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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I make no apologies for asking yet again whether we can have a debate in Government time on Iraq. Despite the welcome statement from the Ministry of Defence on Monday, there remain huge political questions about British involvement in Iraq and the military consequences of that. It is quite extraordinary that this Parliament has not yet had the opportunity to have a debate on this key subject while our Army is in the field.
May we also have a statement or a debate on the preparedness of this country to deal with avian flu, particularly the lethal H5N1 strain that is now developing across large parts of the world bordering Europe and has the potential to become a pandemic? We need to know whether we are fully prepared, and the degree of international co-operation in which we are engaged, in order to avoid what could be an extremely serious threat.
On 21 July, the last day before the longest recess that many of us can remember, we had no fewer than 63 written statementsincluding the statement that published the ministerial code. Did the recess come as a surprise to Government Departments?
Certainly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are significant military and political questions
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arising in relation to Iraq. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence took the first opportunity available to come to the House and make a statement on that question. We are looking forward to the referendum taking place in Iraq. Its political implications will be considerable, whichever result emerges. Obviously, we are hoping for a positive endorsement of the constitution but, equally, we shall have to recognise that if it is not supported, that is what happens in democracies. There would then have to be a consideration of how to take forward that difficult question.
The hon. Gentleman raises the important subject of preparedness for avian flu. I shall certainly ask the Secretary of State with responsibility for that matter to write to him to set out the arrangements that are in place.
On written statements, a number of Members on both sides of the House have experience of ministerial life and they will know that Departments are focused on delivering material on Friday afternoons and, indeed, at the end of a Session. That is a part of the civil service culture that even this Government have not yet been able to change.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House ensure that any report from the Cabinet Sub-Committee that is looking at electoral reform is brought before the House for debate, so that the House can quickly come to the conclusion that there is nothing representative about proportional representation? If any Members support proportional representation, perhaps my right hon. Friend will confirm that they can use their European travel allowance to visit Berlin to see it in action?
Mr. Hoon: I recognise that this subject interests Members of the House profoundly and I am sure that my hon. Friend's strong views on it will be taken account of when the consultation paper is published.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The House will have been surprised by the response from the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House in asking for a debate on the health service. Is it not clear that the Leader of the House views these matters with a detachment and ignorance that do not match what is going on in the country? It is clearly true that the Government have invested very substantial sums in the health service, but in the south-east of England there is a major crisis, which our constituents demand should be debated in the House so that the Government may be held to account for the failings that are causing considerable difficulties.
Mr. Hoon: I simply do not recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman has given. The amounts of money available to the south of England are consistent with those being made available elsewhere. Indeed, I have seen figures for the reduction in waiting lists, the improvement in treatment and the investment in wards and hospitals, which is available in the south of England as much as in other parts of the country.
In those circumstances, if the hon. Gentleman or other Opposition Members believe that there should be a debate on the health service, the Government will
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certainly welcome the opportunity to set out, as I did earlier, the significant investment that has been made. It is open to the Opposition to use their Opposition daysthere will be two such opportunities in the near futureto debate this important question. The Government will be delighted to have such a debate.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): We have just had 60 minutes of Treasury questions during which, for whatever reason, there was not a single question about the most important influence on the health of the British economy, which is the price of oil. Leaving aside the implications of the war in the middle east and the consequences of the hurricane for American refinery production capacity, is there not now a growing consensus that we are rapidly reaching the peak of global oil production? Is it not important that we have a debate about not just the price of oil, but the consequences and causes of the high oil price and the likely trajectory of oil supplies in the years ahead?
Mr. Hoon: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not forecast the price of oil, or indeed the availability of supplies, but it is clearI emphasise thisthat the Government take very seriously the question of energy. We are urgently looking at alternative sources, both renewable and otherwise, to ensure that this country has the energy available to meet its requirements. That is obviously something that we do, both on our own account through the European Union and globally with other G8 countries.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Given the importance that the Government place on education, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the serious consequences of cuts in school budgets in Northern Ireland? In particular, primary school principals are having to pay off teachers and classroom assistants, and, even more worryingly, cannot afford to keep on current or replace retiring school crossing patrol personnel, which is the case at Brooklands primary school in my constituency, thus leaving vulnerable children at great risk.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a specific constituency issue, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland deals with both that and her general point about education provision in Northern Ireland.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the near trebling of Government funding for affordable housing is very welcome. I should be grateful, however, if he would consider scheduling a debate about the balance of housing, given that in London, and particularly in my constituency of Hackney, there is a severe need for family properties.
Certainly, the Government take seriously the requirement for affordable housing. My hon. Friend will be aware of the efforts made by the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that there is a determined effort to deal with the various obstacles that have got in the way
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of providing affordable housing, particularly in relation to planning matters. The Government take that issue seriously, and I know that she takes it equally seriously.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Pregnant women in my constituency cannot get 12-week ultrasound scans on the NHS and are being told to get them privately, despite the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issuing guidelines in October 2003 stating that all women should have this service available to them. Indeed, in neighbouring Frimley Park and Guildford, the service is available. I therefore call on the Leader of the House to have an urgent debate next week on the primary care trust funding crisis that we face in places such as north Hampshire, where basic services are simply not available to my constituents.
Mr. Hoon: I do not doubt in any way the concern that the hon. Lady expresses on behalf of her constituents. Indeed, I recognise that it is important that women have that treatment available as is recommended. In one sense, however, she answers her own question by referring to a neighbouring PCT. The question that she should ask is: why is one PCT able to manage effectively the considerable extra budget received in order to be able to deliver this service, while a neighbouring one is not? That might be more relevant than challenging the Government, who are making significant extra spending available.
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