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Commons Chamber

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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House Of Commons

Thursday 22 May 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Skills

The Secretary of State was asked

Teacher Vacancies


What assessment he has made of the number of teacher vacancies. [114994]

National statistics published by my Department on 29 April show that, between 2002 and 2003, the number of full-time teacher vacancies in maintained schools in England fell by 1,140, or 25 per cent. The national teacher vacancy rate is now below 1 per cent. At regional level, the number of vacancies has fallen in eight out of the nine Government office regions, including a 35 per cent. drop in Yorkshire and Humberside.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am rather surprised by the statistic, because I spoke recently with Barnsley local education authority and I was told that we have fewer vacancies in Barnsley than there have been for a good number of years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that indicates that things are beginning to change and that teachers are being attracted to areas that are regenerating their economies and renewing their social structures, and that at the same time we are retaining teachers with experience, which is beginning to show through in areas such as Barnsley?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The figures confirm the experience of his colleagues in Barnsley and what he is describing, in that the national teacher vacancy rate is now 0.9 per cent. That indicates how well our policies are succeeding in delivering better teachers, better classrooms and better results.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the teacher redundancy crisis at Edenham high school in Croydon is only the tip of the iceberg? Schools such as Woodcote high, Coloma girls and, as reported in today's Croydon Guardian, another school, Coulsdon high school, are on a four-and-a-half-day week. The problem is that contrary to what the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, the education budget in Croydon is inadequate. To make it worse, the local Labour authority has siphoned off £1.7 million for non-educational purposes.

The Government blame the council and the council blames the Government. Six years ago, the Prime Minister said that his top priorities were "Education, education, education." Today, we see only shambles, chaos and children caught in the crossfire.

I am very well aware of the position both in the schools to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and in Croydon generally. Croydon is one of those authorities that has not passported all its money to education, as it should have done. We have made it clear to the local education authority that it should do that. Croydon is also one of those authorities that is working with schools to try to resolve this situation in an effective way. My Department is also working with LEAs, such as Croydon, specifically discussing with them the best way to proceed. I would say to head teachers that they should work closely with the LEA to resolve the situation, rather than taking the sort of steps that were taken yesterday.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable to parents and to children for pupils to be sent home early from schools? Does he agree that it is time to re-examine regional distributions? Does he agree also that it is time to examine whether funding should be made directly from his Department to schools? Further, will he agree to meet me to discuss with representatives from Croydon a strategy for this year to next year to ensure that there is sufficient cash for our children's education?

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful question. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has met colleagues from Croydon, and will continue to do so. [Interruption.] I meant that seriously—it was a helpful question. It is important that we have a proper debate about the funding issues in schools. It is important also that Members represent their constituents' interests in the way that both the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) and my hon. Friend have sought to do. It was not an ironic remark.

I will not inflate the situation by using strong language about what has gone on in the schools, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that schools should not be closing for even part of the day in the current circumstances while the LEA, the Department and schools are working together to resolve these problems in an effective manner.

May I, too, ask the Secretary of State a helpful question? What sort of message does he think it is sending to potential teachers that there may be vacancies in many areas but there will be 3,000 redundancies throughout the country, and 92 in his and my education authority? Has he yet seen the letter from Dr. Bryan Slater, the chief education officer for Norfolk county council, to his Department, which line by line refutes the arguments advanced by the Department that in some way Norfolk has not passed on all the funds to schools? In those areas where funds have not as yet been passed on, the irony is that that has not happened because of the Department's guidelines. Surely the buck stops with the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, not with schools and not with LEAs.

I have two things to say in response. First, the survey reported this morning in the newspaper to which the hon. Gentleman referred is, as the newspaper itself acknowledged, a self-selecting partial survey in which only one in 17 of those surveyed responded. It bears no relation—I emphasise this—to information that we have had from local education authorities about the situation.

Secondly, on the Norfolk case, the document that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which referred to 92 potential redundancies, is a paper that the authority sent in response to recent ring-rounds and which was copied to trade unions and others, and no doubt it is in the public arena. As the LEA said, and I have had confirmation of it this morning, it represents all possible cases. The cause is a mix of budget problems and falling rolls. However, there are as many vacancies as posts at risk, so the LEA is working to re-deploy as many as possible. In addition, the 92 potential redundancies were from before the devolved formula capital announcement that I made a week or so ago, so the actual number, according to the LEA, will be nothing like as big as the figure mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. That story is repeated throughout the country. LEAs are working, like Conservative Norfolk county council—I give it credit—with schools, teachers and my Department to ensure that the problems are minimised. The kind of partial survey published in The Times this morning, based on inaccurate and outdated information, does nothing to assist the situation in any way.

As my right hon. Friend rolls out his specialist schools policy, will he be extremely careful to examine the impact that that will have on teacher shortages in particular subjects, and will he study carefully the Select Committee's report, "Secondary Education: Diversity of Provision", which was published this morning? It might give him some useful guidance in that area.

I will study my hon. Friend's Committee's report extremely carefully. I have seen the news reports of its publication, but as I am sure he will understand, I have not yet had a chance to study the report itself. I will take account of what it recommends. The overall teacher vacancy position that I described shows the kind of measures that we can take to improve the quality of education in all types of schools throughout the country.

The Secretary of State just sought to rubbish the survey in The Times this morning, which suggested that there will be 3,000 teacher redundancies as a result of the Government's funding crisis in schools. If he thinks that that is the wrong figure, how many teachers' jobs does he think are at risk because of the funding crisis?

We believe that the overall level of redundancies—there are falling rolls in some parts of the country—will be of the same order as in past years. That is the precise question that we are discussing with LEAs, as I described in response to the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson). We are not in a position to make an estimate at this stage, but I can say that both the particular figures cited—the 92 in Norfolk and the 3.000 in the self-selecting survey published in The Times today—are massive exaggerations.

The Secretary of State seems to be admitting that some teachers at least will be made redundant as a result of the funding crisis. He knows that the redundancy notices will have to go out by the end of this month. His Department underspent by £1 billion last year. Why does he not take some useful action and use some of that money to stop teachers being sacked? The crisis is real, and his response so far has been hopelessly inadequate.

We debated the matter at length last week. We expect a reduction of about 50,000 pupils in nursery and primary schools this year and over the next two years. That is spread unevenly across the country. LEAs are trying to manage the falling rolls as best they can, but it leads to difficult situations in particular schools. Let me cite another local authority to praise it. Yesterday, a special meeting of Northumberland county council agreed to give £1.5 million to the county's 213 schools in a bid to boost budgets. The funds are being recycled from a contingency fund. According to the council's press release, that will prevent 19 threatened redundancies in 14 schools, and allow other schools to boost their education budgets. Such action is being taken by LEAs throughout the country. I cite only one example. It indicates that we are working with LEAs to resolve the problem, and that is what we will do.

Higher Education Funding


What publicly funded scholarships and bursaries are available to assist students from low-income backgrounds to participate in higher education. [114995]

A number of publicly funded bursaries already exist for students from low-income families. They include opportunity bursaries, learning allowances for student parents, and student awards from hardship funds. The Government also fund student bursaries for those training in public sector work—teaching, social work and a range of health professions. From 2004, new students will be able to apply for the new higher education grant of up to £1,000 each year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but I hope that she will agree that the current system is complicated for potential students. Will she consider a proposal to reintroduce state scholarships that are based on merit and means tested? Such scholarships could be both publicly and privately funded, and would help to achieve her objective of improving access for students from low-income backgrounds.

I accept that we need to be better at getting proper information out to potential students about the funding that is available to support them during their university degrees. We have a system of what could be termed state scholarships in terms of the fee remission scheme and the introduction of the higher education grant. Going beyond that, we want institutions themselves to accept responsibility for ensuring that they have bursary schemes to support students from low-income families, rather than having further central prescription. However, I am always willing to consider new ideas from hon. Members.

Does the Minister agree that one does not raise the aspirations of one group of children by suppressing those of another? Is there not every likelihood that that is what the access regulator, or "Offtoff", will do? Here is a suggestion to the Minister: scrap "Offtor, leave universities free to admit on merit and spend the savings on poor students, of whom there are all too many under this Government's policies.

I find it very hard to understand how cutting student numbers can open access and increase opportunities, particularly for those from low-income families who wish to attend universities. I also find it very hard to understand how the Big Brother regulator that the Opposition undoubtedly want to introduce to tell universities which courses they can and cannot offer would improve access for students. It may well be that the hon. Gentleman does not like our proposal to introduce OFFA, the office of fair access, which will ensure fair access for students in all our universities, but I am not sure that I think much of the Opposition's idea of simply telling students to OFF off.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proportion of children from poor households going to university in this country is still far too low? Does she know of any other country in the world that does not have a target to increase participation? Can she tell me what proportion of households pay the full tuition fee at the moment?

I completely concur with my hon. Friend that too few young people from low-income households are going to university. The thrust of all our policies is to ensure that the brightest and most talented young people, from whatever background, get the opportunity to go to university. I also concur that no developed nation that is aspiring to compete economically in the global economy is not increasing the number of people who are participating and going to university. Finally, he is right to draw to the attention of the House the fact that only four out of 10 young people currently pay the full contribution to the fee that we ask of students.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) is absolutely right; information is not getting through to students, as the Minister admits. That is because the way in which she answered the question was about as clear as mud. Why is she spending so much time and money setting up all these complicated schemes that no one understands, when the simple solution is so obvious? My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) announced our policy to great acclaim last week. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State knows that this is right. The way to encourage more young people from all backgrounds to come into higher education is to scrap university fees altogether. Why do not the Government simply abolish the tax on learning?

I welcome the hon. Lady's guest appearance. I am delighted that the Conservatives have finally introduced a policy on higher education—one of their first—and I am sure that it will unravel very quickly. Underlying it is the clear message that if someone wants their child to go to university, they should not vote Conservative because under their policy there would not be a place for that child.

It seems obvious that only a minority of students would benefit from a limited supply of scholarships and bursaries. If we want to widen participation in higher education, as we all do on this side of the House at least, we should reintroduce state grants for all students. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the only realistic way forward in the long term?

I would make three points to my hon. Friend. First, four out of 10 young students do not have their fees remitted. Secondly, with the introduction of a higher education grant on top of a well-subsidised student loan, a third of the student cohort will receive £1,000 a year. Thirdly, by abolishing the payment of an up-front contribution towards the cost of fees, no student will have to contribute to the cost of their education during their time at university. Graduates who benefit personally from gaining a degree should contribute over their lifetime to the cost of that degree from their earnings. It is therefore graduates who pay, not students.

Criminal Records Bureau


If he will make a statement on Criminal Records Bureau checks for teachers. [114996]

The average turnaround time for Criminal Records Bureau checks on teachers is less than five weeks. Head teachers have discretion to allow teachers to start work before receiving their disclosure, provided that they have been checked against list 99 and all other relevant pre-employment checks have been carried out.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I am sure he will recall the chaos into which the CRB descended last year, when many thousands of teachers were awaiting checks, schools were in limbo, and children were left wondering whether there would be a teacher in their classroom. Will the Minister confirm that it would be wrong for the CRB substantially to increase its charges for disclosures well above the rate of inflation to make good the cost of its cock-ups? Would it not be wrong for teachers, local education authorities and children to have to pay more to make good the errors of the CRB?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the CRB is now processing 40,000 disclosures a week, and the backlog to which he referred is all but cleared. The full operation of the CRB is obviously a matter for the Home Secretary, and I understand that he has the various issues under review.

If the backlog is all but cleared, why does Essex county council have 400 applications outstanding, 50 of which were made a year ago? That is spectacular incompetence, even by the Department's standards. When will Essex's outstanding applications be cleared?

The honest answer is that Essex is part of the "but" rather than the "all" in my earlier description of the CRB's activities. It is processing 40,000 applications a week, and I am sure that it will come to the Essex disclosures as soon as possible.

Connexions Partnerships


If he will make a statement on the publication of the first three Ofsted reports on Connexions partnerships. [114998]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

I am pleased to say that Ofsted has judged all three partnerships to be good. In each case, Ofsted found that the partnership enables young people to reach good levels of achievement; has a good overall quality of practice; has a good understanding of the communities that it serves; and has good leadership and management, together with committed staff.

I thank my hon. Friend. With that positive outcome and, I trust, a further good report from the west of England Connexions Partnership board, will he confirm that Connexions partnerships make a real difference to young people in their progression to their adult working lives?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for supporting the work of Connexions in her constituency. While I cannot disclose the results of the Ofsted report in her area, she will not be disappointed. To underline the progress that Connexions is now making, in a recent independent survey of more than 16,000 young people who have used the service, 91 per cent. said that they were satisfied or very satisfied; 90 per cent. agreed that Connexions had a lot to offer young people; 86 per cent. felt that it helped them to understand all the options available to them; and 68 per cent. said that it had helped them make life-changing decisions. Up and down the country, Connexions is beginning to make a real difference to the life chances of young people.

Those are fine words, but can the Minister confirm that the Ofsted report says that only around half of Connexions staff have direct contact with young people, and that in Lincolnshire and Rutland that figure dropped to just 40 per cent.?

Can he also confirm that this year, with a budget of £429 million, the Connexions service is spending just £4.5 million—1 per cent.—with voluntary organisations that work with the most vulnerable young people in our society? Does he accept that growing bureaucracy is one of the main reasons why many voluntary organisations often see Connexions as a rival, not a partner, and what steps is he taking to address that problem before voluntary organisations completely lose faith in the Connexions service?

In a recent debate, I made a commitment to the hon. Gentleman that I would analyse the relationship between Connexions and the voluntary and community sector. I can bring him the good news that in fact the proportion of money that is spent on voluntary and community services in Connexions partnerships areas is not 1 per cent. The guidance said that it should be 5 per cent.; we believe that on average it is 6 per cent. We accept that the development of a new service will have strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses that were identified in the initial Ofsted report included the need for better quality assurance systems and for a more strategic approach to the involvement of young people. We must address those concerns.

We do not pretend that an entirely new service has got everything right. It is important, however, to support the positive partnerships that are taking place and to recognise the fact that young people are getting an integrated service that brings together all the professionals in communities to ensure that they can overcome the barriers that too often get in the way of progressing and achieving in their learning and their lives.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, welcome as the Ofsted report is, it is even more important to get the kind of positive response that he got from parents and users at the Connexions centre in Burnley when he visited it? That shows that the Connexions service is doing an excellent job, and supports what the Ofsted report says.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments. Burnley is going through difficult times. On my recent visit, it was encouraging and reassuring to meet young people who are benefiting from the Connexions service by seeing life chances and opportunities opening up. We need such policy developments to ensure that people in areas such as Burnley do not turn to extremist parties, but see the direct benefits of mainstream politics and politicians. One of those benefits is the development of the Connexions service, an initiative of which the Government are incredibly proud.

Tuition Fees


What evidence he has evaluated on charging different fees for different higher education courses. [114999]


What evidence he has evaluated on charging different fees for different higher education courses. [115002]

As our White Paper identified, a number of independent reports have shown that graduate earnings vary significantly, depending on a student's chosen course and university. For example, a new report published this week by the Centre for the Economics of Education confirms that graduates from Russell group universities are likely to earn more than those from other universities. Given that difference in potential earnings, and given the need to increase funding for higher education, we consider that the fairest way to proceed is to have a variable fee regime.

My right hon. Friend knows that courses in the science and engineering disciplines are far more expensive to run than other courses, and that we are desperately short of good-quality graduates in those fields. If differential fees are allowed, universities might take the option of charging higher fees for those courses. Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the continuing closure of science and engineering departments? The latest announcement is that King's college's chemistry department might close. Would not the introduction of differential fees make matters worse?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about any potential closures of university science and engineering departments. We are discussing with universities and the industries concerned how to mitigate that. I do not accept, however, that a variable fee regime would have the implications that he describes. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence that for both men and women, higher returns over and above two or more A-levels are associated with studying medicine, law, economics, maths and engineering—subjects such as those that my hon. Friend mentions—and it is not unreasonable that the fees regime should reflect that.

My right hon. Friend mentioned medicine as a subject that might fall into the category that needs special attention. He knows that there is an increasing need for doctors in the national health service, partly due to the immense investment that we are making in it. Does he share my anxiety and that of the British Medical Association that the differential fee policy could have a disproportionate effect on medical students? Has he evaluated the potential effect on the supply of doctors?

My hon. Friend's focus on the state of medical education is correct. I am discussing the way in which we tackle such issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. We are considering several alternative routes, including the golden hellos and handshakes that already apply in some disciplines. My hon. Friend is right to raise the matter, but I believe that we have solutions to ensure a continuing supply of good, high-quality medical students who are committed to expanding the health service.

Given that the latest evidence shows that some courses carry a negative graduate premium, does the Secretary of State accept that, according to his logic, those who take such courses should be paid to go to university?

I do not accept that, hon. Members will be surprised to know. The impact of the regime will happen over four or five years as we ascertain the way in which universities and vice-chancellors decide to deal with specific courses. There will be much more variety in fees than people currently believe. Some universities will probably reduce the fees from the current £1,100—possibly even to zero—to take account of some of the factors that the hon. Gentleman described. We will therefore have a more diverse system, which will be generally beneficial.

Industries in the United States put millions of dollars without strings attached into their local universities, thus allaying many of their financial problems. Why does not that culture prevail in this country?

I think the reason is that the relationship between the higher education sector and industry is not strong enough. We are actively promoting discussion about that. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I hosted a seminar with the Confederation of British Industry and universities to discuss the matter. As my hon. Friend knows, despite the extra money from business to which he referred, American universities charge fees that are massively higher than anything that we anticipate in this country. I do not believe that there is a connection between the issue that my hon. Friend raised and the variable fee regime.

The Centre for the Economics of Education study to which the Secretary of State referred concluded that the introduction of differential fees would make the signal that is attached to a degree fuzzier to employers and reinforce existing divisions in the university sector. Does the Secretary of State agree?

I do not agree. The most interesting fact in the survey is the 2.5 to 6 per cent. variation in earnings premium for students at Russell group universities. It concludes that some universities could charge between £3,000 and £7,000 a year more, and that that would be justified by the premium. We suggest nothing like such a variation, but it is reasonable to show clearly and directly that society and the individual benefit from university education. That should be acknowledged.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that excellent regional universities—for example, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle and Sunderland—are anxious that they will be at a disadvantage if an élite group of universities, mainly in the south-east of England, are allowed to raise their fees to figures upwards of £10,000 a year, as today's newspapers reported the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education as saying?

First, nobody is anticipating putting fees up to that kind of level. Secondly, my hon. Friend's question gives me the chance to pay tribute to the five universities in the north-east that are working extremely well together to promote the kind of collaboration that we have been describing, precisely to avoid the effects about which my hon. Friend has expressed concern. It is through that form of collaboration that we can establish a regime that will enrich the university sector as a whole in an entirely beneficial way.

Teacher Redundancies


What discussions he has had with teaching unions about teacher redundancies in financial year 2003–04. [115000]

Ministers and officials have regular discussions with teaching unions covering a wide range of issues. We are working with local government to ensure that the growth in teacher and support staff numbers is sustained, as promised in 1997 and 2001.

Does the Minister understand the real concern in Poole that, in an authority area in which more than 100 per cent. of the standard spending assessment has been passported to schools, there are going to be redundancies among teachers and classroom assistants? Parents in Poole do not want excuses; they want an acknowledgment that there is a problem and a will to sort it out.

I am slightly disappointed by the tone of the hon. Gentleman's question, since he came to the Department with a group of representatives from Poole and had an extremely useful meeting with me about these issues.

The hon. Gentleman might say that, but I have had a letter from the chief executive in Poole saying how useful the meeting was, and that one of the things that had resulted from it was a new dialogue with the schools to try to overcome the problem. That is the kind of action that we like to see.

May I urge the Minister not to take any notice of Conservative Members crying out for more resources? Many of the authorities that are making people redundant—or claiming that they will have to do so—are receiving vast amounts more than authorities such as St. Helens. Will he resist those calls?

I know that my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for schools in St. Helens and that he is as pleased as I am by the enormous increase in achievement in both the primary and secondary sectors. The Government's commitment is to a fair system of funding, and I am glad that my hon. Friend thinks that it is working well.

Will the Minister now admit that he has been entirely wrong? Will he come to Leicestershire and see how we are having to set deficit budgets and make teachers redundant because of the Government's failure of policy? Apparently, everyone else is wrong except those on the Government Front Bench. Well, what about the story in The Times which says that 3,000 teachers are to be made redundant across the country? They cannot all be wrong. How about the Minister saying sorry and admitting that he is wrong?

There are important and serious issues around the country. Thanks to the Government's economic policies, Leicestershire has half the level of people on income support than the national average, and that is reflected in its funding position. It is also significant, however, that the variation in funding for different schools across Leicestershire is one of the highest in the country. There is fully 10 per cent. difference between the schools that have been helped the most and those that have been helped the least.

The Minister will be aware from his visit to my constituency that standards in all the schools are continuing to rise very encouragingly under the policies of his Government. It would, however, be a pity to see certain schools falling back on account of the very marginal shortfall in Coventry, which got the full 7 per cent. The Minister will be aware that this does not involve a huge amount of money—about £1 million—and if there could be some sort of indicative arrangement as to what we might expect next year, the schools would be encouraged to carry on with their full complement this year.

My hon. Friend has spoken well about the achievements in Coventry schools. I know that the local education authority is working hard with the local schools to ensure that any problems are overcome, and making use of the flexibilities that were offered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week.

Vocational Qualifications


What progress has been made on increasing flexibility for vocational qualifications to meet local employer needs. [115001]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is now working closely with the Learning and Skills Council and the Sector Skills Development Agency to develop a high-quality system of vocational qualifications that will respond to the needs of both employers and learners.

I am sure that the Minister will join me in congratulating further education colleges on the excellent work that they do in meeting employers' training needs. Is he aware, however, that they face two major difficulties in doing so? First, they can offer only the formal qualifications approved by the Government, which are often not what local employers want. Secondly, the provision of training of the type that is wanted at the time and place required to meet the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises is difficult within the funding regime administered by the Learning and Skills Council. Will the Minister assure the House that he will be meeting representatives of the FE colleges to try to overcome those obstacles and to allow the colleges the freedom and flexibility that they need in order fully to meet employers' needs?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we recognise the centrality of further education in the context of employer training. We think that the new "success for all" investment and reform vision for further education will give colleges incentives to form much closer relationships with employers. We also believe that the skills strategy we will publish next month will be fundamentally concerned with creating an education and training system that is far more focused on employers' needs than has historically been the case. We want, for instance, to ensure that funds give incentives for the development of the right kind of relationships, and that the qualifications framework is flexible enough to make employers want to sign up for investment in vocational qualifications.

I believe that the reform of further education and the skills strategy will deal directly with the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

I am delighted to hear that the education and training programme is to be focused more on employers' needs. Was my hon. Friend—like me when I read about it at the weekend—a little distressed to learn that most resources for training in work tend to be taken by those who are already highly educated? Are the Government not right to focus on those in vocational education now, if we are to close the productivity gap on which the Chancellor is concentrating? Is not what my hon. Friend has just said absolutely right?

I am always delighted to hear colleagues describe what I have said as "absolutely right"—and relatively non-controversial.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. One thing that the skills strategy will seek to do is to clarify, once and for all, what constitutes appropriate state investment in education and training. We must give priority to those seeking qualifications up to level 2 if we are to narrow that productivity and competitiveness gap, and we must ensure that we get the best possible value for money. That is not to say that higher-level qualifications do not matter, but when it comes to adult learning we must put resources into helping people to achieve level 2 qualifications.

If more employers, or their nominees, volunteered to serve as governors in schools and colleges, could they not bring influence to bear and create greater flexibility in the sphere of vocational qualifications? Will the Minister pay tribute to employers who serve voluntarily in school and college managements, and encourage more to do so?

I do pay tribute to those individuals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear his wish to see a daily, dynamic relationship between employers and schools, colleges and universities. One way in which such a relationship can manifest itself is through employers serving on governing bodies. That would also make educational institutions focus more on the needs of the labour market than they have historically.

Over the next couple of years, we shall be introducing enterprise education into the national curriculum for the first time, and we are building much closer local relationships between employers and schools, especially through the specialist schools programme. That is fundamental to improving educational opportunities for young people, but also to improving the competitiveness and productivity of our economy.

Qualifications And Curriculum Authority


What plans he has to improve his Department's monitoring of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. [115004]

Ministers and officials hold regular meetings with the QCA. It is currently focused on the smooth delivery of this year's tests and exams, but a new memorandum of understanding between the Department and the QCA will be published shortly.

Does the Minister recall that this time last year Werneth high school in my constituency was one of 500 schools that did not receive their English and maths key stage 3 exam papers until two days after the exams? Does he recall that it took four months for the QCA to admit to the schools that it had provided an unacceptable level of service? Is he satisfied that this year he has a tight enough grip on the QCA to avoid a repetition of the stress and the pressure on schools and children that that failure caused?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has left us in terrible suspense about whether the exam papers have arrived for this year. Such confirmation would be rather more comforting proof than would fine words from me that the system is working better. I have had no reports that Werneth high school has been suffering problems this year.

School Budgets (Cornwall And Scilly Isles)


What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the 2003–04 budget settlement upon schools in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. [115006]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Stephen Twigg)

The increase in education formula spending share for Cornwall for 2003–04 is 6.4 per cent., and the increase for the Isles of Scilly is 6.6 per cent. I welcome Cornwall county council's decision to pass on more than 105 per cent. of the increase in schools funding to its schools budget, resulting in an increase in the local education authority's schools budget of 8.9 per cent.

I am very grateful to the Under-Secretary for that response. When I debated this issue with the Minister for School Standards on 2 April, he accepted the fact that the LEA was passporting—indeed, more than passporting—funds to local schools. Where has all of the Department's promised money gone, and has it got its sums right? What comfort can the Under-Secretary offer to schools in my constituency and throughout Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which are having to make very difficult decisions about issuing redundancies to highly valued teachers?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he is doing on this issue following the debate in April. We have made it very clear that this is a shared responsibility between central Government and local government, and the Department is working with the LEA. The additional flexibilities announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week should assist with that process. We want to continue to work with Cornwall to ensure that the money gets to where we all want it to be—in the schools.

Higher Education


What proposals he has to help students from modest backgrounds to gain access to higher education. [115007]

Under our proposals, no student will need to pay up-front tuition fees. We will also reintroduce maintenance grants and require universities charging higher fees to offer bursaries. Unlike the Conservatives, we intend to increase opportunities for students from modest backgrounds to access higher education—not cut them.

Does the Minister accept that one consequence of the existing funding regime for higher education is that increasing numbers of students are staying at home and going to their local university, rather than going away—as many of us did in the 1970s—and enjoying, let us say, the wider benefits of higher education? Is that not regrettable, and does she not agree that her proposal to increase tuition fees will actually make the situation worse? Would it not be better to scrap them?

When the hon. Gentleman went to university, probably one in 10 young people did so; now, four in 10 do so. There are many and varied ways in which people participate in higher education: some at their local university, some in the workplace, some part-time, and others through e-learning. That should be welcomed. The proposition of the hon. Gentleman's party to abolish any contribution towards tuition fees would simply mean fewer students, less resources and less independence.

One of the obstacles to access to higher education for many people in my constituency is the distance that they have to travel—the nearest university is almost 100 miles away. Will the Minister therefore agree to study Sir Brian Fender's recent report, which points the way forward for greater access to higher education in Cumbria?

I am looking forward to reading Sir Brian's report on access to higher education in Cumbria, and to discussing the recommendations with hon. Members representing that area. I agree entirely that we have to ensure proper access for every talented young person, wherever they live.

Does the Minister not understand that the proposal for a variable fee regime could he the final straw for many students from modest backgrounds? Their parents, if they struggle through the bizarre and byzantine forms of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, discover that they are eligible for various tax credits. But if they struggle through the equally byzantine forms of the Department for Education and Skills, they discover that their children are not eligible for a student loan. Will that not be the final straw for such people?

The final straw for students from low-income backgrounds, in terms of ensuring access to higher education, would be the Conservative party's policy, which would cut places and yet again centralise university admissions.

School Playing Fields


What policy his Department has on the sale of school playing fields. [115008]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Stephen Twigg)

We are committed to protecting school playing fields, which is why we introduced legislation in 1998 to stop uncontrolled sell-offs. I will shortly be placing in the Library a portfolio that sets out our policy, and which lists those applications that have been allowed and have resulted in the loss of land capable of forming a school sports pitch.

May I raise two concerns with my hon. Friend—about London local authorities selling school playing fields in other local authority areas; and about school extensions that are encroaching, a victim of success, on to school playing fields? Is my hon. Friend confident that the current guidance is strong enough to deal with all eventualities?

I am confident that guidance is strong enough, though we must keep it under review. We have said that we want to stop the previous Government's policy of forcing schools to sell off their playing fields. Approval is now given only when the remaining playing fields and sports facilities meet the needs of local schools and local communities. We have also introduced the requirement that, when a sale takes place, all its proceeds go to sports provision or education. I am sure that all will welcome that.


The Solicitor-General was asked

Industrial Accidents


How many successful manslaughter charges have been brought in each of the last three years by the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of fatalities in industrial accidents. [115014]

I am afraid that the figures that I can give the House are not 100 per cent. reliable. However, on the basis of national figures held by the Crown Prosecution Service, I understand that in the last three years, 39 defendants were charged with corporate manslaughter. Ten were found not guilty, 13 guilty, and 16 are yet to be completed.

Can the Solicitor-General explain why, after 3,000 deaths at work over the last six years—a third of them due to negligence—and from the cases that she mentioned and others, only one executive or director has gone to prison for manslaughter? If it does not reflect a failure in the prosecution system, it reflects a failure in the legislation. Can she explain why the Government have this week introduced legislation on corporate killing that specifically excludes named individuals?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to concern about that matter. Two aspects need to be taken into account: the substantive law itself, and the implementation of the law. On implementation, it is important that all the prosecution agencies—the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health and Safety Executive—work closely with those who are investigating the problem, which includes the British Transport police as well as the police. Enforcing the law as it stands is vitally important. Whether the substantive law is right is another question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my Home Office colleagues are introducing legislation to ensure that those whose actions result in the death of employees at work are called to account.

May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the case of Steven Parsons, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Parsons in Warmsworth in my constituency, who died aged 18 on 7 March 2000? He was working under a 16-tonne fairground lorry when it fell and crushed him. He was a trainee mechanic working under supervision, and the Government vehicle examiner, Peter Moses, stated that the method used to carry out the job was "unsafe and reckless practice". The case went to court under health and safety legislation, but the family feel that the issue of manslaughter should be taken much more seriously in such cases. This was a life that did not need to be put out.

I will write to my hon. Friend to explain why it was decided that insufficient evidence was available to mount a prosecution for corporate manslaughter. However, my hon. Friend has just brought this case to my attention and I would like to express my condolences to the Parsons family for the loss of their lovely son at such a young age. I also commend them because I understand that they are working to improve health and safety generally across the board. For our part, the Government will ensure that the substantive law is improved and that no stone is left unturned in the investigation and prosecution of cases.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that there would be an increase in successful prosecutions for manslaughter and for other offences if there were a more rigorous case management regime for criminal trials? That is one of the recommendations made by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and it would involve the legal aid regime recognising the importance of the pre-trial phase. Incidentally, does the Solicitor-General believe that a new UN resolution could provide a defence to any unlawful actions that preceded it?

I detect that the hon. Gentleman has raised two issues. On the first, he is right. We must get the substantive law right, but the success or otherwise of a prosecution depends on issues such as how the cases are investigated, whether the right charges are laid, whether the police are given the right legal advice about what the charges should be, whether the evidence at the scene is properly preserved, how the case is managed and how promptly it is brought to court. As for his other point—

Domestic Violence


If she will make a statement on her Department's handling of cases of domestic violence. [115015]

The Crown Prosecution Service, which the Attorney-General and I superintend, handles about 13,000 cases of domestic violence each year. Most are dealt with in the magistrates courts, but domestic violence also results in serious injury and death, and such cases are dealt with in the Crown court. The Government and the CPS are strongly committed to effective prosecution of domestic violence, so that women and children are protected and perpetrators are held to account for their crimes.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I invite her to use her powers of appeal against lenient sentences, so that we can get across the message that such offences will not be tolerated.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about sentencing in cases of domestic violence. If women go through the ordeal of domestic violence, have to go to court to support a prosecution and the man is simply given a slap on the wrist, the impression is that the courts have not taken the matter seriously and other women will think, "What's the point?" The Attorney-General and I take the issue seriously and we have the power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal if they are, in our view, unduly lenient. In domestic violence cases, we will send—and have sent—cases to the Court of Appeal, because the lower courts have not taken them seriously enough. On several occasions, the Court of Appeal has agreed with us and increased the sentence. I remind hon. Members that they can refer such cases to us if examples come to their attention in their constituencies.

I thank the Solicitor-General for the answers that she has given on this important matter. She is aware that I have dealt with many domestic violence injunction cases in county courts. Will she recognise that many people are concerned that the police are still too slow to respond to reports of domestic violence? Will she use her good offices to try to liaise with police forces, to ensure that reports of domestic violence receive a prompt response from the police? Will she also recognise that appeal against over-lenient sentences, which she has just mentioned, was one of the most important powers introduced by the previous Conservative Government?

Yes, I acknowledge that the powers introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal were an important change in the law by the previous Government, and I give them full credit for that. The police have changed their attitude and are stepping up their act on domestic violence. Part of that is a general change in attitude and a recognition across society that attacking a woman in the home is every bit as bad as attacking a stranger in the street. The police response is improving and ACPO is monitoring that. It is important that the police have the right powers and information, and a good partnership with the CPS. We want men to realise that if they attack their wives and girlfriends, they are not ordinary, upstanding members of the community, but criminals—and as bad as any other sort of criminal. We must get the issue out from behind closed doors and make people recognise that domestic violence is a crime that will be investigated and prosecuted.

Gun Crime


What guidelines the Director of Public Prosecutions issues on the prosecution of gun crime. [115016]

When considering a case involving guns, the Crown Prosecution Service is governed by the code for Crown prosecutors. In addition, the DPP has issued guidance to prosecutors relating to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. She will be aware that people in Wales and the rest of the UK have been concerned for a long time about gun crime. Does she agree that the recent gun amnesty exercise was very successful, and a step in the right direction? Will she say what more can be done to build on that success?

I am well aware of the widespread concern in Wales and England about the increasing use of guns—by gangs, as part of their business in drugs and organised crime, and by individuals, who now carry guns much more regularly. I know that there is a problem in Wales, but there are also particular problems in London and Manchester. Again, it is a matter of the police and the CPS working together, and of having the right substantive law. In the case of gun crime, it is also a matter of supporting witnesses. It is often very difficult for victims or witnesses to feel that they can come forward, as they fear that they will be intimidated if they give evidence against a gang. We have been working with the Home Office and the police to make sure that people prepared to come forward to enforce the law against guns will be protected by the criminal justice system, in support of prosecutions.

Business Of The House

12.31 pm

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The business for the week after the Whitsun recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 2 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

TUESDAY 3 JUNE—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Fire Services Bill.

WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day]. Until 4 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Pensions Crisis", followed by a debate on the euro. Both debates arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

THURSDAY 5 JUNE—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Accessions) Bill.

FRIDAY 6 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 9 JUNE—Second Reading of the Courts Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 10 JUNE—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Sustainable Energy Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

WEDNESDAY 11 JUNE—Opposition Day [8th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 12 JUNE—Debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 13 JUNE—Private Members Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for June will be as follows:

THURSDAY 5 JUNE—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Human Rights Annual Report 2002.

THURSDAY 12 JUNE—Debate on reports from the Environmental Audit Committee, the Science and Technology Committee and the Trade and Industry Committee on energy issues.

THURSDAY 19 JUNE—A debate on the report from the Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on affordable housing.

THURSDAY 26 JUNE—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on the humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

It will not surprise you to know, Mr. Speaker, that I have brought with me an extract from the New Statesman that I think will interest the House. If I may, however, I should like in that context to do something that you know I am very reluctant to do—that is, quote myself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on!"] Well, it is usually good value.

On 15 May, at column 462 of Hansard, I said that the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) had

"contradicted each other completely on the vital matter of the advice that the Attorney-General had given the Government about the post-war Iraq settlement."
I went on to remind the House that the Foreign Secretary had said that
"all the actions that we have taken have been taken strictly in accordance with legal advice";
but pointed out that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood had said that she believed
"that the UK could and should have respected the Attorney-General's advice."—[Official Report, 15 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 462.]
My question—I hope the Leader of the House will either clarify this today or make provision in our business for it to be clarified as a matter of urgency—is about the fact that in the New Statesman we have what appears to be an authentic document; it is headed "Confidential", addressed to the Prime Minister and entitled "Iraq: Authorisation for an Interim Administration". It is allegedly from Lord Goldsmith QC, the Attorney-General, and is dated 26 March 2003.

I shall read two brief extracts from the document to show its importance. It states, and this is quoting the Attorney-General:
"my view is that a further Security Council resolution is needed to authorise imposing reform and restructuring of Iraq and its Government."
Later, it states that
"the longer the occupation of Iraq continues, and the more the tasks undertaken by an interim administration depart from the main objective, the more difficult it will be to justify the lawfulness of the occupation".
On the face of it, those are astonishing revelations. If they are true, they set completely at odds with one another what the Foreign Secretary told us and what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood—a former Secretary of State for International Development—told us. This is a serious matter. It goes to the heart of our constitution; it goes to the heart of the responsibilities of the House; and I challenge the Leader of the House to tell us whether that document is authentic. If it is not, presumably we can set the matter aside. If it is authentic, however, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, or will we now get the full advice given by the Attorney-General at each stage of the Iraq episode?

I should like the Leader of the House to provide some time for the Prime Minister to come to the House immediately after the recess to give some explanations and, indeed, apologies for the following matters. First, in PMPs on 14 May—[HON. MEMBERS: "PMPs?"] Yes, Prime Minister's porkies. The Prime Minister said:
"What is very clear, as the right hon. Gentleman has just admitted, is that he"—
my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—
"wants people to say no to European enlargement".
That was the Prime Minister's accusation. Well, how was it that, last night, on the Bill to give effect to the enlargement—the European Union (Accessions) Bill—every Member of Parliament, including all the Conservative Members, voted for enlargement of the European Union? Patently, the Prime Minister was pathetically wrong, so will he please come to the House and admit it, and tell us where he got that astonishing assertion, which, within 24 hours, was proved to be completely wrong?

It gets worse. The Prime Minister said that the Conservative party
"is now opposed not just to the single currency but to accession by the 10 new states",
which we have just demonstrated to be nonsense. He went on to say:
"There is no point in his saying that he"—
my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition—
"is in favour of accession but opposed to the European Convention, which is necessary to make the accession work."—[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 306.]
That is another of the Prime Minister's favourite little ploys. But, Mr. Speaker, you will know, because you study these matters, that the Library of the House of Commons, on page 51 of research paper 03/48, states:
"While the Convention is looking at reforms to help make a larger Union function more efficiently and transparently, it has not been part of the enlargement process itself … The Convention and its outcome are not prerequisites for accession, the sole legal basis for which is the Accession Treaty."
The Prime Minister was wrong—plain wrong, factually wrong—and the House of Commons Library says so. Will the Prime Minister come and make another apology to the House for being completely wrong again?

It gets worse. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh no!"] Oh yes. Because in PMPs yesterday, the Prime Minister said:
"The true agenda of the right hon. Gentleman"—
my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—
"and many other Conservative Members is to get this country out of the European Union."—[Official Report, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1005.]
We know that the Prime Minister said that in his now notorious election address when he stood for election in 1983, so he may have been thinking of his own words, but my challenge to the Leader of the House is this: can he produce any Conservative manifesto, any Conservative policy document or any statement by a Conservative spokesman that bears out what the Prime Minister said? We need time in the House for that to be clarified, and I want the Leader of the House to do so as a matter of urgency because those sorts of distortions cannot be allowed to continue; they must be either apologised for or at the very least clarified, and the Government must provide the time for that to be done as a matter of urgency.

It has come to my attention that there is at least the possibility that two battalions of our wonderful military in Iraq may find that their home leave is about to be postponed so that they may assist in Baghdad. The Leader of the House may or may not be able to tell us whether or not that is true, but at the very least I want him to guarantee to the House that, in such an eventuality, the Secretary of State for Defence will make an urgent statement to the House because the matter is obviously of great importance to the military and, moreover, to their families. I hope that we will be kept fully informed, within the constraints of time and the coming recess.

There is another question that affects the Ministry of Defence: what is happening in the Congo? If there is a possibility of our military being involved in the Congo in any way at all, not least in connection with the European security and defence policy—[Interruption.]

Order. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is not telling me how to run my affairs.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that the House understands that those are important matters, and I know that the Leader of the House will take them very seriously because I am asking him to ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a full statement to the House in the event of any military involvement by British forces in the Congo, particularly if it is under the auspices of the ESDP.

I have just two other matters to raise quickly. May we please have an urgent education debate in Government time so that Labour Members can demonstrate their wholehearted support for Labour's policy on student tuition fees? Such a debate would help the Government to show what enthusiasm there is among those on the Labour Benches for the Government's policy and how wholeheartedly they condemn our policy to get rid of student tuition fees. I am sure that that would be helpful to all.

Finally, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to come to the House to clarify what he said on 19 May:
"I am convinced that this will encourage other Parliamentary Private Secretaries to believe that there is life after bag carrying. I sincerely hope so, as we approach the possibility of a forthcoming reshuffle."—[Official Report, 19 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 729.]
I have heard that there may be a Government reshuffle tomorrow. Can the Leader of the House confirm that? If not, can he tell us when it will be?

As ever, it was a great pleasure to listen to the right hon. Gentleman. It was almost worth travelling through the night just to hear him this morning.

May I congratulate him on the breadth of his literary intake, which now appears to include the New Statesman? The right hon. Gentleman refers to an alleged leak. On that serious subject, as he knows, we do not release in detail—nor did any previous Government—the Attorney-General's advice, but we have made it plain that the Attorney-General's advice throughout has been that the Government have been acting lawfully on all those matters.

It was always the case, incidentally, that we wanted a fresh United Nations resolution, and the House will be pleased to hear that we have a reasonable expectation that, in the very near future—perhaps in the next few hours—we might have such a resolution passed. I hope that the House will be pleasantly surprised by the degree of support that we get for such a resolution, notwithstanding all the predictions of gloom and doom that have been made and that normally accompany the allegations that have been repeated again today.

As regards Europe, I am sorry that I was not here last night to note the exception that proved the rule on Europe—the Conservatives attempting to prove, in a completely engineered Division, that they had moved forward some decades in their view of Europe—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) issues challenges continually on Europe, and he has issued another today demanding that we give some evidence of an Opposition spokesman expressing resolute pessimism about Europe and opposition to it.

The right hon. Gentleman nods again. He wants me to stand here and say things such as:

"With hindsight the European Union is not acceptable since we joined … the whole thing was probably a mistake."
Those were the right hon. Gentleman's words in his address to the Anti-Common Market League on 21 January—[terruption.] Opposition Members have suddenly stopped nodding; they suddenly appear as stone, with the occasional laugh from the Benches behind. I shall repeat the words:
"With hindsight the European Union is not acceptable since we joined".
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman, having issued the challenge, would claim that those words were a deviation from policy or that, as on many other occasions, he is thoroughly unrepresentative of those on the Benches behind him. I know, however, that he is representative of his whole party—to the Conservative party, the European Union is, in the words that he challenged me to find, "not acceptable" Having met that challenge, let us move on to the right hon. Gentleman's other challenges.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a serious matter relating to the movements of our military in Iraq. I can tell him and the House that there are no current plans to deploy UK troops to Baghdad other than the troops who are already there to protect the UK embassy. Of course routine contingency planning continues, as it does for all armed forces, but no decisions have been taken. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to assure him, which I will do, that, as is the normal custom, Defence Ministers will write to the leaders of the main Opposition parties and to the Chairman of the Defence Committee if arrangements are to be put in place regarding the deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which he mentioned specifically.

On the question of the Congo, the House is aware that requests have been made. Consideration has been given to any movements, and I can say with confidence that the Defence Secretary—who, along with the Foreign Secretary, has been more attentive to the needs of the House in terms of bringing information to it over the past few months than perhaps any Defence Secretary in recent memory—would of course wish to keep the House fully informed on that.

On education, I am always looking for opportunities to let the House debate issues pertinent to education, including the massive additional expenditure of £800 per pupil in this country since we came to office, record primary school results, 25,000 more teachers and 80,000 more classroom assistants. The more opportunity we have to debate those issues the better.

On the right hon. Gentleman's other point, I hope that all members of the Cabinet are around to take part in such debates. I cannot confirm one way or the other whether or when there will be a reshuffle. Of course, we never know. I recall—I hope that it is not breaking any Cabinet secrets—that when Lord Robertson left the House to take up his post as Secretary-General of NATO, and was given the accolade that he deserved in Cabinet and asked to respond, he started with the words, "Prime Minister, this is the last meeting of the Cabinet which I shall attend," looked round the Cabinet and added, "And that is something that no one round this table will be able to say." Reshuffles tend to visit themselves on us with less news in advance than all of us would hope for. I am not, however, aware that a reshuffle is forthcoming, and I am sure that if it were the right hon. Gentleman would, out of courtesy, be among the first to know.

I welcome the Leader of the House back from Seville and hope that he is not nursing a hangover. Will he comment on the text of the letter that the Prime Minister sent to the manager of Celtic saying:

"I have asked John Reid who, as you may know, is a Celtic fan, to represent the Government at the game and to underline our support for your efforts"?
May I ask since when has it become necessary for a member of the Cabinet to be sent to a football match? Does that responsibility lie with the Leader of the House, or would it usually be the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport? On this occasion, will her consolation prize for not going to Seville be the opportunity to chair a sitting of the Modernisation Committee in the Leader of the House's absence?

I return to the question of the Attorney-General's role and responsibilities. The Leader of the House must recognise that outstanding questions remain, not least the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) asked the Solicitor-General a few minutes ago. For example, is it possible for a United Nations resolution to give an action retrospective legal sanction? We do not know; we have not heard an answer. The situation draws attention to the fact that, as the Attorney-General is a Member of the other place, there is no way in which elected representatives can hold him to account in this Chamber. Surely that raises an important constitutional issue. Would a way round that problem be for the Attorney-General to attend a sitting of the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department so that he could be questioned on matters of considerable importance such as those raised today?

That situation highlights the difficulties that hon. Members have encountered since the departure of the former Secretary of State for International Development. The new Secretary of State is not a Member of this House. Are the Government adopting a general practice of giving responsibility for major Departments of State to Members of the other place, who are unelected and thus unrepresentative of, and unaccountable to, the electorate? Surely that shows the importance of putting back into action the current stalled procedure on Lords reform.

When does the Leader of the House intend to resume the talks that were specifically requested and demanded by the motion that was put to the House on 29 October 2002? He will recall that the Modernisation Committee recommended that specific consultation should take place with Opposition parties on the legislative programme, with particular reference to carry-over, which must be a matter of discussion and consensus. He knows that we have only about 10 legislative weeks before the end of the Session, so when will he resume the consultation discussions?

The hon. Gentleman's first point was about the UEFA cup final. I think that the Prime Minister was, to some extent—I am not letting any secrets out here—making a virtue of a necessity because I was going to go to the game anyway. I apologise for having a human streak but when you wait 33 years for your team to get to the final, you tend to want to go—despite the attractions of the Modernisation Committee. I congratulate Porto on its victory but I think that Celtic's performance did us proud.

I think I am right in saying that we established the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department. It would be advisable for the Committee to issue an invitation to the Attorney-General and to find out what happens—it is not for me to comment on his responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman also asked about carry-over and other procedures, and I shall turn my mind to that soon after the Whitsun recess.

I am not sure whether this is the right time to remind the Leader of the House that the last time Aberdeen made it to a European final, it actually won. I congratulate Celtic on last night's performance.

Will the Leader of House put pressure on the Paymaster General to make a further statement after the Whitsun recess on the workings of the new child tax credit and working tax credit? She has already made a statement on that issue but problems are continuing. I received yet another e-mail from a constituent this morning outlining continuing problems getting through to the helpline.

Further things have come to our notice since the Paymaster General's last statement. Serious computer glitches are holding up the whole process so that even if MPs manage to get through to their helpline, it is not always possible to resolve problems because the computer system cannot cope terribly well. Local Inland Revenue offices are now making interim payments, which they were not geared up to do before, but it has transpired that those payments—

I thank my hon. Friend for her helpful comments on football matters. The Paymaster General has made it plain that we are throwing whatever resources we can at the problems arising from tax credits, and we obviously deeply regret any outstanding problems that remain. If the system is not working to the extent that it should, as my hon. Friend suggests, there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter immediately after the recess because there will be a Westminster Hall debate on tax credits on the Wednesday after our return. The debate will allow her and other hon. Members to point out any problems and suggest solutions.

I look forward to participating in that Westminster Hall debate. There is an important question about the publication of the Attorney-General's advice. Whatever precedents the Leader of the House prays in aid, the Attorney-General has set his own precedent by publishing legal advice on our engagement in the Iraqi conflict, which supports the claim for publication. Given that the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility is to guard the integrity of the House, is he aware that hon. Members' ability to trust the process is being affected—it is the trust that is under attack? The publication of the Attorney-General's advice would help to sort that out and give us a proper base on which to have knowledge and arguments.

Yes, and I think that trust in such matters depends on us being very accurate in what we say. The Attorney-General did not publish his legal advice prior to the military intervention in Iraq. He published a statement confirming that he supported the Government and that the Government's actions were in accordance with international law. He did exactly the same thing, incidentally, on the subject that is currently under discussion when he made it absolutely clear that we had always acted in accordance with international law. As the Prime Minister repeated this morning, the Attorney-General's advice throughout has been that we have acted lawfully. The distinction between what the Attorney-General did on both those occasions and the issue of legal advice itself has always been maintained by previous Governments, as well as this one.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to an article in yesterday's Evening Standard that indicated the effective closure of the locomotive and train industry throughout the country? That could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs, including up to 500 jobs at a plant in my constituency that has been producing trains for more than 100 years. The closure would be a tragedy and a loss of major manufacturing capacity and a major strategic industry in this country. Given the huge implications of the losses, will he raise the matter with the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Transport?

I shall certainly do that for my hon. Friend, although I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will in any case have heard his remarks. Whenever a major industry is threatened in any of our constituencies, I understand that hon. Members such as my hon. Friend who are avid guardians of their constituencies' interests will try to find any opportunity to raise the issue. I hope that when such events have been unavoidable, the Government's actions to establish taskforces and to allow debate in the House have risen to meet the scale of the problems.

The Leader of the House may be aware that, in the past 18 months or so, I have raised questions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency about the possible risks posed to human health by the activities of a landfill site at Pitsea tip in my constituency. Recently these concerns have been given added focus by the gas emissions and odours emanating from the site. They are causing many residents much distress.

Will the Leader of the House now urge the Minister for the Environment to reply to my letter dated 6 May and to the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink)? The letter calls for independent assessments to be made regarding the possible risk to human health posed by the activities at the site and, in particular, by the gas emissions that are causing much distress. It has taken up to six months to respond to many letters that I have written in the past. That is simply not good enough.

I was not aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and I apologise for that. I am sure that the appropriate Minister is aware of them, however. Although the hon. Gentleman said that it has, on some occasions, taken several months to reply to his letters, the letter that he referred to in this instance was received only two weeks ago. I know from the ministerial correspondence with which I have had to deal that the Minister may want to establish accurately and fully the facts of the case before he responds. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and I will undertake to contact the relevant Minister.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend back from his thrill in Seville? I commiserate with him on the result. I thought that the team played well, but the guy who scored the winning goal had been carried off three times and should not have been on the field when he scored.

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate in the House—scertainly before the summer recess—on the Child Support Agency and its continued mismanagement and failure to support mothers with children who need support? In particular, I refer to the case of Linda Lynch who, for the past nine years, has been cheated and lied to both by her partner and by officers in the CSA, as have her Members of Parliament. She has two had Members of Parliament in the past few years, and she has been cheated of something like £50,000. There are many people in the country like Linda Lynch and it is time that the House revisited the issue of how the CSA is failing women and, in particular, children.

I cannot promise a debate here, but I know that my hon. Friend raises these serious matters on every possible occasion. Perhaps an Adjournment debate would be appropriate to debate the issue, not least because I agree with him in general about the distress caused in some of these cases and in this specific case. He referred to two MPs and, if my memory serves me correctly, I think that I may have been connected with this case. I probably was the first MP; the name rings a bell.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:

"let me remind him that he is still a member of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe."—[Official Report, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1005.]
Will the Leader of the House allow the Prime Minister an early opportunity to come to the House to correct yet another misleading statement by him about our party's policy on Europe? Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that it cannot be otherwise, since Conservatives Against a Federal Europe closed down two years ago?

It is sometimes impossible to keep up with every development in the plethora of anti-European groups in which Conservative Members involve themselves. For example, there is the fuss being caused over a Convention, which will not make any decisions—they will be made by an intergovernmental conference. Even if it did, it has not even reached the final proposals and, even at this early stage, the Conservatives cannot contain their opposition to the proposals that have been put forward and on which decisions will be made.

The hon. Gentleman referred to accuracy, and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred earlier to the accuracy of the research paper that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned yesterday. However, what they omitted to mention is that the research paper also states:
"The Convention is enabling the accession states to have their say in the future structure and methods of the EU and to contribute their views to the reform process on a more or less equal basis to the existing Member States."
In other words, it is quite clear from the research paper that the Convention is integrally related to the extension of the EU to the new accession states. It says so in the paper.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on what is happening on the ground in Iraq? Yesterday, I met a group of Iraqi women who painted a horrifying picture of life in Iraq for women. They say that more than 300 cases of rape have been documented in the hospitals in Baghdad alone since the invasion, and they claim that the coalition is sidelining women, particularly women who want a secular state. In Basra, militant clerics are insisting that women trying to return to higher education have to be veiled. It would seem that there is a dangerous, lawless vacuum and that women are suffering greatly. It is time the House debated what is happening there now and what will happen in the future.

I certainly hope that the allegations to which my hon. Friend refers are not accurate. As far as the Government are concerned and, I am sure, the whole coalition, there is no intention, as she put it, to sideline the role of women. In fact, the opposite is true. One of the symbols of how far Iraqis will take an inclusive democratic approach to their own government will be the extent to which women play a role in that.

Whatever deficiencies there are in Iraq, all of us recognise that the system as it is likely to develop is hardly likely to be worse than it was under Saddam. However, my hon. Friend is right to continue to raise these issues and I can tell her that there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on the Wednesday after we return on the role of the United Nations in the reconstruction and development of Iraq. Perhaps she can seek to raise her concerns on that occasion.

As the Press Gallery is celebrating its 200th anniversary, will the Leader of the House send the congratulations of the House to the inimitable Chris Moncrieff, the chairman of the Press Gallery? When we return, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on the reporting of Parliament?

I have no hesitation in complying with the hon. Gentleman's request and, especially, in congratulating the inimitable Mr. Moncrieff, the chairman of the Lobby, Jon Smith, and the other constituent elements of the Press Gallery on its 200th anniversary. In view of the result, I am only sorry that I could not attend its dinner last night—

I am indeed sorry that I could not attend, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman will understand.

There are numerous ways in which the contribution of the press—in all its strengths and perhaps some of its weaknesses—to our democracy can be debated in the House. I shall certainly consider whether Westminster Hall or other mechanisms could be deployed to do that in this, the Press Gallery's 200th anniversary year.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new duties? He keeps us bouncing up and down, because we sometimes do not know whether he has finished his replies. That keeps us all fit.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1217?

[That this House welcomes the successful passage through the House of Lords of Lord Lester's Equality Bill, which seeks to modernise the structure of equality legislation in the UK by ensuring that it is streamlined, simplified, more inclusive and more effective; welcomes the surprisingly large measure of agreement which accompanied the progress of the Bill both cross-party and amongst anti-discrimination advocates and business; recognises the progress made by the Government in this area, including the publication of the consultation on the future structure of equality institutions in the UK; and calls upon the Government to bring forward a draft Single Equality Bill with the intention of legislating on it in the current Parliament.]

The motion calls for a single equality Act that will modernise, simplify and update the anti-discrimination laws in this country, including the strands of religious belief or the lack of it, sexual orientation and age that receive no protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Will it be possible to have a debate in Government time on what is now a long overdue modernisation of the protections against discrimination?

The Government understand the objectives behind the Bill and share Lord Lester's desire to advance towards a more equal society and more successful Britain. Equality is a priority for the Government, as demonstrated by the legislation that we have passed or have planned and by our policies to promote equality. However, we do not believe that a complete legislative overhaul is the right approach. It is more productive to pursue incremental improvement and to work for culture change.

I hope that I have contributed to the health of the House by keeping Members jumping up and down.

I think that we are all grateful for the exercise, Mr. Speaker.

I am quite surprised to see the Leader of the House in the Chamber after the exertions of last night. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating Celtic on a fantastic display last night, and the Celtic football fans. About 70,000 of them descended on Seville, and in the best tradition of Scottish football fans there was not one arrest.

May I turn the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a less than successful team—the one that currently runs the Scotland Office? May we have an early debate on that issue? We have found after four years of devolution that the running costs of the Scotland Office have increased by about 50 per cent. Similarly, there will be a number of new staff. I do not know what they will do. Presumably they will be in place to entertain a bored Secretary of State who is doing a non-job.

First, I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the fans. I hope that the situation continues throughout today and tomorrow as well. There were an astonishing number of fans in Seville without tickets. Their behaviour has been a credit to Scotland and to us all.

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman on the Scotland Office. He says that running costs have increased by 50 per cent., but that is from a base that is about 1 per cent. of what it was previously. It is a tiny budget, considering the efforts that are made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that across a range of issues Scotland does not lose out in terms of industrial policy, telecommunications and North sea oil, for example. There is a range of policies that create jobs in Scotland and maintain the standard of living there. Instead of constantly talking down those who are defending Scotland's interests, the hon. Gentleman would do better to praise the efforts that they make.

Will the Leader of the House find Government time to have a debate on the steel industry? Over the past three years we have had one reorganisation after another. Each reorganisation has undermined the competence of the industry. Each time, thousands of employees have lost their jobs. After the most recent reorganisation, I learned from the Financial Times—not from Corus—that Corus is considering selling off the Teesside site. That will create an enormous problem for my region, involving 3,000 jobs directly and 12,000 indirectly. This is an extremely serious issue for us in Britain. I ask that we have a debate on the industry in Government time.

I know the role that my hon. Friend has played as a defender and promoter of the interests of her constituents and of others who are involved in steel production. I have tremendous respect for the role that she has played, not least because I came from a constituency that at one stage was dominated by steel, and which has lost tens of thousands of jobs. I know the hardship that that can bring.

The industry remains a significant employer and contributes to the economy. It underpins many other parts of manufacturing. I am sure that my hon. Friend, through Adjournment debates and by other means, will continually bring the issue to the forefront of our minds in her fight for her constituents and for others who are employed in the steel industry.

The Minister will have seen The Guardian this morning, with its remarkable report on drugs and the "success" of initiatives in trying to reduce the number of victims of criminals and to reduce the number of criminals who are victims of drugs. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange for an early statement on the Government's response to what is revealed in the report, and for a debate shortly afterwards, so that we can find ways of implementing the intentions, of which there have been a stream, and the money and initiatives, of which there have also been a stream, so that we can introduce effective action and make a real difference?

There are issues that unite everyone on both sides of the House. The battle against drugs and the poison that is often poured into the veins of young people in this country is not the exclusive concern of any party in this place. I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman that constant vigilance is needed. Today, in cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall, the subject of drugs is on the agenda. The hon. Gentleman may have an early opportunity of raising the issue.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1223?

[That this House condemns the decision of the Medical Research Council to close the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill to downsize and to re-site it in Cambridge in the absence of consultation with the employees.]

This world-class research facility employs about 700 people in my constituency, and is under immediate threat of closure by the Medical Research Council after inadequate consultation with the staff and the local community. The decision has been condemned not only by local people but by the scientific community at large. Will my right hon. Friend raise this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which Department is responsible for the MRC, and find time for an early discussion in the House on an important research facility, which it seems we shall lose for the nation?

I am aware of the early-day motion to which my hon. Friend refers. No formal decision has been taken on the future of the National Institute for Medical Research. The Medical Research Council is developing a long-term strategy for its major capital investments over the next 10 to 15 years, including the NIMR. The results of the recent consultation exercise on this issue will be considered at a council meeting in July. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will have heard my hon. Friend's remarks.

The appointment of a Member of the other place as Secretary of State for International Development is seen by many people as reducing the importance of international development, and could be interpreted as an attempt to take the spotlight off the reconstruction process in Iraq. It is being said also that it may be a first step to taking international development back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Lest this matter should become a scar on the conscience of the Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House please arrange for his right hon. Friend to make a statement on the issue?

The debates in the House, including one today, and debates at the United Nations, where a resolution was proposed by, among others, this Government and this country, are testimony to the attention that we have paid to the issue.

The budget of the Department for International Development has doubled and the number of Ministers in the Department has increased. I believe that we have gained a Secretary of State of inestimable abilities to deal with the reconstruction of Iraq. That means that there is no need for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or for anyone in Government to have any pricks on their conscience about the matter.

Although a late convert to the fortunes of Celtic, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will recognise that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Government's policy of full employment in every region. He will know that 340 jobs have just been lost in the textile industry in my constituency. That brings the total of jobs lost to 1,600 in the past 12 months. Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on manufacturing, with special reference to the north-east and County Durham?

Manufacturing has been going through a difficult period for some time. The Government have tried wherever possible to support it. Every job loss is a tragedy. However, it is fair to put that in context and to remember that since the Government came to power about 1.5 million more people are in work than there were before. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and others, such as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who takes a great interest in the regional dimension of our policies, will have heard what my right hon. Friend has said.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on precisely what assistance he is willing to offer to Independent Television News in its sad quest to determine the fate of Fred Nearac and Hussein Osman, who were with Terry Lloyd when he was killed 60 days ago? On 9 May, the Secretary of State told ITN that until there was evidence of a war crime it would not be possible to have a formal investigation, and that is fully understood. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet issued an instruction to the military police in Iraq to assist ITN with its searches. Will the right hon. Gentleman please bring this matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence? We owe a great deal to these brave men, and their families are extremely distressed.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on the interest that he takes in the matter and in military affairs generally. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

In spite of the valiant efforts of the work force over the past six years to build a successful company, the sad news was announced this morning of the loss of 1,000 jobs at LG Philips in my constituency. That is a result of market conditions. Some of the job losses are due to fair competition and some to unfair competition. More than 1,000 jobs have recently been lost in Newport in the steel industry. Is it not time that we had a major debate on the fate of manufacturing industry and its accelerating decline? It has been the backbone of the British economy, and job losses, as in this case, are terrible tragedies to the 1,000 families involved. There is also a loss of skills and a loss of manufacturing capacity, which are irreplaceable.

Of course, the fact that throughout the past few years this country has, both in historical terms and by comparison with any of our competitors, fared far better during the recession is no consolation to anyone who has lost their job, as my hon. Friend described. Wherever there are major job losses, the Government constantly try through taskforces and other means to make sure that, as quickly as possible, skills and jobs are brought back to areas such as his constituency. It is never an easy task, but I am sure that on this occasion, as on previous occasions, the Government will do everything we possibly can.

As the Leader of the House knows, the war in Iraq is over and some troops have already been withdrawn. Is he aware that the Royal Army Medical Corps reserves—consultants who are required in their own institutions, where waiting lists are growing—are still being detained in Iraq, while regulars have been brought home? Is it not possible for the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health to co-ordinate movement better, for the well-being of all?

I do not know the specific details to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I know that there are enormous pressures on the medical services in particular in the military, which may mean that it has proven difficult to be as flexible about returning home as in the case of other soldiers or members of the armed forces. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. On behalf of the whole House, I pay tribute once again to our armed forces. The fact that they have faced a long delay, as the hon. Gentleman points out, is another indication of the deprivations and sacrifices that the men and women who serve this country so well undertake so willingly. We are all in their debt for that.

With regard to Iraq, would it not help to clear the air to have a debate as soon as possible after the recess, dealing with all aspects of the reconstruction and the role of the occupying powers and the United Nations? Hopefully, the Security Council will pass the resolutions today. In any such debate, should not reference be made to the thousands of corpses that have been discovered—people who were executed by Saddam? Perhaps the critics will tell us whether they now believe that, as so many of us believe, it was justified for the country to be liberated. Incidentally, I believe that senior Ministers should be in the House, and I hope that that point will be taken up by the Prime Minister.

I hope that the whole House will agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the nature of Saddam's regime and the evidence that is forthcoming. It never ceases to amaze me that some of those who concentrate on the important and legitimate question—I do not deny its legitimacy—of the weapons of mass destruction seem completely blind to the fact that thousands of bodies are being unearthed every week by the other side. A balanced approach, as my hon. Friend mentioned, would benefit all of us. He asks for a debate. I know that there is a continual demand for debates on the issue. I do not think that any previous Government have offered so many opportunities for debates and statements on such subjects as the present Government. Just after the Whitsun recess, there is another opportunity for a debate in Westminster Hall on the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the light of the recent opinion poll that showed that 84 per cent. of people in this country want a referendum on the European constitution, should we not have a debate so that we can explain why the Opposition support a referendum on a constitution and are prepared to listen to the people, whereas the Government are not?

As I said earlier, people must recognise that what is being compiled under the Convention is a series of proposals. No decisions will be made by the Convention. They will be made by an intergovernmental conference. If the hon. Gentleman wants to explain anything to people, surely he should explain why the leadership of the Conservative party happily went through the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act without a referendum, and why the Conservative party is suddenly a convert to a referendum when no decisions have even been made by the Convention. The answer is simple: it is another piece of sheer opportunist anti-Europeanism by the Opposition.

Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on the cost of home care services? In my Tory-controlled borough of Redbridge, the self-declared party of the poor and vulnerable is proposing to double the maximum charge for home care from £100 to £200 a week, which has caused great distress to a number of my constituents, including 87-year-old disabled widow, Mrs. Lena Odgers.

My hon. Friend refers with a degree of irony, I think, to the Conservative party when she calls it the party of the poor. That will come as a huge piece of news to everyone in Britain, not least the poor, especially after the very limited experiment in compassionate Conservatism which, after several hundred years, the party decided to try, but which it abandoned after 13 months as incompatible with everything else that it stood for.

The Department of Health's guidance, "Fairer Charging Policies for Home Care and other nonresidential Social Services", seeks to ensure that service users should not have their incomes reduced below basic levels of income support, plus a 25 per cent. buffer, as a result of charges. The guidance provides clear objectives for councils that do charge, to ensure more consistency and fairer charging systems that support social inclusion and the promotion of independence. Sometimes even all those buffers are not strong enough to withstand the assaults of Conservative councils on the poor.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a statement from the Government on their plans for the millions of people who wish to continue to draw cash from the post office as their benefit and pension books are withdrawn, particularly in view of the revelation this week that hundreds of thousands of disabled people will not be able to use the proposed PIN machines? Such people are already disadvantaged by the fact that many of them cannot access bank cash machines, which are too tall.

I know that Ministers have spent a huge amount of time trying to make sure that, as the system is modernised, it provides a range of options so that people can get the benefits of a modern method of withdrawing their benefits, while minimising the disadvantages, including making themselves the target for attacks, in the case of the old, the elderly and the infirm. As ever, I am sure that Ministers will listen to the hon. Gentleman's point, as it is our intention to ensure that the new system is an advance in what people are offered, not a retrograde step.

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 947 which has been signed by a large number of hon. Members from all parties.

[That this House notes that after 33 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, the pay gap between men and women for full-time work remains considerable at 19 per cent.; further notes that the pay gap for part-time work is even larger at 41 per cent, and that this has remained unchanged for the last 25 years; acknowledges that in retirement, women suffer the consequences of a lifetime of pay inequality as the pay gap grows to become an income gap of 44 per cent.; commends recent research commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission that shows only 18 per cent, of large employers and 10 per cent, of medium-sized employers have actually carried outa pay review or are in the process of doing so; acknowledges that without conducting a pay review employers may be unaware that pay inequality exists in their organisation; welcomes the steps the Government has already taken to address the pay gap; but urges the Government to go further and give the strongest possible lead to employers.] Will he arrange a debate on the subject? Despite the Government's best efforts, we are not making much progress in narrowing the pay gap, and only a small percentage of employers have carried out pay reviews to try to identify where the pay gap is.

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that our commitment is beyond question. As a Government, we are leading by example on these matters through commitment to equal pay reviews in Departments and Government agencies, which are on track to be completed in the course of the first half of this year. We are also encouraging employers to pay fairly through the equal pay questionnaire, which was introduced on 6 April, by providing additional funding of more than £150,000 on top of the £145,000 already provided to trade unions for the training of representatives on equal pay issues in the workplace and by funding the pay review toolkits. We are using a range of measures to tackle the problem, but it is a difficult one and I do not pretend for a moment that we have either solved it or gone as far as we would like. Any opportunities for debate, whether in an Adjournment debate, in Westminster Hall or during the debates devoted to the subject of equality of opportunity that occasionally arise in the House, will be occasions on which this worthy topic should be raised.

May we have a debate on the nature, meaning and understanding of time in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will understand the empathy that I felt with Hamlet in his lament,

"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!",
when I received from that Department this parliamentary answer, dated 1 May:
"The Department will be writing to all livestock fanners in England about the new rules on disposal of fallen stock before Easter."—[Official Report, 1 May 2003; Vol. 404, c. 457W.]
I do not know about you, Mr. Speaker, but I thought that Easter fell shortly before 1 May. It took a further question from me, which was answered this week, to drag Ministers back to the same space-time continuum as the rest of us. I was informed that, on 17 April, the Department had indeed written to all livestock farmers regarding the new rules. Even if I cannot have a debate on the more erudite subject that I have suggested, I wonder whether I could have one on that very important subject, as the new rules and regulations are still causing serious distress and anxiety to livestock farmers throughout the country.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having made the most literary contribution to today's business questions. As a matter of fact, Easter occurs every year. I assume that the Department was referring to Easter this year, in which case it will no doubt have noted his reprimand. On the general philosophical subject of time, we should all read Stephen Hawking's book, "A Brief History of Time", which I recommend even if for no other reason than that it brought to my attention the fact that there are 100 billion suns in the galaxy and 100 billion solar systems in the observable universe, so none of us should take ourselves that seriously.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read early-day motion 1282, which calls for the abolition of the House of Lords Appointments Commission?

[That this House notes that the House of Lords Appointments Commission has, since its creation, recommended one batch of People's Peers in April 2001 and nothing since; further notes from its web site that it is still actively soliciting applications from putative peers; is deeply concerned that the Commission's running costs are estimated at £120,000 for the past year during which time it has met twice; and believes that the Commission no longer serves a useful purpose, if it ever did, and should be wound up forthwith.] How can we possibly justify keeping this body in existence when it has appointed only one batch of people's peers, more than two years ago in April 2001? It costs an arm and a leg£120,000 a year—but rarely meets.

On a connected matter, may I ask what is happening to the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform? My right hon. Friend's predecessor was instrumental in selecting hon. Members to serve on the Committee, which is clearly deadlocked. It is split three ways, and I should like to know what plans the Leader of the House has to take House of Lords reform forward.

On the last subject, I am tempted to say that I have a cunning plan. I am afraid that I cannot tell the House that I have one at this stage, but I am reflecting on the report that the Joint Committee recently issued. My hon. Friend also asked about the abolition of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. I have seen the early-day motion to which he referred. I cannot extend my sympathy and support towards it, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to make a statement in the not-too-distant future about appointments to the commission and related matters.

May I commiserate with my right hon. Friend about last night's result, having been a Celtic supporter ever since I could turn on the wireless on a Saturday night and listen to "Sports Report"? It is a tragedy that we lost last night. He probably has not had time to consider the fact that the first test match with Zimbabwe began at Lord's today. I and my hon. Friends the Members for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for City of York (Hugh Bayley), as well as the Opposition spokesperson on international development, stood outside the ground handing out black armbands to signify the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate before the second test match begins in about a fortnight to enable all the Zimbabwean cricketers and exiles, who were out in force today at the ground, to see how the Government are developing their thinking to bring an end to the Mugabe dictatorship and to tyranny, beatings and torture, and to let democracy and the people of Zimbabwe have their say again?

The Government's policy on Zimbabwe has not changed. For the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned, we will do our utmost to maintain international pressure through sanctions while using dialogue between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change aimed at restoring Zimbabwe to democracy, prosperity and stability. He will know that we have already introduced targeted measures against the regime, which were rolled over unanimously by the European Union in February. We are handling the matter proactively in a range of international spheres. We will certainly continue to do that and I hope that he will find opportunities in the House to raise some of the terrible things that have been happening in Zimbabwe.

I suppose that 1 should conclude by responding to my hon. Friend's making yet another reference to Celtic by pointing out in the even-handed way in which we proceed in this House that it is worth noting that Glasgow Rangers are top of the Scottish league at present. Let none of us be accused of taking a biased view on these matters.

Earlier this week, Corus at Shotton on Deeside announced the loss of a further 95 jobs at a plant that, at its height, employed more than 14,500 people. It will now employ just over 600 people. Further to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), will he allow time for an early debate on the future of the steel industry, which has been so badly mismanaged in recent years?

I accept the importance of the point that my hon. Friend makes. After hearing the points that have been made, it occurs to me that the manufacturing industry might be a very useful and relevant topic for cross-cutting questions at some stage in the not-too-distant future.

The experience of the past couple of weeks has clearly demonstrated that it is impossible for this House to transact its business successfully and keep to the hours imposed by the modernisation agenda. I have been told that a cross-party consensus is emerging that an acceptable compromise would be to retain the new Wednesday and Thursday hours, but restore the former Tuesday hours. Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing an early opportunity to test that consensus?

On a lighter note, if my right hon. Friend is in a generous mood, will he also think about the opportunities afforded to Back Benchers to participate in business questions and see if there is any way of ensuring that we do not have to compete with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), whose act is so honed, colourful and entertaining that it now deserves a special slot of its own?

On the second point, it is worth commending the contribution that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) makes, although I note that, not least due to the custodianship of the Chair by Mr. Speaker and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, everyone who wanted to ask a question today has managed to get in. On the other matter that my hon. Friend raised, we will certainly pay a great deal of attention to that.

Will my right hon. Friend turn his attention to a problem that affects many hon. Members? The Parliamentary Communications Directorate appears to have been allowed to establish a virtual monopoly in providing IT equipment to Members, and has now taken steps to withdraw a proper service from Members whose equipment it deems non-standard. The changes to the PCD network have resulted in any non-standard equipment being denied access to the network. Of course, what PCD means by non-standard is that it is not supplied by PCD. As my right hon. Friend knows, because I copied for him a letter that I sent to the Speaker's Office this morning, I wrote to PCD on 15 May asking why equipment supplied from elsewhere could not have access to the network. I assumed that the problem was the specification of the equipment. I received a response from Mr. Peter Beasley as follows:

"This is not about the specification of the machine. It is about the difference between a centrally supplied machine and a machine purchased from an external source."
I believe that that is an abuse and represents a huge cost to the public purse, as Members who have non-PCD-supplied equipment have been forced to upgrade it at hugely inflated cost, and pay for that from their incidental expenses allowance. I believe that that should be raised with the House administration.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention. I accept what he is saying and know that he has brought the issue to Mr. Speaker's attention. Responsibility for the issue rests with the Information Committee and the information strategy board. If there were a change of policy, it would be considered in the normal way by the House of Commons Commission. However, I note that my hon. Friend is pursuing his own case with vigour, and I am sure that he has a great deal of understanding from other hon. Members.

Clergy Discipline Measure

1.41 pm

Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners
(Mr. Stuart Bell)

I beg to move,

That the Clergy Discipline Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
It is a great pleasure to stand at the Dispatch Box with you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As right hon. and hon. Members who have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee will know, the Clergy Discipline Measure represents a major revision of the disciplinary procedures for Church of England clergy. As those who follow our proceedings intimately will know, it is the result of a long, careful consideration by the General Synod. Indeed, it comes to the House with the strong support of the General Synod of the Church of England, has been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee and has been approved in another place. I therefore commend it to the House.

By way of background, current arrangements for clergy discipline are included in the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, but its procedures—modelled in some ways on those of the criminal courts—have been found to be inflexible, expensive and slow. As a result, the 1963 Measure is rarely used, which has serious consequences for a number of areas. A significant number of complaints have been left unresolved, and discipline has tended to be exercised "informally" and on a voluntary basis. Consequently, resignation has been a frequent but not always appropriate outcome. The situation is unsatisfactory, not least for the clergy themselves. If they are to be respected and trusted, a manifestly credible, fair and transparent system for administering discipline is essential in those rare cases where they fall short of the standards expected of them.

Accordingly, in 1994, the General Synod established a working party to review clergy discipline and the working of the ecclesiastical courts. There followed an extensive consultation and examination of good practice in other Anglican provinces, Christian Churches and professions in the United Kingdom. Legislative proposals were then developed and submitted to a long, careful process of revision in the Synod. The Measure resulting from that lengthy process commanded 100 per cent. support among those voting in the House of Bishops when it was finally approved in November 2000; 99 per cent. in the House of Laity; and 90 per cent. in the House of Clergy. Only 23 per cent. voted against final approval, with 200 members voting for it.

In drawing up the Measure, the Church has sought to construct procedures that are fair to all parties; can be applied to all types of clergy, whatever their rank, experience or circumstances; are easily understood and flexible; and encourage as speedy a resolution as is consistent with the needs of justice. The Church firmly believes that the procedures in the Measure will meet all these requirements and enable genuine complaints to be dealt with effectively while excluding trivial, malicious or vexatious ones.

By way of detail, disciplinary procedure under the Measure relates only to cases of misconduct and not to matters of worship or doctrine, and will be activated by a written complaint to the bishop. The exclusion of matters of worship or doctrine is considered significant by many hon. Members, as I can testify from the number of questions that I am asked at Church Commissioners questions. It is therefore worth repeating that matters of worship and doctrine are excluded from the Measure.

Once received, the complaint will have to be examined by the diocesan registrar, who is a practising lawyer. The registrar will decide whether the complainant has a right to complain under the Measure; whether a disciplinary matter is involved; and whether the evidence supplied supports the complaint. On the basis of the registrar's assessment, the bishop will decide whether the complaint should be dismissed. If he decides not to dismiss it, a number of courses are open to him, including taking no further action, leaving the complaint on the record, seeking to promote conciliation or imposing a penalty with the cleric's consent. The remaining option is to refer the complaint for investigation, with a view to it being brought before a bishop's disciplinary tribunal if the president of tribunals—again, a lawyer—agrees that there is a case to answer.

I think that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Measure bends over backwards to be as fair as is humanly possible to a cleric who is the subject of a complaint, and I will allude to that later when I touch upon article 6 of the European convention on human rights. There may be a referral to a bishop's disciplinary tribunal, but it should seldom be necessary to go so far. In the rare cases in which a complaint proceeds to a tribunal, the case will be heard by a tribunal of five members—two clergy, two lay people and a legally qualified chairman, all from provincial panels. Their decision will be by a majority, using the civil standard of proof. Appeals will continue to be dealt with in provincial courts of appeal.

As for penalties, the Measure will give more flexibility than the 1963 Measure. The most severe penalty, for use in the most serious cases, is prohibition for life, which involves a permanent ban on exercising any clerical function. Other penalties include prohibition for a limited period; removal from office; revocation of a licence, requiring the cleric to refrain from offending behaviour; and, lastly, a formal warning. The Measure also provides for the bishop to be able to impose some of those penalties after certain proceedings in the criminal or divorce courts, whose findings are treated as conclusive by the Church, and it gives him a new power of suspension. A similar process is made available for complaints about bishops and archbishops.

The Measure provides for the establishment of a new commission, the clergy discipline commission, to give general advice on the working of the Measure, to issue codes of practice and guidelines, and to maintain an archbishops' list—a confidential record of penalties imposed under the Measure and other matters.

In drawing up these new procedures, the Church recognises that disciplinary proceedings can have very serious implications for clergy, even where the complaint is relatively minor. The Church has therefore been concerned to ensure that the rights of clergy are properly protected. To that end, the draft Measure was subject to detailed scrutiny by leading counsel specialising in human rights law. Counsel was satisfied that the requirements of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, conferring the right to a fair trial, were met by virtue of the rights of appeal to the provincial courts, but he identified ways in which the Measure, as originally drafted, might not have been fully consistent with human rights requirements. A number of changes were made as a result, and the Church is satisfied—or as satisfied as we reasonably can be—that the Measure complies fully with the Human Rights Act 1998.

In that regard, the proper protection of the human rights of clergy was a matter that the Ecclesiastical Committee was entitled to, and did, consider very carefully. Accordingly, one of the principal issues that it addressed was that of the standard of proof where a complaint is heard by a tribunal. Church representatives explained to the Committee that the choice of the civil standard, as opposed to the criminal standard, which applies under the 1963 Measure, was arrived at after thorough consideration and much debate in the revision committee for the Measure and in the Synod as a whole.

The civil standard is increasingly used in the disciplinary procedures of other professional bodies. In the Church's view, it strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of the wider Church and the public in not allowing misconduct by clergy to go unchallenged and the right of clergy to a fair hearing and a safe decision. The level of proof required will vary according to the seriousness of the allegation and the implications for the cleric. Thus, in the most serious cases the standard of proof required will be indistinguishable from the criminal standard—beyond reasonable doubt, rather than on the balance of probabilities. The Ecclesiastical Committee accepted that understanding of the position, and accordingly was content to accept that the adoption of the civil standard of proof was appropriate.

The Ecclesiastical Committee addressed other matters in its examination of Church representatives and its report, but, in its judgment, none of them was such as to render the Measure inexpedient. We are grateful to members of the Committee—right hon. and Members and noble Lords alike—for making recommendations for consideration by the Church. We shall give those recommendations careful consideration in implementing the Measure once it passes into law, with the grace and leave of this House and Royal Assent. The Committee's decision, by a substantial majority, to find the Measure expedient, and the decision of the other place yesterday, reinforces my confidence that the Synod's proposals embodied in the Measure will commend themselves to the House.

In conclusion, the Measure is the fruit of the Synod's long and careful consideration of the needs of all those who are interested in this important matter—not only clergy, their bishops and the lay people of the Church, but the wider public. The Church believes that it strikes a fair balance between their different interests and, in doing so, will give the Church a fair, credible and open system for dealing with disciplinary measures. I therefore commend the Measure to the House.

1.54 pm

I am grateful for an opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. I should first apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who is unable to be here as he is under doctors' orders. I am sure that he would entirely endorse my point, which is that we are extremely grateful, not only for the clarity of the exposition by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), but for the amazingly thorough work of the Ecclesiastical Committee; not being a member of the Committee, I can express my gratitude to it for that.

I do not have a pecuniary interest in the matter, of course, but I have a personal interest in that my brother is a parish priest in the Church of England. I take a close interest in the way in which the Anglican Church operates at all levels, and I have in the past observed, at a distance, misconduct proceedings.

The Measure is extremely timely, perhaps even overdue. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England understand that this has long been an area of concern to many Church people, and perhaps to some outside it. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Measure establishes beyond peradventure that the civil standard of proof must be the basis of judgments made in future misconduct proceedings.

I have had the benefit of reading the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, including the very thorough interrogation of representatives from the Synod. I also commend the work of the Synod, which is comprehensive, imaginative and sensitive. Indeed, if Members of Parliament had equally sensitive and humane guidance on the way in which we operate, perhaps we would be rather better at ensuring that we all work positively and constructively to the same agenda.

When reading the documents, one occasionally wonders what is being got at. My heart rose when I saw that the report contained a section on fashion. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England are often confused when we go to a church that we do not know as well as our own and witness very different fashions in clerical garb. When I came to read the detail, however, I found that it was nothing to do with that at all. That is unfortunate, because some guidance on fashion for incumbents would not go amiss. One sometimes gets the feeling that anything goes these days, and happy-clappy priests—perhaps they would not want to be called that—can look somewhat absurd.

There is nothing wrong with them, but I am sometimes disconcerted by their choice of garb. The hon. Gentleman is a very distinguished member of a very distinguished ecclesiastical family, and when he speaks he may wish to give some description of the different garb that can be used in church and the confusion that it can cause.

It might assist the hon. Gentleman's argument if I say that the relevant passage is on page 44, and is entitled:

"Fashion your life and the life of your household according to the way of Christ".

That phrase has an important origin. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was simply making the point that it is important to read the report in its proper context.

At several points, the papers contain a considerable degree of distilled wisdom. They are a good read, extraordinarily, if rather long for those of us who have other preoccupations. I like, for example, the definition of good discipline as
"not to hurt but to help".
I wonder whether that might be a good motto to put above the door of our own Standards and Privileges Committee.

We are indebted to all those who have been involved in the process, but that should not disguise the fact that this is not really a proper matter for Parliament any longer. Although I pay due attention to and respect the work of hon. Members, including several who are present, on the Measure, it is extraordinarily anomalous to subject only one Church among many to such scrutiny. The House can scarcely pretend to be made up predominantly of members of that Church—or perhaps any Christian Church—and should not therefore be given such a responsibility.

Although I agree with our Committee's conclusions, and respect the work of the Synod, I look forward to the time when we can say that it is a matter not for us but for the Church and its effective self-discipline.

2 pm

I warmly support the Clergy Discipline Measure and wish it well. I do not criticise the absence of many members of the Ecclesiastical Committee because their work is done when they present their report to the House. I shall revert to that point.

The report is outstanding. The 218th report of the Ecclesiastical Committee should be much more widely available and I should like the Church of England to consider putting its evidence on its website. It should be freely available, although, at £12.50 the report is the best value for money that can currently be obtained from the Stationery Office. I warmly recommend it for wider reading in the Church of England.

The supplementary material is especially valuable. The "Draft Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy" begins with a remarkable theological reflection by Francis Bridger. He points out that, whatever the law in the Church of England, it depends on a cluster of concepts about covenant, agape and virtue. He explains that in such a way that even a layman like me can understand it. At the end of his section, he states:
"We have seen how the Church can no longer stand back from addressing the issue of what it means to act professionally in today's social climate …. Above all, we are reminded that the foundational value for all Christian ethics is the uniquely Christian gift of agape. Without this we are but clanging cymbals, professional or otherwise."
The report raises many issues, and I should like to explore some of them further with the Second Church Estates Commissioner because they have great implications about which I remain unclear after reading all the evidence, the explanatory notes and the Measure.

Clause 24 deals with penalties and is the most serious part of the Measure. Prohibition and removal from office are the most serious penalties. Priests can be subject to rumours, vexatious complaints and gossip. Even if they are innocent and have gone through the new process, a priest and his or her family may find it impossible to continue their ministry in the parish because of the amount of gossip and malicious rumour.

The report compares other professions with the clergy—I commend the Synod for going into such detail in its work over some nine years—and it compared tribunal procedures, including standard of proof, in other professions and occupations such as those of accountants, architects, barristers, dentists, doctors, Lloyd's insurers, nurses, midwives, health visitors, pharmacists, police, solicitors and veterinary surgeons. Synod reached conclusions that informed the decision on the way in which to proceed. My problem with that is that there are some matters that none of those professions has in common with clergy. The most obvious is housing.

Low income demands some benefits, which have traditionally been offered in housing. Sometimes the freehold was part of the deal. Nowadays, approximately two out of five clergy are not beneficiaries of freehold. If somebody is prohibited or removed from office under the disciplinary procedures, what happens to the housing? What is the time scale for leaving the property? Is any assistance provided? We are not considering veterinary surgeons and solicitors but people on clerics' salaries. If we are not careful, we could impose a double penalty.

What is the position on pensions? In some professions, people who lose their jobs for disciplinary reasons also lose the right to their pension. Is that the case under the Measure? I read the documents from cover to cover but I found no mention of that in the interrogation by the Ecclesiastical Committee or the notes.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner referred to complaints about doctrine, ritual and ceremonial. I understand that the bishops made a sensible recommendation to put that on one side and deal with disciplinary matters first. However, I understand that another committee will sit and present doctrinal discipline proposals some time. What stage have we reached on that?

I had always been content to trust the Ecclesiastical Committee to do its work and present us with reports. Last night, a debate on the Clergy Discipline Measure took place in another place. I was worried to read that several of their lordships questioned the efficacy of the Ecclesiastical Committee. Lord Brightman asked about its size and recommended that it should be cut from 30 to 15 Members of Parliament. Only five of the 15 Members of this House who are entitled to attend went to both evidence sessions that the Ecclesiastical Committee held. Lord Brightman said:
"I have examined the reports of nine meetings of the committee. It is usually not possible to tell from the reports how many members of the committee voted on the expediency of a draft Measure. But I can say that in one case only 12 members attended' and voted—12 out of 30."
Lord Campbell of Alloway stated:
"Everything the noble and learned Lord—
Lord Brightman—
"said was right. On our first meeting, 22 out of 30 members attended, but later it had to be adjourned because there was not a quorum of 10. At the second meeting 16 members out of 30 attended. At the end, a member who was leaving the room had to be recalled to establish a quorum for a vote."
Lord Wallace of Saltaire said:
"Perhaps I may tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the committee, on what many of us thought was an important issue from the outset, failed to start on two occasions for lack of a quorum. It struggled for several months to manage a quorum and to get any notice whatever."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 May 2003; Vol. 648, c. 922–26.]
The Church of England expects the Houses of Parliament to attend to the business of the Ecclesiastical Committee appropriately. Members of the Committee should ask themselves how serious it is. If it is not serious, that throws into doubt and confusion the relationship between the Church of England and Parliament. I deeply regret that because I do not share the views of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about the inappropriateness of a relationship between the Church of England, as the established Church, and Parliament.

I have simply floated some questions. I do not know the answers but I was surprised when I read the report of the debate in the other place.

Having said that, I look forward to hearing some answers from the Second Church Estates Commissioner, and I repeat that I wish the Measure well. I am absolutely confident—having checked with my bishop before I spoke that he, too, was content—that these provisions will rapidly pass into the everyday business of the Church of England.

2.10 pm

I speak without having consulted my bishop, but I was with him in St. Paul's cathedral at the great concert service for the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. I suspect that a partial answer to one of the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is that, when clerics find that they cannot support themselves—whether through some fault of their own or not—the range of charities associated with the Church will provide support if it has not been possible to get it directly from the Church Commissioners or from the diocese.

I should declare an interest, in that I have just been elected a trustee of a trust established in 1695 by Dr. Busby for the support of the clergy—although the first thing that he did with the trust was to spend £10 on a dinner for the trustees. Most of the other money is spent in a way that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury would support.

I recently went to the Elizabethan exhibition at the National Maritime museum, which served as a proper reminder that, when Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, she had to unite the country in the Church of England, and that, much to the disappointment of both the Catholics and the Presbyterians, she established the middle way. I suspect that one of the best ways of maintaining the middle way, and one of the best ways for the Church of England within Christianity to serve at least the nation of England, is for the Church to remain established. I side with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury on that; I am not taken with what I hope are the short-term modern ideas put forward so elegantly by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler).

The Ecclesiastical Committee works in mysterious ways, and much of that work is done in public. It is possible to read that two of the noble Lords whom my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury quoted were in dissent in finding the Measure expedient. I should like to pay tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, for helping us to have a fair go at all the points that were on our minds and to come to a conclusion. Those who argue about the difficulty of achieving a quorum might like to consider the attractiveness of the way in which they speak and of the points that they raise. I am not saying that people left the room to avoid hearing them at length, but it is certainly true that, if these meetings took the amount of time that they properly deserved, we could still cover the ground and come to proper conclusions.

I am perfectly prepared to find myself in a minority on occasions, but I still think that I am right. Measures that I think should get through without difficulty sometimes fail to do so, but I believe that the process is important. I hope that the House will have the opportunity to debate synodical government at some point; it is about 40 years since the last report led to certain changes being made. I remind the House that the reason that we have this debate on the Measure, and this debate alone, is that we have got rid of the Second Reading, Committee and Report stages relating to changes in the laws of the Church of England. I believe that that was progress, although it has led to some difficulties. Anyone who thinks that the Synod and those who serve it do not take this matter seriously has not read the report and the papers presented to us.

I hope that there will be a way of making available to every parish in the country two of the items referred to by the hon. Member for North Cornwall and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. The reflections by the Reverend Dr. Francis Bridger are useful, and are to be found on page 35 of the report. They are deep but valuable. The parts that I believe should go to every parish are parts I and II. The five pages covered by part I—Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy—are basically the charge to the clergy.

Paragraph 12 in part II appears on page 45, and deals with the support and care of the clergy. The question asked at the installation of every incumbent is:
"Will you uphold them in their ministry?"
The answer deserves the attention of us all, and I completely agree with it. It states:
"The officers of the parish, especially the churchwardens, should ensure that their clergy have:
Sufficient time off for rest, recreation and proper holidays.
An annual opportunity to make a retreat of at least a week's duration.
  • Adequate administrative assistance.
  • Reimbursement in full of ministerial expenses.
  • Appropriate release for extra parochial ministry.
  • Encouragement for ministry to the whole parish not just the gathered congregation."
We all ought to be aware of those words, especially when dealing with disciplinary measures involving allegations against a member of the clergy that may be right or wrong.

I would ask those ministers who might read this debate—I am glad to see some ministers here—to remember that the Church of England has the advantage of article 26, which says that what a minister does is still all right, even if the minister himself is no good. I pay tribute to those in ministry, both in the Church and the Government.

2.15 pm

With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the points that have been made in this debate, and I welcome the very constructive fashion in which they have been made. May I also echo the words of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)? I, too, am sorry that the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) is not here today. I am aware that he is indisposed and I wish him a quick recovery.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall made the point that the Measure was overdue. Its gestation took six years; it also took a little longer because the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force and had to be taken into consideration. I agree with him that the world moves on very quickly, and something that takes six years to get through the system can find itself out of date by the time it reaches the House. I am sure that we shall take that point on board. He was kind enough, however, to commend the Synod for the work and preparation that it has done, and I will pass on his remarks when the Synod meets again in July.

With the House's permission, I shall avoid any debate on happy-clappy ministers. I often feel that we have happy-clappy Members of Parliament at Question Time here in the House, although they have not given me any difficulty in this Parliament. I would not, however, want to get involved in any debate on happy-clappy ministers or on fashion.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall raised the significant point—as he has done before—about the disestablishment of the Church. I have made the point to the new archbishop that we ought not to be talking about disestablishment; some important points were made on that, to which I shall come in a moment. The hon. Gentleman might, however, like to talk about disengagement, and about how we might disengage some of the aspects of the Church from the state. The Church should get the best out of its relationship with the state, and the state should get the best out of its relationship with the Church. How we achieve that is something that we ought to look at.

The Measure before us today comes from powers emanating from the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. That Act has not quite been in force for 100 years, but we have nevertheless been acting under its provisions for an awfully long time. I suspect that one of the problems involved is political or parliamentary inertia. There is a tremendous inbuilt inertia when it comes to considering these matters, but we ought to remember that the clergy play a very distinguished and important part in their parishes with their parishioners, and that those parishioners are also our constituents. We therefore have a strong interest in maintaining that relationship.

I welcome the remarks made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), as I always do. He mentioned the lack of members of the Ecclesiastical Committee here today, but I am happy to say that some members of the Committee are present on the Labour and Conservative Benches. In relation to some members of the Committee, however, I would say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I sometimes think that our proceedings move more quickly and progressively when some of those members are not here.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the website report. It is certainly true that, in the age of the internet and of mass information, it would be appropriate for these proceedings to be on the website. My own website has just celebrated its half-millionth hit. How half a million people can check into my website over a period of just a few months is astonishing to me; what they do there I have no idea. Nevertheless, websites are an important source of information and I think that the hon. Gentleman has put forward a sound idea. He talked about a cluster of concepts; I often think, when dealing with issues concerning the Church and the state, that I am dealing with a confusion of concepts, rather than a cluster. The hon. Gentleman's point is certainly well made, however.

I outlined a range of penalties. The hon. Gentleman asked how malicious gossip could be dealt with. That is of course a difficult issue, but we have found ways of dealing with it different from those adopted in Massachusetts in 1692, when ladies were taken out and burnt at the stake as witches. We have progressed a bit since then.

Housing is of course important to a clergyman. His vocation and his vicarage necessitate a dwelling. The Church must be very liberal, sensitive and generous when dealing with housing for priests who may be in difficulty.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning pensions. The simple answer to his question is that under the rules of the two Church of England pension schemes, clergy who are subject to disciplinary proceedings will not lose any accrued pension entitlement. Should they have to leave the stipendiary ministry as a result of disciplinary action, they will be treated in the same way as others who choose to leave before retirement age. Their existing pension rights will be preserved, but no further entitlement will accrue, and their pensions will not become payable until they reach retirement age.

As the hon. Gentleman may know, doctrine, ritual and ceremony are still being dealt with under the 1963 Measure, and that will continue. The working party that he mentioned, consisting of bishops, clergy and laity, was established to examine the matter in detail, and will report to the House of Bishops early next year. In due course the House will report to the Synod on its proposals, modelled largely on the new Measure establishing disciplinary procedures to deal with complaints relating to doctrine, ritual and ceremony. The Measure that will enact those proposals will then be presented for synodical approval.

When I think of all the work that lies ahead, I am reminded of the words of St Augustine, who said "Make me pure, but not yet, 0 Lord". I hope that it will be some time before we find ourselves in the Ecclesiastical Committee considering those Measures.

A point was made about the size of the Committee. When I read the report of proceedings in the other place, I noted that one Member had complained that it was too large with 15 members from the Lords and 15 from the Commons, while the other had complained about the presence of the Second Church Estates Commissioner and a Member of Parliament who was also a member of the Synod. In fact the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the member of the Synod are two people who are guaranteed to be present if no one else is, so I thought there was a bit of a contradiction there. Nevertheless, attendance and the Committee's composition are a constant source of worry for the Commissioner. It is extraordinarily difficult to find volunteers for membership, and many Members of both Houses are more or less press-ganged into it. That does tend to impinge on attendance.

I apologise for missing my hon. Friend's earlier remarks, but may I say something about size, composition and attendance? I must confess that I missed the sittings, but I think that part of the problem is that those who become members of the Committee are not entirely sure of its powers and what it is likely to do. As a member myself, I would welcome an opportunity to discuss that informally.

As he said, my hon. Friend is a member of the Committee, and he has taken a strong interest in our proceedings. He anticipates a point that I intended to make. We have a busy House, a busy Committee structure and a busy timetable, and it is not always easy for Members to attend sittings of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The change in the sitting hours of the House has had a further impact on attendance. My hon. Friend's point about how we inform new Committee members is well made, and I will certainly return to it. 1 have already discussed the point made by the hon. Member for Salisbury about the Church of England and Parliament.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who was on the Committee, made some pertinent points. He spoke of the role of the parish priest, and the vocation. It is indeed a vocation, and parish priests are therefore in a rather different category from those in other professions that the hon. Gentleman mentioned when something has happened that must be dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Elizabeth I and the middle way. I had visions of the middle way and the third way. Four hundred years later, here we are again, inventing a new way of looking at politics. Incidentally, 30 years ago General de Gaulle also had a third way in French politics—but in the context of the established and the disestablished Church, as I have said, disengagement strikes me as a way forward for both.

I think I have covered the question of the Committee's size. The questions of synodical debate and a debate on synodical government, however, are extremely important to both the Church and the House. The hon. Gentleman made a significant point about our proceedings today, namely that there was no Committee stage and indeed no Second Reading for Church legislation. There is no Department to take over such business. The House of Commons represents the final safeguard of the rights of our constituents who are also parishioners. Today's proceedings are therefore very important, and I am glad that there is a sense of unanimity here.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke of connecting parishes with the internet. It is certainly a wonderful source of information, even for our parishes.

I think I have covered all the points made by Members. I thank them all again for their constructive participation. I thank members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the General Synod, and the representatives of Church House who brief me so well. I commend the Measure.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Clergy Discipline Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.

Municipal Waste Recycling Bill Money

Queen's recommendation having been signified

2.27 pm

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.
The motion concerns the private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). On Second Reading the Government said they were content to allow the Bill to proceed to its Committee stage, and that was agreed by the House. The Government also said on Second Reading that a number of amendments would have to be made if the Bill was to receive Government support.

Our first problem is the requirement for a strategy to be prepared within six months to achieve a 50 per cent. municipal waste recycling rate by 2010. We are not sure that that would fit with the rather more comprehensive waste strategy 2000, which involved the whole waste stream rather than just municipal waste and addressed the entire hierarchy rather than just recycling. We think it important to focus on the action needed from central Government and local authorities to meet our published targets and to make progress with the 2000 strategy rather than publishing a further strategy so soon after the production of the others.

Speaking just for England, we considered the issues of targets in our response to the strategy unit's report "Waste not want not". The unit made a number of suggestions for new strategy targets, although they were not as ambitious as the target of 50 per cent. by 2010 proposed in the Bill. We concluded that it would not be fair to change the statutory recycling and composting targets that the Government had set for 2005–06 at this stage. We recognise, however, that national recycling rates higher than the current targets are both possible and clearly desirable. We have said that in 2004 we will review the national recycling targets in the light of progress made by local authorities in meeting their 2003–04 targets. We are not currently convinced, however, that the achievement of a 50 per cent. rate by 2010 is practicable. That rate is far beyond the current target of 30 per cent. by 2010 as set in "Waste Strategy 2000", and the target of 35 per cent. by 2010 as recommended by the strategy unit.

On other parts of the Bill, we intend that the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill should incorporate the requirement for municipal waste management strategies in two-tier areas. These strategies will not be required for "excellent" authorities or for those that can show that they are on track to meet their targets. We intend to table an amendment to this effect on Report. The Waste and Emissions Trading Bill already incorporates the power of direction for a waste disposal authority to require a waste collection authority to deliver waste separated, where that is necessary to meet its requirements under the landfill allowance scheme or recycling targets.

On the motion and the matter of cost, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently doing some financial modelling to forecast the cost of providing such services and of meeting increasing levels of recycling within the UK, although this is not ready yet. The calculation is not straightforward; the modelling is very complex, involving a number of different scenarios. We need to be very clear about the assumptions and fears that we feed into the model; however, we are certainly working on this.

So I think that we can agree that sustainable waste management is a vital policy, and that it will be useful to discuss this Bill further in Committee. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjournment (Whitsun)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 22nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd June.— [Joan Ryan.]

2.31 pm

I wish to speak on Cyprus. I am the chairperson of the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's all-party group on Cyprus, which is made up of Members from all of the major parties in this House. Since the brutal military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by the Turkish army in 1974, we in this House have, over the years, had many debates on, asked many questions about, and tabled many early-day motions on Cyprus. Our group has always made it very clear that we are just as concerned with the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots as we are with those of Greek Cypriots.

In the years since 1974, there have been many attempts to find an honourable solution to the division of the island of Cyprus. It became clear during that time that the lack of progress was due to the attitude of Mr. Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, and his friends and supporters in Turkey. Since 1974, he has done nothing to enable the island of Cyprus—a country that is a member of the Commonwealth, and for which the United Kingdom is one of the guarantor powers—to work together with Greek and Turkish Cypriots to develop their country. Some years ago, he declared the so-called independent state of northern Cyprus. To this day, only one country in the world recognises it: Turkey. The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Kingdom all refuse to recognise it. So, sadly, we have made no progress on a settlement.

Many Members of this House have fully supported the application of Cyprus for membership of the European Union, and we were delighted when it became clear that it will become a member next year. As those discussions on membership were taking place, the then President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Clerides, asked Mr. Denktash on several occasions to join him to discuss Cyprus's future membership of the EU. He always—always—refused, saying that only if President Clerides recognised his independent state of northern Cyprus would he take part in such discussions.

When it became clear that Cyprus would join the European Union, the Secretary-General of the United Nations sought a settlement to the division, so that next year, when the Republic of Cyprus becomes an EU member state, the whole of Cyprus would join at the same time. I welcome and support the attempts of the Secretary-General to find a solution, but, again, we got nowhere, and again for the same reason: Mr. Denktash.

The voice of the people of northern Cyprus has now changed greatly, however. Turkish Cypriots went on to the streets in their thousands, calling for an end to the division of the island and speaking of the wish of the people of northern Cyprus, whatever Mr. Denktash says, to be part of the Cyprus that joins the European Union next year. The people of northern Cyprus, after years of silence, have clearly asked for an end to the isolation that, sadly, they experience from the world.

The British Government are major players in the affairs of Cyprus. We controlled it for many years, and two of the most important military bases in the British military establishment are still on the island. I have already mentioned the role that Turkey has played and continues to play in northern Cyprus. We also know that Turkey wants nothing more than to become a member of the European Union. This Government support and encourage that wish, but what I and other Members want to know is: just what do my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary say to the Turkish Government about Cyprus and an end to the division of the island? No one can say that Turkey has no influence in northern Cyprus; thousands of Turkish troops are there, and it helps the Denktash regime financially. So we say clearly to Turkey: use your influence in northern Cyprus and make it clear to Mr. Denktash that he must now enter into meaningful discussions with the UN Secretary-General to end this long-running tragedy of the division of Cyprus.

The people of northern Cyprus have clearly said what they want to happen. For the first time since 1974, we have witnessed invasion: people crossing the divide between northern and southern Cyprus to visit the areas in which they used to live and their former homes, and to meet their former friends. So the attitude and wish of Cyprus is now very clear. The people have spoken, be they Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots. They say, "We want to live together, work together and prosper together."

So where does the United Kingdom stand in terms of this very clear wish? Do we support these people, and if so what are we doing to ensure that such developments continue and lead to a united Cyprus, thereby ending the division of the island and the suffering of its people, among whom, sadly, none have suffered more in recent years than the Turkish Cypriot community? If that is our policy, what are we doing to pursue it? That is the question to which many Members of this House want an answer, and it is why I have spoken today.

2.39 pm

Unusually, I am not so grateful for being called earlier because I would have liked to respond to several later contributions. As is often said in this place, one has to take one's chance when one can.

First, I wholly agree with the hon. Member for 'Tooting (Mr. Cox) on a subject that he has revisited in several recess Adjournment debates. I particularly endorse his point about people power in Cyprus. In a debate earlier this week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made specific reference to the position in Cyprus. The hon. Member for Tooting is right that we in this country must endorse the demands, requests and pressure from the people of Cyprus to resolve their difficulties once and for all. I happened to be an MP in 1974—a long time ago—when the division of Cyprus took place. I recall the tragic circumstances, which were terrible for the people of Cyprus, and for all the people who love that benighted island when the tragedy continued. I entirely endorse everything that the hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that the Minister will take his points seriously and communicate them to the Foreign Office.

The Minister has heard reference made on several recent occasions to the little booklet produced by the Parliament First group—a distinguished group, apart from myself, of course. "Parliament's Last Chance" has a distinguished authorship, including Members of all political parties. I hope that the Minister has, having been encouraged to do so, now read it. If not, next week would allow him an admirable opportunity to do so. Other hon. Members, who may believe that we live in a parliamentary democracy and—to put it in simple terms—that Parliament's power to hold the Executive to account has decreased, is decreasing and ought to be enhanced, should also find useful material in the booklet.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister—and, through him, that of the Leader of the House—to several issues in the document, but before I do so I refer him back to the debate of 29 October 2002, to preceding debates and, indeed, to previous weekly encounters with the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on those very issues. They should be of concern to every Member of Parliament, whether they sit on the Front or the Back Benches, and to all who believe that our democracy relies on effective scrutiny of Government legislation and of the Government's Executive actions.

The problems have certainly not developed suddenly—as hon. Members know, I have been in and out of this place for quite a long period—but as a product of a war of attrition between No. 10, Whitehall and the House. The resignation statement of the former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), underlined the fact that the problems did not suddenly occur in the year 2003, but progressively—or, I should say, regressively—over several years.

"Parliament's Last Chance" would also be of interest to people outside Parliament who take our proceedings seriously. If I had to concentrate on one core issue, it would be the management of Parliament's time. All too often, the management of our time is not only in the hands of the Executive of the day, but is organised to the convenience of that Executive. I am not just complaining about the speedy passage of the business immediately preceding this debate, which meant that my soup is still sitting in the Members' Tea Room getting cold. It is much more serious than that. If Parliament is to reassert its authority over the Executive, we must be able to reassert our power over our own timetable.

Almost all the elected legislative assemblies in the west and other parts of the world—whether they have mirrored our system or adopted a different one—enable the individual members and the parties collectively to decide the priorities for the business. The management of business is not left to the Government, but is recognised as an important power for the elected assembly. That is why "Parliament's Last Chance" emphasises the need for some sort of business committee in Parliament. It is also the reason why the Scottish Parliament has set up, under the chairmanship of a presiding officer, a group of people from all parts of its elected assembly, which can then decide on the priorities for its business.

Furthermore, the motion proposed by the right hon. Member for Livingston on 29 October last year entailed a move towards some form of collective consensus building on how the business of the House should be conducted. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) knows, it was relatively limited in recommending proper consultation, but as he and I both know, that exercise now seems to have ground to a halt. Why? Because it undermines the hegemony of the Government Whips.

Government Members should take a greater interest in why the House decision in favour of cross-party consultation has lapsed. As I mentioned to the Leader of the House at business questions this afternoon, we should focus on what needs to be done at this stage of the Session. If the Government ask the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and me to carry over some business—I have calculated that we have only a further 10 weeks left for this Session's legislative programme—without proper consultation on the priorities of all the legislation, they might receive a dusty answer. I stress that the House had decided that such consultation should take place. It was not merely an Opposition motion or an afterthought. The motion came before the House and was approved by it, but the process has now stalled. In fairness to the Leader of the House, he responded positively to my point in business questions earlier today, but I hope that we can make further progress.

The booklet includes several other extremely important proposals. None of its authors believes that it is the last word on the subject—far from it—but we believe that all hon. Members, particularly Labour Back Benchers, not only have a right and responsibility to take the proposals seriously, but may have their final opportunity in the coming months to reassert their rights on behalf of their constituents to ensure that Parliament works more effectively.

The right hon. Member for Livingston used to say on many occasions—I hope that I am paraphrasing him accurately—that good government depends on good scrutiny by Parliament. Many of us feel that the position is deteriorating—though, as I said, not suddenly. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst would be the first to admit that he and his colleagues were far from perfect and introduced legislation that was inadequately thought through on many occasions. When we were given an opportunity to improve it, we often found ourselves up against the guillotine.

Saying that two wrongs do not make a right does not improve the position, however. It has not been right for some time and it continues to be a blot on the reputation of Parliament. One of the reasons why members of the public do not hold Parliament in higher esteem is that we do not look as if we are in control of our business. We do not look as if we are giving proper scrutiny to issues that require it, and we do not look from outside as if we are doing our job properly.

It is important to recognise that individual MPs of all parties are highly respected in their own constituencies. I have no doubt that many of the usual suspects are in their places on both sides of the House today and they will raise issues that they feel are important to them. The polls show that individual Members of all parties—I shall not embarrass anyone by mentioning names—are highly respected in the local community. However, when the public are asked how they perceive Parliament as an institution, and whether Members of Parliament are doing their job properly collectively, we tumble down the respect league. We even sometimes come below journalists, and that is a deplorable situation.

Has the hon. Gentleman considered that the public may be more accurate in their assessment of their constituency MP because they have more personal knowledge of his or her qualities and work, whereas their view of what happens in this place is filtered through, for example, the media's reporting of us?

The hon. Gentleman is a colleague on the Modernisation Committee and he has given me an opportunity to polish what I laughingly call my peroration. In the Committee, we are trying to find ways to communicate better, not only through the media but directly, using the modern forms of communication that technology has now afforded to us. In that way, we could better communicate to the outside world what Parliament is doing. However, we should remember that the message is dependent on the quality of the work that we do, not on the messenger that we use. We can continue to improve the ways in which we engage with he public until the cows come home, but unless we do a better job, the public's perception—whether through the media or through direct contact at constituency level and the internet—will not improve. The perception has to be that the substance of what we are doing has improved.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I wish all colleagues an enjoyable Whitsun recess. Everyone will be welcome in Cornwall, which will—of course—be very sunny next week.

Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back Benchers' speeches for the rest of the debate.

2.52 pm

Cyprus is an important issue, and I too shall address it in my remarks. It has been discussed on many occasions and for various reasons, and we have already heard about it today. It was often discussed after the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, and numerous UN resolutions have been passed since then. All opposed the Turkish invasion, but none of the resolutions was successful.

The leader of the Turkish Cypriots for the whole time has been Mr. Denktash, whose name is often associated with intransigence. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, visited Cyprus in late February this year, in yet another attempt to settle the Cyprus dispute. The UN plan, which has been revised several times, was put before the parties and an invitation was issued to the leaders to visit The Hague on 10 March to hear the latest version of Mr. Annan's settlement plan, and to tell him whether it would be put to a popular referendum in both the Republic and the occupied territory of Cyprus.

In the event, Mr. Denktash said no on 10 March, a failure to comply that was subsequently accepted by the UN Security Council. I was deeply disappointed by the UN plan and, for once, Mr. Denktash did us a favour by rejecting it. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Cyprus will formally join the EU in May 2004. A divided Cyprus would complicate that enormously. The Turks also want to join the EU and they have argued hat there can be no solution for Cyprus unless the EU offers them an early and realistic date for formal negotiations to commence on EU membership.

At the same time, presidential elections were held in Cyprus, with the first vote on 16 February. In the event, a second vote was unnecessary, because Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos won with 51.51 per cent. in the first ballot. That brought to an abrupt end the 10-year rule of the defeated President, Mr. Clerides. I have always maintained that Mr. Clerides felt that he had to concede too much to the demands of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash. I am therefore very pleased with the presidency of Mr. Papadopoulos. Interestingly, he was backed by his own party, DIKO, but also by the Socialist party, AKEL, which is the largest political party in Cyprus. AKEL gained some 34 per cent. in last year's elections and is led by the president of the House of Representatives, Mr. Demetris Christofias. Mr.Papadopoulos was also supported by the Social Democratic Movement, KISOS, and the Ecologists. That widespread political support is reflected in the composition of the Council of Ministers that took office on 3 March. It appears to be the best Government of Cyprus for a long time.

It is my understanding that the President has now informed the UN Secretary-General's special adviser on Cyprus, Mr. de Soto, that the proposed UN deal is dead. Mr. Papadopoulos has undertaken to present a new deal and has pledged to
"work and strive for a workable and viable solution."
I wish him every success and I believe that he can do it. That belief is based on recent developments in Cyprus and the world at large. Those include the facts that Turkish Cypriots are increasingly angry with their intransigent leader, Mr. Denktash; that Turkey has lost much influence, especially with the United States; that Turkey is less important strategically since the fall of Saddam Hussein; that Turkey is now much more focused on joining the EU, and a divided Cyprus is an obstacle to that, rather than a negotiating advantage; and that President Papadopoulos leads a strong and determined Government who will come up with a Fasting solution.

Recently, Mr. Denktash opened the border so that Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and other Cypriots can visit long-lost homes and villages, which they have been prevented from doing for nearly 29 years. I fully understand all the emotions associated with those visits. They also show that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have more in common than what divides them. However, a lasting settlement should not be decided on emotions. I have yet to be persuaded that I should trust Mr. Denktash, or the Turkish Government, on these matters. Furthermore, one should not have to pay to visit one's own home and village.

It is important that the Government of Cyprus and the people develop and propose a lasting solution. However, it is for the UK Government and, in particular, the Foreign Office, who have drifted lately towards a more Turkish-designed solution for Cyprus, to accept the changed circumstances and fully to appreciate the efforts made by President Papadopoulos.

2.58 pm

On previous occasions, I have used the Adjournment debate to raise the issue of the Royal hospital, Haslar and I am delighted to inform colleagues who follow the fortunes of that important and grand hospital that—after several Adjournment debates since 1998—it is alive and well, and living in Gosport. The local hospitals trust is studying ways of using the accident treatment centre to a greater extent. I also see, from a recent Government publication entitled, "Keeping the NHS Local—A New Direction of Travel" that a model will be studied in which

"unselected patients receive rapid assessment in a local unit, with doctors from the nearest acute hospital site advising remotely via a telemedicine link."
That would mean that the accident treatment centre at Haslar could be used more widely than at present, and the plan is to expand it by diverting some 4,000 extra patients a year through it. Whether it is the Adjournment debates alone, or common sense that has prevailed, I am delighted to inform colleagues that Haslar is well and we intend that it should remain that way.

Today, I wish to raise a different issue—the Government's immigration policy and political asylum system, which are generally recognised to be in a state of collapse. From small beginnings, about 80,000 people sought to come to this country in 2000. In 2002, the number of people trying to come to this country rose to 110,000, of whom the Home Office decided that about 10,000 were entitled to political asylum as they were genuinely in fear of persecution in their original place of residence. Of the remaining 100,000, about 20,000 were given exceptional leave to remain in the short term. That means that about 30 per cent. of all applicants remained here by permission. About 13,000 applicants left—or said that they were going to leave—and the remainder, who were not given leave to remain, have remained here anyway.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration told the House three weeks ago:
"Because refugees have to enter countries illegally, one of the perverse effects of the current system is that it has fuelled the rise of the criminal gangs that smuggle people for profit."—[Official Report, 28 April 2003; Vol. 404, c. 1.]
We really cannot go an as we are. We need a different system, and the Conservative party has proposed one. We expected it to be greeted with some surprise, as it is very dramatic, but it seems to have been received quite quietly. The plan is to screen applicants for political asylum not in this country, but outside it. That is the system in Australia, and it has achieved some success. Indeed, this Government are considering screening political asylum applicants outside the country. The Home Secretary has suggested to his colleagues in Europe the possibility that we might screen political asylum seekers in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. If the Government decide to follow the Conservative line and screen people outside the UK, we Conservatives will not criticise them for stealing our policies. On this occasion, we will congratulate them.

As matters stand, however, we have to live with the existing system. The Government have proposed some possible locations for accommodation centres, where asylum seekers would be housed on a short-term basis. I say "short term" because it appears that, within two months of being sent to an accommodation centre, asylum seekers will be told whether they are being given permission to stay here, or exceptional leave to remain.

Of course, asylum seekers who are turned down can appeal. That process can take another six months, so the prospect is that people will remain in these accommodation centres for quite some time. Two such centres, at Newton and Bicester, are currently under consideration. In February, the Government announced that they were contemplating establishing a third centre at Daedalus, a former Royal Navy air station at Lee-on-the-Solent, which was closed some years ago.

The proposal was greeted by people in the area with incredulity, dismay and anger. The Daedalus action group rapidly formed, and I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work that it has done. It has raised a petition signed by 32,000 people, and organised meetings—I addressed a meeting of 8,500 people on the cliff tops at Lee-on-the-Solent—and a march through the town.

When the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration telephoned me to tell me of her decision to contemplate Lee-on-the-Solent as a centre for asylum seekers, she said, "Come on, Peter, 400 hundred young men"—which is what the proposal might entail—"is less than 1 per cent. of the population of your constituency." However, that is not the right way to look at the matter. Daedalus's main gates are located next to a very quiet part of the residential area of Lee-on-the-Solent, which is a quiet and attractive seaside location, with a population of just over 6,000 people. The 400 young men proposed to be located at the Daedalus site would account for about 6 per cent. of the Lee-on-the-Solent population. They would have a devastating effect on an area that is very popular with retired people, and which is exceptionally quiet.

The organisations that support refugees' interests, such as the Refugee Council and the Immigration Advisory Service, all say that applicants for political asylum in this country—would-be immigrants—should be located in an urban environment, near to other people from their own countries. In both senses, Lee-on-the-Solent is supremely unsuitable. It is definitely not an urban environment, being very quiet, and it has no immigrant population at all. Very few people from the main immigrant countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Turkey, and the former Republic of Yugoslavia—even visit the area.

If—heaven forbid—the proposal were to go ahead, the burden on local services would be enormous. People living in the accommodation centre would be given primary medical care, but of course would rely on local hospital services for secondary and tertiary care. There is already a strain on doctors' services, and there are no dentists taking new NHS patients in the Gosport constituency. There are 3,000 people waiting on the Fareham and Gosport housing list, and there are 200 homeless people in the area. The burden on schools would be intolerable. It is no surprise that the residents of Lee-on-the-Solent, as well as the Gosport and Fareham councils and Hampshire county council, have committed themselves to opposing the proposition absolutely and totally. It must not proceed.

3.6 pm

Valerie Davey
(Bristol, West)