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Even if the red lines are not breached, however, we have been told that the Government will surrender the veto in 52 areas of policy and significantly weaken it in a further 10. The Government have no democratic mandate to do that, so can we have a debate on the need for a referendum?

The Public Accounts Committee has said that the Government spend £2 billion a year on consultants, and Ministers have been accused of sacking civil servants and replacing them with more expensive consultants. That is all because of the Gershon review, which the Chancellor set up to show how prudent he is. Can we have a debate on the Chancellor’s “Yes Minister” style of government?

Talking of the Chancellor’s style of government, I wish the Leader of the House all the very best in the forthcoming reshuffle. Indeed, I wish all Labour Members luck in the reshuffle—after all, this is the first reshuffle in history that has had Liberal Democrats sitting by their telephones. At last week’s business questions, the Leader of the House said that the Liberal Democrats try to avoid serious issues of government and always take the easy decisions of a party in permanent opposition. Yet the Labour Benches seem so devoid of talent that the Chancellor is offering Cabinet positions like knocked-off watches. Was the Leader of the House consulted on the decision to bring Liberal Democrats into government? For the benefit of his ministerial colleagues, may we have a debate on coping with redundancy?

Finally, this week we have learned yet more about the Chancellor’s style of government. We know that the current Prime Minister believes the worst of the next Prime Minister, and that when the two met, civil servants would be waiting for a decision and all they could hear

But the most telling quote of the week was from a former Home Secretary, who said that the Chancellor believes that

hardly a new kind of politics. The Chancellor believes in state control; we believe in social responsibility. May we have a debate on the Chancellor’s all-powerful state? Is not that the future with him as Prime Minister: the control freak, the grabbing hand, the clunking fist?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Before I respond to the right hon. Lady, may I first pay my own personal tribute to our dear friend Piara Khabra, who died two days ago? He will be much missed on both sides of the House. It is worth recording that he was the last serving Member of Parliament to have served in the second world war. He joined the colours for the Indian army, which is a
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reminder not only of his bravery but of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people from the Indian sub-continent—Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—fought, and many died, to save freedom in Europe— [Hon. Members: “And the world.”] And the world.

To respond to the right hon. Lady, I am certainly not speculating on where the future may lead. I love this job; I am ready to go on and on and on in this post. In return, I thank her for her courtesy and good humour. Owing to their responsibilities to the Commons as a whole, as well on behalf of the Government, Leaders of the House cannot do their job without the co-operation of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers and many other hon. Members.

It has been a great delight to me to be able to introduce a number of changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) was right to say that it was not enough; in the Labour party, it is never enough. However, I hope that the whole House will by now have read the important report that the Modernisation Committee published yesterday morning, which proposes introducing a much greater degree of topicality into the proceedings of the House and to strengthen the role of the Back Bencher.

On defence, the amount of investment in defence is a result of a greater degree of sustained real growth in defence spending for more than 20 years. We have invested billions of pounds in new defence equipment for our armed forces. Since all equipment has to be used by, and is for the benefit of, our service personnel, I am quite sure that, without even very much imagination, the Opposition will be able to work questions about that into the forthcoming debate.

I have already said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will give a full report on the proceedings of the European Council, which is taking place now. The red lines for the UK have been made very clear indeed; they were discussed and confirmed today in Cabinet. Rather than reacting to any proposal from the European Union like a Pavlovian dog, it would be worth the right hon. Lady reflecting that quite a lot of what appears to be in the draft articles for the amending treaty is to our benefit—not least a much improved voting system that will give us more weight inside Europe than we have at the moment.

What I find so surprising is the synthetic fury of the Opposition, when they have had plenty of opportunities to seek to influence their comrades in arms in the centre-right parties and yet have turned their back on that. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, has refused to go to meet other members of the European People’s party, even though for the time being the Conservative party is still a member of it.

On the Public Accounts Committee and consultants, there is always an opportunity to debate PAC reports and I think the right hon. Lady will have noted that, although that spending is significant, it has been reduced in quite a number of Departments.

The right hon. Lady referred to speculation about conversations that have taken place, apparently, with the leader of the Liberal Democrats. It is not for me to comment on the Chancellor’s private discussions with
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the leader of the Liberal Democrats; they are private. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that he wants to lead a Government of all the talents and he is very serious about that. Last night, for example, he established a new National Council for Educational Excellence, which includes Sir Terry Leahy and Sir John Rose, whose party affiliations are certainly unknown to me.

I suggest, if the right hon. Lady is feeling left out of the speculation, that she would have a greater chance of getting into a Cabinet of any kind if she were invited by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—an act of unparalleled generosity. All she has to do is to send me her curriculum vitae and I will pass it on, with a high recommendation that she should be included.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend famously described the Liberal Democrats as the scavengers of British politics. Can he give me an assurance that if Liberal Democrats, or in fact members of other political parties, are brought into a Brown Cabinet, there would be a statement to the House beforehand?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember making that speech—

Mr. Prentice: I remember listening to it.

Mr. Straw: In 1984. I think it remains a reasonably accurate description, and I think it is fair to say that it is one of the more charitable things I have said about the Liberal Democrats. We are a very broad church in the Labour party, and we are always open either to sinners or scavengers who repent.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD) rose—

Hon. Members: Repent!

Mr. Heath: I start by adding my tributes to our former colleague Piara Khabra, who was a decent, quiet, courteous Member of the House and will be much missed.

It is hardly our fault if the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes Cabinet formation into a form of “Britain’s Got Talent”. The Liberal Democrats undoubtedly have the talent; we just do not like the look of the Government. The Leader of the House has made it plain that sometimes he does not like the look of us either, despite the fact that he has been a very good Leader of the House, but can we find ways to help the Government? Here are three ways that we can be of assistance in the business of the next couple of weeks.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for International Development said that a new corruption Bill was needed “as soon as possible”. I have good news for the Leader of the House: we have a Corruption Bill before the House. It has gone through all its stages in another place. It could be put into effect within weeks. Perhaps he will find some parliamentary time for progress on the Corruption Bill, which stands in my name in this House, so that he can satisfy the Secretary of State for International Development.


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There is a second piece of good news. The deputy Chief Whip in the Lords says that the Government are committed to tackling the issue of the

of terrorism abroad and in this country. The good news is that the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill, which was originally introduced by Lord Brennan, has gone through all its stages in the Lords. So again we have a Bill that the Government can take up in order to make good their commitment.

Thirdly, we can help the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has clearly cottoned on to the concern across the country that some of the richest people pay the least tax. I think that I even heard the Prime Minister, in a somewhat incoherent way, lending his support yesterday to the need for something to be done. If that is true, may we have an extra day’s debate on the Finance Bill, so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can bring forward proposals for the end of taper relief on capital gains tax, which Liberal Democrats have proposed for some time, and therefore do something about the richest people paying less tax than those who clean their offices?

Mr. Straw: I should add to what I have just said by saying that some of my best friends are Liberal Democrats, but sometimes we must put our sense of friendship on one side when we are making decisions about what is good for the country. The hon. Gentleman says that it is not their fault that certain discussions have taken place. The problem with the Liberal Democrats is that it is never their fault because they never have to make decisions. It is an attractive offer to the Liberal Democrats, because it would give them a taste of government—I make no predictions; apparently, it is causing some minor discussion among them—and of decision making, if they found that comfortable. One of the difficulties that I have with the Liberal Democrats is that they seem to be people who volunteered for a lifetime in opposition. I spent 18 years in opposition, as did you, Mr. Speaker, but being in government is a lot better, and we can do things for the country.

On a new corruption Bill and the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill, our approach to all private Members’ Bills, as we showed with the Sustainable Communities Bill last week, is to look at them on their merits, regardless of who is their promoter, and that we will continue to do.

The ending of taper relief on capital gains tax is under consideration and the hon. Gentleman will know, as the House does, of the Treasury Committee’s considerable and spirited evidence session yesterday.

Dr. Starkey: I note that the business for yesterday and today has no votes and that that coincides with Royal Ascot. For the convenience of Members in future, would my right hon. Friend say which sporting events the usual channels regard as sufficiently important to influence the business of the House?

Mr. Straw: Yes, of course we will. My bid to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary is to ensure that all games played by Blackburn Rovers during the week are high on the list.


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Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): When does the Government expect to receive the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body on Members’ pay and allowances?

Mr. Straw: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer now, but it is due soon. I have certainly not seen it, but if I get better information than I have at the moment, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and table a written ministerial statement.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I join in the tributes to Piara Khabra. He was a member of the International Development Committee, on which I served for many years alongside him, as did the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). We all feel very strongly about his contribution to international development and the fact that he continued to be interested right up to his recent illness.

While one might debate the merits or demerits of the Iraq war—I still hold to the same view—there is a humanitarian crisis among the displaced people of Iraq, both inside and outside the country, and I would ask for an urgent debate on that subject. The Government have been severely criticised by those who deal with refugee problems owing to our meanness in allowing Iraqis who are in danger in their own country because they helped the coalition, to come to this country. If one looks at the list of countries into which Iraqis have been allowed, this is one of the meanest. I am sorry to use this opportunity to make that point, but I am afraid that it is the only way open to me, and I should like an early debate on that subject.

Mr. Straw: I understand the concern of my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for all her work to help those people. As she will know, we have made major contributions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. On the specific issue that she raises, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is made fully aware of her concerns. We will look for an opportunity for the matter to be raised more fully on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate in Government time on the adequacy of ministerial answers to written parliamentary questions? I am not complaining about the length of time that the Minister concerned took to answer the question, but the content of her answer.

Early in May, I tabled a written parliamentary question asking for the dates of meetings between the Lord Chancellor and officials at the Department for Constitutional Affairs—and the names of those who took part—to discuss the formation of the new Ministry of Justice and the relationship between the judiciary and the Executive. The answer that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), simply said that there had been eight meetings, which were not dated. I was not given the names of those who had attended the meetings, on the basis that to do so would inhibit the frankness and candour of discussion. I wrote back
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saying that that was not really an answer. After consultation with eight civil servants, she said that the answer remained the same.

Can we have an early debate about that? It is not good enough for Ministers to try to brush us off—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We almost have had a debate.

Mr. Garnier: A very timely one, if I may say so.

Mr. Straw: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, you will make me redundant shortly. I shall certainly follow up the matter. I am normally sympathetic to Members on both sides of the House who raise with me issues in relation to inadequate answers, and I usually get a better response for them. I am not particularly sympathetic, however, in the case of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because normal practice in giving information on the number of meetings—including mine—is not to say precisely who has attended them, as that could have a genuinely inhibiting effect on discussion.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): In announcing the business, the Leader of the House mentioned that we would discuss the remaining stages of the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill. May we have a wider debate on bus services? The bus service between my constituency and James Cook hospital has been cut by its operator, Stagecoach, because the subsidy is not big enough. The links between North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals are also being cut because the subsidy is not big enough. Last year, Stagecoach made revenues of £1.5 billion, so it is aptly named, because its examples of highway robbery would make Dick Turpin blush. Can we therefore have a debate on bus services, the vital links that they provide to health services, and the risk to those from the gross profiteering of private operators?

Mr. Straw: We will certainly consider that issue. My hon. Friend will know of my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary’s draft legislative proposals to provide better regulation of bus services outside London.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Will the Leader of the House confirm that changes in voting weights, and all the other matters to which he referred today, were included in the original European constitution, on which both the Prime Minister and the last Labour manifesto promised this country a referendum? Surely all the clever spin in the world about carefully constructed red lines cannot wipe away that commitment. If we are going to restore the trust that has been lost in the past 10 years, would not a full and open debate on the constitution and the constitutional treaty be a good place to start?


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