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The position is a Crown appointment, and my right hon. Friend has been given important
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responsibilities in co-ordinating the strategy unit and the No. 10 policy unit. That is important to make sure that the Government can meet future challenges facing the country, whether competitive threats from the likes of China, issues arising from climate change, or the problem of antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend will be pivotal to those operations, and will work on behalf of the Government.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about hunting, but I, too, regret the two-year delay. However, my question is about the Children Bill. I am pleased that that important Bill is coming back to the House on Monday, but will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that there is a free vote during its passage on any proposal to change the law on the corporal punishment of children, which is a matter of conscience? If there is a proposal to change it, we should be allowed a free vote.
Mr. Hain: I will certainly look at my hon. Friend's request. I acknowledge her expertise and her admirable persistence in making sure that children's rights are constantly defended and, where they are not, exposing that. I therefore take particular note of what she said.
Briefly, on her reference to the commencement delay, I am sure that Labour Members and others will understand the practical reasons for that delay, which is needed to deal with the re-homing and dispersal of the hounds, as well as the business consequences for people involved in the industry. It is also needed to give people time to adjust, so it is a reasonable position for the Government to adopt, and I should have thought that on reflection she would want to support it.
Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): On 2 September, the European Commission responded to a submission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to close the sea bass fishery this winter to reduce the by-catch of dolphins and other cetaceans. DEFRA claims that the EU Commission said that the evidence was not sufficient. There is not much time before the winter sea bass fishery begins, so there is an urgent need to debate what the lack of evidence was and what other mechanisms exist for achieving a closure of that sea fishery, and to confirm whether the UK Government will close the fishery for the part of the waters over which it still has rights.
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's evident expertise, which is far superior to mine. He has raised an important issue, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will wish to take close note of what he said and respond accordingly.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on hunting, but is he aware that if there is any criticism by most people in the country it is simply about why we have taken so long to do this. Is not a constitutional point involved, as the decisions of the House of Commons, certainly on a free vote, cannot be treated with contempt
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time and again by the unelected Chamber? If the Tories are in such fury about such an important issue we can conclude that we are doing right at long last.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), told the House on 11 February that there would be a debate in Parliament on any final proposal to remove from the public domain information about claims registered in employment tribunals. The Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004, which were laid before the House on 20 July, remove all such information from the public record. As they come into force on 1 October, when will the right hon. Gentleman honour the Government's undertaking to give the House time to debate them? There is one week to go, but an announcement has not been made about such a debate.
Mr. Hain: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for being unsighted on this matter. However, I shall certainly make sure that it is followed up speedily, and that he receives a response as quickly as possible, as he has raised an important issue.
[That this House expresses grave concern at the decision of the Iraqi Interim Government to ban Al Jazeera from reporting in Iraq; and calls upon the Foreign Secretary to express this concern.]
Mr. Hain: It is very tempting to give an answer to that question, but on the serious issue of al-Jazeera, I believe in free media and their operations. Iraq and the Interim Government are in a difficult position, as they face constant terrorist attacks. I understand that al-JazeeraI have been interviewed on the channel a number of times, and was happy to appear, as it was fair and straight coveragebroadcast proceedings from the Republican convention, apparently including extracts from President Bush's speech, so it seems to have a liberal attitude on these things.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
Returning to the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, surely we should have a debate on his role in the House? A precedent has been set by a number of people who have held that position and done mostly party work that was paid for by the party, not the taxpayer. I am afraid that the answer given by the Leader of the House to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) did not offset our concerns that most of the work that the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr.
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Milburn) will do is entirely party work for the forthcoming election, so should not be paid for by taxpayers.
Mr. Hain: If someone undertakes party functionsthis applies to myself as a Cabinet Minister as well as any other Minister, as the right hon. Gentleman will know from his days in governmentthe normal ministerial support does not apply. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, however, is undertaking important forward co-ordinating policy work for the Government, with responsibility for the strategy unit which, as I can attest from my experience of working with it, consists of a group of very bright people who are looking ahead to the challenges facing the country, as well as the Downing street policy unit. That is an extremely important task.
Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): During the recess, yet another authoritative report was produced pointing to the dangers of the use of CS gas spray, which is currently used by all but three police forces in the country. It seems that the health not just of people who are sprayed but of police officers using the equipment is under considerable threat, so could we have a statement?
Mr. Hain: The Home Secretary will obviously look closely at what my hon. Friend said. However, he will be aware that CS spray has been available to the police as self-defence equipment since 1996. The physical effects of the spray are unpleasant, but it has been used in circumstances where there might otherwise have been serious injury to the police or the public. Work is continuing to identify suitable alternative solvents.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): When the Leader of the House chaired the Young Liberals he supported a campaign to impeach the then Lord Advocate of Scotland. Does he still believe that impeachment is a sanction available to the House when seeking to hold Ministers to account, or will he oppose any moves to introduce a motion for debate under that procedure?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman is an admirable researcher who digs up all sorts of facts, some of which are uncomfortable for the Government. I cannot for the life of me recall that campaign, which was over 30 years ago. However, he has dug it up from a file somewhere, so I acknowledge his research expertise.
The House of Commons has already voted overwhelmingly to back the Government's position on Iraq. That was the House's clear decision. For the first time, the Government brought to the House a motion on a decision to go to war, and gave it an opportunity to authorise it or not. That decision was made, but the hon. Gentleman is seeking to circumvent it.
I am advised by the Clerk of the House that impeachment effectively died with the advent of full responsible parliamentary government, perhaps to be dated from the second Reform Act of 1867, and a motion of no confidence would be the appropriate modern equivalent. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1999 concluded that
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"The circumstances in which impeachment has taken place are now so remote from the present that the procedure may be considered obsolete."
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