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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the Leader of the House speak to the Secretary of State for Scotland about the long title of the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill, which will have its Second Reading next week? As things stand it is drawn exceptionally tightly, and will not permit discussion in Committee of any amendments relating to the electoral system employed, which is what Scottish Members and their constituents want to be discussed. Surely it is wrong for them to be frustrated in their wish because of this narrow drafting.
Mr. Hain: I know that there is widespread anxiety in Scotland about the electoral system there, as indeed there is in Wales: I can say that from personal experience. The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issue on Monday, and I am sure the Secretary of State for Scotland will welcome that, but I do not think that widening the long title, which is quite specific, is the best way of dealing with the question of parliamentary boundaries. I am sure the issue will arise on Monday, however, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his points then.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I press for a debate on the concessions that the Government are giving the member-designate countries that will join the European Union on 1 May? My right hon. Friend will know from his former role as Minister for Europe that Britain is the champion of enlargement. The Government's change of heart will cause concern in the applicant countries as they prepare to take the important step of joining the EU. If we have a debate, we will at least be able to clarify the Government's position.
Mr. Hain: As my hon. Friend's successor as Minister for Europe, I know that these issueswith which we have both had to dealare very difficult to resolve, because the rights and interests of the applicant countries must also be borne in mind. That is why the Prime Minister has been determined to get this right and consider any concerns that have recently arisen, and why he said what he did yesterday.
We should remember that exactly the same concerns were expressed in relation to the entry into the EU of poor countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal years ago. Some 150,000 migrant workers in France went back to their homes in Spain after its accession. Spain had a chance to become prosperous, trade with Spain increased, and both Britain and Spain benefited. I
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Could the Leader of the House find more time than he has allowed today for a debate on local government finance, so that we can review the performance of Castle Point borough council? Under its new Tory control it has produced a prudent, low-rise budget with strengthened reserves, which shows what a difference good Tory councillors such as Jeffrey Stanley can make.
Mr. Hain: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the business motion provided for extra time. As for good Tory councilsI have encountered no good Tory councils, as it happens, although I have encountered many good Labour councilson present trends Labour councils are set to introduce smaller council tax increases, certainly a lot smaller than those of Tory councils and a lot smaller than those of Liberal Democrat councils as well. That shows the people of Britain that they are better off with a Labour council. They should think about that when they vote on 10 June.
Mr. Hain: As I too represent a south Wales valley, I know that this is an important issue. I have discussed it with BBC Wales, and I had a brief conversation with Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, who was keen to promote digital television in Wales because of his interest in Welsh matters. During the past year I have been fortunate enough to acquire a digital television box in the Neath valley. We need to find out how we can extend coverage to other valleys.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): A few weeks ago I suggested to the Leader of the House that we should have a debate on the defence White Paper. He embraced the suggestion with enthusiasm, recognising that the document contained uncertainties, especially for aerospace workers in the north-west. May I ask him to renew that enthusiasm, and tell the House when he expects such a debate to take place?
Mr. Hain: I am not in a position to give a precise date. I do share the enthusiasm for a debate on the White Paper and there will be one, but that does not mean that I acknowledge or agree with the right hon. Gentleman's points.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May we have a regular European business questions session on the Floor of the House? Ministersnot just the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europego to Brussels and to Council meetings all over Europe every month, and sign up to things on behalf of this country. We have very few opportunities to question them directly. May we have a regular session, not just the chance to ask the
Mr. Hain: That is an important point. I agree with the thrust of it, which is why I have asked the Modernisation Committee to look at the whole issue of how European matters are discussed, not just in Committeealthough the European Scrutiny Committee does a fantastic jobbut on the Floor of the House. I think we should have more opportunities to debate them there. Our constituents would benefit, and Members would be better informed and thus better able to hold to account those responsible for what is done in Brussels.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Government published the Hutton report with commendable speed, but there is real and growing concern about publication of the Penrose report, which the Government received before Christmasmore than a month ago. Will the Leader of the House be a little more open with the House about when it will be published?
Mr. Hain: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but he will understand that the Hutton report was commissioned at the end of July and reported only recently; we are not looking at such a time scale. As I said earlier, we are ensuring that we get things right, and when we do the hon. Gentleman will doubtless welcome that as much as everybody else.
David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the future of low-cost airline travelI declare at least a partial interest in this issuein the European Union? A decision was taken this week against Ryanaira low-cost, free-enterprise airlinein respect of the French Government's campaign, in conjunction with Air France, to take away the subsidy for regional airports. If that is allowed to happen across the European Union, it will herald the end of low-cost airline travel in the EU. This is a very serious development, which will change the face of air travel for UK regional airports such as Luton and Stansted. This matter deserves a full debate in the House.
Mr. Hain: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this issue. Millions of our constituents have benefited from low-cost airline flights, as have I, and I want them to continue to do so. Although the rules should not be broken, it is in the interests of Ryanair, easyJet, bmibaby or any other low-cost airline providers in Britain to have rules that are respected by competitors. It is very important that state aid rules apply in an impartial way. But I hope that in this case, the European Commission has not challenged and put a stop to the enormous benefit and opportunity that many people enjoy by paying low-cost fares to fly to their chosen destinations, and that it will not do so in future.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware of the importance of medals to members of the armed forces. They constitute official recognition of the service that they