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As the Leader of the House prepares the rest of the parliamentary timetable up to Christmas, will he make time for the House to debate and question Ministers on
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how we can tackle some of the absurd regulations and political correctness in our public services, which are making so many people say that Britain has gone completely barmy?
May we have an update from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister about the impact on council tax and local authority resourcing of the new regulations that require every piece of electrical work done in homes to be inspected by a local authority inspector? Will the Government tell us whether any authority has actually managed to conform to those rules?
May we have a statement from a Home Office Minister about the guidance given to police forces on witness statements? Is the Leader of the House aware that a woman in Manchester who was injured in a hit-and-run accident was told off for describing the driver as "fat"? Apparently, the Greater Manchester police force follows an appropriate language guide. Is it not better to record the words of witnesses, and not to try to make them conform to official guidelines?
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the Data Protection Act 1998, following a case that came to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)? His constituent's car was vandalised by someone who was caught and cautioned by the police. However, because of the Act, the police would not reveal the name of the culprit, so my hon. Friend's constituent could not sue for damages and had to pay the bill himself.
May we have a statement from a Transport Minister on the absurdly rigid rules that apply to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency? One of my constituents told me that the previous owners of her house had moved to Spain and were using their driving licences with the old address to obtain loans and other money fraudulently. However, the DVLA says that it cannot change the official records unless the fraudsters themselves notify it of a change of address.
As the Leader of the House prepares the business for up to Christmas, will he take the time to make an unequivocal statement to the House on the importance of Christmas? Will he make it absolutely clear that local authorities that rename Christmas lights as "winter lights" and public sector bodies that downplay, or even cancel, Christmas to avoid upsetting minorities are more likely to damage community relations than help them? Is not the fact that that situation seems to get worse every year another example of Britain going barmy under this Government?
I can only congratulate the hon. Gentleman, or his researchers, on the assiduous trawling that he appears to have done across our tabloid newspapers and, no doubt, their diary columns. None of the illustrations that he gave denotes any particular underlying problem. There may be stories about those cases and they all cause a good deal of amusement at this time of the year. No doubt as we approach Christmas, which I am happy to say I strongly support, I shall be engaging in the delicate discussion of whether I put Geoff, Geoffrey or "From the Minister" on my Christmas cards. Such decisions always face Ministers at this time of the year and are of course the toughest ones.
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Each of the hon. Gentleman's examples were illustrations of the problems that can obviously arise as human beings try to deal with the complexities of modern society, but I assure him, in the light of his observation about witness statements, that I shall always describe him as follically challenged.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I say to Leader of the House that in view of what he said I shall check carefully how he has signed his name when I receive my Christmas card from him this year?
May we have an urgent debate on the operation of the Insolvency Service, particularly in relation to the liquidation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International? As my right hon. Friend knows, the litigation has ended but the liquidation continues. The creditors have been waiting 14 years for the closure of the liquidation process. The only organisations and individuals to benefit have been the lawyers and the accountants and it is high time, after 14 years and 10 Trade and Industry Secretaries, that we brought an end to the liquidation. May we have a debate on that important matter?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has pursued the matter assiduously, in the interests not only of his constituents but of a large number of people throughout the country who are terribly affected by that banking operation. He is right that they should not have to wait so long. I assure him that within the limits of our responsibilities we shall pursue the matter properly.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate entitled "The Government understanding of urgency", with the subtitle, "How many Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions does it take to change a CSA?" Following the rather meandering reply that the Prime Minister gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) yesterday, is not it clear that something that urgently needed reform in 1998 has in fact not been reformed and is still hugely underperforming, and that it is time that we had a replacement for the Child Support Agency to stop our constituents being affected adversely?
Notwithstanding the fact that the Identity Cards Bill is in another place, may we have a debate on the likely efficacy of identity cards in the light of the comments of Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, who said yesterday:
May we have a debate on employment policy in the light of the Pensions Commission's likely responsenamely, to suggest an increase in the pension age? Is not it important that we do something to combat age discrimination in employment, to ensure that people have the opportunity to work in their late middle age to contribute to the economy?
Lastly, may we have a debate on what on earth is going on in the Cabinet Office? Not only do we not have a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster after well over a week, we now have the letter from Sir Gus O'Donnell
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to Mr. Samson, at the publisher Weidenfeld and Nicholson, relating to Sir Christopher Meyer's bookwhich made for interesting reading, but was not entirely appropriate as a book. However, Sir Gus O'Donnell said that the Government had no comments to make about the proposed book. Is not that extraordinary?
Mr. Hoon: No one is suggesting that there is no room for improvement in the Child Support Agency, but I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that the CSA is dealing with about 1.4 million separate cases. About 511,000 cases are on a new system; 652,000 cases are on an older computer system; and 286,000 cases have been moved from the old system to the new system. That demonstrates that there has been significant change. Indeed, the Government's reform arrangements mean that whereas under the old scheme only about 50 per cent. of non-resident parents had a nil assessment, under the new scheme just under 90 per cent. pay at least £5 a week. The new, more streamlined system has meant that more parents are contributing. However, I am not suggesting to the House for a momentneither was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterdaythat there are no further issues of reform, improvement and streamlining the system that do not need addressing. That is why there is a review, and it is why that review must improve still further the arrangements for child support.
As for ID cards[Interruption.] I am perfectly willing to answer only one of the questions, but the hon. Gentleman asked a number, as ever, and referred to Dame Stella Rimington's observations, in a personal capacity, about identity cards. Perhaps I could encourage hon. Members to read all the comments. I realise that, first thing in the morning, there is always a temptation simply to look at the headline or perhaps the first paragraph of the story, but Dame Stella's comments are rather more balanced than he suggested. She said that she felt that ID cards would have a purpose, provided that the technology was effective and that they could not be forged. That is clearly part of the Government's ambition and something that we have set out to the House on a number of occasions. If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate that again, I am sure that he can do so when the Identity Cards Bill returns to the House.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of pensions in the light of the forthcoming Turner report. I will not comment on leaked documents at this stage. I understand that the final report will be published on 30 November, and there is an issue that the country must address, not least because people are living longer. That is obviously something to be celebratedsomething for which, I anticipate, the Government will claim creditbut we have a situation today where four people are in work for every person who has retired. That compares with 10 people for every one in work 50 years ago, and it compares with the prospect of only two people being in work in the future for every person who is retired. That inevitably means that we must have a review of pension arrangements to ensure that people can lead a decent, comfortable life in retirement. There are challengesthey are challenges for all hon. Membersand I hope that Members will approach them in that proper and sophisticated way.
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