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The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Chancellor has made it clear that the Government will meet the costs of measures related to our response to international terrorism while continuing to deliver our spending plans within the fiscal rules. Additions to departmental expenditure limits will be announced to Parliament via parliamentary answers in the usual way. It would be inappropriate to give detailed figures about the costs of military operations and related activities at this relatively early stage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has announced humanitarian aid worth £66 million to benefit refugees in Afghanistan and in the surrounding countries.
Mr. Thomas: I thank the Minister for his reply and hope that we see the figures as soon as possible. May I draw his attention to the World Bank report published this morning? It talks of billions of dollars being dedicated to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and of the need to establish an international trust fund to oversee and co-ordinate that work. Is the Minister aware that it will cost $3 billion to reconstruct the west bank and Gaza over the next two years? Does he agree that it would be better to spend money on reconstruction rather than destruction?
Mr. Boateng: The sum of $700 million was pledged by the international community and international institutions to meet the challenges of the crisis in Afghanistan. We are working with our international partners not only in the European Union, but in the United Nations, to meet the scale of the crisis.
I think that all recognise our contributionnot just the £66 million to which I referred the hon. Gentleman, but the assistance we are giving to Pakistan specifically through writing off some £20 million of debt to the Commonwealth Development Corporation. All that is designed to ensure that our response is a generous one that meets the needs and challenges of these times.
In response to concerns expressed to me by a number of Members, I have asked my Chaplain to organise an inter-faith commemoration at 11 am next Wednesday, 14 November, in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft. There will be separate Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayers, and a time of silence, during this half-hour of commemoration. I hope that many Members will wish to join me on this significant occasion, as we pray in our various ways for justice, peace and reconciliation.
Tuesday 13 NovemberOpposition Day [5th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Discrepancies in the Accounts of the Secretary of State's Handling of the Decisions Relating to Railtrack". [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I do not imagine that that comes as a surprise to the Opposition. The debate will be followed by a debate entitled "The Failure of the Government's Stakeholder Pension Scheme".
The House will also wish to be advised that the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill Committee and remaining stages are expected to conclude at midnight on Monday 26 November. We will table a motion next week to allow amendments to be tabled before Second Reading.
Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the details of the business. We are also grateful that the Chancellor has finally let us know that his pre-Budget statement will be made on 27 November. I am sure that that was due to inexorable pressure from the Leader of the House.
Given the universal raspberry that the right hon. Gentleman's announcement yesterday about so-called House of Lords reform seems to have elicited, may we have an early debate on the matter so that we can be quite clear about what, in particular, Government Back Benchers think about the White Paper announced to us yesterday? That might help to inform the consultation that will conclude at the end of January.
As the Leader of the House will recall, the Prime Minister once said that his Government would be "purer than pure". Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he thought that the Prime Minister had financial matters on his mind when he said that, or was he referring to integrity and truthfulness? That would help to inform next Tuesday's debate, and give us something to think about over the weekend.
There has recently been an increasing and regrettable use of holding answers by Ministers. I think all Membersincluding, I suspect, many Labour Membershave found more and more of late that Ministers will not give a straightforward answer even to a straightforward parliamentary question. Will the Leader of the House look into the fact that there is some evidence that answers are leaked to the press before even being given to the House, and report back to us as soon as possible? That rather arrogant attitude is all too typical of the Government. A holding answer is given, and a reply is then sneaked out to the public in one form or another long before a substantive answer is given to the Member of Parliament concerned. I hope that that will be investigated and reported on as a matter of urgency.
Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm that on Monday 19 November the motion to approve the Human Rights Act 1998 (Designated Derogation) Order 2001 may well be subject to the ghastly and unparliamentary deferred Division procedure? It is utterly unacceptable that such an important and substantive measure should be dealt with in that way. Surely even the Leader of the House would acknowledge, even were he to argue that lesser matters such as statutory instruments should be subject to the procedureI do not accept that for a minute, but Labour Members have produced such argumentsthat an issue of substance and importance such as derogations from the Human Rights Act cannot be subjected to an arrangement whereby a debate can take place on one occasion, followed by a vote several days later.
Mr. Cook: Before I respond to the right hon. Gentleman's questions, it may be convenient to the House if I announce business in Westminster Hall. [Interruption.] If the House does not want to hear it, I have no wish to detain the House; but my announcement may be convenient to those who take part in the debates.
I can, in fact, make the right hon. Gentleman happy in responding to another of his questions: there will definitely be a debate on the White Paper on reform of the House of Lords, and I expect such a debate to be held in the other place as well. This is a period of consultation, we want wide consultation, and we certainly want to hear the views of Members on both sides of the House. I hope that by the date that we announce the debate, it will have been possible for the Opposition to reach a conclusion on their own plans for reform of the House of Lords.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned next week's Opposition day. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has repeatedly answered the questions put to him, and he will be happy to come to the House next week and answer them all over again. I should warn the Opposition, however, that there will be a question for them as well. Over the past few days, they have adopted a pose of actually believing that the shareholders' demand for £3.60 a share should be met, although they have been careful not to say precisely that because they know perfectly well that it would cost £1 billion of taxpayers' moneymoney that Labour believes should be spent on passenger safety rather than shareholders.
On Tuesday, we shall want to know whether the Opposition are willing to put public money into that demand. If they cannot confirm that that is the case, I wish they would stop pretending and expressing crocodile sympathy for the shareholders.
On leaks of replies, two weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman chided me about Ministers going on the "Today" programme before making a statement to the House. I have checked the record. I am pleased to say that no Minister since the last general electionno Minister during this Parliamenthas gone on the "Today" programme before making a statement, other than in cases such as Northern Ireland and international terrorism where the subject was very much a matter of public debate anyway. However, two leading members of the Opposition have gone on the "Today" programme to say what they thought about a statement that they had not heard. Perhaps he will draw to his colleagues' attention the same message that I have given, which is that views should be first announced in the House rather than on the "Today" programme.
The right hon. Gentleman has always resisted the deferred Division; he has never liked it. I do not object to him opposing it on this occasion, but I remind him that deferred Divisions have produced much bigger resultsa much larger number of votes. If he regards the order as an important measure, it is surely one on which he would welcome the larger vote that we will get on a deferred Division.