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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Can we have a debate on the Amnesty International report? I remember the tragic events on 21 August last year, when a young girl was killed, presumably by a stray round fired by one of our soldiers as a warning shot over the heads of rioting villagers. We are now being asked to believe that three of our soldiers got out of a Warrior vehicle, stood around until a crowd of children gathered, and then wantonly and deliberately killed one of them. That sort of nonsense must be exposed, and I suggest that a full debate is the way to do it. And notwithstanding what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) earlier and what the Prime Minister said yesterday, Conservative Members do not need lectures about supporting our troops in Iraq.
Mr. Hain: Nobody has given more support to our troops in Iraq than the hon. Gentleman, since he was one of them. On the incident that he describes, I tend to share his view. Two Ministers, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State for Defence, have already made statements on the Red Cross report. This afternoon's debate is an opportunity to question the Minister of State, and the hon. Gentleman can undoubtedly take advantage of it.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab):
On Tuesday, the Housing Bill was on Report, where I raised the point that, given that the Government are regulating the buying and selling of houses through the home information pack, it is illogical not to regulate the people who are central to that process, namely estate agents. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said that the Government are considering an Office of Fair Trading report and will deal with the potential licensing of estate agents. Will the Leader of the House assure me that when the Government have considered the OFT report, they will bring that important matter back to the House for full debate, consideration and decision? Buying and selling homes is one of the most important activities that millions of
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people perform each year, and many of those people will have been alarmed and concerned by the exposure of the worst estate agents' practices undertaken by the Consumers Association and the BBC. The matter is important, and I hope that the Leader of the House will bring it back to the House for full consideration.
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend's points will certainly be considered, because they are important, and he is right that the buying and selling of homes affects millions of families across the country. Those families want to know that their rights are being protected, which is precisely what the Government seek to do, and we will draw on the OFT report in order to do that.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the calls from both sides of the House for a full day's debate in Government time on Iraq and the Red Cross report? We now know for certain that no Minister saw the report for almost three months, which makes the matter even more important. Given the passionate and, I believe, entirely correct answer that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), does he think that Ministers should have seen the report earlier?
Mr. Hain: This matter has been dealt with by the Defence Secretary, by the Prime Minister and by others. I can only repeat what I have already said to the shadow Leader of the House and others: if there is a case and an opportunity for a full day's debate, there will be one. We have not been shy in coming to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on Iraq; indeed, the Defence Secretary did so on Monday and the Prime Minister did so yesterday. We are fully accountable on these matters, as we will continue to be.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how easy he finds it to locate a reliable, well trained plumber; and can we have a debate on the Floor of the House that will contrast this Government's support for the modern apprenticeship scheme with the failure of the previous Government adequately to train up a new generation of plumbers, joiners and electricians?
Mr. Hain: I find it relatively straightforward to find a good, well qualified plumber in Neath, but much more difficult in London. I imagine that that has been my hon. Friend's experience. That is one of the many reasons why we have massively increased the number of apprenticeships from the 75,800 that there were under the Conservative Government when we came into power in 1997 to 255,500the most ever. We are creating on-the-job learning at school through the young apprentice scheme, which combines traditional school studies with up to two days per week learning on the job alongside skilled workers, including plumbers. I am sure that many more plumbers will come through that scheme. Our abolition of the 25-years-old age cap for apprenticeships should provide further encouragement.
I remember being told last year by a woman involved in training schemes that she found it impossible to encourage young girls to become plumbers, because they all wanted to be hairdressers, even though they
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could earn perhaps four times as much while training for plumbing and have a much more flexible and well remunerated career afterwards. We want to see not only more men plumbers, but more women plumbers.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Sport is very close to the hearts of many millions of our fellow countrymen. Will the Leader of the House give serious consideration to ensuring that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport comes to the House to lead a debate in Government time on sporting strategy? I am particularly concerned about two issues. First, we should consider the strategy for the London Olympics, assuming that we make the shortlist following next week's decision by the International Olympic Committee. Secondly, there are grave concerns about the English cricket team's proposed tour in Zimbabwe in the autumn. I know that that matter is close to the right hon. Gentleman's heart, given his record as an erstwhile agitator some 34 years ago, and I should be interested to hear his views.
Mr. Hain: I have made my views very clear. In the unlikely event that I were an English cricketer, I would not go. Since the Zimbabwe cricket authorities now stand charged with discriminating in the selection of the team, this becomes a sporting matter as well as a question of the oppression under Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of sport. I am a sports fan myselfa Chelsea supporter and a Neath rugby supporter, among other thingsand if there is an opportunity for a debate, I am sure that we will get one.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently making an announcement about the fallen stock scheme, which is a major scheme for farmers. There is no written or oral statement on the Order Paper, yet this is a matter of great importance. I understand that it might be a bit embarrassing for the Government, because 180 out of 250 collection centres for fallen stock will be at hunt kennels. Would you be prepared to investigate how it is that this discourtesy to the House has occurred?
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not discussing this with you earlier, but it took until a few minutes ago to double-check the facts that I want to raise.
During yesterday's Second Reading debate on the Age-Related Payments Bill, I pointed out that Spelthorne borough council's council tax payers had to meet part of the cost of operating the Government's council tax benefit scheme. The details of what I said are at column 388 of Hansard. During his winding-up speech, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) said this about my claim of underfunding:
"I must ask my officials to contact his council because he appears to believe that the local authority meets part of the cost of council tax benefit when the central Government subsidy finances all properly made payments of such benefit."[Official Report, 12 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 408.]
Clearly, that is contrary to the information that was given to me by Spelthorne borough council. It follows, Mr. Speaker, that either I or the Minister misled the House. I therefore double-checked the council's claim this morning. It insists that it is telling the truth and has confirmed in writing the figures that I gave the House yesterdaynamely, that the administration grant from the Government for 200304 was £144,762, while the actual cost of administration, using the Government's system for calculating it, was £313,276.
It would therefore appear, Mr. Speaker, that what the Minister said in yesterday's debate was incorrect. Can you confirm that he should now come to this House to apologise for making that incorrect statement?
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