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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House reconsider his rather light-hearted response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) about energy supplies? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the previous Energy Minister, the hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), has on at least two occasions in this House said that there could be a gas shortage in this country were there to be a cold winter either this year or next? Is he also aware that the Government's report on energy supplies in July for which provision was made in the Energy Act 2003 simply because of Conservative pressurewas rather flimsy on gas supplies? Is it not time for that debate to take place?
Mr. Hoon: I apologise if I gave the impression of not taking that important issue seriouslyI certainly do. My constituency is a former coal-mining area, as the hon. Gentleman will know well having spent a very short time there once during an election campaign[Interruption.] I knew that some Members would eventually get there.
The Government take the issue extremely seriously. It is vital that we have appropriate supplies of energy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out in his recent speech at the Labour party conference the importance of securing sufficient and effective supplies of energy for the future.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the genuine concerns expressed by the trade union movement and employer organisations about the future of manufacturing in this country. Although the Government have a proud record of low unemployment, we are still losing too many jobs in the manufacturing sector. I therefore ask for an urgent debate on manufacturing because there is a perception among people outside the Houserightly or wronglythat we do not give the priority to manufacturing that it deserves.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, not least because, as he rightly observed, there is a perception that somehow manufacturing in this country is not a success. It is an outstanding success. The truth is that it is so successful because we are able to deliver the same levels of outputindeed, greater levelswith a smaller number of people. The challenge for the country is to continue to support manufacturing effectively and efficiently, to allow the industry to continue to compete successfully around the world. We should certainly go on discussing and debating those issues to give them the right priority in the country.
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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Leader of the House knows the Peak district very well, but is he aware of the great concern about planning applications for quarries? An inspection was due to start in September, but it has now been postponed for six months. The authority was ready to make its case, but the planning inspector decided that insufficient time had been set aside. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister makes a statement, perhaps next week, because the Peak district has the largest number of quarriesmore than 70 active or inactive sitesof any national park in the country?
Mr. Hoon: I am familiar with the issues, and I recognise that there has been concern for many years about the planning process as far as the Peak District national park and our other splendid open areas are concerned. If the right hon. Gentleman has suggestions for improving the planning process, I anticipate that my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be pleased to hear them.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Given the imminent publication of the chief medical officer's response to the recommendations in Dame Janet's fifth report on Shipman, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have an urgent debate in the Chamber on the issues arising from the report?
Mr. Hoon: Until the report is published, I cannot anticipate what time will be available. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue, however, and once the report is published I will consider the matter again.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): The Leader of the House's response to the question from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) about European scrutiny is welcome. Will he give us a timetable, however, for when the European Standing Committees will meet again, given that, since the general election, we have been without such Committees, which probably weakens our scrutiny? Will he consider having an annual debate on the Floor of the House in the light of the Council's published annual programme, and a quinquennial debate over two or three days on the Commission's five-year programme?
On the hon. Gentleman's latter observations, there are regular opportunities to debate European matters. My experience of such debates is that they are not always the best attended, but perhaps I could offer a deal whereby we would table opportunities for such debates if we could ensure that a reasonable number of Members were willing to participate in them. I would be delighted to hear the five-hour speech that the hon. Gentleman is offering, but having occasionally sat through speeches of a similar length from certain Opposition Members I do not anticipate that it would necessarily be the best use of parliamentary time. I am grateful for his observations on European scrutiny, however, and I believe that the current
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ad hoc arrangements provide effective scrutiny. He is right to say that we will need to establish permanent arrangements in due course.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Following the Leader of the House's response to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), may I ask him to reflect on the fact that it was unfortunate, to say the least, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did not come to the Dispatch Box yesterday to make a statement? In the light of the Independent Monitoring Commission's recently published report, which makes it clear that it is too early to be certain about the Provisional IRA's welcome declaration that the war is over and states deliberately that it has no recommendation to make on allowances, will he assure us that he will not rush to the House to change the allowance regime for Sinn Fein Members until we are all totally satisfied that the war is really over?
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland, so I will not trade my more modest knowledge with his. Given the long history of difficulty, trouble and violence in Northern Ireland, it seems to meI am not offering my judgment in place of the judgment of those with greater experiencethat, at this stage at any rate, in the light of that historic announcement it is not inappropriate that the House and the Government should respond modestly to try to encourage greater confidence on all sides in Northern Ireland, in the hope of moving towards a more permanent settlement. If we all sit back and say, "There is no change, and can be no change," there will be no change. We have a responsibility to try to make some progress in this difficult area.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): May I press the Leader of the House on his answer? Although it might be true that the action taken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland might be consistent with legislation, surely it is morally wrong that, after one month of the IRA's declaration, and while the Government promise that they will test the intentions of the IRA, the Government have now moved on this. Surely the Leader of the House realises that concessions to known gangsters and murderers drive back the possibility of the early restoration of devolved government rather than press it ahead. We need a debate in the House.
Again, the hon. Gentleman has far more experience in these matters than I have. Sometimes, however, perhaps we should stand aside from the strong feelings and emotions in Northern Ireland, and surely this very modest proposal is a way of continuing to test the so-far successful approach of Sinn Fein to peace in Northern Ireland. By making this modest adjustment, we are not risking gangsters or further violence. All we are doing is trying to provide a modest degree of encouragement to a peace process that we all want to succeed.
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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Leader of the House looks a pretty slim and fit sort of guy, but is he aware that if, God forbid, he were to have a heart attack, the best place to have it would be Staffordshire because ambulance service response rates are the fastest in Europe, which is what saves lives? Is he also aware, however, that under Government proposals to merge Staffordshire ambulance service with West Midlands ambulance service response times will be reduced? May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the future of Staffordshire ambulance service, given that it is Government proposals that are jeopardising the safety of Staffordshire residents and possibly even of the Leader of the House himself?
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