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Mr. Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend consider making time for an early debate on the issue of children's homes and whether they need planning permission? That is especially important in the west midlands where a company called Green Corns has been buying private properties, and housing children in their care in them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while those children must of course be housed somewhere, it does not foster confidence in the local community when it is done with no reference to local authorities, to social services departments or to the local communities in which the children are placed?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which has coincidentally arisen in my constituency, so I am familiar with the problems that can arise. He is right to highlight the issue and it is important that the Government look carefully at the relevant planning laws to ensure that local authorities are consulted about such proposals.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): It is six weeks since the general election and five weeks since the new Parliament first met. In that time we have seen the European constitution come and go and new Ministers take up their responsibilities. We have also seen all sorts of new policy initiatives announced, but we still have had no announcement about the formation of Select Committees, which carry out the important business of scrutinising Government activity. Can the Leader of the House tell us what the problem is and when he will come forward with proposals for those important Committees?
I appreciate the concern of the hon. Gentleman and of other right hon. and hon. Members, but I have set the position out clearly. It is a question of all of the political parties represented in the House making their nominations to the vacancies on Select Committees. That process, as I understand from my own party, is well under way and progress has been made. But the democracy of the House is dependent on the democracy of the political parties, and that process can sometimes take longer than some Members might like.
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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Last weekend, the residents of Ramsbottom, Holcombe village, Holcombe Brook and Hawkshaw, in my constituency, were surprised to wake up and discover that they had been fingered by the former Conservative Government as a potential site for dumping the nation's radioactive waste. Given that residents in many parts of the country have been made aware of the list produced by Nirex, which was finally published under freedom of information legislationmore than 10 years too lateand given that our Government have a far more open and transparent approach to the problem of radioactive nuclear waste through the work of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, does my right hon. Friend think it timely to have a debate on the long-term storage of nuclear waste, in order to assess the progress of the Committee charged with looking at this issue?
Mr. Hoon: That information was of course published by the Ministry of Defence, consistent with the relevant rules under freedom of information legislation. Such information is of an historical kind only and should not in any way provide guidance for any issues currently being considered. This is a good opportunity for Parliament to discuss the relevant issues, not least because of the publication of this material. But my hon. Friend is a skilled and experienced parliamentarian, and I anticipate that he will find ways to ensure that the debate takes place.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that on Tuesday we had the Second Reading of the Government's National Lottery Bill, through which they are attempting to commit one of the greatest acts of larceny in the 21st century. If he has had the chance to read the report of that debate, he will know that I pressed the Minister for more time to consider the Bill in Committee when the House returns in October. The Government are attempting to fob us off with four days, but to be fair, the Minister on that occasion did say that he and the Whips want the Bill to be properly scrutinised, which suggests that we will be granted more than four days. Can the Leader of the House use his influence through the usual channels to ensure that this incredibly important Billit creates the Big Lottery Fund, which is already up and running and has made allocationsgets the scrutiny that it properly deserves?
Mr. Hoon: I am slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman complain about the amount of time allocated. As I recall, the Second Reading debate was scheduled to continue until 10 o'clock on Tuesday evening, but for some unaccountable reason it finished rather earlier. I can only conclude, therefore, that the overwhelming majority of Members were entirely satisfied with the Bill and felt no need to speak.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the location of medical assessment centres for claimants of incapacity and industrial injury benefits? We have just discovered that Atos Origin, which won the contract to run these centres, has decided without any apparent consultation to close 21 centres, including both the Derbyshire ones. It would help to have such a debate, so that we can discover whether Ministers have been able to assess how
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severely disabled and ill people will manage to travel very long distances, potentially involving several bus or train journeys, in order to claim the benefits that they desperately need.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue that is, I am sure, of concern to many right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies across the country. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions replies to her.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on the case of Mr. Ian Norris, a constituent of mine who faces deportation to the USA on alleged price-fixing offences? The last of those alleged offences took place before 2003, when price fixing became a criminal offence in England, so it is doubtful whether grounds for extradition exist. Mr. Norris is 62 and in ill health, and needs the protection of his sovereign Government. I urge the right hon. Gentleman, in his capacity not only as Leader of the House but as a lawyer, to find time to bring this issue before the House or before his colleagues at the Solicitor-General's office.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has made his point very effectively, and I am sure that those responsible for these matters will have heard him. He knows full well that it is not appropriate for Ministers to comment on, or to intervene in, current legal cases.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how new wheel-clamping regulations and the licensing system are working? I would particularly like to know how they are working in villages such as mine, where a wheel-clamping firm investigates complaints, so it says, without talking to the complainants. It clamps people if they visit a particular group of shops in the village, and then moves to another group across the road, thus increasing traffic and congestion and partly destroying village life, which has always worked on the principle of give and take. Can we debate how the regulations are working in practice, and what can further be done to regulate such firms?
Mr. Hoon: This is what is described in my office as one of those hardy perennials. I recognise the concern that wheel clamping causes and the strong feelings that it arouses in constituents throughout the country. My hon. Friend will doubtless find an opportunity to secure an Adjournment debate, which is the appropriate vehicle for discussing this issue.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Was the business of the House so tight today that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was unable to come to the Dispatch Box to make an announcement on the appointment of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which is done by other means? The Secretary of State has appointed as chairperson a bigoted, anti-Unionist political reject, who will be incapable of getting the support and confidence of the Unionist community.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not discuss this subject in detail, but I know that my right
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hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has set out in a written ministerial statement the points about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. That would seem an appropriate way of informing the House.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that just before the election, the Procedure Committee produced a report on the sub judice rule and its application in this House in respect of matters before coroners' courts. Will he look at that report and find a way to introduce its recommendations, and does he agree that this is an important issue? For the past year, it has been impossible to ask questions about the death in custody of a Northamptonshire teenager. The coroner's court opened a hearing more than a year ago and adjourned it, but it has been unable to resume proceedings because the Crown Prosecution Service still has not reached a decision on charges. This is an important matter, on which it ought to be possible to ask questions and gain information.
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