Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to raise that matter in Department of Trade and Industry questions on Thursday, but I recognise his point. In my constituency, there are pensioners who have been issued for the first time with a card and personal identification number, but who have never used a PIN before and have lost it, and have therefore been unable to draw the pension to which they are entitled. I know that the Post Office has been alerted to the problem. In some cases, at least in Neath, emergency procedures were put in place. This is a serious issue of which the authorities are aware.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate about economic regeneration and the important role played by regional development agencies? I know that he is aware of the significant regeneration that has taken place in the lower Don valley in my constituency since 1997, including the building of the largest printing works in Europe, which I drew to his attention a few weeks ago. He may not be aware of a masterplan now being developed by the council and British Land with the help of the RDA, Yorkshire Forward, for further significant regeneration, thousands of jobs and 4,000 new homes. Does he agree that those plans and others throughout the country would be put at risk if the Opposition had their way and abolished the regional development agencies, which would be a false economy that would endanger regeneration and jobs throughout the country?
Mr. Hain: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The more the public and the media look into the fine print of the proposals published earlier this week, the more they will see them fall apart. In the case of regional development agenciesthis would effectively massacre the work of Yorkshire Forwarda £365 million saving would be made. That means cuts in regeneration and job creation programmes and in the regeneration of communities, and the devastation of regions such as South Yorkshire, which suffered mine closures under the previous Government and have needed more investment to create the enterprise economy that is now taking root. All those measures, including that regional development issue and the Opposition's proposed abolition of the new deal, would result in massive cuts and the return to high unemployment, boom and bust, risks to mortgages and all the rest of the Tory economic misery that the Opposition plan for us yet again.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
Is the Leader of the House concerned about the unfair treatment being meted out by the Government to local authorities that have responsibility for housing, as they are being denied the resources given by the Government or the ability to retain for themselves the money that they get from the rent from municipal property, as against the treatment of registered social landlords, who are treated much more favourably than housing authorities? Macclesfield, which is debt-free, is being forced to dispose of its housing stock through large-
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scale voluntary transfer against my wishes and the wishes of the council and council tenants. It is being forced to do that because it is not being allowed to keep the necessary sum to maintain and refurbish its council housing stock.
Mr. Hain: I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that there is a debate on those matters the week after next, on Wednesday 2 February. If he has a chance to intervene or speak in that debate, he may wish to take it.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): When the shadow Leader of the House asked perfectly reasonably about a foreign affairs debate, the Leader of the House replied that the legislative programme was very difficult. Well, it is not 1 per cent. as difficult as the position of the coalition in Iraq. What sort of impression do the Government imagine is given of the House of Commons if we can find time for debates on gambling, drink and aspects of constitutional affairs that might wait, and a whole day on our own hours, while there is apparently no time to discuss the immensely important situation in Iraq? Some of us think that, after the election, we may have to make a choice as to whether we are in Iraq for five or 10 years, or whether we go headlong into a Vietnam situation. Surely there is a case for a proper debate on an amendable motion.
Mr. Hain: Obviously, we will want to assess, as will the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, the situation after the Iraqi elections on 30 January. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to applaud the fact that recent polling in Iraq shows that more than 80 per cent. of Iraqis intend to vote if they can and that 111 groups with almost 8,000 candidates are standing in the national elections and a further 11,000 candidates are standing in the provincial and Kurdish regional government elections, and a third of all those candidates are women. That provides an opportunity for a major democratic advance in Iraq out of the tyranny that was overthrown when Saddam was deposed and out of the new investment that is now taking place. I accept that the situation is very difficult and that the insurgents and terrorists are seeking to destroy that prospect of democracy, but I should have thought my hon. Friend would want to support it and to hope and work for the success of the elections on 30 January. I am sure that after those elections the House will be informed by the Foreign Secretary of the outcome and where future policy might go.
Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD): Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that since the publication last March by Sir Michael Lyons of the public policy programme of civil service dispersal and relocation, the Government have published a plan to reduce dramatically public sector employment, particularly in Departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions? Will he acknowledge that it is time the House discussed public sector relocation so that communities that are suffering job losses, such as Galashiels in south-east Scotland, which is subject to DWP cuts, can be considered as priority cases for civil service relocation in future?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about his constituency, and my right hon. Friend the
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Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will want to consider it carefully. That Department and others have initiated a huge redeployment out of the overheated London and south-east area to the regions and nations of Britain, Scotland and Wales included, where there are the skills and the sites.
Efficiency savings are also being made to divert resources from back-room staff to front-line services. That is very different from the massacre of public sector jobs that will take place under the Conservative plans published earlier this week, which mean that 250,000 people are set to join the dole queue.
Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): On 17 January, the closure of a company, Lubrizol, in my constituency was announced on the internet. I was not consulted, nor was the local authority or the Northwest Development Agency. The decision was made because the US parent company thought that production could be better located elsewhere. The UK company was not a lame duck. It was an efficient company that had won many awards, most recently on Tuesday this week. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the subject of arbitrary closures to be debated? Will he draw the matter to the attention of the Department of Trade and Industry to see whether it was consulted, whether it regards this as the proper way for an inward investor to behave, and whether the workers and unions were appropriately consulted? Will he also draw the matter to the attention of the Department for Work and Pensions so that the workers who will be affected by the closure, both senior and more junior workers, are given appropriate assistance, should they need it?
Mr. Hain: I am astounded at that account. I have heard of workers being texted to be told that they are redundant, but I have not heard of workers discovering it on the internet, if they have access to it. It is a very bad way for an employer to behave, and I will make sure that Ministers at the Department look into the matter and write to my hon. Friend about the points that he has raised.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Has the Leader of the House begun to reflect on how he might persuade people in Neath to re-elect him at the next general election? If he has, he will realise that no meaningful decisions can be taken about that campaign until we know what our elections expenses will be. The Electoral Commission made recommendations to the Government on that. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is the Government's intention that the next election be fought on the basis of those new recommendations? If so, when will the Government lay the necessary order?
Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman has made a plea on behalf of all of us, but I can assure him that my spending will come well under the expenses limits. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will want to reflect carefully on the point that the right hon. Gentleman made and will, I am sure, respond to it.