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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I join other hon. Members who have pressed for a full two-day debate on Iraq? Those who voted against the war could then restate their view that the war was unnecessary, unjustified, unwise and probably unlawful. We could also express our deep concern at the fact that we are so closely linked in strategy and tactics to the policy of the present United States Administration.
Mr. Hain: I disagree with almost everything that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. I notice that he made no reference to the despotic and tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein, which we must remember was responsible for the deaths of 1 million Muslims. I do not know of anyone in history who bears a similar responsibility.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Would the Leader of the House consider a debate on the conduct of the media? Such a debate would deal not with the gratuitous insults that you and I, Mr. Speaker, receive from the snooty scribblers in their sketches, but with the serious misrepresentations and falsehoods that regularly appear now. It would also cover the unjustified personal attacks on Members of the House, especially Ministers, which cause great distress to families. Those attacks are beyond belief, and existing voluntary arrangements are no longer sufficient to deal with them.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con):
During the Easter recess, BAE Systems announced 1,000 redundancies at their plants in Lancashire. In part, that reflects the fact that the Government have yet to conclude discussions with the company over the ordering of tranche 2 of Eurofighter. This week, we learned that the company is considering selling its military shipbuilding capability, and that relationships between the company's senior management and the Government are at rock bottom. Given the company's strategic and industrial
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importance, will the Leader of the House find time for an early statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on the Government's relationship with BAE Systems?
Mr. Hain: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the company's strategic and industrial importance, which the Government have consistently recognised as crucial. His constituency interest means that the right hon. Gentleman, understandably and rightly, has championed the company's cause, but he will understand that there has been a huge investment of public moneyas much as £1 billionin the company in respect of defence technology. The rise in defence spending means that there are great opportunities for the defence industry right across Britain.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): May I add my voice to those calling for a debate on Iraq? The seriousness of the security situation there makes such a debate essential. However, I want to draw the Leader of the House's attention to the plight of Refreshment Department employees, many of whom face redundancy because of the new hours of the House. One employeeof 30 years' standing, and a trade union representativewas given half an hour's notice of redundancy and then escorted from the premises. That is no way to treat longstanding and loyal members of staff, and it is time the House discussed the matter.
Mr. Hain: If that were true, it would indeed be outrageous. Those responsible for such matters, including the members of the Catering Committee, will want to look into what happened. However, I must correct my hon. Friend in one respect: the reforms and changes taking place in Refreshment Department staffing stem from the House's decision to reduce the level of subsidy for hon. Members' catering services, and are not to do with the hours that the House sits. Indeed, catering income has risen since the hours changed. My hon. Friend may have legitimate concerns about the change in the House's hours, but that is not responsible for what is happening in catering.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): Does the Leader of the House agree with Scotland's First Minister, who has said that Scotland's falling population is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing Scotland in the 21st century? He has identified the fact that Scotland has the fastest falling population of any nation in Europe. May we have a debate to examine the differing immigration requirements of the UK's constituent parts? The UK's difficulties with immigration mean that it may be sensible to devolve the immigration policy to the Scottish Parliament.
Mr. Hain: I must acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in taking any opportunity to press his case for Scottish independence. The problem is that no one in Scotlandapart from members of the Scottish National partyagrees with him.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the recently announced increase in the numbers of teachers
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and classroom assistants? The House needs to consider how it can be maintained, and the possible effect on that increase of proposals to passport pupils from schools to the private education sector. Another factor that needs to be debated is that the passports could be funded by a two-year freeze on public expenditure.
Mr. Hain: If any Government were to adopt those policies, the result would be devastating for schools. Tens of thousands of teachers and classroom assistants have been recruited, but their numbers would be savagely cut. The policy is therefore very mistaken, and the Conservatives, who advocate it, will find themselves in the dock at the next general election.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Reports in the national press today reveal the serious reservations of business leaders, and especially of the director general of the CBI, about the now-notorious £10 million bung for the trade unions that the Government have included in the Employment Relations Bill. Will the Leader of the House ensure additional time to discuss that specific measure? That is needed because of the sneaky way in which the Government introduced it, and because of the widespread belief that it is an outrageous abuse of taxpayers' money by a political party.
Mr. Hain: I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can accuse the Government of being sneaky, when the provision was put before the House of Commons as part of proposals for employment reform. Is he seriously suggesting that a modernisation fund to encourage trade unions to be more strategic in the way that they tackle the problems of skills and investment faced by our economy and industry is not a good thing? Surely he wants members of the work force, including those who organise in trade unions, and of management to be forward looking? They should be looking to drive up our skills and our ability to add value so that we can compete in the modern world.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that some opponents of the constitutional treaty favour Britain having associate membership of the EU. Can we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that some of us can point out that associate membership of the EU is not full membership?
Mr. Hain: Indeed it is not, although some Conservative Members have argued otherwise. Associate membership would be devastating for Britain. It would do more than put us on the edge of the EU, as Giscard said on the "Today" programme this morning; it would cause us to be right out of the picture as far as Europe is concerned. It would threaten British jobs, more than 3 million of which are based in companies that trade with the EU. It would also threaten our ability to be at the heart of what is the world's biggest and richest market, and one of its most important political blocs. [Interruption.] That may be Conservative policy, and their excited chatter underlines that. It will not be the policy of this Labour Government.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Will the Leader of the House say more about the mysterious
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statutory instrument on benefits for migrants? I suppose that we should be grateful for tiny crumbs, as he has told us that it will be discussed tomorrow. However, will he give more details about the parliamentary timetable for this very important measure, so that we all know what is going to happen, and when? What is his assessment of our vulnerability in the period when it is subject to parliamentary scrutiny? What might happen if it is rejected because of its inequity?
Mr. Hain: The order is the same as any other, including the one that was discussed on Tuesday night. However, in the meantime, I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his wonderful tie, which is dazzling everyone in the Chamber.
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