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Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Member raised the issue of the policy on nuclear power stations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made clear, before any decision is taken on proceeding to build any new nuclear power stations, the fullest public consultation and the publication of a White Paper setting out any such proposals will be required. I am sure that there will be ample opportunities to debate the issue on the Floor of the House.
In respect of social services, and particularly social care, it is important that all social services perform at the highest level when protecting and providing services for vulnerable young people as well as the elderly and others. I am sure that the findings of that survey will be studied with care and that appropriate action will be taken to ensure that there are no underperforming services in any part of the country.
On local and regional newspapers, of course they play an important part in disseminating information to people. As I think all hon. Members know, however, modern technology, including internet services, is putting extreme pressures on the print industry. I, for one, hope that that has a vibrant future, and I am sure that it has. I am afraid that I cannot offer the hon. Member an early debate, but I am sure that his concerns are noted.
Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 434, which deals with the appalling pay and conditions suffered by the House of Commons cleaners, and which has 178 signatories so far.
[That this House values the cleaners who maintain high standards of service to Parliament; believes the parliamentary cleaners should be treated with respect and
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that it is wrong that, despite the widespread concern over their pay and conditions of employment, their pay has only increased from the national minimum wage of £4.85 per hour to £5 per hour; is concerned that the parliamentary cleaners only enjoy 12 days' paid holiday and have no company sick pay or pension; believes the time has come to end this sorry state of affairs; and urges the parliamentary authorities to reach agreement with the two contractors on making available the necessary resources to ensure that cleaners earn the London living wage.]
Is he aware that the current negotiations would mean major job losses and a reduction in the standard of cleaning, and do not address sick pay, holidays or pensions? Does he agree that the cleaners, who do sterling work in this House, deserve some Christmas cheer?
Nigel Griffiths: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments although, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has informed the House, it is not ultimately a matter for the Government but for the House of Commons Commission, which has made its position clearnamely, to resolve two of the key issues raised by my hon. Friend. The first is the provision of proper facilities for the cleaners. I gather that those have been provided, but that for some reason they have not so far been taken up. Secondly, there is a substantial pay risein excess of 15 per cent.on the table. No one will lose their job as a result of that pay rise because jobs are available elsewhere, even if not on the Estate and in the House. That is our information.
The parties should get around the table. A 15 per cent. pay rise seems generous given the present rate of inflation, and it is certainly worthy of further talk and negotiation. I hope that they can reach a settlement before Christmas.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The activities of the House are, sadly, increasingly irrelevant to the people of this country, and the ability of the House to do the job that people send us here to do is increasingly undermined. Will the Government, through the Deputy Leader of the House, look again at the request from both sides of the House for a major debate in this Chamber on a matter that is deeply important to everybody in the country, particularly in England and Wales? I refer to the restructuring of the police. We must have a debate on that subject before Christmas or the Government really will be held to account.
I think that I have made it clear that there is not likely to be a debate on the Floor of the House before Christmas, and also that the consultation period will be extended for a further four months in those areas where agreement has not been reached. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, who addressed Members in the Westminster Hall debate, has made it clear that she is willing to talk to individual Members, as well as police forces, who have concerns. The consultation period has not yet ended. There are another three weeks for Members and others to make their views clear, so it seems inappropriate to hold a debate now when the consultation period has not finished.
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Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend may be aware that 28 cancer charities have bonded together to form a cancer campaigning group. Although they recognise the amazing things that have happened under the Government in terms of care, treatment and early diagnosis, there is much more to do. They and many others are of a mind to discuss the possibility of a cancer plan 2 to move things forward. Will my hon. Friend advise me on how we might do that within the procedures of the House, by debate, summit or whatever?
Nigel Griffiths: I welcome my hon. Friend's championing of that cause and I know that the cancer campaigning group provides a united voice on cancer issues, keeping cancer on the agenda and at the forefront of people's minds. Every Member will be aware of the lives that have been transformed since 2000 with the introduction of the current cancer plan, which put cancer at the heart of the Government's health policy. Indeed, we have cut death rates for breast cancer in women and lung cancer in men faster than anywhere else in the world and, with the 1,177 more cancer specialists, we intend to cut cancer mortality further.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House will know that yesterday the Home Office slipped out a new policy on the levels of possession of class A drugs, which will constitute the crime of possession with intent to supply. Why was that announcement made yesterday? Why was it not made to the House, and when will a Minister from the Home Office come here to explain himself or herself?
Nigel Griffiths: A consultation document was published on Wednesday. It reflected measures that were called for by the police to set supply thresholds to eliminate any inconsistencies between police forces in catching and prosecuting drug dealers. It removes the excuse used by dealers that their drugs are for personal use only. The House will want to know that there have been record seizures of class A drugs in recent times. I am sure that this will be a subject of continuing debate and discussion within the House. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is supporting what the police were calling for.
Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a huge boost this week to the nuclear power lobby. There are a number of us on the Government Benches who feel that the deep-mine coal industry has a part to play in our future energy needs. We are now down to eight pits. When will we have an urgent debate about taking the industry back into public ownership to guarantee its long-term future?
Nigel Griffiths: I fear that neither a debate nor that policy is on the Government's agenda. I stress the important role that coal has played in the past and that I hope it will play in the future in meeting our energy needs.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD):
Can we have a debate on planning laws, and specifically on the PPG3 planning rules that designate people's back gardens as brownfield
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sites? It enables developers to exploit windfall development sites while true brownfield sites are not necessarily considered. The effect in my constituency and elsewhere is to destroy the character of the area with inappropriate windfall developments. Can we have a debate on this matter?
Nigel Griffiths: I am not sure that, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I can promise an early debate on the Floor of the House. I am sure, however, that the subject would be a suitable candidate for an Adjournment debate, which would give the hon. Member a chance to spell out her concerns in more detail.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): On the subject of the House of Commons cleaners, I am slightly concerned by the Minister's earlier response. I understand that the proposal on the table would result in up to 30 job losses on the House of Commons Estate, which would mean a major reduction in cleaning standards in this place. May I urge my hon. Friend to do all that he can to bring the Serjeant at Arms to the negotiating table with the trade unions, the cleaners and the contractors to try to bring about a resolution of this dispute?
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