Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hoon: If I may deal first with the question of British troops deployed in Iraq, Ministers have kept the House regularly informed about their position. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening a touch more closely earlier, he would have noticed that I announced a debate on defence in the world for 7 July. I am sure that the debate will give my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence the opportunity to deal with such questions.

The hon. Gentleman asked about train congestion charging, but I think that he might need to listen a little more carefully because he elevated what was no more than a suggestion from the train operators into an announcement. That is not Government policy—there has been no change to Government policy on pricing. It is important that we do not run away with the idea that something that was no more than a suggestion by train operators is a specific new initiative.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations about progress on Select Committees and am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome that progress. It is important to get Committees, including the Scottish Grand Committee, set up soon.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on tax credits, but he has a perfect opportunity to hold such a debate next week. His party has to make up its mind about what we will be debating next Wednesday, so I would have thought that he would have the perfect opportunity to put forward the suggestion that he made to the House.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend how he would feel if he received a bill from BT for expensive long-distance phone calls that he had never made and was threatened with disconnection if he did not pay? Is he aware that thousands of people throughout the country face that situation, including a children's charity helpline in my area, because they have all been victims of so-called internet rogue dialling? May we have a debate on that topic so that the House can send a message to BT and other telecom providers that people should not have to pay for what they have not bought?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend made his point clearly and succinctly and I am sure that those responsible will have taken note of what he said.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Secretary of State for Health has said that all primary care trusts should offer one cycle of in vitro fertilisation treatment for eligible couples by April this year. A £10 million funding shortfall in my North Hampshire primary care trust, which covers the Basingstoke area, means that it cannot offer any IVF treatment at all now or in the foreseeable future, which is causing extreme distress among my constituents who want such treatment. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent and full debate on the matter because my constituents are fed up with empty promises from Ministers on IVF treatment when there is no money available on the ground to put it in place?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady raises an important issue and I am sure that those responsible will note her points. However, I must remind her that the national health
23 Jun 2005 : Column 951
service is currently in receipt of record amounts of money. That money is being given year on year, so as the Government are increasing funding to the NHS by such huge amounts, it is not unreasonable for trusts to manage that money responsibly and effectively.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the written statement produced by the Home Office today on the sectors-based scheme review and especially the part relating to the hospitality sector? It is proposed that that scheme should be terminated at the end of July, but it has proved extremely useful to restaurateurs in my constituency and, I suspect, many others. The Home Office reasons for terminating the scheme are, in my view, based on circular evidence: entry clearance officers refuse applications, thereby demonstrating that applications are not valid, whereas I know that one case was overturned by an adjudicator on the basis that anybody applying for a job in the UK was clearly doing so because they would be earning more money than in their country of origin, yet that was used by entry clearance officers as a reason for refusing the claim. That will have disastrous consequences on employers in my constituency, so will the Leader of the House ask Home Office Ministers to meet representatives of Indian restaurateurs to explore urgently how the scheme can continue and not jeopardise businesses that employ many people and provide a good service to many members of the public?

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Leader of the House answers I hope that every hon. Member will take note that I do not want long questions.

Mr. Hoon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was minded to say that we should not need a debate after the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), but she makes an important point and I will ensure that the Ministers responsible are informed of what she has said.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The Leader of the House will know that next week the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is to meet—once again—in the precincts of the House. Why do the Government permit three Members of the House to block the Committee from meeting in Northern Ireland? Surely, there is a requirement that the people of Northern Ireland see the Committee at work, especially as the three people who are blocking it come from a party that is prepared to go with the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs to Northern Ireland, to be members of that Committee when in Northern Ireland and to have their party representatives make representation to the Committee when it is in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that those responsible will have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): In my constituency, unemployment has dropped by 42 per cent. since 1997 and now stands at 2.7 per cent., but if
23 Jun 2005 : Column 952
we are to maintain that economic prosperity, is not it vital that we have investment in skills? That cuts across all Departments, so will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that we have a cross-cutting debate in Westminster Hall to consider skills?

Mr. Hoon: Recent employment figures demonstrate that, yet again, the Government have created economic circumstances in which a record number of people are in work in the UK. Obviously, it is important that we continue that progress and my hon. Friend makes a good point about the importance of skills. People who are without work now tend to be without work simply because they lack appropriate skills, so it is certainly important that we hold the kind of cross-cutting debates that he described and I anticipate that the subject he mentioned will be a good one.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware, I hope, that there are about 19,000 village halls in England. All of them will be hurt badly by the Licensing Act 2003. The Prime Minister was faintly positive yesterday, yet his junior Minister swept the whole concern aside in a sentence and a half in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall. Can we have an assurance that the Leader of the House will ensure that the appropriate Minister brings forward changes to save those 19,000 village halls?

Mr. Hoon: Again, I think that the hon. Gentleman is somewhat exaggerating the impact of proposals. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear the Government's strong support for the excellent facilities provided across the country. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, there has already been an Adjournment debate on the subject and it is obviously a matter that the Government take extremely seriously.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On Monday, a report will be published called "Where will the next generation of UK mathematicians come from?" The conference that led to that report was organised by one of my constituents, Dr. Tony Gardiner. Following the question put by my hon. Friend Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), may I ask that we urgently debate where our skills base will come from, especially in fields such as mathematics, so that we ensure future prosperity for this country?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Having responded positively to a previous question, I can see the opportunity for some good co-ordinated teamwork.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As the highly controversial Identity Cards Bill is rightly seen by many people as a major civil liberties issue, surely there is a strong case to hold its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. Can the Leader of the House give me an assurance that that will happen?

Next Section IndexHome Page