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Mr. Hain: I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to go off in a relaxed mood at any time, though I have considerable affection for him as a parliamentary performer and, actually, not a bad bloke, despite his dodgy views on the European Unionand just about everything else, for that matter.
Since the right hon. Gentleman asks about health, it gives me the opportunity[Interruption.] No, I cannot help him on the general election. I am always delighted to debate health, as it gives me an opportunity to point out that under this Government the number of elective admissions for operations has increased by 750,000. The proportion of cancelled operations has remained roughly the same, but the fact that the actual number of operations is so many hundreds of thousands higher means that we are doing much better with the NHS than the Tories did in the past or could do now.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend consider having an early debate on matters associated with the shocking case of the convicted paedophile, Rupert Massey, which is highlighted in the Daily Mirror today? As I understand it, he has been awarded £5,500 by judges in Strasbourg because of the stress that he claims he suffered due to delays in his trial. Surely this is human rights gone mad. Should we not be thinking of finding ways to claw back that money and repay it to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which has already had to compensate Massey's victims for the stress they suffered on account of his evil deeds?
Mr. Hain: I find it absolutely extraordinary that a convicted paedophile could have secured compensation for stress when the stress caused to his victims was incomparably greater. I find it incredible, and I am sure that many people on both sides of the House and throughout the country will simply not understand it.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC):
The annual Welsh day debate was meant to have been held on St. David's day this week, but was sadly postponed. Will the Leader of the House provide us
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either with the date on which it will be held or, if Wales is no longer a priority for him, will he at least offer my party its Opposition day debate before the next election?
Mr. Hain: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Wales remains an absolute priority for me, as he well knows. I am looking for an opportunity to have a Welsh day debate and I acknowledge the considerable disappointmentand perhaps, in some quarters, angerthat would follow if we did not have such a debate. I am actively looking for an opportunity, as I regret the fact that the passage of the terrorism and emergency provisions legislation that we have had to introduce made it necessary to postpone the Welsh day debate.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Ten years ago, only a quarter of first-time home buyers were required to pay stamp duty, but now it is three quarters. When can we have a debate on the "raise the roof" campaign, which is being conducted by the West Bromwich building society and the company Mortgage Watchdog and is supported by an early-day motion signed by members of all parties? The aim is to raise the tax threshold from £60,000 to £150,000, thereby giving real help to home buyers of modest means.
Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend's point, but he has to explain how the shortfall in revenue would be met if we were to continue to fund the excellent public provisionin education, health and so many other respectsfor which the Government have been responsible. I know that my hon. Friend enthusiastically backs such provision. Tax matters are for the Chancellor, not for me.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that, under your watchful gaze, Mr. Speaker, he is a guardian of the traditions and civilities of this House. Will he therefore make a statement about the growing practice of Members tabling questions solely for the purpose of electoral gain? [Hon. Members: "No!"] Shocking though it is, that is happening. Members are seeking to gain information solely in order to use it against their political opponents in their constituencies. The worst practice is tabling questions about other Members' constituencies, as happened in respect of the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor, the shadow Home Secretary and others. That is a breach of the civilities and courtesies of the House. If the Leader of the House does not make a statement, no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, will have to intervene to maintain those courtesies, and I hope that he will make a statement before you have to act.
Mr. Hain: Of course it is my duty, and it is especially your duty, Mr. Speaker, to maintain the courtesies and civilities of the House. There must be cross-party understanding that we all need to respect those civilities, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's accusation is fair because of the one-sided way in which he made it. We could look at all sorts of pre-election fever in the House and various behaviours and accusations that are an inevitable product of that.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab):
Earlier this week it was announced that air tankers' wings are to be
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built at the Airbus facility in north-east Wales. Yesterday it was announced that the Atlas Consortium is to have the third bidder status for a major IT contract, which will help south-east Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this week has been an excellent one for Wales and Welsh jobs?
Mr. Hain: It has been a fantastic week for Wales and Welsh jobs. If there is an opportunity for a Welsh day debate, we will be able to put on the record that north and south Wales are benefiting from the best investment in high technology areas. Wales is on a roll nowon the rugby field, in business, in manufacturing and right across the board. Wales is leading in a world-class drive to make sure that we are in a strong competitive position, and my hon. Friend's point is a good example of our success.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May we have a debate before the House rises for Easter to establish that although inclusion is good for some children, moderate and severe learning difficulty schools are essential for many of our special needs children, and we should follow no policy that puts them at risk of closure? In such a debate we can thank and pay tribute to all the staff and teachers who work in those schools, which do a wonderful job.
Mr. Hain: I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Teachers do one of the most important jobs in the worldmore important, I hesitate to say, than that of politicians. For the very reason that he gives, I hope that he will support the Government's policy of recruiting. Since we came to power, we have recruited 29,000 new teachers and 100,000 classroom assistants, with numbers continuing to rise. Many of them are in special needs teaching, which is one of the most difficult jobs in the profession.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the speculation about the possibility of an early Dissolution and, in particular, provide information on the likely progress of the Gambling Bill? In my constituency two casino developers, MGM and Sun International, have expressed interest in developing regional casinos which would be at the heart of major regeneration plans for the old industrial areas of the Lower Don valley. Can he reassure us that the Gambling Bill will not be lost? That would significantly delay that major regeneration, which has widespread public support in my constituency.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill has completed all its Commons stages and has already had its Second Reading in the Lords. We hope that it will pass through as soon as possible. It is an important Bill, not least for the reasons that he gives. Equally importantsome might think more importantis the fact that it will clamp down on all sorts of abuses of gambling, particularly internet gambling, in which children and some of the most vulnerable are exposed and put at risk. We want to stop that.
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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Leader of the House accept the urgent need for a ministerial statement on the European Union decision to lift the China arms embargo, not least because it will put great strain on our special relationship with the United States of America? There is a real possibility of a large number of jobs being lost in this country as a consequence.
Mr. Hain: I do not accept that there is a possibility of a large number of jobs being lost. [Interruption.] Well, there have been discussions with the Americans on a number of issues, including this one, and there is now greater understanding, particularly as a result of the recent visit by President Bush to Brussels when this matter was discussed, of the American position and concerns and, equally, of the European position. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, applaud the fact that it was this Government who brought in a strict code on the export of arms so that it cannot be undertaken from Britain or indeed, as a result of our initiatives, from anywhere in the European Union if the arms are to be used for aggressive purposes externally or oppression internally. We abide by that code, and any arms exports will be made in accordance with it.
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