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Business Of The House

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 5 June 2003

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12.31 pm

Can I ask the Leader of the House if he would like, please, to give us the business for next week?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for asking a staggered question to allow me to get to the Dispatch Box.

The business for next week will be as follows:

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

TUESDAY 10 JUNE—Motions to provide for the carry-over of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill.

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 confirmed.

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

FRIDAY 13 JUNE—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 16 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Licensing Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 17 JUNE—Opposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

WEDNESDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on "European Affairs" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 19 JUNE—Estimates [3rd Allotted Day]. Subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee.

FRIDAY 20 JUNE—Private Members Bills.

I am grateful, as ever, to the Leader of the House for letting us have the business.

The Leader of the House will know that he was quoted in yesterday's Times—accurately, I think—as saying:
"There have been uncorroborated briefings by a potentially rogue element — or indeed rogue elements — in the intelligence services".
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:

"of course there was somebody from within the intelligence community who spoke to the media."—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 147.]
Both the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister are making serious allegations about the intelligence services or rogue elements within them. In that context, will the Leader of the House reassure us that the Intelligence and Security Committee on which the Prime Minister placed such reliance yesterday will include that in its terms of reference and investigation?

In what I can describe only as the notorious interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4 yesterday morning, the Leader of the House—I shall quote from the transcript; I know how much he likes transcripts—said:
"Well it, you know the way we do things in this country is through Select Committees and I no more dictate what the Select Committees will choose to investigate than, than the Prime Minister dictates what the intelligence services will choose to discover, analyse and produce as information."
That was a touching endorsement of how he sees the role of Committees.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee is appointed by the Prime Minister, reports to the Prime Minister and, indeed, that the Act that set up the Committee gives the Prime Minister the right to edit or censor its reports? In that context, why do we have to place such reliance, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, on a Committee that is the Prime Minister's own creature? Why can we not have, as the Opposition propose, an independent and impartial tribunal set up by statute and chaired by a senior judge? Why are the Government so afraid of that, as they appear to be?

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday at column 195 the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said that "we simply were wrong." He meant the Government and was talking about weapons of mass destruction. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) said:
"the Prime Minister misled us".—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 207.]
That is what those former Cabinet Ministers said. In the context of that, can we be reassured that both the Intelligence and Security Committee and, indeed, the Foreign Affairs Committee will consider those serious accusations by former Cabinet Ministers about the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Government in the run-up to the hostilities in Iraq? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman confirms that.

On a different matter—[Interruption.] Well, I can do more if hon. Members want.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman can do more only if it is about next week's business.

Mr. Speaker, next week can we finally have the debate on pensions—[Interruption.] It was promised on 20 January by the then Pensions Minister, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). He promised a debate in Government time on the Green Paper on pensions that was issued in January. Yet in yesterday's debate the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), said that we would have a White Paper on pensions by the recess. We are now in the bizarre position of having had a Green Paper since the beginning of the year and moving straight to a White Paper before the recess without a proper debate in the interim in Government time led by a Pensions Minister because there still is not a Pensions Minister. Will there be a reshuffle to appoint a Pensions Minister next week and will we have a debate then? That is the question.

I should also like to know whether next week we could have a debate arising from yesterday's Audit Commission report. Does the Leader of the House think that there were perhaps rogue elements in the Audit Commission who said:
"The majority of trusts"—
NHS trusts—
"were finding it difficult to balance their books—some used new money, intended to boost services, to meet underlying financial problems. The majority of trusts were finding it hard to recruit enough extra doctors and nurses"?
The report went on to say:
"it is highly likely that growth monies will have been invested in funding the deficit."
It goes on further to say:
"The Annual Development Plan assumed that growth monies would be used to fund deficits by delaying project starts until the year end."
Those are very serious matters and they have been highlighted by the Audit Commission. I hope that we will have an urgent debate on them because they appear completely to undermine the Government's repeated claims that the NHS is in good health. Can we please have an immediate debate?

The right hon. Gentleman was obviously so intoxicated with my performance yesterday that he missed the fact that we had a pensions debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "In Government time."] It is funny how quickly Conservatives get worked up. They should take a lesson from Mr. Humphrys who remains calm throughout. Secondly, we have pensions questions next week. We will also probably have a statement next week on pensions. I shall have firmer details on that later specifically to please the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the NHS audit. I always welcome opportunities to debate the NHS in all its aspects, including Audit Commission reports, not least because we are putting in twice as much of an increase than any other Government in the history of the service. We have put in tens of thousands of extra nurses and we have a new hospital building programme. A debate that highlighted the disastrous effects of the 20 per cent. cuts that the Opposition would impose on the health service would be worth having.

On the more important subject that the right hon. Gentleman raised—it is an important subject, and I want to make sure that, whether unwittingly or through mischief, no one misinterprets what I said yesterday, because there are mischievous elements around, some of them malevolent—let me repeat what I said on the "Today" programme. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has also read those comments in the transcript, but he did not share them with the House. I said:
"I have the greatest respect for our intelligence services."
I also said that I know from working with them in Northern Ireland and as Minister for the Armed Forces that they are courageous, loyal, professional, self-sacrificing, committed and dedicated people. Indeed, my life and hundreds—perhaps thousands—of other lives depend on those services.

The people whom I was attacking, whom I am asked to name, I cannot name because they are anonymous. The right hon. Gentleman might ask Mr. Gilligan, the reporter who has been producing reports based on their information, who they are. I do not know them, I do not know their status, but I do know that they have been undermining or attempting to undermine the integrity of our intelligence services, up to and including the Joint Intelligence Committee and its chairman. Anyone who attempts to do that is an enemy of mine, and I believe should be an enemy of those on the Opposition Benches.

I turn to the other question that was asked about the inquiry. The Intelligence and Security Committee, which has been dismissed for its deficiency by the right hon. Gentleman, was set up by the previous Conservative Government, and its terms of reference were established by the previous intelli—I almost said intelligent Conservative Government, which of course would have been a contradiction in terms. The terms of reference were established by the previous Conservative Government. I believe that that Committee consists of people whose seniority, wisdom and integrity should be unquestioned throughout the House, and I certainly do not question it.

It is not true that the Committee's opinions, publications or intended publications can he dismissed at will by the Prime Minister. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say is that—I quote from section 10(7) of the Intelligences Services Act 1994 which established the Committee—
"If it appears to the Prime Minister,"—
and the words that the right hon. Gentleman missed out were
"after consultation with the Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of either of the Services"—
that is, our intelligence services, which the Government are determined to protect—
"or, as the case may be, GCHQ, the Prime Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report"—
in other words, after consultation with the Committee itself. I believe that we should have confidence in that Committee to discharge its functions.

Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Mr. Speaker."] I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Members get upset. I am one of those, unlike some Opposition Members, who have taken great pleasure in your rise through the House from the time that we were very young men. I have some good news for the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and some bad news. As he will have noticed from the photographs this morning, when the Prime Minister comes to the House with a tabbed book, he does not have a tab on it marked "IDS", which says a lot, does it not? The good news, as I suppose it is testimony to the stature of the right hon. Gentleman, is that I do have a tab marked "Eric Forth".

The bad news is that I am able to read transcripts as well. I have read the transcript of the right hon. Gentleman's defence of the Leader of the Opposition this morning on "Today". Perhaps we can debate this next week. He was asked by Mr. Naughtie, whom I know well
"Why didn't your leader knock Mr. Blair to pulp at the dispatch box yesterday?"
The right hon. Gentleman said:
The transcript then says "(pause)". He added:
"that's a fascinating parliamentary question, and as I come up to celebrating my twentieth anniversary in the House—a great privilege and honour—I can reflect on that."
I will allow right hon. and hon. Members to decide how high in the league table of robust defences of our leaders that answer comes.[Laughter.]

The Leader of the House has referred to a transcript from the "Today" show—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Show?"] It is often referred to as the John and Jim show. As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the exchanges with the rogue element or perhaps rogue elephant on the Conservative Front Bench, may I draw his attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made no mention during his exchanges on "Today" that the Prime Minister got his war because Conservative Members voted for it? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise, as Leader of the House, that it is not only the credibility of the Prime Minister that is at stake now, but the credibility of the whole House?

Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I would ever accuse the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of being gullible, but it is extremely important that the information that was given to all Members, including the Conservative Members who voted for the war, was accurate. Therefore I ask the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to arrange for a statement next week, or a debate, on the particular information that was given to the House—I will come to a specific issue in a moment—and the way in which the House will now deal with it.

Has the Leader of the House noticed, for example, that the United States Senate has set up a joint inquiry into these issues? Why cannot we in this place have a joint inquiry involving the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, to ensure that the whole issue is properly covered and that there is proper co-ordination between the two Committees? What arrangements does the Leader of the House intend to make to ensure that the reports of the two Committees are properly co-ordinated and brought to the Floor of the House?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is the credibility of the way in which the House does its business and scrutinises Government that is on the line, as well as, specifically, the credibility of the Prime Minister. It may be that the Prime Minister and the Government will look shifty and slippery if the outcome is that we were led into war under false pretences but, not only that, quite frankly, the House will look silly for taking the decision that we did on false information.

I ask the Leader of the House specifically to consider the issue raised yesterday by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the former Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister. He asked specifically about the issue of the purchase by Iraq of uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister said that he was
"not in a position to say whether"—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 102, c. 154.]
that information, on which the advice was given to the House, was correct.

On 24 September, the Prime Minister said:
"we know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 4.]
That was repeated in the so-called dodgy dossier, which said:
"We judge Iraq has sought … "

On 28 January, President Bush said:
"The British Government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Obviously he was taking his advice from the British Government. However, on 7 March, at the United Nations Security Council, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that the reports were not authentic. Hans Blix called them a falsification. On 2 June, Colin Powell said that he did not believe that there was "solid enough" authentication.

When will we get an answer to the question of the previous Foreign Secretary? Can we have it next week?

First, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we could debate various matters relating to Iraq. I think that even the worst enemy of this Government would concede that we have made probably more time available to debate Iraq, the run-up to what happened there and its various aspects than any other Government have done previously in such circumstances. Of course, we will try to allow even more time, but we have to balance the priorities of the House.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the security services. I do not know how to make this any plainer to him. The nature of the collection of the intelligence means that thousands and perhaps millions of pieces of disparate information are brought together. Some of them are corroborated, some are not, some are human intelligence, some are technical, some are from above the sky, some are from beneath the waves, some are photographs and some are gossip. All of them are partial and fragmentary, so the job of making a judgment on that basis is a very difficult one, and it is one that I believe our security services discharge with fantastic capability and professionalism.

It is possible for human beings to make mistakes—of course it is—but let me make the distinction that the hon. Gentleman crossed over again in using the term "false pretences". For the past week, the allegation has been that information that the Government and the chiefs of our intelligence services knew to be wrong was put into the public domain. That is not an accusation that we might have made a mistake, but an accusation of dishonesty against the Government and the intelligence services.

"False pretences" repeats that accusation. That is completely and utterly untrue and it is a manifest slur not only on the politicians, but on the chairman and everyone involved in the Joint Intelligence Committee, and we reject it. I make that absolutely plain as far as the Liberal party is concerned.

On the Intelligence and Security Committee, of course, on Niger and everywhere else, it will be able to look at the issue in the round and consider the specific piece of information that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the context of anything else that may be there. That is up to the Committee. He also suggested that it is not adequate. Since he mentioned the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), let me use his words about that Committee:
"The Committee's work necessarily is not in the open. It would sharply inhibit the candour with which its questions were answered if it met in open session. Some hon. Members may imagine that, because the Committee meets and takes evidence in private, it provides an easy life for its witnesses."
That is what the hon. Gentleman implied. The former Foreign Secretary continued:
"I should disabuse the House of that idea. As one of those who has given evidence to the Committee, I can assure the House that the fact that the meeting takes place in private does not in any way diminish the acuteness of the questioning, which is just as testing as any in front of the press."—[Official Report, 2 November 1998; Vol. 318, c. 578.]
All I would say is that I cannot think of a better way of validating the competence, ability and integrity of that Committee. Having asked for an inquiry, we should let it get on with it.

Can the house have an early opportunity to consider the findings of Cancer Research UK, which has found that fewer women are now dying from cancer? In my constituency, women have written to me about how highly they value local services, including not only clinical services, but aftercare. Should we not share those experiences across the House, so that where there is good practice, it can be shared in all constituencies so that even fewer women die from cancer and women get the counselling that they deserve and need?

Absolutely. I hope that those sentiments will be accepted throughout the House. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has highlighted this matter and that the Cancer Research UK report states that deaths from breast cancer are down significantly and that five-year survival rates for breast cancer are improving all the while. According to reports published last year by Cancer Research UK and the European Institute of Oncology, Britain has had the world's biggest decrease in deaths from breast cancer in the past decade. Since 1960, Britain has had the largest decline in breast cancer deaths in the European Union. I therefore hope very much that we will find sufficient time to debate that issue, as well as many other aspects of women's health.

May I reinforce the request for a debate on the security services next week, which would allow the high opinion that the Leader of the House has expressed to be shared and agreed across the House? Such a debate would also provide him with an opportunity to remind the House just how many weeks the Wilson Government lasted after the then Prime Minister announced that he was being undermined by elements of the security services.

I always try to find time for the hon. Gentleman, but he need not wait, because he could start to contribute by using his time not to attack those of us who were defending the security services, but to attack those who are spreading misinformation suggesting that the leadership and the security services are lacking in competence or integrity.

Can my right hon. Friend find time next week or the week after for a debate on the responsibilities of the media and its regulation in particular? He will know that, on 31 May this year, The Guardian ran on its front page an article about an alleged meeting between the Foreign Secretary and his US counterpart in the Waldorf hotel in New York. Today, on page 25, there is a 2-in column retraction of that claim and an apology for it. It is about time that we got some balance in media reporting in this country.

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised at all to know that I agree with every word that he has said.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, next week, he will be contacting the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the previous Government Chief Whip, to volunteer information about rogue elements in the security services and to give evidence following up the very serious allegations that he made in The Times yesterday?

If anyone wishes to find who is spreading the misinformation, they should speak to people who are claiming that information as the source of the stories. Those allegations were made to undermine the Government and the security forces. I made allegations about people who are unknown and anonymous, and whose position is not known, but on whose word the integrity of our security services and Joint Intelligence Committee is being impugned. I cannot stand by and allow that to happen. Given that the right hon. Gentleman previously held a position in connection with Northern Ireland, I would have hoped that he would be attacking those who are spreading misinformation about our security services, rather than defending those who are maligning them.

Ninety per cent. of the heroin on the streets of Hamilton. North and Bellshill, as well as Inverclyde, originates in Afghanistan. Given that, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the recent United Nations report predicting that this year's poppy harvest in Afghanistan will be the largest ever? We must take steps now to ensure that the poppy that will be harvested in the autumn does not become the raw opium that becomes heroin on sale in his constituency and mine. Does he agree that cheap heroin on the streets of Britain is not a price that we have to pay for the war on terrorism?

Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the appalling mismanagement of the European Union's aid budget, particularly with regard to Ethiopia, following the comments of Sir Bob Geldof, who described it as appalling and pathetic?

I am always prepared to try to find time for discussions on overseas aid, not least because this Government have a proud record on reversing the cuts that had been so disgracefully imposed by the previous Government. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a point about criticism of how the European aid budget is disbursed in some cases and I know that the Government have had their reservations about that. Even if we cannot have a debate in the Chamber, I am sure that there will be an opportunity either in Adjournment debates or Westminster Hall, but I shall certainly seek to ensure that we pay some attention to that matter.

May we have a debate on the role of the oldest political party in Iraq, which was founded in 1934 and includes Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Christians and Jews, and works with middle-of-the-road parties in trying to establish pluralism and democracy? Should not the role of the Iraqi Communist party be a matter that is considered in the building of a new Iraq, and should not new Labour at least understand the nature of new communism?

Would the Leader of the House find time to debate next week the continuation of locally based and recruited security support for the civil power in Northern Ireland? He will know from his experience that there has been no time since 1920 when we have not had locally-based and recruited mobile armed back-up to the civil power: first the A, B and C special constabulary; then, in the 1970s and for the next 30 years the Ulster Defence Regiment; then, from the mid-1990s, the home-based battalions—now three—of the Royal Irish Regiment. For the first time ever, the security of the people of Northern Ireland is being put at risk by this Government. Will he find time to have that debate so that we can get a commitment from the Government to continue home-based, locally recruited back-up for the police in Northern Ireland—that is, the home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be noted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as well as by the Secretary of State for Defence, and I have no doubt that he will find opportunities, in Adjournment debates or in other ways, to raise the matter again.

I welcome and agree with my right hon. Friend's confidence in debating our health policies. May I urge him to have a debate on the Floor of the House on the Audit Commission report on the NHS plan, which would give us an opportunity to examine the way in which the investment to which he referred is improving capacity and bringing progress? It would also give us an opportunity to contrast that with the cuts proposed by Conservative Members and with what many of us believe to be a Trojan horse—namely, the proposal to have passports in the NHS.

Yes, indeed. As I said to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am pleased to try to find time to debate the NHS at any time, and that applies to the Audit Commission report. That report was based on a snapshot of the situation halfway through the last financial year. The NHS has moved on since then, and we are pleased that performance at the end of the year is even better. The resources and reforms are beginning to bite. Contrary to what the report implies, we expect that the majority of NHS trusts, and the NHS as a whole, will end the year in financial balance. I suspect that the demand from Conservative Members that we debate the report will quickly diminish once the year-end figures start to come out.

Will the Leader of the House say what steps are being taken to ensure fair scientific scrutiny of the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? I understand from a note that I have obtained from the Library that only one of the Committees concerned has a member with any scientific qualifications.

The hon. Lady asks about scrutiny of evidence. I have already made some comments about the difficult task that faces people in assessing and analysing the evidence. I have every confidence in the first step of that, which is the operational intelligence assessment that is being carried out by our intelligence services. I think, however, that she is referring to the second step, which is the work of the Committees and their potential capability for securing expertise to make judgments of a technical nature. I am sure that the Committees will be able to make arrangements to supply themselves with such capabilities, and that the House would want them to be able to do so.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate in the near future on the need to streamline the police disciplinary procedures? Yesterday in Cumbria, an internal inquiry that cost £2 million and took three years to complete collapsed owing to lack of evidence. It concerned a minor complaint about the misuse of police vehicles. It not only cost a fortune, but robbed the people of Cumbria of the dedicated services of nine police officers for three years. We need not only a debate, but new legislation to streamline the shambolic system that we have inherited from 50 or 60 years ago.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that matter to the attention of the House. It is certainly disconcerting in a number of ways. I cannot promise him a full debate on that particular issue, the details of which I do not know, but I promise to bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will find opportunities to raise the matter again.

Can we have a debate next week on the middle classes? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have noted that in Liberal Democrat News of 30 May, Jonathan Calder, who is a member of the party's federal policy committee, wrote an article about the Conservative policy of scrapping tuition fees. He says that it

?has a lot to he said for it",
but goes on to say:
"If the Conservatives do not speak for the stupid middle classes, who do they speak for?"
We should like to debate that rather old-fashioned concept with them.

That was obviously written for a member of the working class, since we have come to expect the Liberals to say to the working class that the middle class is stupid and to the middle class that the working class is stupid. That is in the nature of Liberal politics. I shall do what I can, however, because I think that we should always try to make opportunities to bring class analysis into these matters.

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the sharply rising costs of living and working in London, not only from the private sector point of view in terms of business rates and commuter fares going up, but in relation to the London weighting that is given to public servants, which is quite out of line with private sector costs and is leading to a migration of public servants out of the capital?

As my hon. Friend will probably concede, we have done a considerable amount to assist people working in London through housing and various other mechanisms. I should have thought, given the nature of the subject, that Westminster Hall might be an appropriate venue to discuss it, because he is speaking not only about financial issues, but a range of measures that would enable people to recruit, to work and to live in London more easily than at present.

May I express my sadness that so much of the time at business questions is taken up by Front Benchers, given that it is a time for Back Benchers to raise issues of concern? May I therefore raise with the Leader of the House a matter that is of concern to me—namely, that he has announced for next week a carry-over motion for the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill? Does he accept that that has proved necessary because the Government failed to provide adequate time to debate that Bill on the Floor of the House and elsewhere? Will he give me an assurance that he will, as a matter of urgency, review the whole programming policy to ensure that this House has adequate time to debate important Bills?

If I have in any way contributed towards elongating Front-Bench contributions, I apologise, although I noticed that the hon. Gentleman's eyes were drifting in a different direction when he made his comments. However, I would not want to stir up difficulties on the Opposition Benches.

On the planning Bill, no, it is not that we have just discovered that we did not allow enough time for scrutiny. As I explained to the Front-Bench spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, we intend to change some of he details of Crown immunity. There will be further time for scrutiny, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, rather than complain about it.

Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to glance at the helpful reply by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) in last night's debate on the detention of Tariq Aziz? Whatever differences we may have about Iraq, are we not united in thinking that we have to ask the Americans whether such people are to be put on trial? That cannot be left for ever. We have to be careful about victor's justice and to show that the west has higher standards than other people who do not have trials.

We have always believed that the Iraqi leaders most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes should be brought to justice, and that that should be done as soon as possible. There are strong arguments for allowing the Iraqis themselves to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against them. We shall therefore need to explore what kind of investigative and trial processes they can adopt. United Nations Security Council resolution 1483, which was adopted on 26 May—unanimously, I might say—affirms the need for accountability for crimes and atrocities committed by the previous Iraqi regime. It also appeals to member states to deny safe haven to those members of the previous regime who are alleged to be responsible for crimes and atrocities, and to support actions to bring them to justice. I hope that that answer brings some solace to my hon. Friend.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week in which we might receive an explanation from a Minister as to why there has been such a substantial change in Government attitudes to inquiries? In the first few years of the Labour Government, a number of inquiries—public and judicial—were set up to look into the activities of the previous Conservative Government. Since then, there have been no public or judicial inquiries at all into any of the actions of this Government. Why was the Prime Minister so happy to authorise inquiries into the previous Government, when he is not so happy to have inquiries into his own?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears) launched sure start month earlier this week. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?] He will also be aware that sure start, which is run by dedicated staff, works in some of the poorest areas in the country and with some of the poorest and most deprived people. [Interruption.] May I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can find time for a debate on this important programme, which will bring into relief not only the transfer of best practice and value for money but a recognition of the work that the staff do in those areas?

My hon. Friend will have noticed the mockery and scorn that greeted his references to sure start, a programme that has brought opportunities for well over a million children, some in the most deprived areas. I can assure him that, at least on this side of the House, we are committed to improving access to good quality education, affordable child care, early learning, family support and so on. We were the first Government to introduce a national child care strategy in England. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall look for every opportunity to implement—and to debate and discuss—measures that will build on that early success.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the responses that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) on the issue of rogue elements, in view of the historic precedents and the propensity of senior Labour Government figures to allege that there are rogue element activities in the security services in order to get themselves out of a tight spot? In this regard, does he recall the interview on rogue elements given by his predecessor, the late Lord Wilson, which is recorded in Philip Ziegler's biography? Lord Wilson said:

"I might tell you to go to Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing in the corner. That blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere."
He also said:
"I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I am asleep. You should listen."

If I ever find myself afflicted by insomnia, I will get the hon. Gentleman to read me bedtime stories; he seems amply qualified to do so. I cannot be any plainer: I just do not understand why those on the other side of the House who supposedly support our security services do not want to attack those who are undermining them. I make no apology for attacking and criticising those who have been impugning the integrity of our intelligence services as well as of the Government. Finally, while I am always willing to be flattered by compliments, I am afraid that Prime Minister Wilson was not my predecessor; I do not think that he ever managed to reach the dizzy heights of the position of Leader of the House.

I wonder whether, in any spare time that he might have had this week, my right hon. Friend has noticed early-day motion 1274.

[That this House calls on Ordnance Survey to review their decision to remove national park boundaries from the OS Explorer maps; notes that every national park authority is opposed to the proposal and that thereplacement illustrations of national park boundaries on the map cover will be useless in precisely describing park borders; affirms the role of the national park authorities as a point of information for visitors and local residents; regrets that under these proposals this valuable point of information will be made less accessible; and calls on Ordnance Survey to liaise with the Association for National Parks to ensure that national park boundaries continue to feature in OS Explorer maps.]

The motion raises the fact that Ordnance Survey intends to remove national park boundaries from its Explorer maps. If there proves to be no time to debate this matter next week, will my right hon. Friend at least ask Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take it up with Ordnance Survey, because the representatives of all the national parks of England and Wales believe that removing those boundaries from the maps will deter them from carrying out their duties?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I do not normally start my response with the words, "It says here", but I am going to do so now. It says here that national park boundaries will continue to be shown on each appropriate map cover, but not on the map itself, as extensive research and consultation has indicated that the depiction caused confusion with access land boundaries. National park boundaries will, however, continue to be shown on other Ordnance Survey products, including the 1:50,000 scale OS Landranger map series, the OS Travel Map Tour series and appropriate digital map data. I hope that that gives some consolation to my hon. Friend.

May I tell the Leader of the House of the real shock that many of my constituents felt last week, when the closure was announced of Ethicon, a world-leading manufacturing company? Will he find time to debate in the House what can be done to help our manufacturing industry, particularly in the face of jobs going abroad? Some of these manufacturers are considering short-term moves abroad rather than the long-term loyalty of the work force and communities that have made them world leaders.

I am sure that hon. Members will understand the shock that was felt by the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Few things are more difficult for a constituency MP than their constituents being afflicted by unemployment and huge job losses. I understand that myself, coming from an area that went through the decline of the coal industry and then the steel industry. I do not know the details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I hope that he will agree that, in general, we have tried to compensate where there have been job losses, through taskforces and other mechanisms, and to create the right economic environment. I will certainly bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Today, Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart McCrostie, the commanding officer of 2 Signal Regiment, returns from Iraq to the regimental barracks in York with his soldiers. On the eve of the regiment's going into battle, he wrote to me to say that it was his ambition to bring all his soldiers back alive. Mercifully, that is what has happened. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the regiment, and to wish 219 Squadron well, while it remains in Iraq? Will he consider whether there is some way for the House to put on record its appreciation of the bravery and professionalism of our soldiers in Iraq, and to allow us to thank them for the freedoms and human rights that they have brought to the people of Iraq?

I wholeheartedly support every single word of my hon. Friend's contribution. I am sure that we send collectively from the House our congratulations to the commanding officer and to 2 Signal Regiment, particularly as they are returning to York, which has been a garrison town for 2,000 years, as my hon. Friend is always ready to remind us, and because they represent success. Whatever differences we have in the House over Iraq, the one view on which we should have none is that, once again, our armed forces have shown that, pound for pound, they are as good as, and probably better than, any in the world. We should be immensely proud of every single one of them.

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for an urgent debate on the right to demonstrate? I ask this for two reasons. First, there was a Greenpeace demonstration yesterday at a building site in Marsham street, at which one demonstrator took charge of a high crane. About 50 police officers were on duty around the circumference of the block. This morning there were six police vans full of police officers on stand-by. I would be interested to know whether any of them had been deployed from the London borough of Havering, where the sighting of a police officer is a cause for great rejoicing. The second reason is the demonstrations that have been tolerated in Parliament square, which I understood to be in contravention of United Kingdom law.

I am not aware of the first case, but I will bring it to the attention of the Home Secretary. On the second, I know that Members on both sides have expressed concern, but we in the House stand by and, indeed, represent the development of democracy as well as people's right to make their point of view known and to demonstrate. However, that always has to be balanced against the convenience and safety of all others in our democracy. That includes the House of Commons, so I will look into the hon. Lady's second point.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1126, which concerns community pharmacies and the barmy Office of Fair Trading plans to deregulate pharmaceutical prescribing?

[That this House congratulates colleagues in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies on their firm rejection of proposals to allow unlimited opening of pharmacies by large national retailers; recognises the role of theindependent community pharmacist in serving vulnerable urban and rural populations; notes that a 'balanced package of measures' may not necessarily be the best way to serve the health needs of the whole community; and calls upon the Government to follow the lead taken by the Welsh and Scottish assemblies and end the uncertainty about the future which is affecting community pharmacists across the country.]

This matter was referred to earlier at Trade and Industry questions, albeit briefly. If the OFT proposals go through, there could be a serious threat to community pharmacies and the big supermarkets will move into pharmaceutical prescribing. Can we have a debate on the issue or, if not a debate, perhaps a statement from a Health Minister?

We are aware of the concerns held not only by my hon. Friend, but by people who have expressed similar views. Although I am not acquainted with that early-day motion, I will have a look at it. I understand that it refers to what is in effect, at this stage, something with the status of a proposal on which we are consulting. Therefore, I am sure that he will find many opportunities to make his views known in that consultation.

The Leader of the House continues to stand by his allegations that there have been leaks from rogue elements in the security services. Regardless of whatever investigations are undertaken by Select Committees of the House, will he at least tell us whether the Secret Intelligence Service takes his allegations seriously and whether any internal inquiry has been set up to look for those rogue elements? If they truly exist, that would be very serious indeed. When does he expect that internal mole hunt to report? Will he allow the publication of the conclusions reached by that report? Is SIS taking his allegations seriously at all?

Let me ask two simple questions that might help the hon. Gentleman. Does he believe the BBC reporter who says— [Interruption.] No, he does not—fine. In that case, he does not have to believe that there is anybody in any way connected with intelligence who has briefed the BBC reporter. If, on the other hand, he believes the BBC reporter, by definition he must believe that someone has said something who is connected—[Interruption.] I do not know who that person is, as he is anonymous. We do not know where such people come from and we do not know what credit to place on this matter, but I wish that the hon. Gentleman would spend 1 per cent. of the effort that he is spending on trying to make rather trite cheap party political points in condemning anyone who is misinforming the public about the security services.

Order. Mr. Barker, you have asked a question and the Leader of the House is answering. It may not be of the desired quality, but none the less it is an answer. The hon. Gentleman has to be calm and quiet. That is the way it goes.

I think that the Leader of the House has managed to give a decent enough answer on that one.

Can consideration be given to holding a debate in the House on the question of Government support for indigenous industries? Although many of us welcomed the decision on the construction of the aircraft carriers and the boost that it gave to shipbuilding and to sustained, long-term security for those who work in the major shipyards, a number of small, independent commercial shipyards at e struggling to survive. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence, for those shipyards do not have the luxury of waiting for those orders to come through? If we lose these skills, the community will suffer and we may not get them back. Therefore, we may not be able to complete the aircraft carrier contracts.

Without diminishing in any way what my hon. Friend says, he will accept, first, that the shipbuilding order placed by the MOD is bigger than any such order placed by any previous Government. Secondly, the DTI has been particularly active under this Government, which contrasts with the days when the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as a. man with an empty in-tray, an empty out-tray and a full ashtray. In those days, of course, the Conservative Government believed that there should be no intervention at all to help industry. I accept that challenges remain, but the Government have not only made time available, but made great efforts to assist our industry.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the voting system for Scottish local government is a matter exclusively for the Scottish Parliament? Will he join me in condemning the campaign started by several of his colleagues from Scotland to try to reverse the Scottish Executive's decision to legislate for fair votes, including threatening to review in this House the voting system for the Scottish Parliament? Would not it be better for the whole matter of the voting system to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament to keep it away from the petty feuding and bickering that go on in the Scottish Labour party?

Of course, what the hon. Gentleman refers to as bickering is political discussion. We have that in the Scottish Labour party, but I do not know whether they have it in the Scottish National party. If they have had it, it has not been very productive. I suspect that his deep interest in a change in the voting system results from the fact that under the current one there has been a huge decline in the SNP presence in the Scottish Parliament. However, I shall certainly bring his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me what is new in out-of-control elements in the security services undermining a Labour Government? Has not that been the case since the first Labour Government came to office in the 1920s?

All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I have complete confidence in our security services, because from top to bottom the vast majority of people in them are committed, professional, loyal and dedicated. That is why I get so angry when there appear to be one or two people who are prepared to put information out that questions the integrity of our intelligence services. I get even slightly angrier, although nothing normally surprises me about the Conservatives, when they jump on a bandwagon apparently supporting those elements who are undermining our security services.

The Leader of the House has twice been asked whether he will approach the Intelligence and Security Committee to give evidence on the serious allegations that he has made. Will he now take the opportunity to say whether he is willing to do so? If he is not, will he perhaps give the House an opportunity to debate the matter further?

You said earlier, Mr. Speaker, that I may not have been giving an answer of the necessary quality. [Interruption.] We are very open-minded in the House. There is another suggestion, of course, and an alternative—

Order. Perhaps I should say that that was the opinion of an hon. Gentleman. I am quite happy with the quality so far.

Thank you. In which case, I say that there is an alternative solution: the intellectual capacity of those on the other side of the House in grasping even the most simple proposition is somewhat lacking. I do not intend to repeat the answer that I have already given four times, which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) might understand if he reads it from the transcript with the aid of some of his fellow storytellers.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the situation in Burma? We know that the leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been not only detained, but injured. We also know that the Red Cross has been allowed no access to her and that her deputy, U Tin Oo, was last seen being beaten up and has now disappeared completely. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate in the House so that we can see what we and the international community can do to try to tackle the brutal regime in Burma?

Yes indeed. I hope that the whole House shares my concern and that of my hon. Friend. We are deeply concerned about the latest developments in Burma, and we have firmly called on the Burmese to release Suu and her National League colleagues immediately and to reopen the NLD offices and the universities in Burma. We are in discussions with our European Union and international partners on what further steps we will take if the regime does not provide immediate satisfactory responses on those matters.

Does the Leader of the House agree that the quality of parliamentary business could be greatly improved if we did not have to endure half an hour of questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland once a month? When he next speaks to the Prime Minister, might he perhaps suggest that the rumoured forthcoming reshuffle would present an excellent opportunity to get rid of a Department that has clearly outlived its usefulness and to replace it with a Department that would deal with all the Administrations in the devolved regions?

Even while wearing my hat as a member of the United Kingdom Government with United Kingdom-wide responsibilities, I am staggered by the hon. Gentleman's attempt to diminish the importance of Scotland. I would have expected him to welcome the opportunity, for just 30 minutes each month, to discuss the responsibilities of this House, which have an immediate and important impact on Scotland. I am thinking of trade policy, macro-economic policy, telecommunications, the oil industry, social security and benefits—quite apart from foreign affairs and defence, which are of huge interest to the people of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should think again before talking down Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the restrictive practices that are being applied by NTL and Telewest in relation to the new directory inquiries system? They are not permitting any of their 5 million customers to contact the other 82 companies that are allowed to provide services and have paid a lot of money to obtain their numbers. Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a debate, or get in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry and in particular Oftel, which has refused to do anything on the ground that five million people is too small a number to be bothered with? Perhaps one of the Opposition parties would consider requesting a debate next week.

I was not aware of that, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about it. If what he says is accurate, it is extremely disturbing, and at the very least it is something that I should bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I will do that.