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Business Of The House

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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May we have the business for next week from the new and part-time Leader of the House?

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 23 JUNE—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate on student finance, followed by a debate entitled "The Transport Crisis". Both debates arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 24 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a fair deal for students and parents, followed by a debate on a fair deal in world trade. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 26 JUNE—A debate on motions relating to the Second Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges and on the Eighth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life "Standards of Conduct in the House of Commons".

FRIDAY 27 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 30 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Hunting Bill.

TUESDAY 1 JULY—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 JULY—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 3 JULY—Debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2002–03 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 4 JULY—Private Member's Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the beginning of July will be:

THURSDAY 3 JULY—A debate on the report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on badgers and bovine TB.

THURSDAY 10 JULY—A debate on the report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the financing of terrorism.

I should like to take this opportunity to say what an honour and privilege it is to be appointed Leader of the House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work closely with you, Mr. Speaker. I follow in illustrious footsteps, and I want to pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for the great advances that he—and we—made during his time as Leader of the House. I very much share his enthusiasm for modernisation and his great respect for Parliament. I hope that I can live up to the high standards that he and the now Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) set.

It is my intention, as Leader of the House, to listen to all sides and strive for consensus rather than conflict. I have fought for democracy and liberty all my political life, and I am and will remain the House's ambassador within the Government. I look forward to working with the shadow Leader of the House—hopefully in a less robust and rumbustious manner than our first encounter on Tuesday inevitably was.

I am more than happy to welcome the Secretary of State for Wales to business questions—[Interruption]—and we are grateful that he has been able to spare some time to be with us this Thursday. I hope that we will see him nearly every Thursday—at least for a while.

At yesterday's PMPs—[HON. MEMBERS: "PMPs?"] Yes, Prime Minister's porkies again. At yesterday's PMPs, the Prime Minister said:
"It has never been the case that officials have given evidence to Select Committees".—[Official Report, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 350.]
Yet in reply to a point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), Mr. Deputy Speaker said:
"If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether it is normal for officials to appear before Select Committees, the answer is yes."—[Official Report, 18 June.2003; Vol. 407, c. 388.]
We really must know who is right. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Speaker are in direct and explicit contradiction of each other. Will the part-time Leader of the House please tell us who he believes to be right on that issue, and if necessary will he give the Prime Minister an opportunity to come to the House urgently to apologise and to clear the matter up?

Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) asked the Prime Minister whether Buckingham Palace had been consulted before the announcements were made from No. 10 last Thursday. The Prime Minister replied:
"Consultations have taken place in the normal way."—[Official Report, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 367.]
Will the part-time Leader of the House confirm explicitly whether the palace was consulted before the announcements were made last Thursday from No. 10, especially on those concerning the Lord Chancellor and the Privy Council? We need to know that for the sake of completeness.

Why are the Government giving parliamentary time to the Hunting Bill and not, apparently, to the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill? Do the Government now believe that foxes' health is more important than people's health? And why has only one day been allocated to the Hunting Bill, with all the amendments that have been tabled to it? Why has only one day been allocated to the Finance Bill? That is in direct contradiction of the conventions of the House on such an important Bill. It should concern all right hon. and hon. Members that the Government are now squeezing the parliamentary time for even the Finance Bill, in the same way as they have squeezed almost everything else.

Can the part-time Leader of the House please clear up the continuing confusion about the relationship between the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Scotland Office and the Wales Office? When we finally and belatedly dragged the new list of Ministers out of the Government, some five days after the now notorious reshuffle, it emerged that the Under-Secretaries of States for Scotland and Wales are listed as part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. There is no longer any mention of the Scotland Office or the Wales Office in the list of the Government. Can the part-time Leader of the House further confirm that the Prime Minister said this yesterday?
"The civil servants in the Scotland Office and the Wales Office will be part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs".—[Official Report. 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 358.]
We know already that they report to one permanent secretary, so what has happened to the Scotland Office and the Wales Office? They appear to have disappeared completely in ministerial and official terms, so what is left of them? There might be a brass plaque up on the building, but is there anybody left inside?

Two Opposition days have been announced for next week—for Monday and Wednesday. Can the part-time Leader of the House guarantee to us that there will be no Government statements encroaching on Opposition time on either day? If he cannot give us that guarantee, will he guarantee that Opposition time will be protected? If the Government ever do have to make a statement on an Opposition day, will he guarantee that the time available to the House will be extended appropriately to protect Opposition time?

First, on the last point, I will happily endeavour to protect Opposition time. I realise that that is an issue for the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "For all of us."] Indeed, and I shall see what I can do. The right hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that we have had regular requests for statements from Secretaries of State—certainly in the first period of our Government—and Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have made statements with greater frequency. I know that the House welcomes that.

The right hon. Gentleman made regular reference to me as the part-time Leader of the House. I regard myself as doing everything that is needed in all the time that is needed to do this job properly, and I will certainly continue to do that. There are many precedents for it. I do not claim to have the intellectual ability or stature of Lord Howe, but he was both Leader of the House and Deputy Prime Minister. Someone of much greater stature than both of us—Winston Churchill—also held those posts—

That is what I have just said. I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

I also want to say that I thought that the right hon. Gentleman gave a very creditable performance, and I look forward to many more of them. Indeed, his performance on Tuesday was so creditable by comparison with that of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday that I wonder whether he might find himself in a different job in the event of a shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The Daily Mail reported this morning that the Leader of the Opposition
"was terrible. Quite stunningly bad. By the end … he was reduced to not much more than a handful of quivering gizzards and an empty, tock-hollow skull."
It went on to say that watching his statement
"was like seeing Manuel the waiter carry a large tray of Campari sodas down the Spanish Steps in Rome."
I know that the shadow Leader of the House will agree with the Daily Mail, as he is no friend of the Leader of the Opposition. I am very much looking forward to our exchanges in the future, and to working with him.

I turn now to the other points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. The shadow Leader of the House asked about officials attending Select Committees. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the matter amply clear and, if there was need of clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker later supplied it. Officials appear by special invitation; but it is not simply as it were a sport—a question of any official attending on demand. The matter is handled in the usual way.

On the second point raised by the shadow Leader of the House, I can happily confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. Buckingham Palace was indeed consulted in the usual fashion. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues ask when and where, but it is not the habit of this House to discuss private conversations with the monarch. The right hon. Gentleman should abide by the culture of the House, as I shall certainly seek to do.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why only one day had been allocated for consideration of the Hunting Bill. He and every other hon. Member will be well aware that the Bill has been subject to detailed scrutiny, quite properly, in Committee and on other occasions in the House. We are dealing with the Hunting Bill in the normal fashion, and according to the precedent established with other Bills.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst asked about the Wales Office and the Scotland Office. Frankly, I think the issue is running out of steam, but I shall deal with the points that he raised. Of course my deputy in the Wales Office is listed as a junior Minister under the Department for Constitutional Affairs. For the purposes of locating officials—[HON. MEMBERS: "Careful."] I am being precise, not just careful. I am the Secretary of State for Wales as well as the Leader of the House, so I know what is going on in Wales, unlike the right hon. Gentleman.

The Wales Office is open for business. The right hon. Gentleman can trot up Whitehall and find that the Wales Office plaque is still there. It was there on Thursday afternoon; it was there on Thursday evening; it was there on Friday morning; and it will remain there. All the officials who were working for me before the reshuffle announcement on Thursday afternoon are still working for me, and will continue to do so. The right hon. Gentleman should stop flogging this dead horse and get on to serious business instead.

As to why the Scotland Office and the Wales Office were not listed on the official titles of Ministers, I can tell the House that they never have been. The title of Secretary of State for Wales has always appeared in the official list, and that remains the case—it refers to my goodself. [Interruption.] It is interesting to note that the Opposition promised in their manifesto for the last general election exactly the same division of responsibilities for the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland as we have now implemented. They are now seeking to walk away from that manifesto promise, because they are interested in trivia and not the big the constitutional picture.

The right hon. Gentleman should concentrate on the fact that I, as Secretary of State for Wales, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will deliver for the people of Wales and Scotland in a way that the Tories so abjectly failed to do during their 18 miserable years of office.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his generous words about me and offer my own warm congratulations to him. I am delighted that the role of regenerating our parliamentary democracy should fall to him, and I am confident that he will give it full priority and will be successful.

My right hon. Friend will find that one of the delights about this time on a Thursday is the volume of helpful but unsolicited advice that he will receive from Back Benchers. Now that I have the privilege of being a Back Bencher, may I offer him two suggestions on parliamentary business?

First, when I left his post, the majority of Departments that had a Bill for the next Session had given an undertaking to publish it in draft before the end of this Session. As there are only four weeks to go before the House rises for the summer, I suggest that my right hon. Friend give priority to reminding Departments that they need to fulfil that undertaking.

Secondly, the innovation, which we introduced, of having a 12-month calendar of parliamentary dates has, sadly, only four more months to run. I am well aware that there will be those around my right hon. Friend who will say that we have no idea of the date of prorogation. May I suggest that if he were to produce a calendar that took us up to and included the next Whit recess, with an asterisk noting that prorogation will be at an unknown date in November, the majority of Members would warmly welcome it and it would get him off to a good start with Members on both sides of the House?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am a long-standing admirer and friend of his, and I am privileged to follow in his footsteps in this job. He has made two important suggestions, and I have a great deal of sympathy with both. As Secretary of State for Wales, I have been responsible for seeing draft Wales Bills—a draft Audit Bill for Wales is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny, which has been very effective—

Indeed, I am, and I will see it to its end and see it on to the statute book.

That precedent is a good one, and I shall encourage my fellow Secretaries of State in Cabinet to continue with it.

On the question of dates for recesses, my right hon. Friend made a valid point, and I understand the need that right hon. and hon. Members have for a clear calendar. That was one of my right hon. Friend's innovative procedures, and it was widely welcomed across the House. I hope to be in a position next week at least to say something about the Christmas recess dates.

In congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the honour awarded to you by Glasgow university, I wonder whether you may want to dispel the nefarious rumour that you wish, outside the Chamber, to be referred to from now on as "Doc Martin".

The Leader of the House has given us further information on the Hunting Bill. Will he consider seriously what will happen after the Bill leaves this part of the building and goes to the other place? He will be aware, having fully briefed himself, that the House of Lords has a different procedure from ours for carryover. If the Bill is not properly considered in this House—there are queries about whether it will be—and many amendments therefore have to be considered in the other place, the arrangements at the other end of the building are, according to the Clerks, that
"bills that have received pre-legislative scrutiny in either House should, on a motion moved in the House in possession of the bill at the end of the session, be allowed to be carried-over into the next session"
The Procedure Committee's recommendation to the House of Lords was:
"We recommend that the House should now take this endorsement a stage further and agree to Group recommendation (b)"—
the one to which I have referred—
"but only for Government bills and subject to the proviso on pre-legislative scrutiny in paragraph 6 above."
In other words: no pre-legislative scrutiny, no carryover. If, therefore, the business is not completed in the other House before prorogation, there is no prospect of that Bill's going through to the next Session on carryover. It will have to start again.

What does the Leader of the House intend to do in those circumstances? I have no doubt that he has had an opportunity of reading contributions to the debate in this House on carry-over on 10 June, including my own, and I hope that he will note that carry-over is still a matter for negotiation between the parties and is very much connected with the proposals of the Modernisation Committee, led by the previous Leader of the House, which were part of a trade-off to the effect that the Opposition parties should have a bigger role in deciding what comes to this House and in what order, and what business takes place here.

On a different point, the Leader of the House will have noted the decision on Friday when the Ministry of Defence lost an appeal on Gulf war illnesses having spent £1 million on legal fees, pursuing and harrying veterans—service personnel who served this country well in the first Gulf 'War—whose only fault was that they sought justice. This morning the Medical Research Council has reviewed the situation. There is still great uncertainty, but what is certain is that those who have served the country well deserve better than the extraordinary behaviour of the Ministry of Defence. Given that there is a new Minister responsible for veterans' affairs, surely the Secretary of State himself should come to the House and explain what has happened.

I echo the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, as I am sure do Members on all Benches throughout the House.

I was somewhat nervous of the hon. Gentleman's question because when he last rose to question my predecessor as Leader of the House, he prefaced his remarks thus:
"Assuming that the right hon. Gentleman is not about to become Secretary of State for Health".—[Official Report, 12 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 834.]
I assume that he had an inside track on the Prime Minister's mind. If that is still the case, I should be grateful if he could tell me what my next job will be.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Hunting Bill. He is right that there is no carry-over provision. I am sure that the Lords will not wish to frustrate the overwhelming view of the House of Commons. This House has consistently expressed its position on the Hunting Bill and is about to do so again. It is a manifesto commitment by the Labour party being carried into legislation—as our Government have consistently done with all our manifesto promises. I am sure that the Lords will not wish to block a manifesto commitment of this kind. However, in such circumstances there are other procedures available, to which I hope we will not have recourse, which include the Parliament Acts.

The question of Gulf war illnesses is an important one. We all had constituents serving in the Gulf and it is an important concern for them and for us as Members of the House. I do not think that the judgment was as conclusive as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I know that the Minister of Defence is considering it closely and no doubt at the appropriate time a Minister will report to the House.

You began the parliamentary day today by announcing the death of my friend and parliamentary neighbour, Paul Daisley, Mr. Speaker. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the last debate following which Paul came from his sick bed to vote was the hunting debate earlier this year? He would have rejoiced at my right hon. Friend's announcement today that the Bill is coming back to the House for its remaining stages, despite the fact that he was a lifelong supporter of Leicester City—the Foxes.

I echo your earlier statement, Mr. Speaker, and my hon. Friend's recognition of the outstanding role that the former hon. Member for Brent, East played in this House. He was a champion of the rights of animals and took a strong position on the Hunting Bill, to such an extent that he was willing to rise from his sick bed in desperate circumstances to register his vote. I hope that the House will bear that in mind when we vote on the issue in future.

I wonder whether the acting Leader of the House would come back to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about the appearance of civil servants in front of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence and Security Committee. It seems to me and to many hon. Members that the Prime Minister's director of communications, Mr. Alastair Campbell, has something to offer, whatever one's views on the evidence, because among other things he was directly involved in setting up the Foreign Office coalition information centre. I backed the Government on their action over Iraq and I should have thought that his appearance on behalf of the Prime Minister in front of either Committee would clear this matter up once and for all. If he does not appear, I suspect that those who are looking for a cover-up will believe that there is one.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Prime Minister, and indeed the whole Government, have offered to co-operate in the manner described. What is involved, and was evident in the hon. Gentleman's question, is an attempt to bait individual officials in No. 10 and elsewhere in Government. This is a serious situation. Serious allegations have been made and need to be investigated properly. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that that will be done properly. I hope, too, that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to impugn the integrity of the intelligence services—

I am sure the hon. Gentleman was not seeking to do that. As I have good cause to understand from my job as a Foreign Office Minister, holding two posts between 1999 and last year, the intelligence services do an outstanding job. I worked closely with them on Iraq and other matters, and we should not bring them into this issue.

As the Government appear to have set their face against holding a referendum on the new European constitution, would my right hon. Friend at least give an assurance that when it arrives in its final form, it will be placed before the House in its entirety so that it can be scrutinised, and if necessary amended, line by line and clause by clause?

My right hon. Friend will remember our activity during the Maastricht Bill when these issues last arose. He will also know that it is the responsibility of the House and the wish of the Government to subject every treaty signed to detailed scrutiny. He will also be aware, however, that it is not possible for the House to amend a treaty, although it is possible for it to reject one. I hope that he will participate in that debate. The final constitutional treaty, as with the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties and all the others before and between them, will be made available to Members and brought to the House for debate as usual.

The Leader of the House has indicated that he will on all occasions stand up for the integrity and authority of the House. If that is the case, when he comes to the Modernisation Committee and is no doubt elected its Chairman, will he assure the House that the matter of programming will be a priority for him? As he realises, much important legislation is going through the House with large sections not debated. That cannot be right or enhance the reputation of the House, and it means that the House is not carrying out one of its most fundamental duties.

To follow up a point made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, if statements are made prior to an important Opposition debate, will the right hon. Gentleman give me a commitment that he will look at extending that debate beyond the time of interruption by the length of time it took to hear the statement and all the supplementary questions on it?

I recognise the long and outstanding role that the hon. Gentleman has played in this House. He is widely admired on all Benches.

The hon. Gentleman made a series of important points. If the Modernisation Committee decides to elect me as its Chair, I would be privileged to do the job. Its work is very important. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in it and I hope to have discussions with him on his views. He makes an important point about programming, which I understand. We have of necessity to get Government business through, but the rights of the House must be respected, and these matters are subject to negotiation through the usual channels. All too often it seems to be the case that a lot of time is taken and sometimes there is filibustering, which is a tactic that all Oppositions use—I am not casting stones in any particular direction—so that some of the big issues are not subject to the detailed scrutiny that they need.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about statements and consideration will be given to that. He will understand that Members want to know when proceedings are likely to end. If we continually did as he suggests there would be protests from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Moreover, we have a responsibility to get Government business through. Nevertheless, I will certainly give consideration to his request.

Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that there will be an early debate on the situation in Iraq; that, during that debate, we shall have the opportunity to hear a statement from a Minister on the operations of the Iraqi assistance fund; and that we shall be told under what powers the privatisation of services is taking place, and given the timetable for British and American withdrawal and replacement by a United Nations force to usher in a representative Government of the people of Iraq? Many people believe that we are witnessing a new colony in Iraq, with all the accompanying horrors and devastation. We need an urgent debate on the matter.

I recognise my hon. Friend's long and close interest in the matter and the detailed concern that he expresses. There have been many debates and statements on Iraq and other opportunities to raise matters. He would be quite in order to table a private Member's Bill or to try to obtain an Adjournment debate if he feels that there is insufficient opportunity in the future.

On the future of the UN force, UN operations and the establishment of a representative Government, my hon. Friend knows that we are committed, for the first time in more than a generation, to establishing a representative Government in Iraq. The establishment of democracy in Iraq is one of our objectives.

A few moments ago, my right hon. Friend, the shadow Leader of the House, raised the question that I raised with the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman speaking for the Government was as evasive today as the Prime Minister was yesterday, so I shall try again.

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to deny that the first that Buckingham palace heard of the abolition of the Lord Chancellor was through the news bulletins? Can he confirm that the Prime Minister discussed with the Head of State, Her Majesty the Queen, his proposals before they were publicly announced? If he can confirm that, can he indicate when it was done?

On 2 July, a mass lobby will be held by some of the 2 million women who suffer from endometriosis, a gynaecological condition that has severe consequences. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on treatment and research funding for a condition that affects so many of our constituents?

I understand and recognise that important issue and the concerns of those who are affected by the condition. I am pleased that they are making representations in the way that my hon. Friend described. Obviously, I shall look into the opportunities, but she can apply for a debate in the normal fashion.

The new Leader of the House's statement at the beginning of his tenure, committing himself to further modernisation, is welcome to those on both sides of the House who remain impatient for change. Will he bring forward proposals to give us his own ideas about that as soon as he can? Will he try to get the Minister for agriculture to make a statement next week, not in Opposition time, to explain the outcome of the ongoing consideration in Luxembourg of reform of the common agricultural policy? Will he give serious consideration to a debate on agriculture in Government time, before the summer recess?

Obviously, we shall give consideration to that. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will want to bring to the attention of the House in the usual way any developments that arise on that matter. We are all concerned. There is probably cross-party consensus on reform—and, indeed, abolition—of the CAP.

I am not in favour of modernisation for its own sake; I am in favour of listening to the House to consider how we can move forward and adjust, and what it is sensible to do. I look forward to practical suggestions from both sides of the House on how we can take the process forward.

In view of the fact that a full-scale public debate is under way on genetic modification—to the Government's credit—and that the public, the industry, the non-governmental organisations and even the media are discussing the issue, can my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that the House, too, has an opportunity to express its views on that highly contentious issue in a debate before the recess?

First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who was an outstanding Minister for the Environment. I am sure that he will continue to play an important role on that matter in the House, including on the crucial issue of genetically modified products. Obviously, the matter will be discussed in detail and my right hon. Friend will have many opportunities to bring it to the attention of the House by applying for a debate. However, I shall discuss his request with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I am sure that the new Leader of the House would not want to mislead the House on his first outing at business questions, so may I take this opportunity to invite him to correct what he said in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? The Leader of the House said that yesterday the Prime Minister had stated that officials attend Select Committees, but in fact the Prime Minister said:

"It has never been the case that officials have given evidence to Select Committees."—[Official Report, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 350.]
First, will the Leader of the House correct the inadvertent mistake that he made earlier and, secondly, will he tell us when the Prime Minister will come to the House and make a correction, too, and make a statement about when Mr. Alastair Campbell and others will appear before Select Committees?

The point that the Prime Minister was making to all fair-minded Members was that Ministers are answerable for the conduct of the Government and that the principle of ministerial responsibility applies. Ministers do not dump on our officials—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!] Indeed, we do not. That is the point that my right hon. Friend was making. Of course, in particular circumstances, such things can be arranged and discussed, as has often happened.

I, too, congratulate the Leader of the House on his new appointment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is a hard act to follow.

About two or three weeks ago, the Royal Mail announced that it was changing Parcelforce and moving from rail to road. The impact on the roads will be tremendous and I cannot believe that it will be welcomed by the Select Committee on the Environment and Rural Affairs, the Department of Transport or the Department of Trade and Industry. Will my right hon. Friend make provision for a proper debate before thousands and thousands of lorries plough on to our already congested roads?

I very much sympathise with the point that my hon. Friend makes. As a former research officer for the Post Office workers union, I know how important the night mail service was. The change is regrettable for environmental reasons as well as for the interests of the Royal Mail. Obviously, the decision is for the Royal Mail, but if my hon. Friend wants to apply for a private Member's debate he has the opportunity to do so.

Every pound of public expenditure requires an accounting officer—a civil servant, incidentally—who can account to the House for how that money is spent. May we have an early debate on the consequences of the reshuffle on financial accountability to the House? Furthermore, particularly in relation to the non-devolved responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales, who is the accounting officer? Is it still Sir Jon Shortridge?

The accounting officer will be the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs. In that respect, my officials in the Wales Office, who come under his remit for such purposes, will have more advantages, instead of being in a very small Department, often seconded from the National Assembly—although that is not such a problem because they could return to Cardiff after service here. Officials permanently based in London had fewer career opportunities than those in much larger Departments. In the Department for Constitutional Affairs, they will have those career opportunities and future advantages that everyone in their position welcomes. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would do so, too.

The Leader of the House is more aware than many Members that we could improve the way in which we deal with European legislation and matters arising from Europe. Will he, therefore, look favourably on the suggestion that, in order to raise awareness, when the Commission's annual programme is discussed by the European Parliament, it is discussed on the Floor of the House at approximately the same time?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's outstanding work as one of two House of Commons representatives at the Convention on the Future of Europe. She worked extremely hard, spending far more time in Brussels than was good for her, but she achieved a very good deal for Britain, which we are taking into the intergovernmental conference.

On the specific point that my hon. Friend makes, I share her desire to make European Union affairs subject to much greater interest in the House. There is an insufficiently wide catchment of Members who take a detailed, informed and expert interest in EU developments. Excellent work is done by the European Scrutiny Committees of both Houses, but it would be to the advantage of the House and to that of the quality of debate on European matters if there were greater opportunities to discuss those issues throughout the House. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's interesting suggestion that the Commission's report and future agenda should be discussed in the House.

Next Thursday, the House will debate the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life—the Wicks committee. Can the Leader of the House assure us that the relevant changes to Standing Orders will be published well in advance of that debate?

Yes, it is my intention to table the changes today, if I can. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying that I also want to show them to him, so that we make sure that they are exactly in line with the will of the House.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, during a rehearsal of the Parliament choir on Monday, large shards of wood fell from the ceiling of Westminster Hall to where an audience would have been sitting if that had happened during a performance. The audience would have included His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Has my right hon. Friend considered the implications? Does he feel, as I do, that it is time that this building was subject to the proper health and safety checks that every other organisation has to go through?

I am aware of that incident, as are you, Mr. Speaker. I think that we may even have been together when we received reports of it. Obviously, the choir behaved with great dignity in the circumstances and officials urgently attended to it, and I am sure that the points that my hon. Friend raises will be taken notice of in the appropriate quarters.

May I remind the new Secretary of State, Leader of the House and, possibly, Lord Privy Seal as well—

Oh, right. During the right hon. Gentleman's previous job share, he told us in a reply to a written question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) that he had spent 81 out of 90 days on his work as Secretary of State for Wales and the other 10 per cent. on his work on the Convention on the Future of Europe. Will he tell the House now which of his new set of responsibilities is most ill served by that job share—the House, or his duties in Wales? How will he get through those two jobs? He will need more than his usual Red Bull to cope with both of them. Will he arrange a debate in Government time not only on those matters, but on the important constitutional implications of moving civil servants from the Wales Office to a new Department without consulting the body that funds those civil servants from the block grant to the National Assembly for Wales?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on the last point. The vote for the Welsh block comes to the Secretary of State, and I then make a subvention for the purpose of running the Wales Office—that will continue—and the remainder goes to the National Assembly.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the days spent on the Convention on the Future of Europe. In fact, I was asked how many days I had spent in Brussels. The answer was that I had spent nine days out of the previous 90 in Brussels. That is a different matter from the time that I spent an the Convention. I really think he should concentrate on the big picture, rather than on the trivialities. I shall do everything that is needed to give a good deal to the people of Wales, as I have done for the past nine months, and I shall do everything and put in all the hours that are needed to ensure that the wishes and interests of House are upheld in this post.

The hon. Gentleman asks about my post also as Lord Privy Seal. Frankly, when I became aware that I occupied that position, I did not know what it was, so I looked it up. "The Ministers of the Crown" says:
"Every Government has a Lord Privy Seal in it in order that the holder of the sinecure can carry out duties specified by the Prime Minister."
I think that it helps with getting paid as well. I was told that, if I did not have that title, I would not get a salary.

I am sure that that would have been to the despair of the shadow Leader of the House.

I looked further. "An Encyclopaedia of Parliament" says:

"From 1275, there was a Keeper of the Privy Seal, who became, in 1311, a Minister of State on the same footing as the Chancellor and the Treasurer, though of somewhat lower dignity. However, the Lord Privy Seal, who may be a Member of either House, can be a very useful auxiliary Minister, able to give his attention to any matter of urgency which may arise. Lord Waverley, for example, in 1938–39, had the job of situating and instituting more effective air-raid precautions."

May I join other hon. Members in welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new post? In particular, I welcome his commitment to modernisation. I think that he shares my view and that of many hon. Members that there is an increasing chasm between ourselves and the electorate. No doubt, modernising the House will help to bring about the renewal of trust.

However, may I press my right hon. Friend on a point to do with the lottery? In my constituency—which, as he knows, is a very deprived area, consisting of former coalmining villages—the Community Fund had what might be thought of as a perfect score, 10 out of 10; but it was 10 failures out of 10 applications. In the past two years, 10 groups have applied for lottery funding and 10 have been refused, each one for bureaucratic reasons. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm to the House that one of the lottery's purposes is to address deprivation? Will he organise an early debate on the lottery, so that we can explore those matters further?

I will certainly draw my hon. Friend's points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport because, obviously, the coalfield community that he represents, which I had the privilege to visit a few years ago, wants like mine to ensure that it gets a fair deal in every respect.

Given that the massive post office closures will reach the office that inspired "Postman Pat" this week and that there has been a big hike in fares on the railways at the same time as the quality of service will decline and services will be cut, can we debate in Government time the failures of Labour's nationalisation and renationalisation, showing that that only brings rip-off fares, a rip-off for the taxpayer and worse service?

I have brought up my two sons reading "Postman Pat", so I was very sad to hear that Greendale post office was closing and that Mrs. Goggins was being made redundant, but we are all concerned about the future of rural post offices. The right hon. Gentleman will know, having served in the previous Government, that thousands of local post offices were closed under the last Conservative Government, and there have been many more closures than I would like under our Government.

However, the bank closed in my own village, Resolven, in the Neath valley—a former pit village, where I live. I tried to urge its customers—I think that it was Barclays bank—to switch their custom to the local post office, to make better use of it, because they could have had pretty much the same facilities there. Very few took up that opportunity. The problem is that people's changing lifestyles and habits in respect of how they manage their money are putting tremendous strain on local post offices, but the Government are working closely with Post Office Counters Ltd. to ensure that as many local post offices as possible are protected.

May I welcome the new Leader of the House to his post? I have obviously changed my opinion since I heckled him in the past at a Tribune rally just after he had moved over from the Liberal party. One of the jobs that he held with distinction was that of Minister for Energy and Competitiveness, so he is well aware of the schemes that operate for ex-coalminers who have suffered from chest complaints and vibration white finger. He will be aware that cokemen form one of the groups that miss out—apart from two cases, which were settled out of court. Can we have a debate about that matter? I believe that negotiations are taking place at the moment to try to ensure that cokemen are covered, and such a debate might add to those possibilities. I have a particular interest, as Avenue coke works was in my constituency and many people have suffered from chest problems because of it, yet they fall outside those provisions.

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his historical reference. It was 26 years ago, if I am right, in September 1977 and, as I recall, it was a very friendly heckle. On his substantive point, I was privileged as Minister for Energy to drive forward—he was kind enough to say that I did so with distinction—the whole compensation programme for sick miners, their widows and families. We have continued to do that and hundreds of millions of pounds have been paid out in every region and nation of Britain. 1 know that in Wales more than £300 million has been paid out, bringing to miners justice that was denied them year after year under the previous Conservative Government. The specific point that he makes, however, is important, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Order. The House will realise that another statement is shortly to be made, and I want as many hon. Members to be able to ask questions as possible. I therefore hope that I have Members' cooperation and that questions will be brief.

May we have a statement from either the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the importance of television dramatists showing particular sensitivity towards the British Muslim community in the post-11 September world? I have in mind the recent episode of the television series "Spooks", which focused on an alleged suicide bomb plot being hatched in a British mosque. Given that so many British Muslims are as proud of being British as they are proud of being Muslim, and while I appreciate the need for topicality in such presentations, is it not important that the moderate Muslim community are not unfairly alienated?

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman and particularly with his statement that we are proud to have living in our communities many Muslims who count themselves equally proud to be British and of Muslim faith. That enriches our culture. I shall draw the points that he makes to the attention of the appropriate Secretaries of State. As for the issue concerned, a delicate balance has to be struck, as he has always acknowledged, between media freedom and the interests and sensitivities that he raises. I am sure that that will be borne in mind in the future.

In his helpful reply, the Leader of the House invited my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) to come forward with a private Member's Bill on Iraq. What did he have in mind: a withdrawal from Iraq Bill? That would have considerable support at the moment from a number of troops who are sweltering in 44°, with the prospect of 50° in July. Can we have a statement on exactly what is happening in Iraq? We have seen the dreadful pictures on the front page of The Guardian. Incidentally, although I support military action in the Congo, ought we not to have a statement before we get involved in mission creep in central Africa?

I shall bear in mind and draw to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary the points that my hon. Friend makes in respect of Iraq and the Congo. I am sure, however, that, as he has indicated, he is proud that we have soldiers serving in the Congo seeking to bring stability to that war-torn and desperate country. He may have been mistaken in hearing me say that there ought to be a private Member's Bill on Iraq— [Interruption.] If it sounded like that, I apologise to the House; I meant that there was an opportunity to apply for a private Member's debate. As we all do, I have among my constituents many servicemen serving in Iraq at the present time. I have been in touch with their families and I know of the desperately hot conditions in which they are serving with such distinction.

I can assure the Leader of the House that it is very hot in Iraq at the moment, as I have just returned from a trip to Basra with a number of other Members last week. Although we were able to see the excellent work undertaken by our forces, what was transparent to me was the absence or near-invisibility of other Departments. In relation to the Department for International Development, very little seems to be happening in terms of humanitarian aid, and very little in terms of helping with the restructuring of the banking system. Considering the period that has elapsed since the end of fighting, certainly in southern Iraq, is it possible to have a debate or at least a statement in the House on humanitarian aid and restructuring?

I shall certainly mention that to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. As is known to the House in one way or another, she is anxious to visit Iraq but she has been advised that the security circumstances may not permit her to do that as early as she wanted. She has every intention of doing so, however, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's points are recognised.

During the consideration of the constitutional changes, precisely the same treatment and status were accorded to the Wales Office and Scotland Office, and the jobs of Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Scotland were also treated with precisely the same status. That would be justified if the powers enjoyed by the Welsh Assembly were the same as those enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament. Do we not need a debate to ensure that equality of treatment is matched by equality of powers?

My hon. Friend has the opportunity to apply for such a debate. This is an opportunity for me to put it on record that my responsibilities as Secretary of State for Wales, as he implicitly acknowledges, are very different from those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—who may be about to appear before the House. I have responsibility for all the primary legislation affecting Wales, for negotiating on any transfer of function orders and for providing a partnership bridge between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, which happens almost daily, and certainly weekly, as issues arise. That is not the position in Scotland, where powers have been devolved at the legislative level, too.

We are a United Kingdom, and long may we remain so. It becomes increasingly obvious, however, that in terms of status and recognition, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not only in our constitution but in the proceedings of the House, have a discrete identity of their own. I feel that the Government have now started to divide England up. As a Member representing an English constituency, may I say that now that they have started the process of regionalisation, England too should be afforded the same recognition? Can time please be set aside for debates on issues that concern those of us who represent English constituencies and who recognise English matters? In the interest of fairness and justice, the time for that is now.

There are plenty of such opportunities. The advantage that the hon. Lady, for example, has as an English MP over me and my colleagues who are Welsh MPs is that she can question and challenge Ministers across the board on English matters, whereas many policies have been devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, and Assembly Members are in the driving seat and in pole position to question and challenge in that regard. She therefore has considerable advantages, which she ought to recognise. On the question of dividing up Britain, we have united the nations of Wales and Scotland much more in the United Kingdom through devolution than would have been the case had the opportunity to govern their own affairs through the devolution settlement been denied to them still. It has been a huge success, and I believe that regional government for England will be an equally huge success in the future.

Can we have an early statement on the kidnap of British nationals by a foreign Government? I refer specifically to those British nationals who have been held in Guantanamo Bay without charge against them for an unacceptably long time. I remind my right hon. Friend that there are reports now of suicide attempts among those held in Guantanamo Bay, and there are rumours that the Americans plan to build what has been described as a "death chamber". We ought to have some certainty about the future of British nationals being held in this outrageous fashion.

I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the matter and is looking into it. I recognise the points that my hon. Friend has made and the close interest that he has taken in these matters.