One day in parliament
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): To underline his claim that prisons are well run, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman remind the House of the precise number of prisons that are free of the use of illegal drugs?
Mr Clarke: I would not like to guarantee that for any prison in the country. In far too many prisons drugs are, although more expensive, rather more readily available than in the outside world. That is a serious disgrace and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working very actively on our plans to begin with drug-free wings and then drug-free prisons. This issue has to be addressed, and people in the service are keen to do that. I hope to come back later this year—as soon as possible—with some announcement of progress on that front.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As no nuclear power station has ever been built on time or on budget, is there not an urgent need to extend the review of nuclear power in this country to include the cost, the timetable and the danger of an attack from a terrorist group—and in order to give the Deputy Prime Minister the opportunity to explain to the House his view that the fallout from Fukushima, both radioactive and political, may make our nuclear plans unaffordable?
Sir George Young: It remains the Government’s policy that nuclear has a key role to play in future power supply. We are doing a review under Dr Weightman to see whether there any lessons to be learned from what has happened in Japan, but there was enough delay to the matter under the previous Government, and we do not propose to add to that any more.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Two worrying claims have been made about our troops in Afghanistan. One of those was today’s report from the National Audit Office, which suggests that two out of three deliveries of vital equipment are not arriving in time. Another claim made is that bullet-proof vests are not being supplied in order to provide funds for the alternative vote referendum. Have you news of any statement to the House that can point out the seriousness of the first claim and the stupidity of the second?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): There is no indication of such a statement being made. I know that the hon. Gentleman recognises that that is not a point of order, but it has certainly gone on the record, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will have taken notice.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that the processions of our fallen will no longer go through Wootton Bassett, and that an attempt was made to move the announcement of the names of the fallen from Wednesday to a Monday and a Tuesday. The Government wished to bury the bad news. Is it not a matter for celebration that Brian Haw, through all weathers and for 10 years, has reminded us in the House of the terrible results of war and the price of those who have fallen?
John McDonnell: Whether or not people agree with Brian, and I do, he provides us with an essential service in reminding us of the consequences of our decisions in the House. That might offend some people, but sometimes it is helpful to have such offence to draw our attention to the consequences of what we do here. Whatever Members think, and whether or not the tents annoy people who think they are messy or untidy, that is no reason to take away people’s right to choose their method of peaceful protest.
Paul Flynn: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that we have to trample on the precious freedom to demonstrate in order to tidy the background for the royal snapshots?
Mr Field: The hon. Gentleman might not be quite as much of a royalist and a monarchist as I am, but he will appreciate that that is not what I am saying. However, there was a focus on trying for this thing, although the wheels of the law take a while to turn—there are a number of lawyers in the House, including, either side of me in the Chamber, some rather more distinguished lawyers than I ever was in my brief legal career. I understand that there will be no further legal proceedings on the matter until considerably after 29 April.
Paul Flynn: The Prime Minister, in one of his more messianic moods, recently told the House that he defended the right to protest from Tahrir square to Trafalgar square. It would not have had the same resonance had he said from Tahrir square to Parliament square, because of the Bill before us today.
I do not know whether Members are familiar with some of the restrictions on our rights as hon. Members to raise certain issues. On two occasions, I have read out the names of the fallen in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, but it is no longer possible to do that because it would be declared out of order—a ruling was made in the previous Parliament. It is now very difficult to read out the names from Afghanistan because there are 320 and, if one included the ranks, it would take half an hour to read them out. We are forbidden as MPs to read out the names of the fallen in the wars who died as a result of our decisions. A woman read out the names of those who had fallen in Iraq at the end of Downing street, and for doing so she was arrested and jailed under, I believe, the Terrorism Act 2000.
Other restrictions have been introduced more recently. There has been a change to the route by which the bodies of the fallen are taken through Wootton Bassett. They will not be taken by that route, a good reason has been given and the town has been given a royal prefix as a tribute to what its people have done. I think we all appreciate the reminder they gave us; it was a powerful picture to see the bodies being brought through Wootton Bassett and to hear the sobs of the families. The grief is obvious on the television. That will not happen any more.
Twice last year, the names of the fallen were announced first on a Monday and next on a Tuesday, and it was only as a result of points of order and early-day motions that we returned to having announcements made at the right time, when they should be made: at Prime Minister’s questions, a time of maximum attendance in this House and maximum attention from the world outside.
I am afraid that the previous Government and this Government want to ignore the consequences of our actions. For 10 years Brian Haw, heroically, has given us and many people in the country a reminder of our decisions.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The practice of the Prime Minister’s reading out the names of those who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan started in June 2003 with Tony Blair. It never happened before. Does my hon. Friend think that we should have read out those names in the Kosovo conflict, the first Iraq war or the Falklands conflict?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We are going wide of the amendment.
Paul Flynn: In the first world war there were pages in newspapers listing the fallen and those missing in action, so it would not have been practical then, but it is practical in this conflict. Sadly, we are still losing soldiers—about one soldier a week dies in Afghanistan—so it is absolutely right to continue reading out their names and making such announcements. The Government should not stop doing that. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend agrees that MPs should be forbidden from reading out the names of the fallen, but I do not think that was a reasonable decision. I have challenged it and been stopped and I am sure that you would stop me now, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I attempted to read out the names of the fallen.
We really must pay tribute to Brian Haw. On nights when we have finished here and gone out, even in the middle of winter and sometimes in the early hours of the morning, he has been there, night after night, with his simple, anti-war message. Whether we agree with him or not he deserves our admiration and we do not need any attempt to sweep him and his companions out of sight to have a cosmetic effect on the square for an event that will be forgotten in a few years’ time.
I agree entirely with those who have said that the right to protest is honourable. It is a matter of pride when visitors come to London from countries in which any sign of protest would be swept away from their well-manicured streets and tourist attractions. The majority of the world’s countries would not allow such protest to take place in such a situation, but we are better and more advanced than them, and we should be proud that we have the right to protest. It is not available in the House, as it might be, but it is in Parliament square.