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Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab):
Can time be found to discuss the work of the small business unit, in
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particular the small business unit in west Yorkshire, which is supporting plans by a consortium of local businesses to break into new markets in China and eastern Europe? We should debate any vulnerability to which the small business unit might be exposed, especially a £500 million cut, and how that would affect trade into my area.
Mr. Hain: I am alarmed by the plans to axe the Small Business Service, as the Opposition propose. We will not do that, partly for the reason that my hon. Friend givesit provides vital support for small businesses, which are the engine of our future economic competitiveness. They need the support that the Small Business Service provides. Another proposal is to cut massively the resources and staffing of UK Trade and Investment, which provides important support for exporters who find it hard to gain openings in a very competitive international market. I notice that in the list of cuts proposed earlier this week, nobody, let alone the shadow Chancellor, proposed a cut in the £3 million Short money that the Conservatives get from the taxpayervery bad value for money, I might add. All the other cuts listed have been added up, but the £3 million of taxpayers' money going to the Conservative party will stay ring-fenced, protected and guaranteed.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May we have an early debate on the statement on the continued detention in Belmarsh of a number of people held under the terrorism legislation? The Leader of the House will bear in mind that it is now a month since the House of Lords declared that that was unlawful, and a year since the Newton committee report recommended substantial changes in the terrorism legislation. It is quite wrong that those people should be held unlawfully. They are entitled to know their future, as is the House.
Mr. Hain: I understand the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. The ruling in the House of Lords on 16 December raised a number of complex issues, and the Home Secretary, as he has explained to Parliament, needs time to consider fully the implications of the judgment, while being mindful of the need to act as quickly as possible on the matter. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find in due course that his request has been satisfied.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I know my right hon. Friend is aware of the widespread concern among local government workers about the planned changes to the local government pension scheme, due to be introduced in April. When will we have the opportunity to debate the issue? I have been approached by many local government workers in my constituency. When will we have the opportunity to discuss the raising of the retirement age and the impact on current members of the scheme? Will the Government consider postponing the proposals until there has been more consultation?
I am sure that many local government workers and their trade union, Unison, have approached her, as they have approached me and other Members on the matter. Perhaps it would be helpful if I
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explained that the changes coming into effect this April, as the Chancellor announced in his pre-Budget report, are necessary now as part of a wider package to reduce pressures on local authority budgets and thereby to help protect front-line services and keep council tax levels in 200506 under 5 per cent. If the changes were not implemented, local government would face increasing pension costs of about £300 million per annum over the next three years, which would mean possible cuts in services and front-line jobs and pressures on council tax levels. We all know that public sector pensions must be reformed. Indeed, we have reformed our own pensions as Members of Parliament. The changes for local government workers are part of that process.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): On the day of the inauguration of George W. Bush as President of the United States once again, has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to look at a BBC World Service poll, which shows that the British people and the people of practically every other nation believe the world is a less safe, less secure place because of the President? Can we therefore have a debate about our special relationship to examine it, put forward the true views of the British people on that relationship and warn Americans about any future action in Iran during the President's second term?
Mr. Hain: That was a constructive intervention for the purpose of influencing American foreign policy. No doubt the hon. Gentleman does not intend to be Foreign Secretary at any stage in his future career.
Mr. Hain: As always, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) makes helpful interventions and is a bit of a joker. The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) raises an important point. Why has the middle east peace processwhich the Prime Minister has made a priority for many months, if not yearsbeen retriggered? In part, because of that special relationship. As a result of the Prime Minister visiting Washington and meeting President Bush very soon after his re-election, the middle east peace process suddenly entered a new dynamic phase. We need that process to succeed, and maintaining the special relationship will help it to do so.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Setting aside the question of licensing hours, Britain has a serious alcohol problem now, and if there had been no Licensing Act 2003, it would still have a serious alcohol problem that must be addressed, with high levels of addiction, high death rates from cirrhosis of the liver, rising levels of heavy drinking among young women and, most worrying of all, a high incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a full debate on all aspects of Britain's alcohol problem, including factors such as price, advertising and health warnings on alcoholic drinks?
I know that that issue was raised in Health questions. My hon. Friend makes a serious and
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considered point with which I am sure we all agree. That is why the Secretary of State for Health has taken forward a plan for tackling the alcohol problem. There is a culture in this country that is almost unique among comparable countries, and is very disturbing. If one goes to France or Spain, where there is the same flexibility in licensing laws that we intend to bring in, one does not see this phenomenon: young girls, let alone young boys, are not paralytic and fighting each other on the streets. We have to work together to tackle that.
Mr. Mackay: The Leader of the House will be aware that Peter Sutcliffe is rightly incarcerated for good in my constituency. Is he also aware that there is grave concern in my constituency and in Yorkshire that the Home Secretary allowed him to leave Broadmoor hospital for a day, which is unacceptable? Can he ensure that the new Home Secretary comes to the House to explain himself, because this very bad start for him makes it clear that he is not serious about law and order and crime prevention?
Mr. Hain: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concerns. He may wish to consult the statement that the Home Office made this morning in which the Home Secretary made the background to this matter absolutely clear.
John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the widespread concern about the apparent intensification and growth of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. Recently, as a result of the screening of "Jerry SpringerThe Opera", a Christian fundamentalist group decided to publicise the names and home addresses of BBC executives. That was absolutely disgraceful. Some of those groups are keen that the blasphemy laws should be extended to cover their own particular beliefs. Some of us believe the opposite: that the existing blasphemy legislation should be abolished, if only to make it absolutely clear that we are not going to give way to these fanatics. Could we have a debate on that legislation?
Mr. Hain: I am not in favour of fundamentalism of any kind, whether Christian, Islamic or Tory. I understand my hon. Friend's point; that is why we are bringing in a new offence to ban discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Leader of the House will understand that not every Member of the House can be present at this statement to hear the business for the following week, and that many rely on access to the parliamentary video and data network to garner that information by e-mail or by looking at the official record. This weekend, we are to be denied access to the full facilities of that network. That will affect not only information about this business statement, but our ability to transact business on behalf of our constituents, which will be heavily constrained, if not made impossible. Will the Leader of the House postpone whatever work is to be carried out and try to find a more convenient time for it to be done, so that Members can maintain access to this vital communication network?
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