, is made aware of her views. As so much of our cultural and political life is centred on London, I hope that we may at some stage be able to develop a scheme similar to those that apply in some other countries, whereby at least once in a childs school career they are able, paid for, to come to London to visit this House and some of the principal museums of the capital.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As one of the many attributes that make the Leader of the House an outstanding holder of his high office has been his realistic assessment of the merits of the Liberal Democrats, oft repeated at the Dispatch Box, how come, as the Chancellor of the Exchequers campaign manager, he did not manage to prevent the Chancellor from having a red face this morning?
Mr. Straw: I return the right hon. Gentlemans compliment. I have already given the explanation. Of course, any sensible party leader has discussions with leaders of the other parties, as do I with my opposite numbers: I always have done and always shall, in whatever capacity I serve. The right hon. Gentleman has been a very distinguished adornment on the Conservative Back Benches, but if he too wishes to send me a curriculum vitae, I will see what we can do.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the important decision made
yesterday by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that the HPV vaccine should be routinely introduced for girls aged 12 to 13. That is a very welcome decision, and I applaud organisations such as Jos Trust which have campaigned for it to be made. May we have a debate on that decision, given the other important issues involved, such as whether older girls should have the vaccine and the importance of stressing that regular cervical screening should continue?
Mr. Straw: That is a very important issue, because cervical cancer is the second most common cancer of women worldwide. In the United Kingdom alone, the lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer is one in 116, which is a high, not a low, risk. Of course we will look for an opportunity for a debate, perhaps on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. Meanwhile, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is fully aware of my hon. Friends remarks.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Will the Leader of the House reconsider his refusal last week to allow a debate on the Scottish block vote in order that we can discuss the particular discrimination against English students attending Scottish universities, who will be the only students in the entire European Union to have to pay the full fee, with the cost of abolishing it for everybody else being borne by English taxpayers?
Mr. Straw: The nature of the devolution settlement is, first, that it is asymmetrical and, secondly, that it admits that different parts of the United Kingdom will come to different decisions. That is also trueI am not, of course, making a direct comparison with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assemblyof local authorities, even those controlled by the same party.
Let me say two more things to the hon. Gentleman. First, notwithstanding the differential in fees, applications for English universities, where the fees are on a similar basis to those for English students in Scottish universities, are increasing. They are up 6 per cent., with no evidencefar from itthat those from lower socio-economic groups are disadvantaged.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman made a point that I keep making to Conservative Members: it is rightly a fact of devolution, which I celebrate, that the Scots can make their own, different decisions in Scotland, and that is different from the previous position, whereby the decisions were also different but made in London. Time and again, he and I sat in the House in the 1980s and early 1990s, when separate policy was agreed for Scotland in London. That is inappropriate for what are now devolved matters. He should also remember that the money that is available to spend in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is wholly determined by English Members of Parliament. Far from being excluded from those decisions, English members have 84 per cent. of the votes in this House. That is another reason for the asymmetrical, but in my judgment balanced arrangement.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab):
I welcome the recent publication of the Home Office document on alcohol issues, but evidence suggests that alcohol problems in Britain, especially liver damage, are much
worse than we imagined. It is also highly likely that instances of foetal alcohol syndrome are rising, given the amount of alcohol that young women consume, and given that some young women are possibly getting pregnant partly as a result of drinking to excess. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the Floor of the House about all such alcohol issues, given Britains growing and alarmingly serious problem?
Mr. Straw: I share my hon. Friends concerns about what appears to be increasing alcohol abuse, especially by young people. Even when he and I were young, youngsters sometimes drank to excess, but evidence suggests that that has now gone much further. Of course, I will do my best to ascertain whether we can find time for a debate on the matter.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am one of the last people in the world to intrude on private grief. Provided it does not harm, my case may I join the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in calling for an urgent statement early next week by the Chancellor and Prime Minister-designate, so that we can warn and remind him of the sheer horror, which the Scottish Labour party had to tolerate for four or so years, of working with the Liberal Democrats? He needs to be reminded before he makes the mistake of a lifetime. They are a nightmare to work with because they cannot be trusted.
Mr. Straw: I will do a deal with the hon. Gentleman. I will pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor if he will pass them on to the Blackburn Conservative association, which has just entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the unfairness of the airport duty tax? It is especially unfair to those of us who live north of the Watford gap. My right hon. Friend may know that the travelling public, including young families, who wish to go to America or elsewhere abroad have no option but to go through the hub airports of London. They therefore have to pay the tax twice. He knows that I have had extensive, unsuccessful discussions with the Treasury on the matter. Will he use his good offices to encourage the Treasury and the travel industry to get together and devise some solution to that discriminatory measure?
Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friends concern, but his continuing campaign is having an effect on the Treasury. I have a copy of a letter to him from the Financial Secretary, who states says that airlines can provide through-ticketingif they do that, only one airline tax is payable, rather than two or moreand that the Treasury is keeping the structure of air passenger duty under review and taking account of my hon. Friends concerns.
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