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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on the prospects for this winter? Several hon. Members have mentioned possible problems with energy supply, so may I approach the matter from a slightly different position? If predictions of a severe winter are correct, many elderly people will be at risk. We know that when the average winter temperature last fell below 4° C, in 1995, 40,000 pensioners, sadly, lost their lives. Any money that goes to pensioners is always welcome, but 10 times more is spent on winter fuel payments than on the fuel poverty insulation scheme. We know that a third of pensioner households still lack adequate heating or insulation, so would it not be better to invest a little more in making pensioners' houses warmer not just this year, but every year?
May we have a debate on the tax credit system? The Paymaster General appears to be startlingly ignorant about what is going on in her Department. She appeared before the Treasury Sub-Committee yesterday, and when she was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) about the ombudsman's finding of "systemic maladministration", she said:
May we have a debate on conflict resolution? I hear what the Leader of the House says about the point made by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), but it seems that some decisions in Cabinet take an unconscionably long time to sort out. I am sure that we could find better ways of resolving disputes so that the House can get on with its business.
Mr. Hoon: I anticipate that the question of energy supplies will be important. I made it clear yesterday in a different capacityI suspect that is the right expressionthat the Government keep the matter closely in mind. We have planned and prepared. I do not know whether this is the hon. Gentleman's intention, but it would not be especially helpful to debate the prospects for the weather this winter. I assure him, however, as I assure the House, that we have appropriate contingency measures in hand.
It is clear that even the CBI, representing British business, realises that we have the matter properly in hand. We must take weather warnings seriously, but we must not talk up a crisis unnecessarily. I emphasise the fact that we have the matter fully in hand.
I accept that all right hon. and hon. Members regularly receive representations about problems with the tax credits system, but I suspect that my right hon.
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Friend the Paymaster General was making it clear that the problem was not systemicthat is my experience, at any rate. There are a number of cases in which problems arisegenerally, in my experience, as a result of significant changes to the circumstances of the people involved. Computer systems must be able to keep track of those changes and respond to them promptly, and I know that the matter is being addressed in the Treasury.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable interest, especially among Labour Members, in many of the provisions in the new education White Paper. He will also be aware of Labour Members' great enthusiasm for the White Paper's prominence to the concept of fair admissions. Does he accept, however, that the concept requires further clarification, especially regarding the role of selection by ability and by interviewing children? Will he find time for a debate on the concept of fair admissions so that we can clarify the matter in the near future?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to address this vital part of the White Paper. It is clear from my reading of the White Paper that it is permissive, in the sense that it does not provide a prescription for every part of the country. It allows parents much more say in the way in which their local school is managed and operated and in the various principles upon which it operates.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is describing a way of raising standards across the country but not necessarily saying that every structure for every part of the country will be identical. That is important because there are clear differences in the way in which children attend schools in London compared with other parts of the country. It is right that we find a way of ensuring higher standards that is consistent with what my hon. Friend says about fair funding and fair admissions.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware of the ongoing interest in the operation of the sub judice rule, not least in the light of the tragic events in London in July. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, has requested that the Procedure Committee look again at the sub judice rule.
The Procedure Committee produced an excellent report on the sub judice rule in the previous Parliament. Will the Leader of the House please arrange for an early debate on it so that the Procedure Committee, in the light of the Government's response, can further consider the sub judice rule?
I am sure that that excellent report was the result of the excellent chairmanship of the Procedure Committee at the time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not in any way casting doubt on the
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quality of that report in his suggestion about the need for further consideration. This is an important subject and I recognise that it is one that concerns right hon. and hon. Members. However, it is one that has to be approached with a degree of sensitivity. We cannot have unbridled commentary on current court cases. If that were to happen, judges and potential jurors would be placed in some difficulty. There has to be a balance. I thought that the previous report was a very good one. If there is serious concern that it did not go sufficiently far in addressing problems raised by Members, that is something that we should look at again.
[That this House condemns the decision taken by AMEC to close its Adlington site; recognises that the company was established in Adlington by Leonard Fairclough 120 years ago and its subsequent success has been based on the loyal and highly skilled workforce in Adlington; expresses surprise at the decision given that brand new office facilities have only recently been built at Adlington only to find that in a short period of time they are abandoning the site; and calls on the management to repay this loyalty, review this decision and maintain their site in Adlington, helping to support the local economy.]
AMEC has been based in the village of Adlington in the Chorley constituency for 120 years. The different generations of families who have worked for the company made it very profitable. Indeed, it is one of the largest construction service companies in the world. We found out yesterday that it is willing to close its base in Adlington, where more than 200 jobs are based. That is the way in which the company is responding to the loyalty of the work force. There is no compassion in the company. It is only right to have a debate on the company, and on the chairman in particular.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise an important issue for his constituency. I well understand why he makes the point. It is important that companies fully recognise the effect of their decisions on communities. My hon. Friend has made his point extremely effectively.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Health to explain the shambles surrounding the Government's policy on smoking? We have seen a breakdown of collective Cabinet responsibility and of the normal confidentiality that surrounds Cabinet discussions. Do we not need a statement so that it can be explained why a Scottish Labour Memberthe Secretary of State for Defence, whose constituents will benefit from a totally smoke-free environment in public placeshas used his influence to impose on my constituents a less healthy option?
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