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Mr. Hoon: We recently debated the European Union. I shall respond in kind to the hon. Gentleman's observations about changes in the EU: his party supported a series of changes in the EUBritain's accession, the Single European Act and the Maastricht treatybut now it has abandoned change in the EU, which is a curious state of affairs.
I am delighted to welcome the return of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and have already taken the opportunity to welcome him personally. We will carefully examine his private Member's Bill, which concerns unfinished business from the general election. My attention has been drawn to Lord Ashcroft's concerns about the Conservative party's position:
I do not know whether the hon. Member for South Staffordshire counted himself among those who thought that the Conservative party could win the election, but I am delighted that he has won his election.
As I have said a number of times in this House, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary closely follows the disturbing developments in Zimbabwe. I assure hon. Members that a statement will be made, as and when it is appropriate.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Hon. Members will have noticed that the Leader of the House has announced that a statement will be made on 13 July about the nomination of Select Committees. Will he share with the House his proposals on the structure of the Domestic Committees?
Mr. Hoon: Certainly; there has been a good deal of discussion over a long period about the appropriate structure for Domestic Committees. The matter is ultimately for the House, but I anticipate that some streamlining of the arrangements for Domestic Committees will be proposed in order more properly to allow hon. Members a say in how the House is administered.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): In a week in which we have celebrated the Royal Navy with the superlative fleet reviewI congratulate all concernedand in a year in which we remember the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, is it not time for hon. Members to debate the position of people who have suffered hearing loss as a result of service in the armed forces and who are not properly compensated through the armed forces compensation scheme? Early-day motion 306 sets out the case for those veterans.
[That this House expresses concern that many ex-servicemen and women who have suffered substantial hearing loss as a result of their service in the armed forces are being denied compensation through the armed forces Compensation Scheme; notes that a service person has to suffer a hearing loss of 50 decibels before being compensated, a level often only experienced naturally by elderly people; further notes that this is not the case across the European Union and the Commonwealth, where the qualifying level of hearing loss is much lower; further notes that criteria for compensation ignore the fact that noise-induced hearing loss associated with service brings forward the age at which an individual will experience severe difficulties in everyday communication and social participation; therefore believes that the Government's criteria for assessing compensation for deafened veterans is failing to deliver sufficient recognition for those who have made great sacrifices for their country; and therefore joins RNID and ex-service organisations in calling upon the Government to lower the qualifying level of hearing loss in order to ensure that all those who have served in the armed forces are compensated appropriately for any disability, and that those currently serving their country are not let down when their service ends.]
Every week, a No. 10 briefing takes place after Prime Minister's questions. As an innovation, will the Leader of the House allow something similar to happen in the House? He could explain what some of the Prime Minister's replies mean. He could explain why in two consecutive weeks the Prime Minister completely contradicted the Paymaster General on tax credits; why,
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until Hansard helpfully amended it, he said that there was no question of moving to a compulsory identity card; and what he meant by saying that he wanted to scrap rather than reform the common agricultural policy.
May we have a debate on university science courses? Since 1997, one in three physics courses have closed. Sir Howard Newby, the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council, has, in a masterpiece of complacency, dismissed physics, maths and chemistry as 19th-century disciplines. How myopic can it be to lose this country's science base through a lack of university teaching?
Lastly, could we have a debate on the subject of Home Office procurement of IT and databases, of which there has been some discussion this week? I remind the Leader of the House of section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which required the establishment of a national firearms register. Eight years later, after the expenditure of £5.4 million, we have no working national firearms register. What does that tell us about the ability of the Home Office to run a sensible database?
Mr. Hoon: As ever, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the long list of subjects that he would like debated. I begin, however, by joining him in paying tribute to the Royal Navyparticularly to the work of the First Sea Lord, who was responsible for organising the tremendous event on Tuesday, which I had the privilege of joining, albeit at a distance and consistent with my responsibility to the House in returning to vote at 10 o'clock on Tuesday evening, as I forecast would be possible when I was asked about the matter recently.
I recognise the importance of the House being able to debate those who have suffered not only hearing loss but other injuries as a result of their service in the armed forces. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are frequent defence debates, and I am sure that he will have the opportunity to raise such issues on one of those occasions.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is of course always a model of absolute clarity, and I would not expect to have any occasion or requirement to seek to clarify his observations in any way. He has never contradicted the words of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, nor she his. The Government are always a model of clarity on these occasions.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of science. I have indicated on previous occasions the importance that the Government attach to scientific research and the necessity of our maintaining a strong science base so that the United Kingdom can continue to compete successfully in an increasingly global economy.
As for the Home Office and databases, the hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the recent debate in which that was an issue. It has arisen on other occasions. I hope that the Liberal Democrats are not adopting the conservativewith a small ctendency of suggesting that because there are sometimes problems in the development of any computer programme we should not invest in computer technology at all. That seems a rather short-sighted view from a party that is supposed
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to be radical and to believe in changebut perhaps the Liberal Democrats are adopting a more conservative philosophy.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): May I raise with the Leader of the House the appalling pay and conditions of the cleaners who, day after day, clean the House of Commons? Should not we be concerned that they receive only £5 an hour, no sick pay, no pension, and very limited holidays, and contrast all that with what Ministers, Back Benchers and Officers of the House get? Is not there a very strong case for telling the contractorsI do not know why we have contractors in any casethat it is totally unacceptable and that conditions must quickly improve? We are Labour MPs, and we should not tolerate this situation.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. The position is slightly more complex than he has set out, in that those who are full-time employees of the House are clearly properly remunerated. There is an issue in relation to the rate of pay for contractors, which I can assure him is being examined as a matter of some urgency and with appropriate seriousness. I hope that he will accept that I should not comment further at this stage on those negotiations
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): In Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable has just announced the closure of 17 police stations. The marching season in Northern Ireland is always a solemn and serious time, and that news has come as a blow to everyone. Will the Leader of the House impress on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the need to come to the House and make a statement on this disturbing matter?
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