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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP):
Further to the question of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about the way in which Northern Ireland business is dealt with, the Leader of the House will have heard points of order in the House yesterday. This is a serious issue, because five Orders-in-Council are going through the House this week. Three further Orders-in-Council relating to Northern Ireland will be introduced next week. None of them can be amendedit is a straight yes or no votewhich is clearly an intolerable situation. I welcome the right hon.
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Gentleman's commitment to discussions with other parties, but can he ensure that the Northern Ireland parties are included in those discussions?
Mr. Hoon: I have already said that I take this very seriously and it is something that the Government would want to address in due course. I am readily available, should the hon. Gentleman wish to discuss the matters in detail with me, and I certainly wish to meet all the parties represented in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): When are we going to have a debate on the Strategic Rail Authority, particularly on the lack of investment in the Coventry-Nuneaton line and the need for a new station once the Coventry arena has opened?
Mr. Hoon: It is obviously important that we continue to increase the funding available for the railway network. Network Rail has taken significant steps in recent times to stabilise the financial situation. Indeed, reports that I have received demonstrate that that has been remarkable successful. After a long period of difficulty it appears to be on a sensible track for the future. As for the particular local question, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport writes to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Wellingborough is a large and expanding constituency where many thousands of new homes are being built, but it does not have a hospital with accident and emergency facilities. Can the Leader of the House help a new Member by saying whether it is possible to debate that matter and other health services in Northamptonshire?
Mr. Hoon: May I make two points clear to the hon. Gentleman? First, the Government have invested more money in the national health service since we came to power than any Government in history. That money is being used to provide new hospitals and new hospital facilities across the country, and I know that Government Members are extremely proud of that. I doubt that the hon. Gentleman could produce statistics on NHS funding by any previous Government that compare in any way with our investment. Secondly, on his observations about new housing and related planning issues, unlike our predecessors, especially a number of Conservative Administrations, the Government have sought to ensure that new housing permissions are granted only where there is appropriate infrastructure and support for the population. Many of the difficulties caused by new housing in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the result of the then Government's enthusiasm to build housing without considering the need for accompanying infrastructure. That was a serious planning mistake, and we do not intend to repeat it.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab):
When will the House be afforded the opportunity in Government time to debate the continuing insurgency in Iraq? Bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the United States, to which my right hon. Friend referred, may indeed be very close, but there is a clear
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difference of opinion within the US Executive, with one Secretary of State saying that the insurgency is in its death throes, and another saying that it might last for at least another decade. Surely that highlights something rather more important than a difference of opinion: the fact that a clearly thought out and well planned approach is needed to tackle the insurgency, which is rather broader than mere military attacks? Will the House be given the chance in Government time to offer its opinions on how the insurgency could be ended?
Mr. Hoon: I suspect that my hon. Friend will have precisely that opportunity later today, during the debate entitled "Defence in the world", which is one of our regular scheduled defence debates. Having been present during previous debates, I know that my hon. Friend has assiduously raised such questions in relation to the insurgency in Iraq. I assure her that no member of the Government, I perhaps least of all, takes lightly the situation in Iraq and the appalling insurgency that is responsible for so many deaths, not only of coalition forces, but of thousands of Iraqi citizens and civilians who have been targeted deliberately by terrorist organisations in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that more than 12 million homes in Britain benefit from having an affectionate pet living with them? Will he take note of the concerns voiced by organisations such as the Dogs Trust and the Cats Protection League and many other worthy animal charities about the progress of the animal welfare Bill? Will that excellent Bill be introduced in the House of Commons by October?
Mr. Hoon: I know how seriously the hon. Gentleman takes such issues and I am grateful to him for having raised the subject as he has. The Bill has been widely welcomed by animal welfare charities. It is an important measure on a subject that concerns hon. Members, not least because we all have a regular postbag on animal welfare matters. As a constituency MP, I know how frequently constituents write to me on such mattersan experience that I am sure is shared by other right hon. and hon. Members. I anticipate the Bill being introduced in due course, but I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a precise date.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Given the priority that MPs and, indeed, the nation now give to international development, will my right hon. Friend consider extending International Development questions to one hour in the new Session, so that development issues can be fully scrutinised and debated by the House?
I recognise the important of development issues to the House. That is why we recently scheduled the excellent debate on Africa, in which right hon. and hon. Members had significant opportunities to debate current developments. The time given to departmental questions is dealt with through the usual channels, but I
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undertake to consider the allocation of time to the various departmental questions and I shall respond to my hon. Friend in due course.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): In the light of yesterday's lobby by the Fire Brigades Union, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the regionalisation of fire control units, so that hon. Members can bring home to Ministers just how unpopular that penny-pinching and mistaken policy is?
Mr. Hoon: I assure the hon. Gentleman the policy is not about penny pinching. It is about ensuring that the latest and best technology is made available in support of the excellent work done by the fire services. It is also important that the approach taken concentrates effort and time in the way that provides best value for money for council tax payers. I have received representations from both the fire service and the FBU and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government consider the matter extremely carefully and seriously. We must achieve best value for taxpayers but at the same time ensure that we do not compromise the safety of the public, who depend on the tremendous work done by the fire service and the other emergency services.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): I do not know whether the Leader of the House has had time to read the early-day motion that I tabled this week congratulating Whizz-kidzan organisation that provides wheelchairs for disabled childrenon its work. Problems with the supply of such equipment persist, so will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the whole issue of the supply of equipment for disabled people?
Mr. Hoon: I have seen the early-day motion and I congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling it and other hon. Members on supporting it. The initiative is an excellent one, which is strongly supported by members of the Government.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), the Leader of the House was kind enough to offer the view that employers who are solvent should stand behind pension schemes. The case to which my hon. Friend referredthe APW Electronics case, which also affects constituents of mineis one in which the pension fund trustees were threatened by the employer with insolvency. It is important that the House make time to debate the question, because there are four or five schemes in the rather special circumstances that fall between the Government's financial assistance scheme and the Pension Protection Fund.
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