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Wednesday 20 JulyMotion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order 2005, followed by remaining stages of The Regulation of Financial Services (Land Transactions) Bill.
Chris Grayling: Last week's business questions were, of course, dominated by the tragic events in London, as will this week's be, as we will break at midday to pay our respects to those who lost their lives.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday about his plans to introduce new anti-terrorist legislation at the earliest opportunity, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition pledged the Conservative party's support for him as he seeks to do so. Will the Leader of the House indicate what timetable he envisages for such legislation to be introduced? He will have my personal support in ensuring that the legislation passes smoothly and quickly through the House, but I am sure that he will agree that we must not allow the recent terrible events to interrupt our normal democratic processes, otherwise the bombers will have achieved their objectives. So, may we have an early debate on the financial crisis facing many national health service trusts? In my constituency, the local primary care trust is asking doctors where it should make £8 million-worth of cuts. In other parts of the country, such as Hampshire, doctors are being warned that they may have to stop referring patients to hospital later this year. Will the Leader of the House allow the House time to debate how a big jump in Government spending on health can actually lead to health cuts in many parts of the country and to patients being denied the treatment they deserve?
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May we also have an urgent statement from Health Ministers about the food supplements directive in the wake of yesterday's unwelcome decision by the European Court to overturn its preliminary ruling and uphold the forthcoming ban on many vitamins and supplements? Judging by the comments of the Prime Minister and other Ministers over the past few weeks, the Government finally appear to have understood the absurdity of the situation, but can the Leader of the House tell us what they plan to do about it?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the House to be briefed before the recess about the threat of a withdrawal of services by criminal barristers who are in dispute with the Government over legal aid and who want to withdraw their services in September, before the House returns? He will share my concern about the implications of such a move for our court service. Can he give the House more information about what is happening and when we might expect a statement?
Finally, I congratulate the Leader of the House on his new weekly e-mail rounding up events in Parliament. But will he make doubly sure that the e-mail works? It has helpful links, but when I tried to use them last week I simply saw a sign saying "page unavailable". Next time, will he make sure that the e-mail works? I hope that it is only a blip in his plans for open government.
Mr. Hoon: The Government are committed to bring forward further legislation to deal with the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom. Consistent with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, it is important that there is maximum opportunity for consultation and I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for his indication of continuing support from the Opposition; I recognise that that is so for all parties represented in the House. It is crucial that we move quickly to provide our security authorities with the appropriate powers that they need to deal with the threat to our society, but at the same time it is equally important that we get any new legislation right and that it is brought forward by consensus. I assure the hon. Gentleman, as I assure the House, that the Government will move quickly in that matter, but it is important that we get it right. That is our clear ambition.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously been reading back copies of Hansard, as the other matters he raised are familiar subjects that have been raised repeatedly at business questions. However, given the huge, record increases in health service funding under the Government, I do not accept that it is unreasonable to expect NHS trusts to manage their budgets properly. In the unlikely event that the hon. Gentleman were to have experience of government, I am confident that he would say the same. As the Government are finding enormous extra funds for our national health service, we rightly expect that money to be spent properly and effectively, according to sensible principles.
Questions on food supplements were raised yesterday and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a clear answer on behalf of the Government. We want safe supplements to remain on sale, but we do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on industry and we want consumers to have a wide choice of supplements. We shall adopt those principles in ensuring that any legislation is dealt with sensibly and practically.
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I have dealt recently with the question of legal aid funding for criminal barristers, which primarily concerns efforts by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor to curb the considerable costs of long, complex trials. It seems to me wholly sensible, and in the interests of lawyers and their clients, that the costs of legal aid are properly administered and distributed to ensure that we continue to have the high standards in our courts that the country has always enjoyed.
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman's computer did not work properly. Of course, that cannot possibly be the responsibility of the Government, but I am sure that someone can give him appropriate advice on accessing the right links.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the proposed industrial action by cleaners employed by outside contractors, which is, I understand, due to take place next Wednesday? Can the Government use their good offices to try to ensure that people employed by contractors have the same conditions as those directly employed by the House, so that we do not have cleaners who are paid only £5 an hour, with no sickness pay and no pension? That is deplorable. We would not stand for it in our constituencies; we would make our protest, and we should do so here. As for the so-called rest rooms, I visited them only the other day. They are slums on our own doorstep. When we consider our accommodation for Members or Officers, why should our fellow citizens have as rest rooms places that Dickens would have recognised in his time? This is totally unacceptable. We must treat those who clean up after us properly and that includes those who are employed by contractors. Why have contractors in the first place?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has made his point with his usual considerable force. I can assure him that I have looked to have the matter placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the House of Commons Commission.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Did the Leader of the House read in today's press reports of a £2 million donation to the Labour party? Does he agree that it raises important issues? Does he recall that on 16 December 2004 I asked his predecessor if we might have a debate on the report of the Electoral Commission, which made recommendations that would reduce the dependence of all parties on large donors and increase the number of smaller donations? His predecessor was sympathetic to the idea of a debate, but nine months later we still have not had it. May we have that debate?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. The matter has been discussed at length over many years, though he will forgive me if I remark that only rather more recently by Conservative Members than was the case, say, before 1997. I simply make that factual observation and make no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. The matter seems to interest Conservative Members today in a way that it did not before, possibly indicating their lack of ambition to sit on this side of the House again, rather than remain
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where they are. These matters are important and the House should discuss them. Given the Conservative party's concern about them, it will no doubt devote some of its Opposition time to the matter.
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