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Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman's first point was that we should not hold our breath about Opposition days. I understand his desire to call topical debates, which is the Opposition's right, but he must understand Members' rights. When Members plan their diaries, they know the Government business and topics for debate on a particular day. He is denying Members the opportunity to prepare speeches and to decide whether they want to speak. The practice has been adopted in
On the post offices debate, I understand that a member of the shadow Cabinet was not present, so it was not automatically the case that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry should have been present.
On the Hutton report, the hon. Gentleman says that the Prime Minister appears on the Frost programme but does not come before the House. The Prime Minister comes before the House every week for Prime Minister's questions, and he has been asked questions about that matter. He has made himself more accountable to the House than any previous Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman presumably did not hear what was said at yesterday's Prime Minister's questions, because it was not in his interests to listen. The Prime Minister said:
Mr. Hain: The arrangements for the debate will be announced in the usual way, nearer the time and when the report has been publishedthere is nothing unusual about that. Since the hon. Gentleman repeatedly raises the matter, let me tell him that there is something distasteful about him and the Leader of the Opposition trying to second-guess a judge and his independent report. Perhaps it would be more judicious for the Leader of the Opposition to show a little more self-restraint and stop trying to manipulate the judgment of an independent judge in advance of the publication of his report.
On the equipment situation in Iraq, we obviously all sympathise with the family of Sergeant Roberts, especially Mrs. Roberts. However, I do not think that anyone would disagreeI am sure that the hon. Gentleman would notthat all our British soldiers fought with extreme efficiency in the war to depose Saddam Hussein, and that they performed valiantly and deserve praise from all of us.
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I thank the Leader of the House for reporting back on the question posed last week by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the Hutton inquiry. We appreciate that feedback and look forward to further feedback as the situation unfolds.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has not once come to the House in the past 12 months to make a statement on environmental matters? Perhaps that is because she is at a loss to report anything that her Department has done on such matters. May I draw his attention to the report on climate change that was published last week by Leeds university, in the name of Professor Chris Thomas? It
Will the Leader of the House consider the situation in respect of the report by Judge Peter Cory on the Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson deaths? The report was presented to the United Kingdom and Irish Governments in October 2003, and it was stated that it would be published as soon as possible. The families of the bereaved and, indeed, the House are still waiting. Can he say when the report will be published and tell us the reason for the delay? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to the House to tell us about the process and that delay?
[That this House calls on the Government to clarify as a matter of urgency how housebound, disabled and older people who are not able to cope with the Government's three direct payment options will be able to claim their pensions and benefits after 2005; notes that the Government has consistently acknowledged the need for an Exceptions Service, yet has failed to give any firm indication of how this system will operate; notes that the Exceptions Service will only be in place 18 months after the move to direct payments began and that letters to claimants and the Government's publicity material largely fail to mention the Exceptions Service or that people can continue to use their order books and girocheques until 2005; notes that uncertainty about how they will be able to collect their pension or benefits has led to anxiety and distress among the most vulnerable members of our society and that many of these people have either not responded at all or have chosen an unsuitable method of receiving essential income due to ignorance of the Exceptions Service; and calls on the Government to guarantee that the Exceptions Service allows for multiple third party collectors, does not require a pinpad and PIN, is fully accessible at post offices and reinforces the viability of the Post Office Network.]
My hon. Friend raised that matter in the House last Tuesday at column 762, but the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services, who responded to the debate, did not have a word to say about it. Some 2 million Post Office customers could benefit from the exceptions service. It has been announced as a potential lifesaver for them, but it looks as though there will be extravagant delays in bringing it in. Will the relevant Secretary of State come to the House soon to tell us about that service?
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes herself regularly available to answer questions from the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member, and I am sure that everyone agrees that she is always accountable to the House. I agree that the
I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's points on the Cory report to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. However, my right hon. Friend answered questions in the House only yesterday, so the matter could have been raised with him then.
The exemptions service for local post offices is important and, for a long time, the future of local post offices has been debated almost weekly. The Government are providing more and more pensioners and others with opportunities to use their cards. Two million pensioners have taken up the opportunity to get cash from local post offices with the card, which replaces the benefit booklet, and that is a sensible way to proceed.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): In my constituency of Broxtowe, Boots has declared that one third of its headquarters work force will be made redundant. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to tell the House at the earliest opportunity what steps his Department will take to work with Boots to minimise the impact on the individuals concerned?
Mr. Hain: I will indeed. I accept my hon. Friend's concern, as that is obviously extremely bad news for those affected at Boots. However, the Government have a good record in these matters. The employment service and other relevant agencies have a good record of helping people who unfortunately have lost their jobs to find new ones. RepeatedlyI am not saying that this is true in every casepeople have found new jobs, both in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere across the country. When there were job losses under the previous Government people just wasted away on the dole, but now they are being helped into work, with employment rising all the time, as we heard in the announcements only yesterday.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): The historic office that you hold, Mr. Speaker, has been unique to this House for 600 years or more. Does the Leader of the House therefore share the concern of many Members, both in this House and in the other place, about the suggestion that there should be a Lords Speaker in the other place? Does he agree that that would cause confusion, not least because the role of such an officer would be very different from that of Mr. Speaker in this House? Will he reflect on those things, give some encouragement to those of us who believe that it would be a retrograde step by the House of Lords, and institute conversations with our colleagues in the other place?