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Mr. Hoon: This is an important issue but my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that, given the number of such cases raised with me, I incline to a rather stricter view of the rules than she perhaps does. That is an entirely personal observation. It is important that we strike a balance between Members of Parliamentand, indeed, members of the Governmentnot intervening in cases before the courts while at the same time allowing Members to comment on matters of concern, particularly those of concern to their constituents.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Does the Leader of the House recall that the Government's 1998 strategic defence review recommended small cuts in the number of frigates and destroyers and the construction of two large aircraft carriers? Given that seven years have since gone by and large cuts have been made in the number of frigates and destroyers, but there is no sign yet of the order even being placed for the first of those aircraft carriers, may we have an urgent statement from a defence Minister on when that order will be placed, given that it is only another seven years before the first of those carriers is due to enter service?
Mr. Hoon: I had fondly imagined that my change of position after the general election would relieve me of the pleasurable responsibility of responding to the hon. Gentleman on defence matters. I am delighted that he has continued to haunt me with these issues, and I assure him that there has been no change in the Government's position in respect of the commitment made in the 1998 strategic defence review to acquire two large aircraft carriers. He will understand that it takes a little longer to build those carriers in reality than may have been the case when he used to build their Airfix equivalents.
That this House welcomes the announcement in the Queen's Speech of proposed measures to tackle offences involving knives and guns; and urges the Government to ensure such measures include a ban on replica guns and a ban on the sale and possession of air weapons, except under licence for genuine sporting and other necessary uses such as pest control.
The EDM deals with controls on replica weapons and airguns, and is supported by 63 hon. Members. A similar EDM has gained the support of 53 hon. Members. Will my right hon. Friend point out that level of support to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and suggest that the already good proposals in respect of airguns in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which we will discuss on Monday, should be strengthened by means of amendments proposing the even tougher clampdowns suggested in the two EDMs?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government recognise that this is a vital issue, as the proposals in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill to which he referred demonstrate. I am sure that he and other hon. Members will be able to table amendments in due course if they judge that the Government are not taking sufficient powers. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes this matter very seriously indeed, which is why it has been included in that Bill.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing resentment among my constituents in Crockenhill and Swanley at illegal Traveller sites, and at repeated applications for other illegal Traveller sites in the green belt? Can he give the House an indication of when the Government's review of Travellers and planning legislation is likely to be published, so that we can see whether they are getting a grip on what is becoming a very serious problem?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have passed legislation to improve the position of local authorities when it comes to dealing with illegal sites. I regret that the ingenuity of Travellers in challenging the existing legal position has meant that we must continue to keep under review the way in which further legislation could have appropriate effect. I share his concern: all hon. Members come across this problem from time to time when their constituents have to deal with the appalling consequences of that sort of illegal behaviour. It is important that local authorities and others have appropriate powers to deal with it.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Can we have an early debate on ways in which we can encourage younger people and schools to visit the House? I do what I can to encourage schools from my area to come down to see Parliament. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Welsh Assembly pays the travel costs of schools that visit it? Could a similar proposal be considered for this place?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend will know that the House authorities are looking carefully at ways to improve visitor access to Parliament. It is important that we encourage younger people, in particular, to understand the processes by which legislation is passed and Ministers held accountable. That work is in hand, and I am confident that we will be able to improve the arrangements.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
Last week, the Leader of the House promised a full debate on all the issues surrounding the G8 visit to Perthshire. Apart from a welcome debate on Africa,
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there seems to be no announcement of any such debate in future business. The G8 visit to Scotland begins on 4 July, so when will the debate take place?
Mr. Hoon: I announced that debate at business questions last week. I recall saying that I recognised that hon. Members would be able to raise any issue relevant to the summit in the course of that debate. I am sorry that, having agreed to hold a debate, I cannot satisfy everyone and that the hon. Gentleman wants further opportunities.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will know that we are waiting for the Volcker commission's final report on the oil-for-food scandal, which seems to get ever deeper and murkier. Does he agree that the House should have every opportunity to look at that report to determine the implications for the UK, and in particular its relations with other countries and the UN? The US is carrying out its own investigation, and that process should be replicated here.
Mr. Hoon: This is an important issue and I am sure that my hon. Friend's observations about the oil-for-food programme and its operation will have been noted by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will respond accordingly.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The House expects a high degree of assiduity from the Leader of the House, but he has been dragging his feet. I have raised the crisis in NHS dentistry before at business questions, and drawn attention to the fact that 1,600 people in Spalding in my constituency had to queue for eight hours to register with an NHS dentist. The matter was raised again at Tuesday's Health questions, in respect of a different part of the country, Devon. When will we have a debate or statement on the extent of the crisis in NHS dentistry? The crisis is profound, and the Government must give a clear indication of what they intend to do about it so that they can fulfil the pledge made by the Prime Minister after the 1997 election that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist.
Mr. Hoon: As I understand it, the issue was raised in Health questions, when a significant exchange took place between hon. Members and the relevant Ministers. I do not doubt the importance of NHS dentistry. The Government have put a great deal of extra money into the health service to ensure that treatments, including dentistry, are available to everyone. If only the previous Conservative Government had matched that.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
In August 2002, an incident took place on the A42 near Worthington in my constituency. A Birmingham man with twice the permitted level of alcohol in his blood drove deliberately at a police car, killing PCs Andrew Munn and Bryan Moore, widowing Allison Munn and Sarah Moore, and leaving two children and three children, respectively, without fathers. At an earlier hearing, the man was found guilty of the murder of one of those police officers, but that verdict was overturned. He went to Stafford Crown court this week and pleaded guilty, but a legal technicality meant that he pleaded guilty only to the offence of manslaughter. Does the Leader of the House agree
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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for complying with our request for a debate on Africa, but does he agree that the very serious situation in Zimbabwe will not be covered adequately in that debate? A Minister must come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement. Does he accept that the Government and the country should take a lead in mobilising international action against the disgraceful Mugabe regime in Harare?
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