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I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance, which will probably not come as a surprise. I anticipate, however, that right hon. and
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hon. Members will have a vigorous debate on Second Reading. Obviously, the Bill will then proceed in the usual way.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a debate on the Government's excellent scheme to give free bus travel to pensioners from next April? Many of my constituents are disappointed, however, as they have been told that the free travel scheme will not apply to the Sheffield supertram. There is unfairness either for the people who use the supertram or for taxpayers in south Yorkshire, who would have to subsidise an additional scheme to extend the free travel to the supertram. If we believe in integrated transport, surely tram passengers should enjoy equal treatment with bus passengers.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I assure him that I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is made aware of his concerns.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that today is the date of the election in the South Staffordshire constituency. The Opposition clearly wish a safe return to Sir Patrick Cormack. Can the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on whether there is a better way to deal with those unusual but tragic circumstances in which a candidate dies during a campaign that does not involve a constituency being disenfranchised for two months?
Mr. Hoon: Sir Patrick Cormack remains a distinguished member of the House of Commons Commission. I need to be careful about what I say about the prospect of his return, but there is a meeting of the Commission on Monday, and I am confident that the issue will be raised in due course.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of it, but next year the analgesic co-proxamol is due to be removed from the approved list, and GPs will not be allowed to prescribe it. GPs are already desisting from prescribing it, which is causing a great deal of concern among people who depend on the drug to manage their pain and allow them to carry on with their life. Will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate on such a matter?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue for many people across the country. It is important that those issues are dealt with in a consistent way, so I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health writes to her and sets out the Government position.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP):
The Leader of the House may be aware that recent figures from the Ministry of Defence showed that the shortfall in complement of the Scottish division was improving, with a marked improvement in the shortfall of the Black Watch. Given that new information, will the Secretary of State for Defence come to the House and make a
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statement to justify whether the merger of the Scottish regiments remains appropriate, whether it should be postponed and reviewed, or whether it should be halted?
Mr. Hoon: I hope that the excellent recruitment is the result of the tremendous publicity given to the Scottish regiments as a result of the proposals for change. I emphasise, however, that those proposals were not based on a lack of complement but on ensuring that we have the right kind of armed forces and the right organisation to face the challenges confronting the country in the 21st century.
Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I have a constituent, Mr. Fred Overton, whose wartime service in Japan was not commemorated by the Ministry of Defence with a proper medal. Many hon. Members have constituents who feel that their service in many theatres in the last war and succeeding conflicts was not properly commemorated with a medal, so I would like to ask the Leader of the House, given his recent career history, to arrange for a wide-ranging debate on the general principle of how the Ministry of Defence dealsor, indeed, does not dealwith the recognition of service in defence of this country.
Mr. Hoon: Obviously, I am not familiar with the case raised by my hon. Friend, but I am sure that Defence Ministers will examine it carefully if he writes to them. I can only say from my previous experience that the question of medals probably causes more controversy, difficulty and debate than almost any other subject covered by the Ministry of Defence. It is certainly important that these issues are debated, because they affect many brave people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of this country over many years.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) kindly pointed out earlier that in response to my parliamentary question yesterday the Prime Minister said of tax credits that
"we will not seek to get the money back if the error is on the part of the Inland Revenue."[Official Report, 22 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 798.]
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is also correct that half an hour later, the Paymaster General kicked the bottom out of that promise by saying that that would apply only if it would be "unreasonable to assume" that claimants did not realise that an overpayment had been made. The adjudicator's report clearly indicates that 50 per cent. of the complaints that she receives are about tax credits, and that 86 per cent. of cases find in favour of the claimant. The Inland Revenue refuses to change its view that while it cannot get its figures right our constituents ought to be able to do so. Would the Leader of the House do Dame Barbara the courtesy of ensuring that the adjudicator's report for 200405 is debated fully in the House?
I do not accept that there is any inconsistency between what my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Paymaster General said. A detailed and thorough statement was made, and right
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hon. and hon. Members had a full opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General a series of questions on the subject.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May we have a debate on legislative processes? Later this year, we are bound to transpose the European directive on artists' resale rights into British law, and we will probably do so by means of a statutory instrument that will be debated for no more than an hour and a half and will be unamendable. Similarly, two years ago, we reclassified cannabis on the basis of a one-and-a-half hour debate. I support the formerI did not support the latterbut the point is that neither measure is amendable, and one-and-a-half hours is simply not enough time. It may not be appropriate to subject either matter to a full legislative process, but could we introduce a third way whereby we have a longer debate and amendable statutory instruments?
Mr. Hoon: It is a matter for the House, but a Modernisation Committee will be established in due course this Session, and my hon. Friend may be able to make representations to it with a view to ensuring more effective scrutiny where appropriate.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If I may say so, I am not sure that the Leader of the House gave the right reply. As a past Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I think that the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is that that is a matter for the next Procedure Committee to consider. I hope that he will bear that in mind.
To return briefly to the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on village halls, on Saturday, I shall attend a fundraising event in a village hall that will also be attended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). As I have received many representations from my village halls about the impact of the Licensing Act, will the Leader of the House treat the matter seriously, as the Prime Minister did when he responded to a question about it yesterday, by arranging for a Minister to come to the House to explain the current situation and to give an assurance that the Government will review it in the light of experience? We do not want village halls up and down the country to have to close because of the additional costs that the Government are imposing on them.
Mr. Hoon: I am not going to debate with the hon. Gentleman the respective responsibilities of the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee. No doubt, we can discuss them in future in one or other of those Committees. As for the impact of the Licensing Act on village halls, I assure him that it is a matter that the Government and I take extremely seriously. It was raised with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and he gave it due attention.
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