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Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May we have an early debate or perhaps a statement from the Chancellor on the child trust fund? I do not want to debate the merits of the fund, which are fairly clearmore than 1,000 children in my constituency are already scheduled to benefit. The matter that needs debating is the future of the fund in the perhaps unlikely event that a Government who were committed to billions of pounds of public expenditure cuts came to power. Could such a Government remove eligibility for the child trust fund not only from future parents and children, but from children who are already in receipt of it? We should consider that important matter of public policy in this House.
Mr. Hain: A debate, perhaps on an Opposition motion and entitled "Baby Bond Stealers", would be very good. If I can find time, I may well be encouraged to arrange such a debate, because the issue is very serious. If the child trust fund were abolished, tens of thousands of youngsters would be deprived of up to £500, and certainly £250, deposited by the taxpayer with the Government's organisation in a bond for life. If we are re-elected, when children reach the age of 17 we will double that deposit and allow relatives to contribute.
Mr. Hain: Did I say 17? I meant seven. If a different Government came to power and sought to abolish that scheme, would they retrospectively steal that money? The Liberal Democrats in particular must answer that question, because they opposed the child trust fund. The Conservatives have not made their minds up yet, and they are accountable not only to babies, but to all the parents who have benefited from the policy.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): One of the most pressing issues that currently faces Scottish farmers, which was not raised at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, is the future of the rural development regulation, which includes about £150 million of associated funding for Scotland. Given the uncertainty about the future of less favoured areas, will the Leader of the House ensure that an early debate occurs, so that we can inform Ministers about the strength of feeling on those issues in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK?
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that a regulatory reform order on reform of the civil registration service in England and Wales has been rejected by the Regulatory Reform Committee? Among other measures, that would have delivered the right of registration officers to go to an employment tribunal should they be unfairly dismissed. As patron of the Society of Registration Officers, I have campaigned on that matter in this House since 1997. Will my right hon. Friend seek a statement from the Chancellor on how the Treasury will proceed on this now more than urgent matter, which could be dealt with separately from the other reforms that were in the regulatory reform order?
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge my hon. Friend's diligent expertise in this area. The Government are reviewing the reports published by the House of Commons and House of Lords Scrutiny Committees and considering how best to proceed. As part of that process, we are actively consulting the key stakeholders, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be one of them.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): How can the Leader of the House possibly justify the Foreign Secretary's not coming to the Dispatch Box in the very week when our American allies have closed down the Iraq survey group and admitted that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Does not he realise that if many Members of this House, including me, had known then what we know now, we would not have voted to go to war?
Honest differences of opinion are held on the warI understand that. I do not wish to repeat myself, but this matter was the subject of a detailed statement by the Foreign Secretary last autumn, when he was asked detailed and challenging questions, and there has been nothing new. I think I am right in saying, though I stand to be corrected, that the Iraq survey group has not shut up shop and is doing other work, but
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there is no question but that it did not find any evidence of weapons of mass destructionthat is not in dispute, and the Government have accepted its conclusions.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate or a statement on the proper procedures for the closure of fire stations? The chief fire officer in South Yorkshire proposes to close Mosborough fire station in my constituency. There has been no contact with me or with elected local councillors, no information leaflet for the public, no detailed statement to the press, and no proposal to hold a public meeting. It would be helpful if a Minister came to the House to make a statement on what they would regard as the proper procedures to be gone through on this matter, which concerns and alarms many of my constituents.
Mr. Hain: I am sure that it does concern and alarm my hon. Friend and his constituents. I understand that the consultation period ends on 11 March. However, it is surprising, to me at least, that he has not been properly informed about the matter. I hope that he will take the opportunity to insist that he be properly consulted.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have a debate on the financial assistance scheme that the Government have rightly set up to try to help people who have had their pension schemes destroyed as a result of firms going into liquidation? Such a debate would allow us to raise the case of APW Electronics Ltd. in Eastleigh. It has not gone into liquidation, but only because it was able to blackmail its work force into accepting a huge reduction in their pension returns, or else the company would be liquidated. My party has stated that it would use the unclaimed assets in dormant bank and building society accounts to bail out people in such situations. Will the Government do the same?
Mr. Hain: I am sure that that issue was debated during the passage of the Pensions Act 2004 during the previous Session. Through that, the Government have established the Pension Protection Fund, which is a big advance for the future. We have also provided extra funding for those who have been so scandalously robbed of their pensions. However, there will be an opportunity to raise the matter at Department of Trade and Industry questions on 27 January.
[That this House notes the suspension of copyright payments by Littlewoods and Vernons Pools Ltd. to professional football clubs; is concerned about the effect of this loss of income on smaller clubs; and urges the pools companies to resolve the situation as soon as possible.]
The motion refers to the withdrawal of much needed revenue from the football clubs by the pools companies. Some £5 million has been taken out of the beautiful game and put into the players' agents' pockets. That is money that could be used to develop the skills of our youngsters. Will my right hon. Friend ask the appropriate Minister to make representations to the football authorities in order that that money can be kept
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in the game? After all, if football players want representation with their employers they can join a trade union, like the rest of us.
Mr. Hain: I hope that they do join trade unions like the rest of us; indeed, I encourage all individuals in work to do so. As for the Ministers concerned, I guess that those at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and possibly the Department of Trade and Industry will want carefully to note the points that my hon. Friend makes.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): We all welcome the response of the world and our own nation and people to the Indian ocean disaster. We have been warned, however, that we should not take our eye off the ball in relation to other ongoing tragedies. May I ask for a statement in the near future from the International Development Secretary on the situation in Montserrat? It is nearly 10 years since the earthquake tragedy there, and some people who were given temporary protective status in the United States have now been told that it will be lifted at the end of February because the situation is no longer temporary but will become permanent. What are we doing as a nation to deal with our own fellow citizens in Montserrat?
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