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As for the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 lays specific duties on the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the protection of the judiciary. The
current Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has that as his highest priority. Frankly, I do not see the right hon. Ladys difficulty.
On the right hon. Ladys peroration, which was not quite as good as her joke, I would say that once again the Conservative party is not quite where the public is. The Conservatives have been trying to make an awful lot of hay about what I regard as the sensible handover period. Meanwhile, it seems that 55 per cent. of the public todayI cite opinion polls only where they are to our advantage, and I do not wish to depart from that practicebelieve that the Prime Minister is absolutely right to stay on until 27 June, while fewer than a third believe that he should not. The truth is that, as well as the things that often happen in government, we have shown great energy this week, with a new planning policyapplauded by many, including the CBIannounced on Monday; an energy policy essential to safeguarding our energy supplies, about which Conservative Members cannot make up their minds; and, very shortly, an excellent waste strategy, which includes dealing with waste by the Opposition, to be announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): If my right hon. Friend had been in the Chamber last Friday, he would know that I had four minutes to introduce my private Members Bill, which would have guaranteed a package of measures for young people aged between 16 and 18. Of course, at the end of the four minutes, the Government Whip shouted Object[Hon. Members: Ah.] May we have a debate on how best to support young people aged 16 to 18 and on what we should do about the large number who are not in employment, education or trainingthe NEETs? It should be a priority: the Government have done so many good things in education and skills, but we really need some urgent action on this issue.
Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friends great frustration. I have to say, quite separately, that, having thought about it, I do not think it is possible to change the basic procedure for dealing with private Members motions. I am looking at whether there is a better way of responding to the major issues raised in private Members Bills from both sides of the House, whether or not the text of the Bill can be fitted into legislation. There will be an opportunity for a wide-ranging debate in the next Session when we introduce our proposals to raise the education leaving age to 18. Meanwhile, I will certainly look for opportunities of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
On the urgent question that we just heard, the Leader of the House will know that the Serious Crime Bill contains provisions introduced by the noble and learned Lord Lloyd of Berwick to allow for the admissibility of intercept evidence. I know that the Leader of the House is strongly against that, and that the security services have expressed serious reservations. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however, that senior police officers and the prosecuting authorities support the admissibility of such evidence.
May I ask him in all seriousness not to introduce the Bill in this House until there has been an opportunity for serious talks between the parties and with others on how we can create a regime under which that evidence is admissible, so that we can get more successful prosecutions? It should be used not in every case but in those where it is appropriate.
Has the Leader of the House seen the evidence submitted by the Lord Chief Justice to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday, revealing the depth of disquiet among the judiciary about the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, and opening the possibility that the Lord Chief Justice might make a formal statement to Parliament under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005? How would such an occasion be managed in this House? When we return, may we in any case have a statement from the Ministry of Justice about its relationship with the judiciary?
May we have a debate on the regulation of financial services? The financial ombudsman is apparently receiving 1,000 complaints a week from the public about bank charging, there is clear evidence of high street banks bullying those who complain, and there has still been no action on the Cruickshank report. Such a debate could also cover the monopoly position of a small number of accountancy firms undertaking corporate auditanother serious issue.
Lastly, may we have a statement on bonuses? If the Home Office feels that the shambles that it has created over the past year is worth £3.6 million in bonus payments to staff, perhaps we should have a statement on what bonuses have been paid in the Department of Health, given the requirement for the Secretary of State to apologise to the House sometimes once and sometimes twice a week, or in the Department for Communities and Local Government, given the fiasco on HIPs, or in the Treasury, given the introduction of a tax credit system that has cost more than £9 billion in fraud and administrative failure. What exactly are we paying bonuses for?
Mr. Straw: Intercept evidence is an important issue, and I am happy to pass on the hon. Gentlemans suggestion about talks between the parties. Indeed, confidential discussions on the issue have already taken place with the other parties. No one who wants to see more criminals, especially terrorist suspects, convicted of crimes of which they are guilty wants to see good evidence unnecessarily excluded from the courts. There is no ideological issue about the reluctance of the Government and the intelligence agencies to have intercept evidence adduced in court. Indeed, we supported the previous Conservative Governments arrangements to ensure that evidence from planted microphonesintrusive surveillance arrangementscould be adduced in court. The problem is to determine whether the disadvantages, which I promise the hon. Gentleman are huge, outweigh the advantages.
I have discussed this matter endlessly with Lord Lloyd, ever since he recommended a separate regime for terrorist suspects seven or eight years ago. I do not happen to think that his proposals are workable, but I am as open minded about this as anyone else, as are my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Attorney-General. If we could find a way through this, we would. I am not saying that I
know best because I was responsible for the agencies involved. I promise the hon. Gentleman that, having examined the issue with enormous care, I have yet to find a safe way through that would not threaten our security in many other ways. I am not saying that that is the best judgment; it is currently my judgment, and I am open to arguments to the contrary. Either Opposition party could be in government at some stage, and it is important that they should not impale themselves on promises that they cannot deliver.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Lord Chief Justice. My noble Friend Lord Falconer and I, and all of us who know the noble Lord Phillips and his colleagues in the judiciary, have the highest regard for them, and for the importance of maintaining their independence. If a statement is made under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform ActI hope that there will not beI will consider urgently with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip the ways in which it could be replicated here.
I note the hon. Gentlemans request for a debate on bank charges. He also mentioned bonuses. Home Office staff do one of the most difficult jobs in the civil service. It is the nature of what might laughingly be called its customersprisoners, asylum seekers and othersthat they do not actually want to be its customers. We should not have a go at its staff, who are doing a very difficult job. If bonuses help to raise the morale of people who have volunteered to do that difficult work, so much the better. Sadly, Ministers are not eligible for bonuses; otherwise, we would all be putting in for them. This is not a proposal for the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it would not have his support. Patient satisfaction with the health service has never been higher, and the United Kingdom now ranks top overall in relation to the comparative health care systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time on the role of the management of Tesco? In my constituency today, Tesco drivers are on strike for the first time ever because the company has unilaterally tried to reduce their terms and conditions and derecognised their trade union. On Monday evening, it sent taxis scuttling round my constituency issuing redundancy notices to its own staff. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying to the fair-minded people of Britain that, when they go shopping tomorrow, they should boycott Tesco and support
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP):
Yesterday, BP pulled out of a £500 million project to develop a carbon capture and storage system at Peterhead. It was to have been based on what would have been the worlds first hydrogen refinery, with the waste carbon
dioxide being pumped into the decommissioned Miller field. BP has pulled out because of the delay in the Government-sponsored competition to decide who should build the project. At Scottish questions on 27 February this year, the Secretary of State for Scotland said on behalf of the Government:
We will reach a decision within monthsin the course of the year.[ Official Report, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 749.]
not incompatible with the Miller field decommissioning time scale.[ Official Report, Westminster Hall, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 247WH.]
It would appear that that is not now the case. With the announcement in the White Paper that the competition will not now be launched until November, BP has pulled out of the project. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time, with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry here to explain why the Government have effectively sabotaged this project, and the 1,000 construction jobs that went with it, why they took no heed of the warnings about the dangers of delay, and what might yet be salvaged from this mess?
Mr. Straw: There has been no sabotage, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, of the project: none whatever. Carbon capture remains an important part of the Governments overall strategy, as it does that of industry. On his basic point, I shall certainly look at whether we can have a debate on the matter.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): It is now four years since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 came into force. Has the Leader of the House seen the annual report of the Assets Recovery Agency for 2006-07, which reveals that £125 million was recovered last yearLamborghinis, racehorses, luxury mansions and so on? May we have a debate after the recess on how we can move further and faster with the ARA to deprive career criminals of their millionaire lifestyles?
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): May we have a debate on surveillance and camera use in the United Kingdom? Is the Leader of the House aware of the recent comments from Ian Redhead, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire, who has questioned the installation of CCTV cameras in areas of low crime and called for a full review of the rules surrounding the use of speed cameras? At a time when these concerns are increasing, why are the Government relaxing the rule concerning the deployment of speed cameras? Could it be that this has more to do with revenue-raising than road safety?
Mr. Straw: I was doing 48 mph. I was irritated about it at the time. Nonetheless, we have to recognise that the introduction of speed cameras has greatly helped road safety and reduced deaths. On the wider issue, the matter is the subject of an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman put forward evidence.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have a debate as a matter of urgency on the report that has just been published by the regulator into the allegations of racism on Channel 4 during Big Brother? My right hon. Friend will have noted the comments of Channel 4, which offered no apology, no condemnation of racism and no resignations. Does he agree that this is a very serious issuethe first time that the regulator has applied this sanction to a public sector broadcasterand that it is very important that we have a debate on the issue?
Mr. Straw: It is. Given the fact that this is the first time that the regulator has found in this way, the board of Channel 4 needs to consider the overall implications of allowing such material to be broadcast and what that does for its reputation and that of the UK.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that the Whitsun recess gives him an ideal opportunity to get his toolbox out and to carry out the much awaited repairs to the roof of Portcullis House, to ensure that the flag of our country can fly there for the first time? Does he agree that 2 June, the anniversary of Her Majestys coronation, would be an ideal time for the flag to fly for the first time?
Mr. Straw: Yes, I agree and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter again. I am promised that I will not need to get my toolbox out, as the work has already taken place. I threatened the powers-that-be here that the hon. Gentleman and I would go up there and put up the flag. I am also promised that the first occasion on which the flag will be flown is on the 54th anniversary of Her Majestys coronation on 2 June.
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): May I ask for an early debate on the rules that local authorities must follow when disposing of shares? This is in relation to the decision of the Liberal Democrat-controlled council to sever any links it has with Kingston Communications, after 100 years, without public discussion, debate or consultation.
Mr. Straw: I find the approach of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull city council quite extraordinary. I know for certain that were the Liberal Democrats in opposition there and a Conservative council had done that, they would be raising Cain about this. It is utterly irresponsible and takes no proper cognisance of heritage and the unique contribution that Hull Telecommunications now Kingston Communicationshas made to the city of Hull.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), but may I turn the attention of the Leader of the House to this House and the way in which it operates? He will be aware that the Committee
that he chairs with some panache is to report shortly on the role of the Back Bencher and the use of non-legislative time. Will he give me and the House an assurance that a debate on the subject will take place in this House while he is Leader of the House? As the right hon. Gentleman chairs the Committee, it is important that he should lead off the debate and guide the House in terms of making it more relevant to the people of this country and to Back Benchers.
Mr. Straw: I cannot give him that assurance because, like lunatics in prison in days of old, Ministers of the Crown serve entirely at Her Majestys pleasure and we have no idea when that pleasure is going to come to an end.
Mr. Straw: Yes. Last week, I promised the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)I am sorry that she did not return to the matteran opportunity in Government time to debate Conservative policy. We will do anything we can to facilitate wider debate by the Conservatives and we will lay on Government time. I remind the right hon. Lady that, in 2001, she spoke out in this House against a vendetta against grammar schools. I hope that she is applying the same strong language that she used back in 2001 to her own leader, who seems to have adopted quite gratuitously a vendetta against grammar schools.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Network Rail has confirmed recently that serving prisoners are carrying out maintenance work on Britains railways. My constituents use the railway line that goes through Potters Bar, the scene of the devastating crash in 2002, so railway safety is a key concern to them. Will the Leader of the House give time for a debate on this important policy because we need reassurance that safety standards are being maintained and respected on all our railway lines?
Mr. Straw: I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentlemans concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Notwithstanding the fact that there have been some terrible railways accidents, including the one at Potters Bar, we heard yesterday from Ian McAllister, the chairman of Railtrack, that the recent period has been one of the safest on record; so it should be. Railtrack and everybody else
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