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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): Will the Government find time to have a serious debate on who regulates the regulators? Ofcom is about to draw up plans to create unfair conditions for a publicly owned industry which will cause the universal service obligation to be threatened by cherry-picking from other people. Ofgem has created a situation whereby gas prices have risen by 70 per cent., with industries in this country paying 34p a therm and the same suppliers selling gas to the continent at 25p a therm. We face the prospect of the Health and Safety Executive interpreting EU regulations on Soveso 2 in terms of land use planning in such a way as to destroy the development potential of much of the UK and to impinge on many
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industries in the manufacturing sector. When will we look at who regulates the regulator in order to get regulation to work for the UK, not against it?

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point. The answer is that we regulate the regulators, which are set up by statute and are obliged to report not only to the Government but to the House. I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that there is no time for a debate on the matter before the end of the Session, which is only three or four days away.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) has asked the Prime Minister to make a statement on his return from Washington about the outcome of his talks with President Bush. That is extremely important, especially in view of the renewed momentum that we all hope that there must be in terms of the middle east peace process, to which the Leader of House made explicit reference in answer to me last week.

In the light of the death of President Arafat this morning, in the aftermath of which there could be great instability in the middle east until a new leadership is in place, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can confirm whether the Prime Minister is prepared to make a statement and to answer questions on these issues early next week.

The Minister in the other place with responsibility for the Gambling Bill said today that, in order to understand the changes that the Government intend to make in response to the concerns of Members of this House, it is important to take account of the tax regime for gambling. That implies a change to that regime. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer make an urgent statement next week on any such changes that might be relevant to the Bill? Members of the Standing Committee will need to know about that before they can further consider it.

As the business statement indicates, for the next few weeks we will be in the period of parliamentary ping-pong between the Commons and the Lords. I am sure that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House have read with care the report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, which is chaired by the noble Lord Norton of Louth, entitled "Parliament and the Legislative Process". Can the Deputy Leader of the House tell us when the Government will make a statement on the extremely important proposals in that report, which shows that there are mechanisms for dealing with precisely the problems that we now face in managing the relationship between the two Houses and in dealing with the legislative process sensibly and intelligently?

Mr. Woolas: I shall deal with the last point first, if I may. The report that has come from the other place is very important, as the membership of that Committee has perhaps the greatest expertise that is available to us. I would not want to cross Baroness Gould of Potternewton on procedures in either House—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Or on anything.

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend has pinched my line. Lord Holme, despite his political affiliations—some
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would say because of them—is very knowledgeable on these processes and procedures, and I acknowledge his expertise. The report is important, and the Government response to it will be taken seriously. It is in line with a growing consensus in this House and the other place that the provision of draft Bills, carry-over and pre-legislative scrutiny is slowly and surely working to the benefit of us all. This report takes that forward, so the response will be serious, and I look forward to further debates on it.

On the gambling tax, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making—as the House will know, the Standing Committee is currently considering the Bill, and Members have requested information. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of the point that has just been made.

On the question of the Prime Minister's trip to Washington, obviously, it comes at an important time. I was pleased at the hon. Gentleman's support for the Prime Minister's efforts to ensure that the middle east peace process, and the situation in Palestine and Israel, is at the top of the world affairs agenda, and I acknowledge his welcome of the Prime Minister's efforts to push the President in that direction.

The hon. Gentleman asked particularly about the situation in Palestine. It is only right that I should add to the comments made by the Prime Minister to express deep sympathy and condolences to the Palestinian people on the death of Yasser Arafat. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the United Kingdom Government will continue to strive to achieve the commitment to a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel. The hon. Gentleman asked specifically whether the Prime Minister would be making a statement—I am not able to answer that. Next week is very crowded in terms of business, as he is aware. It is fair to say that the Prime Minister has a strong record of coming to the House after international summits, and I am sure that he will take the earliest opportunity to inform the House of progress.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab): I wonder whether my hon. Friend will find time in the packed agenda between now and prorogation to deal with the sub-post office closures happening in his constituency and mine, with specific reference to the £300 million that the Government allocated, in the urban sub-post offices revitalisation programme, for post offices that would otherwise be shut because they were economically unviable in very deprived urban areas such as Rochdale and Oldham. Will he share my concern at the way the Post Office is dealing in a very cavalier manner with sub-post office closures, when the clear intent of the Government and the whole House, in voting for that legislation, was that the viability of sub-post offices in the most deprived urban areas should be safeguarded? Will he share my concern that the Post Office seems to be cavalier about the intent of the House?

Mr. Woolas: Certainly, I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, which is extremely helpful in the circumstances. I have seen the early-day motion that she and other Members have signed relating to post offices in north Manchester and in her constituency. It is the fourth early-day motion tabled about post offices in the past two weeks in which Members have raised
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specific concerns. The other side of the coin, as has been acknowledged, is that the Government have provided huge amounts of money to ensure that the Post Office can get through the transitional phase that it is undergoing at the moment. In those consultations, the difficulty, as has been acknowledged in debates in the House, is that post offices are often private small businesses and must enter into arrangements with the Post Office, particularly if they are loss-making, which creates a difficult set of circumstances. I will pass on her comments to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): With Land Rover negotiating quality control, troubles at Jaguar and worries at Rover, can we have a debate in Government time, replied to by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on the subject of the motor industry in the west midlands? And might I tell the hon. Gentleman that this is the second time of asking?

Mr. Woolas: As I hope the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a big fan of his. Having read his book, in which he campaigns for the motor industry, I can say that in raising these issues he is at least consistent.

The future of the motor industry is, of course, important to us all. Although there will be no time for a debate during this Session, manufacturing is a priority for the Government. It is important to note from last year's figures that although manufacturing employment has fallen—there have been worrying job losses in that sector—output continues to rise, as do productivity, exports and research and development. Despite the problems, the overall picture is very good.

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab): May I draw attention to early-day motion 1898?

[That this House notes that the new formula for Child Support Agency (CSA) maintenance calculations has now been in place since April 2003, which is more than enough time to stabilise the system; considers that existing cases have experienced a long and avoidable delay under the old rules; and calls upon the Minister to instruct the CSA to take the necessary steps to bring in the new, simplified and fairer method of assessment for all cases with immediate effect.]

The motion is entitled "Fair and equal treatment for all CSA non-resident parents".

I know that I speak for many Members when I point out that, a year and a half after the introduction of a simplified system for child support payments, we are still struggling. Many of our constituents still tell us of serious problems, all of which affect children and parents and, I am sure, cause considerable distress. Will my hon. Friend be able to find time for a debate?

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