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Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Clearly, it is extremely worrying for parents of children at primary schools if they do not have the opportunity to participate in proper consultation about closure proposals. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter in the way that he has.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): Earlier this year, the Prime Minister told Parliament that special advisers should be made to attend Select Committees on exactly the same basis as civil servants, yet last month he blocked his own special adviser, Lord Birt, from attending the Select Committee on Public Administration. May we have an urgent debate on the matter? To many of us, that seems like a case of the Prime Minister saying one thing in public and doing something completely different in private, when it comes to his own business.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not present two weeks ago when this matter was raised, as he would have heard my comprehensive answer. Perhaps he could spend his time over the Christmas recess profitably by studying the Osmotherly rules, which set out very precisely the circumstances in which Ministers may give permission for civil servants, special advisers and others to represent them before Select Committees. Those rules have been in place for a long time, and the point is that they have not changed.
[That this House believes that the proposal to offer tax relief on the purchase of homes under the Self-Invested Personal Pension Scheme rules commencing in April 2006 provides insufficient public benefit, will encourage the purchase of second homes, and will put Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in a difficult policing position in regard to the pensionholder's use of a property; notes that the investment industry's estimates of the volume of this business far exceeds the Government's and that there may be a higher loss of taxation than expected; and calls upon the Government to apply the tax relief solely to homes made available for social housing, and to ensure that such homes are offered free of rent to the social housing provider managing the property.]
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The motion deals with self-invested personal pensions, an issue that I have raised several times. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seen fit to withdraw the second home option from that particular tax incentive.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say whether there has been any indication from the Treasury team that the second recommendation in that motion will be taken up? It proposes that such incentives might be allowable if the home concerned were made available for social letting at an affordable rent. Such housing is in very short supply in parts of my constituency.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is a near neighbour of mine in the east midlands, and I have never doubted his influence, or his ability to change Government policy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor takes very seriously the expressions of opinion in early-day motions. Clearly, he has responded with alacrity to my hon. Friend's proposal, but whether he will do so in relation to the second limb of the motion remains to be seen.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): It is several weeks since the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was able to sneak into a Belfast hotel and announce to journalists plans for the review of public administration in Northern Ireland. Those plans affect education, health and planning, and completely turn local government on its head. The right hon. Gentleman has yet to come to this House to be answerable to hon. Members for his actions. Will the Leader of the House arrange for Government time to be made available for the Secretary of State to do just that?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman and I disagree on only one aspect of this matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland spends every day looking for ways to improve public administration and the standard of life for people in what is an important part of the UK, and continues to do so. Obviously, it is important that he discusses and debates those matters with those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, and I am sure that he will give the hon. Gentleman every opportunity to raise these matters with him.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Now that regional government is dead and buried, can my hon. Friend arrange for a Grand Committee to be set up to represent the regions? It is embarrassing that we should have bureaucrats and quangos who are accountable to nobody. Why not make them accountable to a Grand Committee representing regions such as the north-west, which is bigger than Scotland and has more representation in Parliament? We should have a say on how the money is spent or wasted.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion and I assure him that the Government will consider it carefully. However, he makes an unfortunate observation about the role of civil servants in the regions. They are of course accountable to this Parliament through the Minister who is responsible for their activities, and that has not changed. One of the
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benefits of having civil servants operating in the regional centres is that they are closer to the people whom they affect by their decisions. That is something that I would have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Earlier this year the South-West London health authority concluded its consultation, "Better Healthcare Closer to Home". It concluded that Merton and Sutton needed six local care centres and one acute hospital. However, there was some disagreement about that and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) objected and referred the consultation to the Secretary of State for Health. She did so in late June. The subsequent delay is harming my constituents' prospects of getting better health care at the Nelson hospital. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the delay, give reasons for it and give a date when we might receive the result of her deliberations and the rationale behind them?
Mr. Hoon: I am obviously not familiar with the particular circumstances that the hon. Gentleman sets out, but I assure him that I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and invite her to write to him directly.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend and other hon. Members may not be aware of recent changes to the accommodation provided for the Members' post office. The sorting room, rest area, stationery lockers and storage facilities have all been removed and the sorting of Members' mail has to be carried out in a tiny room. Could my right hon. Friend investigate that matter for me and report back to the House? It is not clear who made the decision to change the accommodation facilities.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): The Leader of the House may be aware of the inquest into the deaths of 91 victims of the Asian tsunami. However, the inquest is not considering the support given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the UK victims. One statement by the Permanent Secretary has caused great offence and upset. He claimed that the support given "exceeded our expectations". As one who was caught up in the tsunami, I can say that what support was given was at best ineffectual and at worst inept. May we have a debate on that topic?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not comment on current proceedings before an inquest. However, there has been a thorough and detailed report on the way in which the FCO dealt with the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. It contains some criticisms, which have been acknowledged by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and it is an indication that we must learn lessons and be in a position to anticipate such terrible
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tragedies in the future. That acknowledgement by my right hon. Friend indicates that we take seriously our responsibilities and that we will learn lessons from that terrible tragedy.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): May we have a statement or a debate on the establishment of a new railway station outside the Ricoh arena in Coventry? This matter has dragged on for far too long and it needs to be pushed. I am sure that I speak for my two Coventry colleagues.
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