Mr. Hoon: I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's first observation, since he obviously has not studied the Labour party manifesto with the care that I would expect. It clearly set out our intention to launch a debate about road pricing. He will also be aware that the convention on ministerial statements is that Ministers are rightly required to make statements when there is a change in Government policy. This is not a change in Government policy, but an extensive consultation exercise about the extent to which members of the public would support the initiative of road pricing. We are not necessarily saying as yet that it is the right way forward; we are saying that there should be a discussion. Indeed, if he checks with his Front-Bench colleague who speaks for the Opposition on transport, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), he will find that his colleagues welcomed the initiative. If his hon. Friend had been so concerned about the need for a Minister to make a statement, he could have tabled a private notice question, but none was forthcoming. This is a debate. It is not a change in Government policy, and a statement is therefore not required.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's observations about the Opposition's support for this country's bid to host the Olympic games, and I am sure that his raising the matter today has considerably assisted the campaign.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations about the Licensing Act 2003. I am also grateful for the opportunity to remind those who might be affected that it is necessary to make applications by 6 August. The hon. Gentleman has provided me with a useful opportunity to emphasise the importance of that issue, although we are confident that everyone will have the opportunity to make an application in due time.
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I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning the situation in Zimbabwe. We know that the opposition there have today organised a stay-away, and we would condemn absolutely any use of force against people who are peacefully demonstrating. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to reassert the Government's clear view on the matter.
May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the recent report of the Council for Science and Technology on electricity supply and strategy for the UK, which shows that UK spend on research and development has dropped to 5 per cent. of the level 30 years ago? I think that that probably points to a crisis in research and development. Similar figures apply to new graduates in electrical engineering, so it is clear that there is a problem. Can we have an early debate on the issue, which we know is of profound importance?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important subject. We are all well aware in the Government of the importance of spend on research and development, and I have previously said to the House that we perhaps do not always devote as much time as we should to questions of science and technology.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving the business up to 24 June. Will he look ahead one further week, however, and consider giving Government time for a full day's debate during the week starting 27 June on Government policy on Africa? It would be entirely appropriate prior to the G8 Gleneagles summit for this House to have the opportunity to reflect the views of so many of our constituents.
Can the Leader of the House find time for a statement by the Secretary of State for Health on the tragic events at Stoke Mandeville hospital and the outbreak of clostridium difficile? We have had a lot of discussion about MRSA, but none as yet, as far as I am aware, about this very dangerous bug, and it would be appropriate for the House to have an opportunity for such a discussion.
To echo the point made by the shadow Leader of the House, now that the Leader of the House has a gap in his legislative programme because of the lapsing of the European Union Bill, is it not appropriate to introduce a small Bill, entitled the Licensing Act 2003 (Amendments) Bill, in order to reduce the threat that is being posed to so many of our village halls and sports clubs, which under the present arrangements will find it impossible to continue to operate and provide a social function in villages?
Lastly, perhaps we should hold a debate called, "Errata and omissions in the list of ministerial responsibilities". As I indicated to the Leader of the House last week, the Deputy Prime Minister has
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retained his former role promoting the interests of the north across Government. I have searched the list of ministerial responsibilities, but I cannot find any reference to the responsibility for promoting the interests of the south-west across Government. A Cabinet Minister must be responsible for that matter; who is it?
Mr. Hoon: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's raising the G8. We are examining how we can ensure that the House has the opportunity to debate and discuss the important issues, including Africa, before the summit.
I note the hon. Gentleman's kind concern for my welfare in relation to an alleged gap in the legislative programme, but I draw his attention to the huge volume of Bills that we set out at the start of the Session. I assure him that a gap does not exist, and if it did exist, it has been filled. However, I share his concern about the potential impact on village halls and sports clubs of the Licensing Act 2003. We have acknowledged the issue and will obviously ensure that its impact is minimised.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I declare an interest as the patron of the Society of Registration Officers. In the last Session of Parliament, the Regulatory Reform Committee rejected the largest ever regulatory reform order, which formed the first stage of a massive reform of the civil registration service. The Committee felt that the matter was too important to be dealt with through delegated legislation and that hon. Members should have the chance to debate the proposals on the Floor of the House. Furthermore, I note that the reform of the coroner service has leapfrogged the reform of the civil registration service. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate, or at the very least a statement, on how the Government will implement those long-awaited reforms?
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Royal Shrewsbury hospital has £19 million of debts, which are causing a great deal of concern. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate on the matter?
Mr. Hoon: All hon. Members can apply in the usual way for Adjournment debates. There is usually ample opportunity for such debates to take place, and the subject sounds like the perfect vehicle for one.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
Without wishing be misunderstood, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has not announced the Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill. Can we take it that the Government are giving the matter further consideration in view of the considerable concern that has been
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expressed both inside and outside this Housealthough no doubt if there were a Conservative Government, the same measure would be introduced. [Hon. Members: "Never."] Well, the Leader of the Opposition is very keen on identity cards. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind hon. Members' concerns? On a free voteif the Bill comes before the House, it will obviously not be a free voteit would certainly be defeated.
Mr. Hoon: I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is particularly keen to hold extensive consultations and discussions with hon. Members from both sides of the House before the Bill is read a Second time, but it will be read a Second time.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Could we have an early debate entitled "Government Promises"? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that on Monday the European Union Bill was withdrawn. That is in breach of a clear undertaking by the Prime Minister. On 13 May, he gave a Government promise that we would have a referendum whether or not other countries voted no. He said that on at least two previous occasions in the House of Commonson 20 April 2004, at column 164 of Hansard, and on 21 June 2004, when he said:
According to the Europe Minister, he also said it on 18 April 2005. This disregard for pledged words is bringing politics into disrepute. Can we have a debate so that we can identify which of the Prime Minister's assurances can be relied upon and which are to be treated as promises?