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Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is keen to see progress, as are the Government, and I realise that the issue is vital not just for my hon. Friend's constituents but for those of Members throughout the capital. At this stage all I can say is that we will debate Second Reading soon.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): When can we have a full day's debate in Government time on the state of our agriculture industry and reform of the common agricultural policyabout which the Government are not clear, despite what the right hon. Gentleman said in an earlier exchangethe shambolic introduction of the single farm payment, and the many hill farmers in my constituency whose livelihoods have been decimated by recent flooding? It may be the case that we shall have Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions next week, but it is about time we had a full day's debate in Government time on these important matters.
Mr. Hoon: It is important for us, on behalf of the United Kingdom taxpayer but also on behalf of United Kingdom farmers, to continue the process of reforming the CAP. That is in the interest of UK farming. The hon. Gentleman will certainly have an opportunity to debate the issues, not only in the context of the European Union during the UK's presidency, but as he said, at the forthcoming DEFRA questions.
[That this House expresses its concern that today nearly half of all cash machines charge a fee for withdrawal; notes that five years ago almost all cash
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machines in the UK were free, and believes that this trend represents a real and current threat to the UK's network of free cash machines; recognises that if current trends continue, fee-charging machines will outnumber free ones by the end of this year; further notes that those on low incomes are hit disproportionately hard by charges and that the loss of free ATMs could cost UK consumers £2 billion per annum in charges; welcomes Nationwide Building Society's Free ATM campaign; and calls on the Government to track and publish trends on the growth of fee-charging ATMs to ensure customers are not routinely charged to access their own money.]
This is the third occasion on which I have raised the subject of ATMs that charge a fee, and the third occasion on which I ask for a statement and possibly a debate. Nearly 50 per cent. of ATMs now charge about £2 a time, and the charge is directed at those who can least afford it, the elderly and people in remote areas. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it constitutes a tax on those people, and is it not time we did something about it?
Mr. Hoon: I know that this irritates people throughout the country. It certainly irritates me. I use my ability as a consumer to select only ATMs that do not invite me to pay for the privilege of gaining access to my own money, but I realise that ATMs are sometimes located in remote places to provide facilities that would not otherwise be there, and I understand why in those circumstances banks contemplate charging. Nevertheless, the issue is important and I know that Members will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate as soon as possible, in Government time, on fuel poverty in Northern Ireland? It is a very serious issue. Recent figures that I have obtained reveal that nearly 55,000 households in Northern Ireland where there are children are in fuel poverty, as are some 102,000 households in which the head of household is over 60. Those are atrocious figures in this day and age. Good work has been done with the introduction of the warm homes schemeintroduced by Democratic Unionist Ministers in the last Northern Ireland Assemblybut a debate would enable us to consider what more can be done. One possibility is the introduction of a free central heating system, which has already happened in Scotland, to tackle the serious problem of deaths from cold-related illnesses as a result of fuel poverty.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is an important issue, and I share his concern. I am a little anxious about his statistics, given the significant sums that the Government have provided for, in particular, those of retirement age: £200 or £300 a year, as appropriate. Those large amounts should contribute to the costs of securing a warm home. I will, however, invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to respond to the hon. Gentleman's statistics and the concern that he has expressed.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab):
Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday our hon. Friend
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the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) secured a Westminster Hall debate on council housing? Is he aware that so many Members turned up wanting to speak that it was impossible to hear all their views? The debate followed the publication of two reports, from the Audit Commission and from the parliamentary council housing group. In the light of those facts, and of the fact that we are due to receive a report on the future financing of arm's-length management organisations, and of the strength of feeling not just in the House but throughout the country about the future of council housing, is it not time we were allowed to debate the subject in the Chamber, in Government time?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. If there were such a debate, he would doubtless recognise the enormous progress that has been made, not least in the provision of decent housing. Some 1 million homes have been improved under this Government, thereby enormously improving the circumstances of people who live in publicly owned accommodation. The Governmentand, I am sure, my hon. Friendare rightly proud of that.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House has announced a debate on Wednesday week on the setting up of Select Committees, which will be too late to enable the Liaison Committee to get up and running, and to meet the Prime Minister before the House rises. However, such Committees can meet in August. Will the Leader of the House inquire as to the Prime Minister's availability during that month, and if he draws a blank, may we have an absolute assurance that the Prime Minister will meet the Liaison Committee in the autumn, and that we will not miss the summer Session entirely?
Mr. Hoon: As I have made clear on previous occasions, the Prime Minister is keen to meet the Liaison Committee at the earliest opportunity. Whether every single member of it will be equally available in August is an issue that the right hon. Gentleman, as their shop steward, might wish to investigate. I await with interest the details with which he can provide me, but I can assure him that the Prime Minister is keen to meet the Liaison Committee, as and when it is established.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Prime Minister told us yesterday that the Government will listen to Members before making any decisions on replacing Trident. I realise that we will have a debate on defence in the world on 7 July, but is there not a powerful case for having in due course a focused debate on the Trident nuclear deterrent, with background papers provided by the Government, and a vote on whether we want to replace it?
My hon. Friend slyly dismisses the prospect of next week's debate on defence in the world, but it is surely a perfect opportunity for him to spend a Thursday afternoon in the House debating these vital matters. I look forward to reading his speech in detail, although I anticipate that I will not be surprised by its content. Nevertheless, that debate will be the start of the
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discussion of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear is an important issue for the United Kingdom, and for the future of its armed forces.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): It is clear from today's business statement that the pressure on the Government's legislative timetable is not huge; otherwise, there would not be so many Opposition Supply days being granted. During another very popular debateI am grateful to you for granting it, Mr. Speakeron the Licensing Act 2003 in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago, real concern was expressed about that Act's impact on village halls and shops. Moreover, earlier this week I met the Minister responsible for this issue to discuss the Act's impact on circuses, and the point was made that there is a lack of parliamentary time for amending legislation. May we therefore use this clearly relaxed period in the Government's timetable to produce a Bill that commands consensus throughout the House, and which amends a well-meaning Act to ensure that it does not have a devastating impact on certain well-loved English institutions?
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