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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is on an overseas ministerial engagement. He has asked me to pass on his apologies to the House for his absence today.
I remind the House that on that day my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his pre-Budget report and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government intends to make a statement to the House on the provisional local government finance settlement for England.
Thursday 8 DecemberEstimates [1st Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. Details will be given in the Official Report. At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 13 DecemberOpposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. The subject is to be announced. That will be followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
Following is the information: In so far as they relate to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry (Fourth report of the Health Committee, session 200405 (HC 42)) and Government response to the Committee's Fourth Report into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry (CM 6655).
I hope that the Leader of the House enjoys his trip. I can well understand his desire to leave the country after the flak that he got last week for delaying the debate on police reform. I am afraid that the Deputy Leader of the House will have to take the flak in his place this week.
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Does the Deputy Leader of the House realise how angry Members on both sides of the House are that the Government have again published another week's business and there is still no sign of the reinstatement of the debate on police reforms, even though there are several days on which business is light? The deadline for forces to submit their plans for merger with their neighbours is 23 December. It is simply iniquitous that the House is not being given the chance to debate these matters before that date.
One way of making time would be to postpone the Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill until January. It introduces a new disciplinary system for the three armed services and, as Admiral Lord Boyce said recently, the armed forces currently feel under legal siege. Ministers have had months to prepare and it is not right that the Government are now planning to rush the measure through when the Opposition and those interested in it have had so little time to consider it. It is a 250-page Bill and, as yet, there are no explanatory notes for one of the most complex measures in the Session. It is not acceptable to rush it through.
Last week, the Leader of the House dismissed my request for an urgent statement on reports that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Drayson, may have been responsible for a company that sold substandard vaccines to the armed services. Does the Deputy Leader appreciate the importance of those reports? When will Ministers brief the House on what they are doing to investigate them?
The Leader of the House has also consistently ignored my request for a statement on the forthcoming Hong Kong trade talks. They are a fortnight away and the future of millions of people in the developing world depend on them. Hon. Members of all parties want to express their views to the Government. Why are we not being given an opportunity to do so?
When will the House be given a chance to debate the Turner report on pensions? Statements of the sort that we had yesterday inevitably allow only a limited number of hon. Members to ask questions and raise points of concern. The report is sufficiently important to be debated as soon as possible. Are the splits in the Government so bad that Ministers are trying to bury it without letting Members of Parliament have the opportunity to debate it?
Nigel Griffiths: The police reforms on which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and other hon. Members have called for a debate have already been the subject of a well-attended Adjournment debate this week. Let me remind hon. Members of the timetable. More than three weeks remain for making representations on the first key round of consultations. Where there is no agreement by police authorities, a further consultation period will take us through next January, February and March. That allows time for the debate that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last week and, I believe, the previous week, could happen in the new year.
I note the hon. Member's comments about the Armed Forces Bill. It is important that proper notes, which are as full as possible, are available to all hon. Members and I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is aware of that.
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My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it clear that allegations in print against my hon. and noble Friend Lord Drayson appear to have no foundation in fact. There is therefore no intention to hold a debate on them.
It is important to note that not only were the Hong Kong trade talks aired at Department of Trade and Industry questions prior to the business question, but that a report back on them will be made to the House. There has been ample opportunity for debate on the matter and there will be further opportunities to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development next week.
I hope that Lord Turner's report, which was published yesterday, will be the subject of constructive and continuing debate. It would be wrong within 24 hours of its publication to jump to any conclusions and I advise all hon. Members to read it carefully and contribute to the debate.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Could my hon. Friend reassure me that the foundations of Government policy continue to include social justice and economic sustainability? If so, why are we pressing ahead next April with the self-invested personal pension scheme, which offers tax relief on the purchase of homes? That will be enormously expensivethe cost will be greater than the Government anticipate. Will my hon. Friend ask one of the Chancellor's team of Ministers to make a statement to the House and consider the approach of offering such tax relief only if the required houses are made available for social housing? That would be one way of squaring the circle.
Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend raises an important point. What lies behind the issue is the need for more to be done by individuals and companies to provide for pensions, and the need to remind people that they must make proper provision to enjoy in retirement the lifestyle that they seek to have. The proposal to which he refers is a worthwhile one, which has commanded a lot of support, and it will be yet another way of ensuring that people can provide for their pensions. The Government have ensured, however, that 2 million pensioners have been raised out of poverty, and I am sure that we will continue to do more.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I point out to the Deputy Leader of the House that the Westminster Hall debate to which he referred allowed perhaps six Members to speak about police restructuring? It is no substitute for a debate in this Chamber.
Is it possible, following the announcements in the last week, to have a debate on the resumption of building nuclear power stations? Many of us feel that those are not economically viable, that they represent a real danger and that they should not be resumed. It would be right for the House to have the opportunity to debate that matter.
Can we have a debate on social services? I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the House is aware of the inspection by the Commission for Social Care
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Inspection, which revealed that one in four councils received only nought or one star for social care, which means that those councils are potentially failing vulnerable people, the elderly and children. We do not debate that subject enough in the House, and perhaps we should do so in the near future.
Lastly, can we have a debate on local and regional newspapers? I am aware of early-day motion 1158, tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), which points out the situation in south Wales.
[That this House notes the proposed job cuts at Trinity Mirror in South Wales; further notes that Trinity Mirror in owning Wales on Sunday, the Western Mail, the South Wales Echo, the Rhondda Leader and the Pontypridd Observer, holds a virtual monopoly of the local newspaper market in South Wales; believes that a strong and varied newspaper market is vital to the democratic and journalistic health of South Wales; urges Trinity Mirror to reconsider its policy of combining editorial posts on separate titles; and urges the Competition Commission to consider a review of the South Wales newspaper market.]
We have a similar situation in the west country, with the Bristol Evening Post, Western Daily Press and associated newspapers, which have had substantial job losses over recent months, and we now know that the entire group is up for sale. Does he agree that local and regional newspapers are vital to local communities, that they must have proper news-gathering facilities, and that for our democracy we need local newspapers in independent control that are able to serve the communities that we represent?
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