» Thursday, June 15, 2006


Asked about the timing of Home Office legislation to deal with sentencing practice, the Leader said that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister had made clear that, currently, a review of the programme of the department was taking place. The Home Secretary would make any announcement when he was ready to do so.

The Leader, asked if he was content with the way the Commons had conducted its business today amid signs that some MPs had taken a "sickie", said that they – as well as political journalists – worked very hard. He thought it was the patriotic duty of MPs to have a weather eye on the England-Trinidad football match while continuing to work. He was certain that would be the case.

On a separate note, as he had mentioned on the floor of the House earlier, the Leader pointed out that quite a lot of the Business of the House was finishing early. He expressed surprise at this development which, to him, indicated a lack of activity on the Opposition side. Questioned further, he said that the Opposition was not using the time which was available on a number of occasions since he had taken over as Leader. He believed there was also a wider issue for the House as a whole about trying to anticipate such occasions. He acknowledged that, in relation to today’s business, the cause had been "more ecumenical".

The Leader was asked if he expected early legislation on compensation for asbestos sufferers. He recalled that the Prime Minister had said on Tuesday at a union conference that the Government had agreed to introduce legislation to overturn a House of Lords decision. A decision about exactly when it would happen had still to be made. The Government had made a policy decision to do so, which was important.

Questioned about the absence of Government backbenchers from the sitting of the Standing Committee on the Company Law Reform Bill this morning, the Leader said he was aware of it. His understanding was that one MP had to visit a doctor and another was delayed by public transport. The Committee would meet again on next Tuesday. He was confident of the ability of the members chosen to deal with the Bill. These kinds of procedural problems happened very occasionally, and under all governments.

In response to a question about the state of the Home Office, the Leader said that, if the last nine-year period was examined, progress had been good. It was true in respect of law and order, where the Government had increased the number of police officers by 14,000; crime had been cut; the Government had also increased the number of prison places and sentences had been made longer, for example, in respect of the crime of rape. He referred to his comments on asylum during Business Questions earlier, noting the complexity of the system for dealing with it. While the Government had achieved a reduction in the backlog of cases and had a good record, it had to make further progress.

He was asked by The Independent for his view of the legacy of Karl Marx in view of the disclosure of reported comments by the Prime Minister, the Leader said he had missed the report. Mr Straw then offered journalists a personal view, which he hoped was helpful.

In response to a question about the World Cup, the Leader said he would have his television switched on.

Asked about the situation at Guantanamo Bay, the Leader said he had not changed his view since he had been Foreign Secretary: then he had said – as the Prime Minister had done – that it was an anomaly. His view was that it needed to be closed, but that there were practical difficulties about the timetable for closure. He referred to comments on the issue by President Bush in recent days.

The Leader added that there had been a lot of discussions with the US about Guantanamo Bay. The transfer of all British detainees to the UK had been secured. Part of the difficulty for the US Government, as it had acknowledged, was persuading some national governments to take back their nationals.

Questioned about asylum policy which had led to some individuals now being held behind bars, the Leader said that initial decisions were made by the Home Office. If asylum was turned down, it went before immigration judges and an appeal tribunal. The amount of discretion for Ministers in respect of asylum seekers was very limited, he added. There were clear criteria and the Government had to abide by them.

Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news

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