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Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that difficult issue concerning members of the armed forces and the security services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will open the debate on the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This is not an easy issue for anyone, and no one pretends that it is.
The benefit that we get from moving forward with the peace process is clear. This is about reducing the level of terrorism in Northern Ireland[Interruption.]
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Opposition Members who are commenting from a sedentary position should ask themselves whether they believe that it is better to see continuing terrorism in Northern Ireland or[Interruption.] They are scoffing, but this legislation is necessary as it is part of the Good Friday agreement and the arrangements that were made with a terrorist organisation that for many years has been on ceasefire. We cannot have the salami-slicing logic that says that we can somehow make progress on peace and reduce tension and violence in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom without taking the difficult decisions that are necessary. This is part of a package. If we want continuing improvement in the peace process in that difficult part of the country, we must inevitably take these difficult decisions.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The Leader of the House has answered three questions about September sittings, but he has inadvertently not told us whether he is in favour of a debate. Will he state clearly whether we will have a debate and a vote on the restoration of September sittings?
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Would it be possible to have a debate on ovarian cancer? Of the 7,000 women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, tragically 5,000 die. Next week, together with the family members of women from my constituency, I shall present a petition to the Prime Minister in Downing street to ask that that take place. This is such a difficult issue. We need considerably more resources to research ways of diagnosing ovarian cancer.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue, which is vital to women and their families throughout the country. There has been a significant improvement in the rates of detection and cure for cancer across the board, but it is a particularly vicious form of the disease. It is right that she should highlight the issue and that the Government should continue, with the support of Members of Parliament, to put extra resources into dealing with it.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the state of our bus services in metropolitan areas? It would give me the opportunity to express the real anger in Sheffield at Firstbus's decision to increase fares again, some by more than 15 per cent. It is the fourth fare increase in 12 months. It is not surprising that passenger numbers are 30 per cent. down on what they were 10 years ago. Surely we need a change to the non-regulatory framework, which has seen continual cuts in services, regular fare increases and a regular and consistent fall in passenger numbers.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the particular circumstances in Sheffield as they affect his constituents. He will know that across the country there has been a significant increase in bus useage.
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Mr. Hoon: Right across the country. I would be happy to let my hon. Friend have the statistics. There has been a considerable improvement in the use of buses by the travelling public, and the Government continue to encourage that.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we had September sittings, as I believe we should, that would give us the opportunity to debate important issues such as animal welfare? We could then explore ways of stopping the cruel and unnecessary export to Europe of live animals for slaughter. That trade must be stopped.
Mr. Hoon: I know that that issue interests right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I recall from my days as a Member of the European Parliament that a number of colleagues consistently campaigned on the issue, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising it.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): According to the House of Commons Library, there has not been a debate in Government time on new services and issues related to young people for many years, indeed decades. Moreover, the "Youth Matters" Green Paper was published in July at the time of the tragic events of the bombings, so no statement was made in the House. Will he consider with colleagues whether it is possible to make Government time available for a debate on the important issues of the Green Paper, youth services and the wider matters relating to young people, which are of concern to many hon. Members?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has published the Green Paper, which contains great detail on the importance of providing services and facilities for young people. They are often criticised by older people for hanging around on street corners and behaving inappropriately. I am sure that my hon. Friend is, by implication, making the point that the Government have a responsibility to deal with antisocial behaviour and to ensure that young people have opportunities to participate in activities. The Green Paper is a way of promoting such activities.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Would the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the Government's flawed decision to close the Army Base Repair Organisation in my constituency, with the loss of 628 jobs? Does he regret the comments that he made when he visited my constituency in February this year? He seemed to suggest to the work force that Donnington had an optimistic future.
The announcement made by the Defence Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), was designed to ensure that our front line continues to have the best quality and the most cost-effective support in terms of the Defence budgetas, in general, Opposition Members observed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting, by implication, that we should not continue to provide our armed forces with
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that cost-effective support. That was the purpose of the inevitably difficult decisions taken to ensure proper support for our armed forces. It necessarily involves job losses, which I regret, but that is the price we pay for ensuring that we devote the right resources to getting the right kind of armed forces for the 21st century.
It calls for a free vote on smoke-free public places and has been signed by 49 Members, most of them from the Labour Benches, yet I understand that last week my right hon. Friend responded negatively to that suggestion, referring to the Labour manifesto. If that is the case, why did the Government carry out a consultation on the matter? Will he reconsider, as he knows that four out of five respondents called for a comprehensive ban? Does he know when the results of the consultation are to be publishedand if he does not, will he find out?
Mr. Hoon: I think that I also made the point last week that in the past my hon. Friend has not been slow to criticise Ministers for sticking to the manifesto. It is important, so soon after a general election, that we continue to support the manifesto on which she, I and other right hon. and hon. Members were elected. That is the basis for the decision that the Government have taken.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Is it possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for an early debate on road maintenance funding for local authorities? Lancashire county council has a budget of £40 million a year for road maintenance, yet it has a £600 million backlog. Over the past 10 years, there has been a considerable number of deaths and injuries on the A59 in my constituency, and the situation can only get worse. May we have an early debate on that important matter?
Mr. Hoon: That is an important issue. Sufficient funds are allocated to local authorities to ensure that they can maintain their roads satisfactorily. Obviously, they face different challenges in different parts of the country, but I am confident that Lancashire has sufficient funds to deal with current road maintenance.
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