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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his practical and realistic view of the September sittings. He was a member of the Modernisation Committee at the relevant time, so it is interesting for the House to hear to his thoughts in the light of our experience. One consequence of not having September sittings is that we need to examine whether there are other ways in which the Government can be held to account. I am certainly willing to consider his suggestion.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Following on from the many contributions on this subject, may I broaden the question of the role—and perhaps, in this case, the use—of public servants in political debate? Notwithstanding the Leader of the House repeatedly saying that Conservative Members do not want to hear the words of the police, may we have a debate on the role of public servants and how we go
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forward so that we can examine the proprieties and ensure that we do not see what many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel is the blatant political use of public servants in Government policy?

Mr. Hoon: I am beginning to have the slight suspicion that there is an element of co-ordination on these matters on the Opposition Benches. I get the slight sense that they might have been discussed earlier. Nevertheless, I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's question directly. It is important for the views of public servants and officials throughout the country to be communicated to the House. I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is objecting to. Distinguished public servants have a view—[Interruption.] Including former diplomats. In a democracy, we all have to listen to that view.

What I do not understand about this line of argument—perhaps the shadow Leader of the House needs to co-ordinate his efforts more successfully—is that it would mean that, when Members of Parliament were making up their minds on difficult issues, they would not have available to them the views of those who would be most affected by the decisions and whose job it is, if we are talking about the police, to protect this country. It is self-evident that we need such information so that we can make up our minds.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend schedule a debate on the effects of the Licensing Act 2003, which is due to bite from 24 November? I am perturbed by the problems that are coming up. Dudley council, which is my local authority, is allowing blanket later openings for pubs, but it is expected that that will have a devastating effect, certainly in Stourbridge town centre. I am being inundated with concerns from residents, businesses and the local police about what will happen.

Mr. Hoon: My constituents have raised 24-hour drinking with me in my constituency surgery. They have been alarmed about it, but not one single public house in my constituency has been given permission to open for 24 hours—I am not even aware that any have applied for it. The difficulty is that a great deal of mischief has been created on 24-hour drinking and overshadowed the considerable changes to the licensing arrangements that have been introduced, not least those that allow local authorities, local communities and individuals to have a much bigger say in the licensing arrangements that might operate in their areas. The proposals mean that local communities that are affected by licensing hours will have a much better opportunity to state their case and get their point across.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Last night, I was contacted by an upset constituent, Mr. Nigel Anderson, about his wife who gave birth to a baby girl at the local hospital at 4.30 am, but was told that she would have to leave the hospital by 9 am that same day, despite the fact that she was in distress and wanted to stay overnight. I understand that the local hospital used to have four maternity wards, but now has only one. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make an urgent statement on what seems to be an appalling situation?
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Mr. Hoon: I am not going to comment on that specific case, but I shall ensure that a Minister from the Department of Health contacts the hon. Gentleman to give him relevant information in response to what certainly sounds like an unfortunate occurrence.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 995?

[That this House condemns Hewlett Packard for abandoning their manufacturing base in Scotland and transferring it to the Czech Republic in order to exploit cheap labour in that country; and notes that 200 jobs in manufacturing will be lost as a result of this corporate greed.]

The early-day motion refers to the disgraceful decision by Hewlett Packard in my constituency to transfer its manufacturing facility from Scotland to the Czech Republic, which will mean that 200 quality manufacturing jobs will be lost. The decision was driven by corporate greed and the exploitation of cheap labour in eastern Europe. May we have a debate on corporate greed and perhaps review our current employment legislation so that we can stop these faceless corporate magnates from making decisions in which their workers have no input?

Mr. Hoon: I have read the early-day motion and recognise my hon. Friend's concern. I congratulate him on the way in which he has raised the matter. It is important for us all to have regard to the pressures of corporate competition and to recognise the efforts that the Government have been making to ensure that we have the right skills, training and education so that our work force can continue to meet the pressure of international competition to which he refers.

I know that my hon. Friend would not suggest that we should engage in wholesale protectionism because that would not serve the interests of his constituents. The Government must ensure that those people who have
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sadly lost their jobs as a result of the decision are provided with opportunities, training and education so that they can quickly return to the labour market. The healthy economy that the Government have established since 1997 makes that all the more possible.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I impress on the Leader of the House the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—I am pleased that the Home Secretary is in the Chamber. Yesterday, when others may have been diverted by the important debate in the House on the Terrorism Bill, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety wrote to hon. Members and chief constables to announce the interim decisions of the Home Office on police force restructuring. The letter makes it clear that the Home Office has ruled out practically every option for my local force in the south-west. The Department has posited only two options for the south-west: a south-west strategic force, or two sub-regional forces. Given that the House has not yet been notified of a decision of such magnitude—although I understand that a written statement will be made tomorrow—surely either an urgent debate or an oral statement would be in order. Will the Leader of the House arrange that at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear that there will be opportunities to discuss the proposals for police force restructuring. The detailed consultation exercise is clearly engaging hon. Members because several of them have raised the matter today. I am confident that there will be every opportunity to discuss any decisions before they are implemented.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government have cut funding to young enterprise programmes throughout the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hoon: I cannot, but I will find out.
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Point of Order

12.38 pm

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In response to my question about bus services, I think that the Leader of the House—inadvertently, I am sure—gave some incorrect information. While it is true that bus passenger numbers have grown considerably inside London, they have generally fallen outside London in recent years. Would it be possible for the Leader of the House or the Secretary of State for Transport to make an early oral or written statement to correct the information that was given?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): That is not a point of order for the Chair. It sounded very much like an extra question to the Leader of the House, and the hon. Gentleman has been lucky to get it on record.
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