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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP):
As I take it that the Leader of the House will not afford a debate on education changes in Northern Ireland, will he afford a debate in Government time on the Government's proposals for the review of public administration? We want to debate not just the question of the future shake up of local government, but the implications for the picture of inequality that already exists in Northern Ireland as a result of the distribution of Government jobs, newly created jobs, employment and long-term unemployment, which all show a deep and graphic disparity, as demonstrated on maps produced by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. In the context of such a debate, we will be able to question what the Government are doing with jobs that were previously decentralised to my constituency and that are now under threat, and the implications of the electronic human resources contract being let by the Northern Ireland civil service, which again seems to be going the
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way of the centralised Belfast approach, and will add to the phenomenon of inequality that in my part of Northern Ireland is becoming known as the Hain drain.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for setting out his concerns in such detail. I am not sure that I will be able to do justice to the full range of issues that he raised, but let me restate the determination of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the form of funding for several initiatives in Northern Ireland. He is demonstrating that he takes very seriously the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Let me emphasise to all right hon. and hon. Members the opportunities afforded by Westminster Hall. There are not always sufficient requests for debates there, and several of the matters that have been raised, including that raised by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), may be suitable subjects for debate in that forum.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Leader of the House may recall that on 20 July I asked the Prime Minister to look again at the issue of prescription charges for cystic fibrosis sufferers. The Leader of the House will know that those people are affected by an historical anomaly that means that they do not get free prescriptions. Will he arrange for an urgent debate on the plight of vulnerable people? Given, too, the threat facing Alzheimer's sufferers in respect of drug treatment and the Government's failure adequately to address the issue of the early diagnosis of autism in children, a picture is emergingI am sorry to have to say thisof a heartless Government who are insensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable Britons.
Mr. Hoon: I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman's charge. The Government have shown themselves to be remarkably sensitive to the importance of allowing the prescription even of drugs that have not yet entirely completed the licensing process, to use a recent illustration, because of widespread public concern and the need to ensure that effective drugs are brought into use as soon as possible. I am in no way diminishing the importance of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, but they would be a suitable subject for debate in Westminster Hall, which gives right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to debate such important matters.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Transport Secretary to come to the House to make a statement on navigational standards on the Thames? If he is a driver, my right hon. Friend will know that Battersea bridge is closed to motorists as a result of the 10th strike in 10 years, yet it remains perfectly legal to drive a barge in the Port of London without any training and without a licence. Apart from the current incident, which is still being investigated, all those bridge strikes have involved misjudgement or miscalculation by the person navigating the barge.
I know that that is a very important issue not only for my hon. Friend's constituents but for Londoners generally. He is right to draw attention to the
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question of training and skills for those who driveI am not sure that "drive" is the right wordbarges. It appears that the new boat master's licence for inland waterways, which will become law during 2006, will extend competency requirements to freight-carrying vessels in categorised waters. It is obviously an important issue that needs addressing.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Does the Leader of the House ascribe the recent discord in the Cabinet on smoking to the fact that we have a fag-end Prime Minister? Will he call on the Prime Minister to set an early resignation date so that cohesion and some form of leadership can be restored?
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): May I press the case for an early statement on the Government's position on smoking in public places? The figures are well known and very alarming. Passive smoking kills 30 people every day and kills two employed people every working day. The figures are very alarming and we should acknowledge them. We are told in the press that the Government believe that a partial ban is feasible and a total ban is not easily policed. Those arguments should be expressed on the Floor of the House so that all hon. Members have the opportunity to hear them and, frankly, to dispute them.
Mr. Hoon: I have already made it clear that these are difficult issues that require a balance to be struck. When making such judgments, it is always the case that the place where the line is drawn will provoke different reactions from different parts of the community. It is therefore the Government's job, after proper and serious debate, to reach a conclusion. That conclusion has been reached. I remind my hon. Friend, in the politest way possible, that the judgment has been reached on the basis of the manifesto on which she and I were elected and that we argued before the country as a reason for voting for us. It is therefore a proper basis on which to proceed.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
The Leader of the House will be aware that this week in the House of Lords the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was amended in a very major sense by a large majority with all-party support. May I have an assurance that that
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amendment will be accepted when the Bill returns to the Commons? If not, may we have a guarantee of extra time to debate the amendment, which has a clear majority in the country and should have a clear majority in this House as well?
Mr. Hoon: The Government were obviously extremely disappointed by the vote in the House of Lords. It is important that the majority view of the House of Commons should prevail, although I recognise that in such matters it is equally important that there should be a degree of consensus. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be looking to achieve a consensus on the basis, we hope, of agreement in the House of Lords; otherwise, we will have to look at the matter afresh.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware of the Home Office's intention to outlaw the possession of violent internet pornography, as demanded by Liz Longhurst, the campaigning mother from Reading whose daughter was brutally murdered by a man obsessed with internet images of rape, torture and necrophilia, and who was recently awarded the Pride of Reading prize for her inspiring work. Can the Leader of the House tell us when these matters will be brought before Parliament?
Mr. Hoon: I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent. I have seen reference to her campaign in the media. I recognise that this is an important subject and one that all parents are concerned about, and I hope that she continues and is successful.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House consider making time for an urgent and full debate on the education White Paper, which was brought to the House with a statement this week? I ask because there is obvious confusion and great unhappiness among Members on both sides of the House, and such a debate would give us all the opportunity to air our concerns fully.
Given that we have already had this week a very long and detailed statement together with a very long and detailed opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, I am surprised that hon. Members are complaining within a matter of 48 hours. I suggest some detailed reading of the White Paper, as an opportunity for further debate and discussion will undoubtedly arise at some stage in the future.
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