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Mr. Hoon: One of the advantages of the general election campaign was that I was able to travel the country where I saw the excellent work done by Home Start and its volunteers right across the country. I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in commending the excellent work of Home Start in west Yorkshire.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time to look at the provision of maternity care throughout the country and, in particular, premature baby cots? Since the closure of the maternity unit at Hemel Hempstead hospital, mothers and babies that desperately need these facilities have been sent as far as Nottingham and Yarmouth. I should have thought that mothers and babies in Nottingham and Yarmouth might need those cots themselves, and we should have cots back in Hemel Hempstead.
Mr. Hoon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Floor of the House. I know that, in his previous position, he was assiduous in assisting Conservative Front Benchers in asking me questions indirectly. I welcome his opportunity to do so directly, at least on a very different subject from that which engaged us both in the last Parliament. In relation to the important subject that he raised, I will ensure that Health Ministers are made aware of it and give him an answer.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): A debate has broken out all over the country about respect, but can that debate be extended to this House? If so, we could discuss how our young people are engaged in our communities and look not just at what they do badly, but at what they do well. For example, young people in my constituency take part in many of the activities that are the glue of the community. They attend fetes and galas, and share memories with war veterans, ex-mill workers and those who have been engaged in the activities that make our community different. We need an opportunity to say what is good about young people as well as what is bad.
My hon. Friend puts her case extremely well and I would not disagree with her observations. It is
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important that this issue is recognised as part of every debate that we have in the House, as we seek to find ways in which to ensure that the significant investment that the Government have put into public services is made to work effectively by harnessing the good will of the population and ensuring that people recognise their responsibility to our society.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the House was hanging on your every word when you reminded us that the voice of the minority parties had to be heard in the House. When the personnel of the Select Committees is being determined, will the Leader of the House ensure that we are not overlooked and that we are in fact over-represented to ensure that that minority voice is heard?
[That this House believes that the London Eye has been instrumental in regenerating London's South Bank; congratulates the London Eye Company and its staff on becoming the UK's most popular attraction; believes that South Bank Centre (SBC)'s demands for a massive increase in rent is an outrage and that the eviction notice served on the London Eye is against the public interest and should be withdrawn immediately; and calls on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to use her influence to persuade SBC to withdraw its threat of eviction and accept an appropriate level of rent.]
This is a cross-party motion supporting the London Eye in its attempt to stay on the south bank opposite the House of Commons. If it is really threatened, we should have a debate on the matter. More importantly, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to step in, and to step on Lord Hollick, who, as someone appointed by the Secretary of State, is behaving in an appalling way?
Mr. Hoon: I cannot entirely agree with my hon. Friend's final suggestion, but I recognise the importance of this subject not only to London Members but to all those whose constituents regularly visit the London Eye. This is a sensitive commercial matter, and we obviously hope that it can be resolved satisfactorily in the interest of preserving a tourist attraction for the people of London and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con):
Can we have an urgent debate on the situation at MG Rover? I have raised this issue before, and there is considerable concern about the pensions scheme at the company. I believe that the pensions are safe under the pension protection plan and, in fairness, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has also said that, but only to the press and not in the House. I tabled a question to the Secretary of State on this issue on the first day that we came back, to ask whether we could have a statement on the application of the pension protection plan. A response in Hansard would have reassured the workers that the plan would apply to their pensions, but I have yet to receive an answer. That is completely unacceptable. There are many questions that need to be
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answered. Did the directors take money out of the company that belonged to it? Should that money now be in the pension scheme, if the Rover directors took money to which they were not entitled? If the pension protection plan is to apply, other people's pensions will have to be levied in order to pay the shortfall at Rover, which is clearly unfair to those other people. May we have an urgent debate in the House on this matter, to ensure that there is no Government cover-up and that we all know the full facts?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady is an experienced Member of the House, and I am sure that she will find ways in which to make an even longer speech on this important question in future. The position of pensioners from MG Rover is a matter of great concern. They are currently being paid their pensions, and it is important that that should go on. I can tell the hon. Lady that detailed discussions are under way to ensure that that happens.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that biometrics experts have cast doubt on the practicalities of introducing identity cards. Even with 99 per cent. accuracy, for every 100 scans there will be one false match. If that is scaled up to apply to a population of 50 million, that would mean that one person's scan would match another 500,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be reasonable for the House to have information on the Government's technological analysis of the gathering, storage and retrieval of biometric data, and on their cost-benefit analysis of introducing an ID card scheme? Will he ensure that that information is available to hon. Members before the identity cards Bill has its Second Reading? If it is not readily available, why are the Government introducing the Bill now?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend will know that there are a number of experts in this field, and that they do not always agree on the precise nature of the tests that are conducted. I am sure that she would not quote from a particular expert who, by coincidence, just happened to agree with her point of view. I can tell the House, however, that hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate these matters in full and in detail very soon.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Leader of the House make time for the House to debate the Attorney-General's advice to the Prime Minister of 7 March 2003 on the legality of the war in Iraq? In particular, will he make room for a debate on paragraphs 34 and 35 of that advice? Paragraph 34 states that Ministers are open to prosecution for the common law crime of international aggression. On such legal actions, paragraph 35 states:
The hon. Gentleman is certainly right; this is a matter of grave importance to me. As a distinguished academic lawyer, he will have studied carefully the Attorney-General's opinion, and he is no doubt preparing an article on the subject for some learned academic journal as we speak. However, I would refer him, for the moment at any rate, to the
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Attorney-General's interview with The Daily Telegraph, which adds further interesting information on the subject.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): In regard to the answer that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) earlier, he will obviously accept that the election on 5 May showed not only resounding support for the continuation of a Labour Government for a record third term but the rejection of a Tory Government and the belief that a Liberal Government would not be credible. Does my right hon. Friend also accept, however, that the pendulum did not swing evenly in that election, and that it is perhaps time to consider whether our electoral system accurately reflects all the different currents within the population? Such work was carried out by the Jenkins commission during the first term of the Labour Government, and it came up with an excellent alternative vote system. However, the proposal was then ruined by trying to make it into a proportional system that would have introduced first-class and second-class MPs and taken away the constituency link from many of them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the alternative vote meets many of the criteria in regard to people's concerns about the existing system, and that, when we debate these issues over the next few months, the House should be part of that debate?
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