Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab):
May we have an early debate on the movement of civil service jobs? Does my right hon. Friend know of the plan to close the Export Credits Guarantee Department in Llanishen in my constituency, thus moving 30 jobs back to London? Does he also know that, in the 1970s, a Labour
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Government moved those jobs from London to Cardiff and that the proposals appear to contradict the Government's policy? Will he arrange an early debate on that, given that there are some very aggrieved people in Cardiff?
Mr. Hoon: I am not familiar with the specific circumstances that my hon. Friend raises, but I shall ensure that the relevant Department contacts her and explains matters. She is right that the Government's overall approach is to try to ensure that jobs are transferred from London and the south-east. We acknowledge the extra housing and travel costs in a part of the country that is generally more overcrowded than elsewhere. I will ensure that the matter is examined and that the appropriate Minister contacts my hon. Friend.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Bearing in mind the fact that the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland do not have the opportunity to discuss openly and debate properly many serious issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House find time to debate the nitrates directive, which could put many farmers in Northern Ireland out of business?
Mr. Hoon: I have already told hon. Members about the Government's concern to ensure proper debate on Northern Irish matters. It is important to find the right way of allowing the citizens of Northern Ireland to communicate their views and their elected representatives to speak on their behalf. The directive is an EU matter and the House must resolveI hope it will happen next weekthe creation of appropriate European scrutiny arrangements that will allow European directives to be fully and properly considered.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may know that his predecessor scheduled a debate in Westminster Hall last Session about the work of the House of Commons Commission, thus enabling hon. Members to discuss its work in a way that had not previously been possible. The previous Leader of the House suggested that the debate might become a regular feature of the House's business. Will my right hon. Friend schedule a debate on the Commission's work before the end of the Session or early in the autumn when Parliament reconvenes?
Mr. Hoon: That is an excellent and helpful suggestion. It is important that the work of the House of Commons Commission, in which I am proud to play a small part, is properly understood and discussed by hon. Members. I will examine when it will be possible to schedule such a debate. It will probably not happen before the summer recess, but I shall consider as a matter of some urgency finding an appropriate date some time in the autumn.
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD):
The Leader of the House knows that the Department for Transport has recently completed a consultation on public service obligations for air services in the UK. That is especially important to my constituents, given their wish to protect flights between
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Inverness and London Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Will he ensure that the results of the consultation are subject to a debate in the House before their implementation so that concerns can be fully expressed?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has identified an important issue for his constituents and, indeed, for a wider group of people in Scotland. I shall certainly ensure that the issue is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I will encourage him to write to the hon. Gentleman. That may be a more expeditious means of discussing the issue than waiting for a possible debate.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Recently, my right hon. Friend responded positively to a request from hon. Members for a debate on Africa. Could I suggest that it might be an appropriate time to have a similar debate on the middle east? Clearly, events in Palestine are at an important juncture. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is either the first step towards a general withdrawal from the west bank and a viable two-state solution leading to security throughout the middle east, or the Israelis may regard withdrawal from Gaza as a final step, leaving a non-viable Palestinian territory and the annexation of the west bank by Israel, which could lead to long-term insecurity, not just in the middle east but in the wider area.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who made the recent debate on Africa such a success, and he is right to draw the analogy between Africa and current developments in the middle east. There have certainly been some positive steps in the middle east peace process in the past few monthsmy hon. Friend suggested that there is renewed high-level contact between the parties and a dramatic fall in the level of violence and in the number of casualties. We must all recognise, however, that the situation remains fragile.
I emphasise that the United Kingdom Government remain energetically engaged. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited the region on 7 and 8 June to offer UK support for both sides, and to encourage them to do all that they can to take advantage of the opportunities for progress. As part of our EU presidency, the UK Government will represent the European Union, including at the Quartet, and we will work closely with other international partners.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con):
The Leader of the House has announced that the House will consider the Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order 2005. Can he assure us that there will be adequate time to debate the eight local authorities involved? I say that with some passion, because his former ministerial colleague, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), invited hon. Members and their local authorities to discuss this with him when he was Local Government Minister. Unfortunately, he is no longer in office so I went for a discussion with his ministerial replacement. We had no discussion at allwe were treated to "Good morning" and "Thank you very much". There was no engagement with
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the local authority budget, where things might be going wrong and where they could improve. We therefore need an adequate debate.
Mr. Hoon: I am confident that detailed information will have been made available to the local authorities on the list, and there will be a number of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to raise his concerns about overspending by particular local authorities. It is important that they accept the guidelines set out by the Government, not least to ensure proper protection for people paying council taxes in those areas. He will be aware that since 1997, the Government have increased funding in real terms to local authorities by 33 per cent. Given that that is by far the majority of the money available to local authorities, it is unfortunate that those particular local authorities could not remain within their spending guidelines as planned. That is precisely why the Government have taken action.
I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman has meetings with Ministers on this question, they are willing to engage in discussions with him, but he should bear in mind the fact that there is a difference between having a discussion whose conclusions he agrees with and simply having a discussion. I am confident that he will have had a discussion with Ministers, although he may not have liked what they said to him.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In the next few weeks, many hundreds of thousands of parents and children will turn their thoughts to the process of leaving primary school and going to a new secondary school. My right hon. Friend will know what a stressful experience that is for families, not least because they are torn between the rhetoric of parental choice and the reality of growing numbers of secondary schools being able to choose which children to admit. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the whole question of fair admissions to schools, not least because the Government will shortly publish proposals for a new admissions code of practice?
Mr. Hoon: I recognise that this is an extremely sensitive and important subject for parents and children at this time of the year. I know from constituency experience that this is the time of year when parents approach their Member of Parliament if they are dissatisfied with the allocation arrangements. I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend is contacted by the relevant Minister and that appropriate details are supplied.