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Tax Credits (Over-payments)

17. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How many recipients of tax credits in Coventry, South constituency have been identified as having received over-payments. [1008]

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The statistics for the over-payment of tax credits will be published by the Office for National Statistics on 1 June. I draw the House's attention to a statement that I made this morning reflecting on the comments made by Members of Parliament on the system and on how to improve it.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will she consider the issue of the over-payment of child benefit, particularly when young families have to pay the money back and given the hardship that might be involved in that?

Dawn Primarolo: I know that my hon. Friend is a champion of his constituents and, in particular, the nearly 6,400 families who receive payments from the tax credits. Among the issues that have been raised with me by Members of the House are those of over-payments, improving the procedures for the recovery of over-payment, better communication with families about their entitlement and clearly identifying that entitlement on the award notices. I am precisely focusing on those items as a result of comments made by Members of the House, including my hon. Friend.

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Business of the House

11.30 am

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week after the recess?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business of the House for the week after the Whitsun recess is as follows:

Monday 6 June—Second Reading of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill.

Tuesday 7 June—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 8 June—Opposition Day [1st Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 June—Second Reading of the Consumer Credit Bill.

Friday 10 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will include:

Monday 13 June—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that there will be a debate on the national service framework for coronary heart disease in Westminster Hall on Thursday 9 June.

I am sure that all Members will wish to join me in warmly congratulating Liverpool football club on winning the European cup last night in Istanbul—part of a series of victories for teams in red this month.

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. I am sure all of us on the Opposition Benches will echo the words of congratulation to Liverpool. As a Manchester United supporter, I am, none the less, delighted to see the team in red from the other side of the north-west doing well on this particular occasion. My congratulations go to them.

May I also congratulate Labour Members on actually having remembered to turn up today? I remind those who are not so familiar with business questions that they do not just have to sit there listening to Opposition Members; they are allowed to ask questions as well. We look forward to hearing from them this week.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House about the timetable for the establishment of Select Committees and Select Committee Chairmen appointments. Since then, there have been rumours around the House that the Government will try to do, once again, what they did in the last Parliament, which is to try to ensure that they do not have any troublemakers in the chairmanships of Select Committees. He will remember what happened the last time the Government tried to do that. Will he give the House a clear undertaking that this is not about to happen again?

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to read early-day motion 228?

[That this House commends the campaign to protect rural England for its work in highlighting the 50th year of the green belt and in defending green spaces; notes the risk that the Government's policies on development in the South East, East Anglia and in other regions will lead to
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the disappearance of many parts of rural England; and calls for an urgent review of the environmental impact of those policies to guarantee the green belt for the next 50 years.]

The early-day motion marks the 50th anniversary of the green belt and commends the Campaign to Protect Rural England for its work in highlighting the importance of the green belt. Ministers often declare their support for the green belt, but the CPRE says that planning authorities are being given mixed messages from the Government about green belt protection. Can we have an early debate on the green belt, and can the Government give us assurances that they will protect the existing green belt during the lifetime of this Parliament?

Will the Leader of the House also hold a debate in Government time on plans to quadruple inspection costs for the network of charitable multiple sclerosis therapy centres? These organisations do extremely valuable work, and are funded voluntarily. Is he happy that his colleagues now appear to be asking people to shake tins outside Sainsbury's on a Saturday to raise funds for the Government?

Finally, does the Leader of the House remember writing a letter to The Guardian back in 1996 attacking the then Government for not allowing enough time to debate important issues in the House? Can I take it that, given his concern at that time, he will now ensure that the House has much more time to debate important issues and that he will not be resorting to the guillotine in the way that his two predecessors did on so many occasions?

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not intend to describe any right hon. or hon. Member as a troublemaker—that expression certainly would never cross my lips. It is important that we get Select Committees established before the summer recess, as I indicated last week, and it is also important of course that we respect the democratic traditions of the parties represented in the House as they go through their appropriate procedures to nominate Committee members. That process is under way, certainly on this side of the House.

The Government attach enormous importance to the green belt. I have not read the detail of early-day motion 228, but I shall do so in due course. There is obviously the possibility of an early debate on the green belt in Opposition time given that we are yet to learn from the official Opposition the subject matter of the Opposition day debate during the week after next. I am sure that the green belt would be an appropriate subject for that occasion.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the voluntary sector and the work that it does to raise funds for a wide variety of causes, but I simply do not accept that we are asking any voluntary organisation to do the work that the Government properly should.

The hon. Gentleman has obviously done his research well on my extensive correspondence with The Guardian when I was in opposition. I made it clear last week that there are occasions when Members of Parliament in opposition take a slightly different view from that which they take in government. I had experience of that when I was in opposition and listened to many people in
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government who now seem to take a different view on important issues, such as the allocation of parliamentary time. I hope that he will appreciate that it is important not only that there is sufficient time for the scrutiny of legislation, but that we are able to cover as many subjects as hon. Members wish to raise.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Can my right hon. Friend give the House an indication of how quickly we can vote on smoking in public places, which affects many people in this country and, even more importantly, workers' health? I have always approached the issue from the protection of workers' health angle. I do not like bans, but do not believe that people who work in bars, cafés, restaurants and clubs should be putting their health at risk. The sooner we can have a debate and vote on the matter in the House, the better.

Mr. Hoon: The Government agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the matter, especially as far as it affects those who work in places where they might be affected by other people's smoke, and that was why we included a Bill to deal with the issue in the Queen's Speech. I am thus confident that the House will have the opportunity to debate the matter during this parliamentary Session.

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