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I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The Conservatives are spraying new policy commitments around like confetti. They are committed to £35 billion of tax cutsor they would like to be
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committed to £35 billion of tax cuts. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has said, the initial commitment is just a down paymentI think those were his words. But they cannot deliver, and this is frankly not an honest basis on which to go to the electorate.
On my hon. Friend's specific point, the House might be interested to know the difference between the Conservatives' policy and ours. Under Labour, a household with even just one pensioner will get the £200 tax-free refund. Under the Conservatives, both occupants would have to be of pensionable age to get the proposed refund. That is why many more households will benefit under Labour's policy. Let us take the example of the 40,000 over-65s caring for an adult or disabled child. They would also fall foul of the Conservatives' small print, which states that everyone in the household would have to be over 65 to qualify. The public will make up their minds on this matter shortly.
David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): The Leader of the House will be aware that, later todaySt. Patrick's dayPresident Bush will be receiving the McCartney sisters at the White House and expressing strong condemnation of the vicious murder of their brother by members of the IRA in Magennis's bar in Belfast. Members of Sinn Fein were present during the murder. Will the Leader of the House make Government time for a full debate on this matter in the House, on the basis that strong words from President Bush and the Prime Minister are not enough to defeat the criminal conspiracy which is Sinn Fein-IRA, and which is contaminating the body politic in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic?
Mr. Hain: The extraordinary bravery and determination of the McCartney sisters could well, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said, unleash a change in the Northern Ireland situation and create the positive prospect of the peace process being permanently cemented in, in a way that we have not seen for a while. We need to encourage that process.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to look at early-day motion 938, which concerns the increase in car parking charges at the Leicester royal infirmary, despite the millions of extra pounds that the Government have given to the health service in Leicester?
[That this House notes with grave concern the proposal by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust to increase the parking fees for hospital staff, patients and members of the public; further notes the increase of £1 for up to an hour, £1.50 for one to two hours and £2 for three hoursup to a maximum of £10 are too high; and calls on the health authority to reconsider this drastic and unnecessary proposal.]
Only this morning, one of my constituents had to rush his daughter to the accident and emergency unit at the infirmary. When he went out to collect his car, he found
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that it had been clamped. This is an important issue, as it affects the ability of people to visit their relatives in hospital. Could we please have a debate on it?
Mr. Hain: It is an important issue, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his constituent's concerns. I am sure that the Department of Health and the health authority will want to take a close interest in the matter.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The Leader of the House said earlier that we were "on the eve of an electionpossibly". Will he confirm that no controversial legislation will be rushed through before then? There is a tradition in the House that, as we approach a general election, only non-controversial Bills are dealt with. Did I hear him correctly when he said that the Identity Cards Bill would be rushed through? Does he not understand that that is a highly controversial Bill, both in this place and out in the country, and that it will not be possible to rush it through because there will be many of us to stop it?
Mr. Hain: It is not a question of rushing things through. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, in such circumstances, there are negotiations between both sides of the Househe may well have been involved in them in the past. The interests of the country need to be put first. I believe that the Identity Cards Bill fits that criterion, as does the Consumer Credit Bill, which protects against loan sharks, and the Charities Bill, which the charities community wants. I am happy to go into a general election, whenever it might be called, with the Labour party advocating an identity cards measure and the Conservatives opposing it. I relish that opportunity.
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend followed the Jamie Oliver BBC programme on school meals? If so, does he believe, as I do, that too many of our children eat high-fat, low-quality meals? Is it not time for tighter standards? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to come to the House and make a statement about what the Department intends to do about the poor eating standards in our schools?
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. We are indebted to Jamie Oliver for championing decent, good diets and good food rather than the junk food that some of our children eat. The public health White Paper addressed that and legislation will follow if Labour wins the general election.
Dr. Julian Lewis: Does the Leader of the House share my profound disappointment at the likelihood that the Parliament will end without a single statement or debate led by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?
In the absence of that, may we have a statement from a Law Officer or a Constitutional Affairs Minister on the more serious subject of sentencing policy and some of the awards made by courts? Does the right hon. Gentleman share my astonishment and dismay at the 18-month sentence that was passed on two louts who threw a boy from a bridge to his death by drowning in a river? Does he also share my dismay about the
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£567,000 award50 times more than the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority could award to the family of a murder victimthat a court made to a boy who had trespassed on factory premises, fallen and suffered a brain injury? Does it not sometimes appear that the law has gone mad in this country?
Mr. Hain: Many members of the public would share the hon. Gentleman's view and we need to keep the matter under review. The two cases that he mentioned were of course different, and different schemes were involved. However, he may find an echo of his views not only among his constituents but among many others throughout the country.
John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): The Leader of the House knows that the European Union is keen on using taxpayers' money to pump out the most appalling and nauseating propaganda on its behalf. Only yesterday, I heard that even Learning and Skills Council conferences are being used for distributing free baubles covered in EU symbols and mythology. Is it not time that we had a debate on the way in which the EU uses money for distributing propaganda, especially since the EU is shy about revealing such figures?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and I called last week for Second Reading of the Equality Bill, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement today.
May we have a debate on the link between hard drug addiction and violent crime? Given that many people who commit violent crime are high on drugs at the time or committing crime to feed their sad addiction, does the Leader of the House agree that such a debate would provide a welcome opportunity for hon. Members to celebrate Conservative proposals to provide drug rehabilitation courses for 50,000 people, thus giving them a chance to turn away from addiction and crime and lead more constructive lives?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes some fair points, apart from those about Conservative spending plans, which nobody believes. He knows that there is a Drugs Bill currently before Parliament. It is due to get its Second Reading in the House of Lords. Let us hope that that measure, which deals with many of the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, can be speeded through in the event that that proves necessary.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab):
Last week's shenanigans in this place left many of my constituents bemused and brought home to them, as the fox hunting debate did not, that an unelected House of Lords can block the will of an elected Government. However, they would be angry if the Identity Cards Bill and the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Bill are blocked by the House of Lords before a general election. Contrary to the comments of the hon. Member for New Forest, East
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(Dr. Lewis), identity cards are not controversial in my constituency. People want them and they want the legislation to be passed quickly. Will my right hon. Friend use whatever power he has to ensure that those Bills come back to this place so that the elected House can pass them? Will he stop an unelected House, which is controlled by the Conservative party, blocking such vital Home Affairs measures?
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