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Business Of The House

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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12.31 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 5 MAY—The House will not be sitting

TUESDAY 6 MAY—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 MAY—Second Reading of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill.

THURSDAY 8 MAY—Second Reading of the Fire Services Bill.

FRIDAY 9 MAY—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 12 MAY—Opposition day [6th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 13 MAY—Progress on consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 14 MAY—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 15 MAY—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day]. [First Part]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a debate on developing a national skills strategy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 16 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for letting us have the business. The Second Reading of the foundation hospitals Bill will take place on 7 May. Will he reconsider whether one day is enough to allow his colleagues to air their views on that Bill? He said last night, in the pleasant little exchange that we had on a parliamentary matter, how grateful he was for the unusual support that he was getting from his parliamentary colleagues. Given that new confidence, perhaps he will consider having a two-day debate on the Second Reading of the foundation hospitals Bill, so that he can wallow further in the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues and demonstrate the extent of support that there is in the Labour party for foundation hospitals. That would be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

May we have a debate very early on the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy? I am told that the current Greek presidency of the European Union has indicated that it wants a final agreement as early as June on the new shape of the CAP. If that is the case, I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that it is extremely important that hon. Members, particularly those with agricultural and rural interests, have an opportunity to have their say about the CAP before the Government commit us to a position on CAP reform. I hope that he will agree that that is urgent and that he will provide Government time to debate it.

My right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor referred yesterday to an astonishing error in the explanatory notes to the Finance Bill, which wrongly stated the basic rate of tax. In fairness to the Treasury—the Chancellor beetled out of the Chamber before he could hear what the shadow Chancellor said—a correction has been issued, but my right hon. and learned Friend asked for an undertaking that the Chancellor would come to the House before next Tuesday's debate on the Finance Bill to correct any further errors in the explanatory notes. We cannot be expected to start a major debate on the Finance Bill ill and erroneously informed by the Treasury about the basic elements of the legislation. I hope that the Leader of the House will confirm that the Chancellor has done his homework, looked through the explanatory notes and satisfied himself that there are no further errors and, if there are, that he will come to the House to correct them. An apology—rare though it would be from the Chancellor—would not be out of place.

Has the Leader of the House opened his parliamentary mail this morning? I am sure that, like me, he opens his own post every morning and peruses the contents. If he has, he will have found a rather odd letter from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The letter was entitled, "Licensing Bill Surgery". I am sure that we would all like to see some—no, a lot of—surgery on the Licensing Bill, but that is not what was meant.

The letter pointed out that the Licensing Bill is currently in Committee, but went on to say:
"Certain aspects of the Bill have been contentious"—
that is a good start; the Secretary of State has at least noticed that—
"and some are still not fully understood."
It is not clear whether she meant by herself or by others. She continued:
"I believe that it is extremely important we are able to answer your fears and concerns"—
presumably including those of the Leader of the House—
"and to clarify any points of misunderstanding. I therefore propose to hold a surgery session at which you can put your points or concerns to my officials, the experts on the Bill."
I thought that that was what Standing Committees were for; to deal with contentious aspects of a Bill, to enable Members to understand it and to clear up any difficulties. The Secretary of State obviously does not believe that. Standing Committees are already being truncated and cut off—not just at the knees, but at other vital parts—and now we see a new departure. The Secretary of State is telling us to forget Committees, because they are a bore, in favour of surgeries for MPs, so that civil servants can do the heavy lifting, explain the nonsenses in a Bill and let Ministers off the hook. Will the Leader of the House explain what the hell is going on? Is he going to attend the surgery and have the Bill explained to him?

On 28 April, the Paymaster General rashly said, in the context of the child and working tax credits, that her
"aim is that … families will get their money by Friday of this week."—[Official Report, 28 April 2003; Vol. 404, c. 54.]
That is tomorrow, so will the Paymaster General make a statement next Tuesday to inform us whether the families have had all their money? That would be a welcome development.

Yesterday the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)—I see him in his place, as ever—asked the Prime Minister a question. The hon. Gentleman first reminded the Prime Minister of a written parliamentary reply of 19 December 2001, in which he had said:
"Lord Wilson said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of the House of Commons and that if there were a development which required a change of policy, he"—
the Prime Minister—
"would at such a moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on his own initiative, make a statement in the House about it."—[Official Report, 19 December 2001; Vol. 377, c. 367W.]
This is an important matter. Yesterday and today, we have had sensational revelations about the apparent tapping of the telephones of Mo Mowlam—a former right hon. Member of this House—a member of the Prime Minister's staff and another Member of Parliament. If the revelations are true, surely the Prime Minister must keep faith with the undertaking of his predecessor, which he has confirmed, to tell the House what is going on.

All Members have an interest in this matter, Mr. Speaker, as must you. If Members of Parliament are to have their telephones tapped. we must know why and how. Most important of all—this is the key question— was it authorised by the Prime Minister? Either he knows what is going on or he does not. This matter is of the highest constitutional importance. I hope that the Leader of the House can either give us reassurances about this matter or instruct the Prime Minister to come to the House early next week to clarify the matter so that we know the truth about it.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. First, I should rectify the record by announcing the business for Westminster Hall, which I omitted to do first time round. I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in that.

On Thursday 15 May, there will be a debate on the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the case for the Human Rights Commission. On Thursday 22 May, there will be a cross-cutting question session on tackling drugs, followed by a debate on the report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on urban charging schemes. I am sure that the whole House will take a deep interest in all that business.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for further and greater debate on foundation hospitals. Within the constraints of parliamentary time, we are always prepared to give as much time as possible to subjects of great importance to the nation and to the future of our public services. That is certainly the case with foundation hospitals. The purpose of foundation hospitals is to give greater managerial freedom at a local level. All my colleagues and I support that purpose. The idea is to move from a top-down management system to one based on a few key rules within which organisations have much greater flexibility over managing their resources and designing services. This innovation is part of our move to devolve responsibility to the front line and improve accountability to patients and the public.

I did in fact read that, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Every word I said was taken from various speeches of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which shows our unanimity on all these issues. We will be extremely happy not only to discuss foundation hospitals, but to do so in the context of a comparison of health records. As the House will know, there are now nearly 50,000 more nurses than when we came to power, over 10,000 more doctors, 300,000 more operations and 750,000 additional elective admissions. When we compare that with what is offered as the alternative, we are more than happy to give time—

I assumed that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee would have known that.

I am precisely answering the question about whether we would be prepared to give more time to debate health and foundation hospitals, particularly the alternative policies to those that we are pursuing; policies of making patients pay more for health care when they need it and slashing by 20 per cent. the amount of money put into health care.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the common agricultural policy and the position of the Greek presidency. At this stage, I am not entirely familiar with that. However, I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will always look for opportunities to debate our support for agriculture within this country. We are investing about £500 million over three years, targeted to help farmers to add value to their products by reconnecting with customers.

On the Finance Bill, I am certain that the Chancellor will have ensured that every dot and comma of his document is accurate. If not, he will, with graciousness, accept responsibility for any mistakes and correct them, as he has done in the past.

I thought that there was a rather ungracious dismissal not only of my colleague, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, but of the whole of Britain's culture and heritage in the rather swiping aside made by the shadow Leader of the House. I understood that he and his party were deeply interested in our culture and heritage and would thus have welcomed the efforts that my colleague, the Secretary of State, is making to offer even more openness and access not only to politicians but to civil servants, and to improve access to our culture and our historical heritage, as witnessed by the huge increase in the number of people in this country who are visiting museums since we abolished entry charges to so many of them.

The shadow Leader mentioned tax credits. This issue is vital; the credits will benefit millions of people. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the task is massive. My understanding is that, at present, claims are being processed in respect of about 3 million of the 4 million received and that about 700 extra staff have been taken on. If anyone who was entitled to receive money last week has not yet received it, I deeply regret that, but I can assure them that a huge amount is being made available. I am sure that the Chancellor and his colleagues will be constantly available to answer questions as things develop. They take seriously the criticisms that have been made of their efforts so far.

The shadow Leader also raised the important issue of telephone tapping. The Prime Minister commented on that yesterday. For reasons that the House will, I hope, appreciate, I do not intend to add further to the comments made by my right hon. Friend, especially as I understand that arrests have been made in connection with the newspaper reports.

I am not sure what has happened during the past few hours, since I came to the House, but I understand that arrests were made. In any case, even in normal circumstances, I should be reticent to make further comments at this stage. I hope that the shadow Leader of the House will accept that position.

I am deputising for my colleague, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is in his constituency promoting local democracy.

First, I welcome the fact that we shall have an early opportunity to debate foundation hospitals. In order to make clear the terms of that debate, can the Leader of the House explain in a little more detail what the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant in his comments to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday? The Chancellor seemed to imply that any additional borrowing for such hospitals would have to be within national health service financial ceilings, and would thus be at the expense of other parts of the NHS, confirming many people's worst fears about that initiative. Will the Leader of the House confirm that I have correctly understood the matter?

Secondly, the Leader of the House will be aware of concern in the House, expressed at Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday and during Trade and Industry Question Time today, about the future of the steel industry. An Adjournment debate on the future of the industry will be held in Westminster Hall next week, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that this is a major issue that affects several regions—the north-east, south Yorkshire and south Wales—and raises major questions about executive pay and unfairness in that respect? Will he therefore ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, after meeting industry representatives tomorrow, returns on Tuesday with a full statement to the House about the crisis in that industry, the job losses and the potential responses?

Lastly, may I welcome the fact that last week we had a gracious apology from the Paymaster General about the administrative problems in the tax credit arrangements? I suggest to the Leader of the House, however, that a potentially even bigger administrative problem arises in relation to pensioners, as a result of the enormous changeover problems associated with post office accounts. Hundreds of thousands of pensioners are now trapped in an extremely complicated bureaucratic process; many are being guided towards bank accounts that they do not want, and many have no provision at all for drawing their cash in the months ahead. Since the Deputy Prime Minister has personally assumed responsibility for banging Ministers' heads together and sorting out the administrative mess, will the Leader of the House ask him to come to the House to make a statement before another Minister has to make another gracious apology for the mix-up that has occurred?

On pensioners, the Government have paid considerable attention to ensuring that the transition in relation to pensioners' access through post offices to benefits and pensions has been done as efficiently and as caringly as possible. As the hon. Gentleman may know, a range of options are now open to pensioners that were previously not available. A range of advantages are associated with that, including, of course, the fact that it minimises the possibility of attacks on pensioners, compared with the previous arrangement. He is absolutely right that, in such a big project, difficulties have arisen. We should be thankful that the Deputy Prime Minister has devoted so much time and energy to the matter. He continues to do so, and I am sure that if there are any other major issues that must be shared with the House, he will do that.

On the steel industry, the Government, along with Back-Bench Labour Members—and, I am sure, the whole House—deeply regret the decisions that have been taken. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I understand more than anyone the effects on individuals and the community of redundancies in the steel industry. At one stage, I had in my area some 20,000 steel jobs. I now have only a few hundred, and these are just outside, and not even inside, my constituency. The Government and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will put in enormous efforts, as we always do in such circumstances, to establish a taskforce to make sure that those who have lost their job are in a position to gain jobs through training and the creation of an environment in which new jobs flourish.

On foundation hospitals, I have already made our position clear, as have all my colleagues, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I quoted earlier. He has said that the purpose of foundation hospitals is to provide greater managerial freedom at local level, which he supports. In any project such as the reform and revitalisation of our public sector and public services, legitimate debate exists about the practical balance between the centre and front-line decisions, high-level decisions and decentralised decision-making, and the need to have prudence in fiscal controls at the centre but a degree of flexibility in borrowing to respond to the differentiated needs, choice and diversity required by modern working families who have greater ambitions than ever before. Of course, there is legitimate debate about that, and we have conducted that debate inside and outside our party in a mature and robust fashion because it is a question of people's lives and the quality of their lives.

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that the Government are totally united on this issue. We always benefit from the Liberal commitment—I think that this was what he said—to sharing and to educating the public on politics, and I hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is absent today, does so with more honesty than the Liberals have shown on the subject of top-up fees. They have been pretending, in their party political broadcasts, that it is possible to provide education without paying for it. That is not the case. One must pay before one goes in or pay when one gets off at the end of the journey of education.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the US organisers of Monday's Baghdad conference failed to find a place for Dr. Besarani, who was the only woman delegate put forward by the Foreign Office? Will he arrange an urgent debate on how those preparations for the Iraqi interim authority are being conducted, and on how this Government's commitment to women's involvement in that process can be realised in practice?

Yes, I am aware of that, and I discussed it this morning with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Minister with responsibility for women's affairs. It is a matter of regret that the lady whom my hon. Friend mentions did not attend that conference, and it would be a matter of regret if women did not play a much fuller part in the future of Iraq than they have so far been allowed to do, as that is a vital component in allowing the Iraqi people to build a modern, democratic society for themselves. I cannot promise that there will be a debate here, but I assure her that this matter is at the forefront of Ministers' attention, and perhaps it is an issue that could be raised in Westminster Hall.

The Leader of the House may know that the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its ninth report a few weeks ago, making important recommendations to guarantee against misuse of the Government information service, to control the numbers and powers of special advisers, to promote the impartiality of the civil service and to revise the code of conduct for Ministers. Will he find time for a debate on this most important subject?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is an important subject. Although I cannot promise at this stage that there will definitely be a debate on it, I assure him that the Government take the matter most seriously.

Can I inform my right hon. Friend that turnout in the local elections has increased in St. Helens from 27 per cent. to 45 per cent. due to the introduction of all-out postal voting? Will he find some time in the House to discuss that important issue, to see what lessons are to be learned from those pilot schemes and to assess whether some of those measures should be made permanent?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the measures that he mentioned increase participation in elections, and I am sure that the Electoral Commission and others will produce a report on the matter. I am sure too that there will be endless possibilities to discuss the matter. Perhaps an Adjournment debate would be an appropriate method of putting some of those issues into the public domain, including the various means used in the trial, such as text messaging and postal balloting. Even interactive television could be used, which would be completely novel as far as this country is concerned. Clearly, however, interest and participation in elections is determined not just by the technical means by which people vote but by the profile and campaigning of political parties. We all therefore have a responsibility to ensure increased participation.

Following the comments about the right to vote, the Leader of the House will be aware that elections are being held today in Scotland and Wales and that elections should have been held in Northern Ireland. Those were postponed, and legislation went through the House under which they were to be held on 29 May. Today, in Northern Ireland, it has been reported in the media that those elections have been postponed. I have just been told that a junior Minister in the Dail has confirmed that they are postponed. Surely the House, which passed the legislation, should have been informed, rather than hearing it from the media and from a Minister in another Government.

If any decision had been taken, the House would have been informed. The reality is that the date has been set—29 May—as the hon. Gentleman knows. There are no current plans to postpone those elections. We want to go into an election in which voters elect people to an Assembly with a real prospect of assuming devolved power. Time is pressing, but we remain focused on trying to bring that about. If and when any decision is made, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that, if there is any change in those arrangements, we will immediately bring such a decision to the House at the first opportunity.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1120, which is the last one to be published and is entitled "Solidarity with the Iraqi Independent Trade Union Movement"?

[That this House recalls that on May Day 1959 the Iraqi Labour Movement mobilised one million people out of the then population of 14 million for a massive march in Baghdad to celebrate International Workers' Day; sends its heartfelt solidarity to the Workers' Democratic Trade Union Movement in the Iraqi Republic on the occasion on 1st May 2003 of the first free labour movement march since the demise of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship; further notes that the Iraqi trade union movement is working for the creation of a unified, federal and democratic Iraq that transcends religious, ethnic and nationalist divisions and also guarantees political andtrade union rights, which were denied by the Baathist regime and its bogus trade union machine; and supports their call for the transfer of power from the occupying forces to an interim and broadly based coalition government which could remove the remnants of Saddam's dictatorship and prepare a permanent constitution which would provide the basis for free and fair elections under the direct supervision of the United Nations.]

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the workers democratic trade union movement on organising a march in Baghdad today, May day, that helps us to remember the massive demonstration of 1 million people out of a population of 14 million that took place in Baghdad in 1959? Can the early-day motion be part of a debate on the future of Iraq, in which we can discuss its democratisation and reconstruction and deal with the point about the 300 people who were drawn together in Baghdad to get democratic procedures moving? No one from a trade union was represented in that group, there was probably one person from the Labour movement, an Assyrian socialist and a few women. The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) could obviously also be dealt with, because no women trade unionists attended because no trade unionists at all were present.

I am familiar with the early-day motion entitled "Solidarity with the Iraqi Independent Trade Union Movement". Indeed, I have a great deal of sympathy for its contents. My honourable Friend draws a parallel with the participation of women in the new Iraq and their complete absence in the new formations that have been established, a point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) will be aware that we are coming out of very difficult circumstances, including a military campaign. We are in the very early stages of allowing the formation of systems and structures whereby the Iraqi people will determine their own future, but I hope that two things will ultimately transpire. The first is an Iraq that is for the Iraqi people themselves, and secondly, I hope that the form of government there will be as democratic and as inclusive as possible and will allow the whole spectrum of the people of Iraq to participate in the decisions about the future of their country. We would all be pleased if that could be achieved.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1090?

[That this House applauds the bravery and valour of Coalition forces, deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom; congratulates all servicemen involved on their professionalism in securing the aims of their mission so quickly; remembers those who tragically lost their lives in the service of Queen and country; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to organise a heroes parade through the streets of London, for all returning UK servicemen to mark their homecoming.]

The motion is about the need for a heroes' homecoming parade for all the brave service men and women who have served our country in the Gulf. As the war concludes, will e right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Government to make a statement on when a homecoming parade will take place through the streets of London so that the British people can rightly salute the bravery and courage of our service men and women as they return from that conflict?

I have some sympathy for the contents of that early-day motion, as the hon. Gentleman might expect given my past association with our armed forces. We fully understand the sentiment behind the motion and, once again, we congratulate our forces on the professionalism and courage that they have demonstrated in Iraq. Of course, we remember with pride, gratitude and a great deal of sadness those who have given their lives in the conflict.

An event for the armed forces personnel returning from duty in the Gulf is certainly a possibility; it is under consideration. It could take one of various forms—a memorial service, some sort of homecoming parade or whatever. However, it is too early for me to say when that might be appropriate or what exact form it might take.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1086 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham)?

[That this House notes that on Workers' Memorial Day on 28th April the London death watch unit, a joint initiative of the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council and the General Municipal & Boilermakers Union, London Region, issued new figures obtained from the Health and Safety Executive listing 191 work-related deaths since 1996 in the London area alone; further notes that the vast majority of these deaths were in the construction and maintenance industries; and believes that these sad new statistics highlight the importance of the Government bringing forward, at the earliest possible opportunity, the long-awaited legislation on corporate killing and the reform of the law on involuntary manslaughter designed to improve the chances of successfully prosecuting those employers known to have flouted health and safety regulations and which have contributed to the deaths of their employees.]

The motion points out that, since 1996, there have been 191 work-related deaths in the London area alone, and most of them were in the maintenance and construction industries. It calls for legislation to make corporate killing a crime, which has been in the headlines a great deal recently because we are approaching the first anniversary of the Potters Bar train crash in which a number of people lost their lives and several were injured. Jarvis, the contractor involved, not only evaded prosecution but briefed the press to the effect that there had been sabotage when there was absolutely no evidence that that had taken place. That is a sign of the kind of people with whom we are dealing. Is it not about time that we had the crime of corporate killing on the statute book?

I note what my hon. Friend says and the contents of the early-day motion to which he draws my attention. I am sure that, like many others in the House, I have a great deal of understanding of its contents and sympathy for the sentiments that it expresses. As he probably knows, the Government are committed to reforming the law to increase corporate liability for manslaughter, and we will do that when parliamentary time allows. Our intention is to provide a clearer avenue for securing successful prosecutions against undertakings whose health and safety standards have fallen far below what could reasonably be expected and where the failure to uphold standards has, in part, been responsible for a death.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement about the Government's relationships with British Aerospace? I ask this because, earlier this week, Sir Michael Boyce, the retiring Chief of the Defence Staff, once again questioned the Government's commitment to purchasing all 232 Eurofighters currently under construction in my constituency. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Government have yet to give a firm commitment to buy the second tranche of those aircraft, and today British Aerospace put on notice more than 400 jobs at its Brough plant because the Government have yet to make up their mind on buying the advanced jet trainer. To remove those uncertainties from aerospace workers, particularly in the northern half of the country, will he arrange for a statement to clarify the Government's position?

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Defence will have heard the right hon. Gentleman's comments. However, if I were my right hon. Friend, I would immediately respond by saying it is rather bizarre to question our commitment to providing the resources necessary for our armed forces when, unlike the previous Government, instead of slashing defence expenditure we have—for the first time in a long while—increased it. The right hon. Gentleman refers to British Aerospace, but he might like to recall that not only have the Government provided the biggest naval programme that any Government have ever provided for the Royal Navy but, only recently, we announced the building of two huge aircraft carriers in which the prime contractor will be British Aerospace.

I will draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence, but my right hon. Friend may be rather less generous in accepting them than if they had carried more substance.

I am conscious of the pressure on the parliamentary programme that additional debates on Iraq may have caused, but is my right hon. Friend able to find time for a debate on the Learning and Skills Council's review of the area cost uplift? He will know that, as a result of that review, colleges such as North West London college in my constituency may face a shortfall of up to £1.4 million each year. The criteria that the Learning and Skills Council used in assessing the area cost uplift take into account two conflicting factors. The first is the high cost of living in a particular area, and the other is the possible detraction of a particularly insalubrious area. It seems that the council has been able to use those criteria to argue whatever case suits it when it arrives at the final figures for the area cost uplift.

I fully understand the importance that my hon. Friend places on the Learning and Skills Council. He will appreciate that it is not always possible, even with very important issues, to make time available because of the tremendous strain of business that we have in the House. The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) announced a Commons calendar last October that gave precise, though provisional, dates of recesses. I remind the House—[Interruption.] I shall also remind the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), if she will listen to what I was about to say, that the dates were provisional and the calendar came with a health warning that it would

"depend on the progress of business."—[Official Report, 31 October 2003; Vol. 391, c. 1001.]

Events in Iraq had a considerable impact on the business of the House. There were demands for regular updates and for unprecedented debates on whether the House would support a conflict and our troops' participation. I do not complain about such demands and the House will accept that the Government responded fully to them. However, a considerable strain has been placed on the time available for the House to consider legislation. The situation changes on a daily basis, but with the support and co-operation of all hon. Members it still might be possible to achieve the dates that were provisionally announced.

The Leader of the House said a few moments ago—encouragingly, if somewhat tendentiously—that he and the Government are always prepared to allow sufficient time to discuss important issues in the Chamber. In the light of that comment, has he reflected on comments from senior members of the other place about the amount of time that the House discussed the Communications Bill? Lord Fowler of Sutton Coldfield, who is a highly respected and senior member, pointed out earlier this week that many clauses had not been discussed in the House. I spoke on Report about the market dominance of the BBC, and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport explained courteously to me afterwards that he would have liked to respond to my points but he did not have time in which to do that. Given that the Leader of the House has said that he intends to ensure that the House has sufficient time to consider matters, I hope that he will bear in mind the experience of our consideration of that Bill.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I am aware of several things that he mentioned. I understand that the programming of the Bill allowed adequate time to cover several of the issues that he mentioned. If Opposition Members had not spent inordinate time on other matters, those to which he refers could have been covered adequately. He will appreciate that we try to treat such matters as seriously as possible despite the huge constraints that are placed on us. We try to allow sufficient time for consideration, but if Opposition Members spend inordinate time on issues that the hon. Gentleman might consider to be less important, that has an impact on more important issues.

Can my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent statement on the appalling suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which was apparently conducted by two British citizens—Asif Mohammed Hanif, who killed three people as well as himself and injured many more; and Omar Khan Sharif, who is wanted in Israel for that attack? The statement should examine the links between those individuals and fundamentalist extremists in Britain such as Abu Hamza and organisations such as al-Muhajiroun. A representative of its leadership, Anjam Choudhury, spoke on Radio 4 this morning and appeared to encourage and endorse suicide attacks in Britain by citizens from overseas. Is it not about time that we got to grips with the appalling problem of Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism in Britain?

First, I want to express my deep regret, and that of the whole House, about the events that led to the tragic deaths. Of course, there were more deaths among the Palestinians overnight. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his considerable work to expose the dangers posed by, and the work of, some of the extremists in this country. I was heartened that the Muslim Council of Britain, which claims to represent more than 350 Islamic organisations and mosques in the United Kingdom, condemned the words of al-Muhajiroun on the "Today" programme this morning. The secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, said that Mr. Choudhury's comments were inflammatory and would harm community relations in Britain. He said that it was alarming to think that young Britons could be involved in acts of such a ghastly nature. All hon. Members would agree with those words and with the words with which he finished:

"Let us be absolutely clear. The loss of innocent life is against the laws of humanity"—
irrespective, I would add, of the religion to which people adhere.

Has the Leader of the House yet had time to find out what on earth has happened to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill? I raised the matter before Easter and I had expected to hear from him. The Bill was considered in 12 short Committee sittings under a Government timetable motion meaning that most of it was not discussed at all—that practice is becoming more frequent. That happened more than three months ago, and four months will have passed before the House may consider the Bill's Report stage. Has the Bill been mislaid, will it be withdrawn, or is it on course?

The hon. Gentleman has raised that point before. The Bill is important, but I cannot give him more comfort than I did last time. We make every effort to ensure that important Bills are passed as quickly as possible. That is not possible in all cases, but we have been assisted by several elements of the modernisation of the House such as pre-legislative scrutiny and carryover. However, there is limited time even with such assistance. I hear the hon. Gentleman's comments but regret that I cannot give him a more definite answer.

My right hon. Friend will recognise the significance of the British construction industry not only to the Government's programme but to export potential. Will he grant a debate on that on the Floor of the House? If that is not possible, will he consider allowing questions about the British construction industry to be asked in one of the cross-cutting question sessions that have been so successfully held in Westminster Hall?

I entirely agree. The construction industry is regarded as rather old fashioned in some quarters, but it is anything but that. It is at the forefront of British industrial practice, and I hope that all the work done by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is widely recognised by hon. Members. The United Kingdom construction industry is experiencing the strongest growth of such an industry in Europe and, in 2001, it secured £4.7 billion-worth of new work in other countries. It does not operate only at home, but in the international sphere. I regret that some Opposition Members have attempted to decry the Government's efforts to assist the construction industry, especially with regard to Iraq. I was pleased that prominent members of the industry, such as AMEC, wrote to the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen to ask them to desist from so doing because the Government have been extremely effective at bringing what the British construction industry could offer to the attention of the relevant United States authorities, as well as making other international efforts. I hope that we can all pull together in support of cur industry rather than dividing and trying to undermine efforts that have been made.

Order. There are a few hon. Members standing. I wish to call them all but I need them to cooperate by asking brief questions of the Leader of the House.

Following the important question asked by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the murderous bomb attack in Tel Aviv, can the Leader of the House persuade the Home Secretary to make a statement on the possibility of reintroducing exit controls on passport holders at British airports and ports to ensure that the United Kingdom does not export terrorism to friendly countries overseas?

I am sure that that matter is under discussion in the Foreign Office in the light of that regrettable event. All the implications of such an event are being considered as we speak, and have been for some time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments have been heard.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1100?

[That this House notes the statement by the honourable Member for Kingston and Surbiton on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that 'War is not an issue for the local elections. Our advice to candidates has been not to campaign on it because, with British citizens fighting, it's in poor taste; further notes that in Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester and elsewhere, Liberal Democrat local election candidates have been seeking to con Muslim electors into voting for them by campaigning on an anti-Iraq war platform; and observes that such opportunistichypocrisy by Liberal Democrat local government candidates, not to mention poor taste, is entirely characteristic of every aspect of Liberal Democrat campaigning.]

I am concerned that despite assurances from those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench that the war in Iraq would play no part in the local election campaigns, local Liberal Democrat council candidates are campaigning today on an anti-war platform while our brave service men and women serve in Iraq. Is it possible to find time to debate that subject so that ': he Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen can answer for their local election candidates?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. It is perhaps too parti pris to comment that we are used to the Liberal Democrats saying one thing in the House and another thing on the doorstep. For the Liberal Democrats, it is often worse than that, however. To get elected in last year's local elections, Liberal Democrat candidates who were husband and wife managed both to oppose and to support hotly disputed issues of local parking restrictions during the same campaign. I suppose that shows us how family friendly their policies can be. Indeed, they are so expanded that they can incorporate contradictory points of view. I am sure that, like the House, the public recognise that pretending to be all things to all people is not credible. Those who promise everything to everyone rarely deliver anything to anyone.

I back the call of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for an early debate on reform of the common agricultural policy. The Leader of the House may not be aware, but Brandons turkey factory closed with immediate effect this week, leading to a loss of 300 jobs at Dalton near Thirsk in the Vale of York. In all probability, 60 turkey farms will go out of business and 50 suppliers and contractors will lose access to that market, all of which is on top of an ongoing farm crisis across North Yorkshire. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is well briefed on the subject. Would it be possible to debate the matter be Fore decisions are taken in Brussels on reform of the CAP?

I referred to that matter earlier. The hon. Lady has taken a deep interest in such matters for many years. I agree with many of her comments and we are often on the same side of an argument, which I hope does not further antagonise the Conservative Front Bench towards her. I am sure that we will explore all opportunities to discuss that important issue, if not here then in other forums in the House.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Zimbabwean cricketers are about to arrive in this country. Many of us remember that during the worst excesses of the apartheid regime, the sports boycott was one of the most effective boycotts. Does he agree that this rather grubby tour gives all the wrong signals? We want a truly democratic regime in Zimbabwe that will deal with human rights abuses. With the best will in the world, it gives out the wrong signal to have their cricketers here.

I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's comments. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a deep disappointment to everyone who wanted a flourishing, prosperous and democratic future for its people after a long time during which they were prevented from controlling their destiny. It is one of the terrible tragic ironies of history that, after a brief interlude in historical terms, they find themselves once again denied real democratic control over their country. Perhaps it is even more tragic and ironic this time because someone who comes from the biggest ethnic group in Zimbabwe—the Shona tribe—is preventing the people from reaching their full democratic destiny.

May I first tell the Leader of the House that neither he nor the Prime Minister can or should hide behind a sub judice rule that does not exist or apply in the case of tapping MPs' telephones? No one has been charged so the sub judice rule does not apply. Secondly, in respect of the Prime Minister's final comments yesterday, the Wilson rules have been breached or varied by him and a statement should be made, as the rules provided for an exception from the normal rule under which the Prime Minister does not normally comment on security matters. Thirdly, my parliamentary questions have been blocked under the blocking rule. That simply will not do. It cannot be sustained. The sooner that clarity is provided and a statement made from the Dispatch Box, the better for the Government and the House.

On the final point, I am not aware of the details of my hon. Friend's questions. No doubt he will bring those to my attention outside the Chamber. On the allegations that appeared in a newspaper deriving from a book on telephone tapping, I have nothing to add. I note that my hon. Friend makes the distinction between arrests and charges. I also note, as he will do, that events in Northern Ireland change with amazing rapidity, almost by the minute as we now know, both on that subject and in respect of other events that take place there. What I say at one moment can be contradicted at another because circumstances change. Although he draws the distinction between investigation, arrest, charge and so on, I stand by the comments on that subject that I made about half an hour ago.