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Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make an announcement on that, as well as much else. We have done a huge amount in respect of house building, home creation and home ownership. Home ownership is at record levels. House building is at its highest level since 1990. There has been substantial investment, not least in suburban Essex and Kentnot far from the hon. Gentlemans constituencyto increase the number of affordable homes. The problem that the Government and the country face is that the demand for homes and the formation of families is rising at an ever faster pace. We have to meet that challenge, which is one reason why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken so much in recent days about the need for an upgrading of our response to the demand for affordable homes, as indeed will happen.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend assist me in obtaining a debate on the Floor of the House and perhaps talking to the relevant Minister about introducing a Bill to stop ticket touting? It was announced this morning that Wimbledon innovatively put 500 tickets on the internet, only to find that most of them had been bought up by ticket touts and were reappearing on the internet at grossly inflated prices. Is it not time that we protected the ordinary fan in this country?
Mr. Straw: I am aware of my hon. Friends concerns and those of many other hon. Members about ticket touting. He may also be aware that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is currently holding an inquiry into ticket touting. The whole House will be looking forward to its conclusions.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): A few weeks ago it was revealed that the European Union had suspended payment under its European regional development fund programme to most English regions because of failures in Government accounting policy. This week it was revealed to me in a written parliamentary answer that a further £269 million had been withheld from earlier programmes. Why has a Minister not come to the Dispatch Box to talk about this? Can the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate so that that can be remedied?
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Hitherto, climate change debates in the House have centred on dealing with the causesemissionsrather than the effects of climate change. For more than a year I have been ploughing a somewhat lonely furrow on the adaptation side of the equation, which is little debated. Adaptation is a cross-departmental issue. In the light of the terrible flooding in this country particularly in the past fortnight, which, sadly, looks as if it will continue for a few days, may we have an early debate on measures to adapt to the effects of climate change?
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): Yesterday there was a written statement on the altered memorandum of understanding on the funding of the Olympics. When does the Leader of the House expect legislation to permit that, as suggested in the memorandum of understanding? It would give us an opportunity to discuss the poor deal for London in the new arrangements, with £300 million to be cut from Londons services in the run-up to the Olympics, when there will be additional pressures on Londons services to fulfil the needs of the Olympics.
Mr. Straw: We will come back to the hon. Gentleman on the specific issue about legislation, but I simply do not accept what he says. I am chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics so I have been paying great attention to that matterstill fulfilling my role as Leader of the House, I might point out to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). The Olympics are hugely welcomed by Londoners, as well as by the rest of the country. The money has to come from somewhere, but I believe the benefits of the legacy of the Olympics for London, the south-east and the nation as a whole will in the end be seen far to outweigh the cost.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have an early debate on the role of the House of Commons? That will enable the Prime Minister to describe his proposals to enhance this place, but it will also enable people such as me to say that unless Members of Parliament recover their independence, and in particular, loosen the grip of the Whipson both sides of the Housethe changes will be of little relevance.
Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to make his own remarks, as I am sure there will be plenty of occasions for such debates. However, I think that the Conservative party is showing every sign that its Members are leaving the grip of the Whips Office, which is why we welcomed his constituency neighbour, his former hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamfordand we look forward to the right hon. and learned Gentleman crossing the Floor, too.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): May I wish the Leader of the House every success? I thank him for the courtesy he has always shown when I put questions to him, and in particular, for always answering them. However, will he reflect on the answer he gave earlier when he said that there had been no cuts in flood defence schemes? I draw his attention to the schemes for Shaldon and Teignmouth in my constituency, which, I am advised, have been delayed by at least two years because of the changes in the budget of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Either I am being misled or the Leader of the House has been misled.
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, in a similar spirit, on having asked a rather more comprehensible question than the one he put to the
former Prime Minister yesterday? He may like to know that almost the whole of the 1874 Session was spent debating relations between Church and state, and he may want to go back to that; it would be a good new Liberal Democrat project.
I accepted, and put on the record, that there had been a reduction in the overall flood risk budget by £15 million, but I then went on to say that I had been advised that the capital budget had not been cut, and that funding for capital projects for new and improved defences to reduce risk was not affected, so no current or planned capital improvement projects were delayed as a result. The amount of spending on flood risk management overall has doubled since 1997. Of course, there is always more that we can do and should do, and we take account of the hon. Gentlemans concerns, but I think the answer I have given him is accurate. If it is not, of course we shall correct it.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Returning to the topic raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)the death of three servicemen and the wounding of a fourthit had appeared that the Ministry of Defence and the broadcasters had got their act together by not broadcasting details until they could say in the broadcast that next of kin had already been informed. This morning, however, it was clear from the broadcasting of the news that next of kin had not already been informed, or if they had it was not said in the broadcast, which must have sent a thrill of horror through everybody who has family members serving in Basra. May we have a definitive statement from a Defence Minister to make it absolutely clear that such broadcasts should never be made until it can be said that next of kin have been informed? Whether or not the news creeps out on the internet or anywhere else is irrelevant, because the majority of families probably will not see that, but they will hear the broadcasts.
Mr. Straw: I believe that British broadcasters show great responsibility, but I shall of course pass on the hon. Gentlemans concern, which is shared by all of us, that next of kin should always be the first to know whenever possible. However, I do not think it is practical or realistic to dismiss the fact that others may be broadcasting such news; the problem is that in Iraq, as everywhere else in the world, there are people with mobile phones, cameras and video cameras at all those sites, so the news more than seeps out; it is broadcast in a large way.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) about the three tragic deaths, my regiment is serving in southern Iraq. It has only just been deployed there, yet in the first 48 hours 15 personnel were wounded, and it receives fatalities of about one a week. Those statistics are unacceptable, so I urge the Leader of the House to accept the fact that we require a statement from the new Prime Minister on long-term strategy for Iraq and, more importantly, a statement from the Defence Secretary about whether we have the right size of force and the right equipment to do the job, before we see that country spiral into civil war.
Mr. Straw: I understand the hon. Gentlemans great concernnot least from his own experience. Many Members on both sides of the House have, have had or will have family serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they appreciate the extent of the anxiety caused to families. I shall ensure that both the hon. Gentlemans points, in respect of a wider statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a more immediate statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, are communicated to them.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I very much share the concerns expressed by many that the chairman of the Labour party should not also be Leader of the House, but another problem needs to be addressed: we hope that the new Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement next week to explain how he can be the election manager for the Labour party while also carrying out the onerous and difficult tasks of a Secretary of State.
Mr. Straw: May I just repeat the point that all of us, whichever side of the House we sit on, have to accept what is called in the jargon multi-tasking? For example, all of us are constituency Members; when I was Foreign Secretary, I carried on with constituency surgeriesall Members do thatbut we are partisan politicians as well. During my 18 years in opposition, I remember many Conservative Members who held high office and conducted it with great assiduity and integrity but who were also partisan politicians and filled senior positions on behalf of their party at the same time.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): May we have an urgent debate on the views of the new Prime Minister on the environment? It was noticeable that yesterday in his speech in Downing street he mentioned neither climate change or the environment, and that he gave the issue short shrift in his speech accepting the leadership of the Labour partyand as the Treasury was hardly a powerhouse of environmentalism under his care, this is starting to look deliberate.
Mr. Straw: I completely reject what the hon. Gentleman says. He has not been listening to what my right hon. Friend, now the Prime Minister, has been saying. Across the country, in 11 separate hustingspartisan hustingsmy right hon. Friend spoke a great deal about climate change. Moreover, in the Treasury it was my right hon. Friend who gave much support, and indeed much leadership, to the Governments efforts until now, when we have a world position on climate change, and set up the Stern inquiry, which has reported and is providing much policy for the future Government.
John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con):
I listened to the Leader of the Houses comments about school discipline with great concern. Does he really believe that it is appropriate to compel head teachers to
readmit pupils excluded for rude and abusive behaviour towards staff? If he does, would he consider having a word with the new Prime Minister about offering a new Cabinet position toto choose an entirely random examplea former Home Secretary who called the Prime Minister a delusional control freak, and psychologically flawed?
Mr. Straw: Discipline is a dangerous topic for the Conservative party to get into, although I am always happy to debate it. However, there is a serious issue about school discipline, which I did not deal with directly in my reply to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead; I am sorry about that. We faced the issue when I chaired the governors of my childrens large and diverse comprehensive school, and I am certain that the new Education Secretary, whoever that may be, will consider it with great care.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the next Home Secretary to make a statement on the operation of section 165A of the Road Traffic 1988, the provision that empowers the police to seize uninsured motor vehicles? Two weeks ago, a car belonging to my constituent, Mrs. Maureen Smith of Rhos-on-Sea, was being driven quite legally by her daughter under the terms of her own insurance when it was seized by the police. Mrs. Smith was obliged to pay a £105 fee to have the car released from the car pound and her daughter received a £200 fixed penalty and six points on her licence.
The difficulty is that the police relied on the motor insurance database, which is of necessity always out of date, because of the number of vehicles that change hands and the number of insurance policies that are changed. On that basis, does the Leader of the House agree that this is a serious issue, and that many other motorists may well be penalised in the manner that I have described? Will he ask the Home Secretary to consider that point?
Mr. Straw: I am certainly happy to suggest that the matter be looked at. However, I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, things sometimes go wrong in specific cases, and he and his constituents have clear rights to make a complaint against the police. I am sure that they will do so. Secondly, however, the principle behind that section of the 1988 Act, which was introduced by the hon. Gentlemans party when it was in government, is a good one. Indeed, I think that most of us would want it to be used even more when the police are clear that uninsured vehicles are being driven around. Typically, those who show social irresponsibility in respect of not insuring their vehicles are also much more likely to show social irresponsibility in everything else.
That this House insists on disagreement with the Lords in their amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, but does not insist on its amendments Nos. 10C and 10D in lieu thereof, and proposes amendments (a), (b), (c) and (d) in lieu of the Lords amendments.
The other place has for a third time sent to us amendments to the Bill that would extend the new offence to deaths in custody in all circumstances. Hon. Members will be familiar with the Government's position. I do not intend to rehearse this at length, but I do want to place this issue in the wider context of progress on other issues in the Bill and to set out why we are not persuaded to set a timetable for custody.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have always made it clear to hon. Friends and Opposition Members that the Government would listen carefully to arguments to improve the Bill, and we have done so. The Government responded to concerns about the test for liability in the Bill as it was first introduced, we have shown flexibility in terms of the sort of organisations to which the offence applies and extended the Bill to certain unincorporated associations. We have offered real progress on the sort of penalties that will be available against convicted organisations and made provision for an entirely new sort of disposal against corporate bodiesa publicity order.
When concerns arose about the possible impact of the new offence on prosecutions against individuals on a secondary basis for health and safety offences, we again offered amendments to clarify the position. The Government openly recognised the strength of concern in this House and in the other place on the question of custody, and again offered positive movement. That is not just in terms of a power to extend the new offencea move that explicitly opens the door to a future extension to custody but in practical terms. Putting the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing will strengthen the position of that office to provide an independent investigation of deaths in prisons and other forms of custody.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Will the Minister confirm, yet again, that the latest set of amendments that the Government have tabled actually enable any future Secretary of State to restrict the introduction of any measures to extend to custody in exactly whatever way the Government see fit? The suggestion that it is simply a device by which at some future date the Lords amendments can be brought into force is not accurate. In fact, it would allow for the complete rewriting of the Lords intention.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not accept that, and I will say why I think that we need to support the position that we are in. I have accepted the principle of what has been said, and putting the office of prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing will strengthen that office.
Hon. Members will see that, in the criminal justice Bill that was introduced yesterday, we are delivering on our commitment. We will be strengthening the arrangements for decreasing the occurrence of such deaths in the first place through the commitment to strengthening the forum for preventing deaths in custody. That is considerable movement on the Governments part, and it is against that background that this House should measure where we are now. This is not resistance for the sake of it; it is because we genuinely consider that this is as far as the Bill should go at this stage.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): At the end of it all, I will probably vote with the Government, but I will do so with the greatest reluctance. I have read the exchanges in the other place and my view is that compelling arguments were advanced for the Government to go further. I am very disappointed that it has not been possible for my hon. Friend to tell the House that the Lords amendments should be accepted.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am sad that my hon. Friend is disappointed and saddened, but if he has followed the debate all the way through from the Governments original position, he will fully understand why we are in this position today. Many groups and stakeholders were involved in the progress of the Bill and they had different views about its progress, but they were flexible and understood the Governments position. We have moved genuinely forward on the issue of deaths in custody.
Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but he keeps telling the House that the Government have moved and accepted the position in principle. However, he did that the last time we debated the issue, but with a qualificationif the powers were ever needed. It is important to see whether the Government have moved from the word if to the word when.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I acknowledge that the Government have been listening and that they have moved. I also acknowledge my hon. Friends sincerity. However, he has had many predecessors and there will probably be a lot of successors, and it cannot be guaranteed that his successors will share his view. The Bill as framed makes it possible for this commitment to be forgotten about, and that is why many of us are worried.
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