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I apologise to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for not responding to her question about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. She should stop worrying about it. It is a large Bill. It will be properly examined by the House. If it gets its Second Reading, it will go upstairs to be subject to the full Public Bill scrutiny procedure that the House agreed following the Modernisation Committee reportin other words, it has a Select Committee-style
hearing for its opening stages. It is also a carry-over Bill. There has been no suggestion whatever within the Government that we are trying to get it through by Prorogation in late October or early November.
On flooding, I put on the record again our condolences and sorrow in respect of those people who have lost their lives as a result of the flooding, and our huge admiration for those in the fire and rescue services, the armed forces and the police, and the many, many local government and public sector civilian workers, as well as citizens in those areas, who have been working fantastically hard to alleviate the effect of the floods. These floods were literally a once in a century or more event. We do our very best to ensure that there is proper preparation for such events. That has been part of the work of the upgraded civil contingencies secretariat, which was set up a few years ago by one of my successor Home Secretaries.
Let me deal with funding. Yes, there was a reduction for 2006-07 of £15 million in the Environment Agencys overall flood-risk budget. That was applied to the agencys resource budget, which funds such items as staff costs, operational activities and maintenance. I have been assured that the agency capital budget was not cut, that funding for capital projects for new and improved defences to reduce risk was not affected, and that no current or planned improvement projects were delayed as a result. The reduction has been more than reinstated in the agencys funding for 2007.
On the Corruption Bill, we have already strengthened anti-corruption measures. We always consider private Members Bills on their merits, but it does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman on the one hand to criticise the fact that we have now reached a 54th Bill on criminal law and on the other hand to propose a 55th.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the railways, with particular reference to rail safety and continuity? Despite the best efforts of the British Transport police, the east coast main line, on which Wakefield station sits, has been plagued by theft of copper cable. I have now been contacted by constituents in the Bell Vue area who have a defunct railway bridgescheduled for demolition in 2015that is a magnet for antisocial behaviour both from the train-spotters, who gather there to look at trains and who urinate in peoples back gardens, and from thieves, who use it as an escape route; I have seen pictures of patio heaters being taken down the railway track. We need to get that sorted out as quickly as possible and to see action from Network Rail.
Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to my hon. Friends campaign to improve rail safety and protect her constituents, railway staff and passengers. I understand the force of her pointindeed, I share itand I will ensure that the chief executive of Network Rail is made fully aware of her concerns and the need urgently to consider the earlier demolition of that railway bridge.
Mr. Straw: I very much doubt that. The report has not yet been received by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We are not entirely clear when it will be, but I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman, as chairman of the 1922 committee, and those who represent other parties in the House are kept informed about progress.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have a debate on the operation of the Judicial Appointments Commission? When the chief executive gave evidence to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, she was unable to tell the Committee how many recommendations had been made to the Lord Chancellor for new judges. There is also a very large number of former civil servants from the Department for Constitutional Affairs now working at that body. It is very important that we have an independent Judicial Appointments Commission. May we have either a statement from the next Justice Secretary or a debate in the House about this important matter?
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In your statement, Mr. Speaker, you indicated that there would be an opportunity at a later date to pay tribute to Sir Philip Mawer. As the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I would like to do that in a handsome way at the appropriate time.
Reverting to the subject of next weeks business, I seek an assurance from the Leader of the House about next Thursdays business statement. By tradition, the Leader of the House has been less partisan and more broad-minded than his colleagues because of his responsibilities to the House as a whole. Apart from the occasional lapse, the current Leader of the House has performed that responsibility with enormous distinction. Does he agree that it will be far more difficult for that convention to be upheld if his successor is also chairman of the Labour party?
Mr. Straw: I am not going to speculate until a formal announcement is approved by Her Majesty the Queen. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has occasional lapses from the distinguished all-party positions that he holds in the House to being a partisan politician. [Hon. Members: Never.] I hope he does, and I applaud him for that, because we combine a variety of roles. It is perfectly possible for anyone filling these shoes to combine the very important role of Leader of the House, representing this House inside the Government and ensuring that it is paid proper respect in a practical way, with the fact that all of us here, bar, I think, one Member, came into the House because we were members of a political party and support the partisan causes of that party.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Rats! Will my right hon. Friend take action in respect of the water company in Luton which has been responsible for a persistent plague of rats in the Stopsley ward over many years, despite representations from myself and Luton borough council, with which it has failed to co-operate? It refuses to take action to deal with the matter. Will he allow an urgent debate on the responsibilities of water companies on this serious issue?
Mr. Straw: I certainly understand the real anxiety and even anger about this problem among my hon. Friends constituents. She has expressed it today, and I shall look for an opportunity for her to raise the matter in debate, either here or in Westminster Hall. I shall also ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the head of Ofwat are made fully conscious of her concerns.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I very much share[Hon. Members: En francais! Auf deutsch, bitte!] I very much share the view expressed by the shadow Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, that there must be some doubt about how the roles of Labour party chairman, deputy party leader and Leader of the House can be balanced. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the Leader of the House should represent the House as a wholeand all of its Members, not just Labour members? As an associated point, is he prepared to make a statement at this time about the possible merging of the Procedure and Modernisation Committees?
Mr. Straw: Je ne sais pas; peut-être. The specific matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is something that must be considered by both the Government and the House. My view is that it may be unusual for the Leader of the House to be a Select Committee Chairman, but that the arrangement has many advantages as well as disadvantages.
I shall let the House into a secret. The hon. and distinguished Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will know that we have been trying to spot potential defectorsand over the past year in particular, I have found myself in a great deal of agreement with him, and I know that he shares almost entirely the forensic and incendiary views of his former hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) about the leadership of the Conservative party. I therefore hope very much that he might come over and join us in a closer union.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is fair to say that my right hon. Friend has never been in the Leninist vanguard of the movement to modernise the Houses creaking and archaic procedures. I hope that the recent report from the Modernisation Committee will be debated shortly, if not next week, as it shows promising signs that he may have embarked on a political journey. Is that the case?
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): May we have a debate, led by whoever is the leader of the proposed new department for business and enterprise, about the future of the motor industry, especially in the west midlands? Ford is considering selling Land Rover and Jaguar, two world-class marques. What will the Government do to ensure that those brands do not suffer the fate that Rover suffered at the hands of the Phoenix four?
Mr. Straw: Of course I understand the anxiety felt by many people about the future of the car industry in the west midlands, not least in the constituencies represented by the Deputy Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who has the Longbridge plant in his area. However, the Government have been working extraordinarily hard: after the Rover collapse, for example, we pumped millions of pounds of investment into skills and training for people in the area. I understand that 85 per cent. of those who lost their jobs now have gainful employment.
The picture in respect of the motor industry is very mixed. Question marks hang over some parts of it, but I very much hope that that is not true of Jaguar, as it produces very fine world-beating motor cars. At the same time, at well over 1.5 million units, British motor industry production as a whole is almost at the level that it was in the 1970s. In addition, 75 per cent, of that production is exported.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the need for new legislation on the way in which English Heritage confers simple grade II listings on buildings, and on the agencys relationship with climate change? The listing of the Plymouth civic building is incomprehensible, as most of my constituents consider it an eyesore. Moreover, its carbon footprint must be one of the biggest in the city, and in the whole south-west of England.
Mr. Straw: I happen to know the building, and I entirely share my hon. Friends surpriseto say the leastthat it should have been listed. When I was chairman of Pimlico school, a glass and concrete monstrosity that failed to work about a year after it was erected, I found myself on the same side as Westminster city council. We had the most extraordinary battle with English Heritage, which wanted to list the building rather than allow it to be knocked down. I am on my hon. Friends side, and think that she has raised a really important issue. I shall do my best to ensure that there is a debate about it.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con):
Yesterday, former Prime Minister Blair said that the Government had invested a huge amount of money on flood alleviation measures in coastal areas, but what about
inland areas such as Shropshire? Is the Leader of the House aware that last weeks flooding in places such as Shifnal, Wellington and Kettley has blighted hundreds of lives? May we have a statement in the House covering inland counties, and not just coastal areas?
Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I happen to know a little about the fine county that he represents, and we are well aware that the flooding damage has mainly been to inland rather than coastal areas. It is the responsibility of the Government and the Environment Agency to ensure that there are adequate defences across the country, and we are seeking to fulfil that duty. Of course I appreciate the request for a further statement, and promise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will come to the House as soon as there is a need to do so. I suspect that that may be next week.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Last week, the Law Lords ruled that the protections in the Human Rights Act 1998 did not apply to residents of private care homes who had been placed there by local authorities. The Human Rights Act 1998 (Meaning of Local Authority) Bill would put right that appalling decision, and it resumes its Second Reading tomorrow. If the rumours about my right hon. Friends future position turn out to be true, will he have a word with himself later this afternoon to see whether he can consider allowing the Bill to go through to Committee stage, so that it might have an opportunity to put right that appalling decision?
Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knowsand as I know from the very lengthy discussions in 1997 and 1998 about the construction of the Human Rights Actthis is a very complicated area. I commend him on his assiduity in bringing his Bill forward, and I have been involved for some weeks in discussions with him about whether it is an appropriate or adequate vehicle for progress on this matter. The problem is not to do with the Bills fundamental principle, but with its construction, and for the moment we are not convinced that it is suitable. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I will of course be ready to discuss the matter further, whatever capacity I am in.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Will the Leader of the House reconsider his refusal last week to allow an early debate on the Scottish block vote? A Minister needs to answer questions about the fact that, from next year, English students will be the only ones in the entire EU who will have to pay the graduate tax if they attend Scottish universities. The right hon. Gentleman did not offer a response last week, but the decision is based on discrimination.
Without sounding entirely self-serving, I must say that thought that I gave a more than adequate answer last week. The Conservative party opposed devolution in 1997 and 1998, but seems now to have accepted the settlement. Devolution means difference, which I celebrate. Plenty of services delivered in England may be considered to be different and more beneficial than their equivalents in Scotland. Moreover,
the hon. Gentleman must remember that Scotland used to be run from London by a proconsul called the Secretary of State for Scotland. Things were done differently then too, but usually worse. The Scottish poll tax is an example: before the 1987 election, the Government of the day refused to impose it in England, but were willing to impose it on Scotland.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us an indication of how soon we can have a substantial debate on foreign affairs so that policy on Iraq, the continuing crisis in the middle east and the plight of the Palestinian people can be discussed, and the new Foreign Secretary can tell us in what direction the Government intend to take foreign policy?
Mr. Straw: There is, as the House knows, a debate scheduled on 19 July in respect of Zimbabwe. I will certainly ensure that we look for another opportunity to discuss the obviously very important issues that my hon. Friend raises.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May we have an early statement about the future of the joint ministerial committees of the devolved Parliament and Assemblies of the United Kingdom? Unbelievably, these powerful bodies have not met since 2002, and we now find ourselves with new dynamic Governments in each and every Parliament and Assembly in the United Kingdom. Can those moribund committees be reconvened to allow for a free and frank discussion and dialogue between the national Parliaments and Assemblies in the interests of each and every nation of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Straw: I will certainly ensure that what the hon. Gentleman says is given full consideration within the British Government. We are anxious to make the devolution settlement protocols work in practice. To my personal knowledge, the joint ministerial committee on Europe was working until May 2006, and I am almost certain that it has been working since. That included representatives from the Scottish Administration and the Welsh Administration, and often included representatives of other parties. It was my duty as chairman of that committee to ensure that we worked co-operatively with such representatives, who were democratically elected within their nations, and I believe that we succeeded.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Many of us in the trade union and labour movement have campaigned long and hard for the introduction of a robust corporate manslaughter Act. The sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, a cross-Channel ferry based in Dover, 20 years ago gave extra impetus to that campaign. Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House confident that the Bill that is being considered again this afternoon will go through all its stages before the end of this Session? Will he talk to his successor to ensure that she does all that she can to make sure that the Bill does not fall?
As my hon. Friend knows, consideration of a Lords message on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill is next on the Order
Paper straight after this business. He will also know that provisions have been put into the Bill by the other place, particularly in respect of circumstances in which the offences would apply to deaths in custody. Those issues are being considered. Of course we are committed to the legislation; it is our Bill. We are the people who introduced a Bill in respect of corporate manslaughter, and corporate homicide in Scotland.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Leader of the House cannot have failed to notice that another three soldiers have been murdered and several others injured this morning in Iraq. I do not know whether it is the case, but a device such as that which has killed those young men and injured others probably has the hand of Iran behind it. May we have a full and clear debate on Irans murderous interventions in Iraq and a clear statement of Government policy towards Iran for the future?
Mr. Straw: May I first pay tribute on behalf of the Government and the House to the soldiers who lost their lives in southern Iraq in the small hours of this morning, and send our deep condolences to their families, friends and comrades in arms? Yesterday in this House my right hon. Friend Tony Blair paid his own tribute to the British forces. They are indeed the best and the bravest, as those such as the hon. Gentleman and many others in the House who have personal dealings, friendships and families in the forces have every reason to know. On the issue of policy that the hon. Gentleman raises, let me say that I know of that concern and I will consider, not least in the context of the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), when we can have a debate.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend consider looking at security provision for Members of Parliament in their constituencies? Within the last year, I have received death threats, my office has been broken into, and as recently as last week I had a death threat spray-painted over my home. The job is hard enough, without having to go through this kind of thing. Does my right hon. Friend think that there should be some mechanism whereby Members who are subjected to such awful behaviour get some support?
Mr. Straw: Yes is the answer. First, my hon. Friend should receive extra support from the local police. I will certainly assist her in ensuring that if they are not already doing so, as I hope they are, the local police take the matter very seriously. Secondly, it is in the discretion of the House authorities to make grants to Members for special security measures, taking account of the specific risk. I know of a number of Members who have benefited from that grant arrangement.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): After 25 years of failed housing policy, it has been reported that the new Prime Minister is to introduce a programme to resume the building of council houses, especially for families. The council house waiting list has increased by more than 600,000 since Labour came to power, and hundreds of thousands of children live in accommodation deemed inadequate for their needs. Can the Leader of the House indicate when that council house building programme will commence?
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