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27 Mar 2003 : Column 460continued
Mr. Bradshaw: I am well aware of the problems faced by people on fixed low incomes, and particularly the elderly, when enormous council tax demands come through their letterboxes. We have had debates on the council tax, and it is Deputy Prime Minister's questions next Wednesday, when my hon. Friend may wish to raise that matter. As he is well aware, this Government have given local authorities a 25 per cent. real terms increase in grants since we came to power, compared with the 6 per cent. cut under the previous Conservative Government.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): May I refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the code of conduct issued for civil servants for the duration of the elections to the devolved Administrations? In particular, section 8 states:
Mr. Bradshaw: No, I do not think that many people would support that. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, this is an inevitable consequence of devolution. The comprehensive spending review sets the amount of money going to Scotland and Wales, and they both got a massive increase, as did most parts of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not the Budget that sets those levels. We are aware of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and we are sensitive to such concerns. We have instructed our civil servants to exercise particular care in relation to any announcement.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): One of the great achievements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) when he was Leader of the House was the way in which he steered through the reforms of the House, particularly modernisation. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that time is needed for those reforms to bed down. I hope that the resolution that was passed by the House, which said that the reforms should remain in place until the end of this Parliament, will not be reviewed at an early date.
Mr. Bradshaw: I quite agree with my hon. Friend. It will be a lasting legacy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston to this place that he was a great reformer. He got through a package of modernisation of the House of Commons that will last the test of time.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will the Parliamentary Secretary consider finding time for a debate prior to the Easter recess on the important subject of civil emergency planning? Responsibility for this matter is fragmented among several Departments, notably the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The House will wish to be assured that all those Departments are properly co-ordinating their activities, and that local activities are properly co-ordinated between local authorities, primary care trusts and schools. It will also wish to be assured that the emergency services themselves are properly co-ordinating their activities, even to the level of sharing oxygen cylinders. Certain problems may arise that need to be considered. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please consider providing time for a debate on that important subject?
Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot promise that we will have time before Easter for such a debate but the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, of which the Government are well aware: the need for us radically to modernise our civil contingency planning, which, as he rightly says, goes back to an era in which the sort of civil contingencies that we might have faced then were rather different from the ones that we face today.
Will my hon. Friend consider a cross-departmental session in Westminster Hall with representatives of the Home Office, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and other relevant Departments? It is a very important issue to the people of Castle Donnington and the many villages in the vicinity.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am not convinced that such a narrow issue would be appropriate for the kind of cross-cutting question time in Westminster Hall that my hon. Friend suggests. I am sure, however, that he will have an opportunity, when the Anti-social Behaviour Bill is introduced, to repeat those points. I am glad that he recognises, as do Members on both sides of the House, how successful the cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall have been.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): May I join other Members in calling for a debate on the humanitarian situation in Iraq? I do not know whether the acting Leader of the House heard the Secretary of State for International Development say yesterday that if we do not get a UN mandate, British troops will represent an occupying force, without
Mr. Bradshaw: My right hon. Friend made it quite clear that there are two distinct phases. In the military phase, under The Hague and Geneva conventions, our armed forces or those in the field are responsible for the well-being of civilians and the humanitarian situation. When that military phase is over, we will need the maximum international support for the redevelopment of Iraq. For that to happen, it would be extremely helpful to have explicit United Nations support, which we all want to see, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who said as much yesterday.
It relates to the absurd and ridiculous banning of the hot cross bun by Labour and Liberal-controlled councils. Will he make time for a debate on the damaging and divisive effects of that sort of political correctness?
Mr. Bradshaw: I must say that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. Hot cross buns are a delicious and traditional part of our pre-Good Friday cuisine. I hope that people up and down the country will enjoy a great many of them in the run-up to Good Friday.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Further to the line of questioning pursued by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), can we please have an urgent debate in Government time on the security of tenure of the Chairman of the Modernisation Committee? Given that, as I understand it, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) remains a member of that important Committee, would not a debate on the Floor of the House give us the chance to discover whether he wants to remain Chairman, whether the Government want him to do so and whether they will undertake not to seek to remove him from that post if the House judges that he has the intellect, skill and respect required to continue in it?
Mr. Bradshaw: I think that we have got rather more important things to debate over the next few days and weeks. As I said last week, the chairmanship of that Committee is a matter for the Committee itself.
At this time, our thoughts and prayers are naturally with our armed forces, the families of coalition service men and women who have been bereaved and those injured in the campaign to bring freedom to the people of Iraq from the brutality of the Saddam Hussein Ba'ath regime. Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that we must never forget those who still suffer the trauma of 30 years of vicious bombing and murder directed by Sinn Fein-IRA and some loyalist terrorist groups? Can time be provided so that we might debate those unsolved bombings and murders and what might still be done to identify and locate missing persons, and perhaps make suggestions to bring closure on the tragedies of the past 30 years for those who are still suffering?