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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): In Northern Ireland, we have been informed this morning that the prosecution has decided to adduce no evidence in the case against those responsible for the Stormont spy ring, which brought down the Northern Ireland Administration in 2002. That has caused great anxiety and consternation among the people of Northern Ireland this morning. May we have a statement or an early debate to indicate what are the reasons behind the public interest in refusing to pursue a case where the IRA and Sinn Fein were exposed as having been at the centre of a major spying operation against Government and security forces in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that those matters are determined by both an independent police force and, indeed, an independent prosecuting authority, and it simply would not be right for a Minister to comment on those independent decisions.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Like many colleagues, I have constituents who are in tears of frustration and distress at the workings of the tax credit system—including a woman who broke down when telling my wife that she had to receive bags of groceries because she has been asked to repay an overpayment so quickly. In view of that, would it not have been better for the Paymaster General to have come to the House on Monday to make a statement and listen to those concerns raised by right hon. and hon. Members, instead of placing a written statement in the Library?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is always fair and reasonable in his observations in the House, but my recollection is that the last Minister at the Dispatch Box was my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General. I am sure that he could have used his ingenuity to raise that issue during an hour of Treasury questions.

Alistair Burt: That was not the point.

Mr. Hoon: Nevertheless, before the hon. Gentleman gets too agitated, I recognise that there have been individual cases where the tax credit system has not worked as well as it should have done. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has been looking very carefully at finding ways in which to improve the operation of the scheme. However, I emphasise that the overwhelming majority of people and families in receipt of tax credits have
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received that money successfully and that that has provided a major improvement in their standard of living and allowed many people to return to work, thus allowing families who would otherwise struggle financially to achieve a proper standard of living.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): You, Mr. Speaker, will have been as shocked as I was when David Sherlock, the chief inspector of the adult learning inspectorate, condemned a £2 billion Government drive to improve basic literacy and numeracy levels as a "depressing failure". Ministers have crowed that their skills for life programme was on target. Now we know that half the people included in the target number were 16 and 17-year-old college students who were already enrolled on basic literacy and numeracy courses. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come to the House to explain why the scheme failed and why the Government claimed that it was on target when it was clearly far from that? That is a disgrace, and the Leader of the House should acknowledge it and do something about it.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman picks on a disputed aspect of reports in relation to adult education. The Government have exceeded the targets that we set in relation to adult basic skills, with more than 1 million adults gaining a first qualification in language, literacy or numeracy. There are inevitably difficulties with all schemes, but I hope that, being fair-minded, he would recognise that, overall, those schemes have been remarkably successful in providing skills, opportunities, training and education to a large number of people who would otherwise not be able to join our work force.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent statement on the differing availability of life-saving anti-cancer drugs in different parts of the country? My constituent, Mr. Brian Jago, is dying of cancer. His consultants say that Velcade, a new drug, could save his life and that probably nothing else could. If he lived in Cardiff or Edinburgh, we believe that the word of the consultants would be enough for him to be prescribed the drug. As he lives near Southampton, a district prescribing committee's permission is required, and that has not been given. May we have a statement about whose word should run in these matters—that of a prescribing committee, or that of the consultants concerned with the welfare of the patients?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I do not intend to be drawn into the circumstances of that particular patient—obviously we are all concerned about his position—nor indeed of the particular drug. I accept that consistency across the country is necessary, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has had regard to that in relation to a number of high-profile cases. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that consistency must be determined by national standards, not least in relation to new drugs, as it is important for those who are likely to use them that the drugs are tested and satisfy stringent standards before being employed. I assure him that the Government are working hard to eliminate the type of discrepancy that he appears to be describing.
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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Leader of the House has described police restructuring as a long process. I have to tell him that it certainly does not look like that to the police forces and police authorities being restructured, because the decisions that they are being invited to take by 23 December do not include the status quo. May I reinforce calls for a debate on a substantive motion on 19 December, where the Government at least attempt to make the case for change in the House and to review the options presented to police authorities and forces up and down the country?

Mr. Hoon: I will not set out again the process points that I raised earlier, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the deadline of 23 December was set so as to allow voluntary amalgamation where police forces thought that it was in their interests to save costs, for example, by amalgamating backroom office functions and ensuring that there was a range of extra equipment across larger police organisations. That is all set out in the inspector's report, which I am sure that he has read in detail, and which is about a recommendation from senior police officers that there is a necessity—an absolute requirement—to improve the equipment and facilities available to our police forces across the country, and that must after all be in the interests of our constituents. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the report and contribute to the debate on 19 December, when I shall take careful note of whether all the colleagues who called for the debate are in the Chamber to participate, as it is important that Members have the opportunity to set out their views. This process is in the interests of our constituents and to their benefit. That is why leading police officers have put it forward.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House urgently find Government time to address the problems of identity fraud that are occurring throughout the country? Last year, it is estimated that 135,000 people had their identity stolen and had to pay up to £8,000 to have it legally returned. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the matter urgently as it appears to threaten more than 1 million people?

Mr. Hoon: The Government share entirely the hon. Gentleman's concern about identity fraud. It is a problem for both the public sector and, crucially, the private sector, which is one of the reasons why the Government are bringing forward proposals for a system of identity cards. So on the next occasion that we debate the matter in the House, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support, otherwise he is simply raising issues with no intention of doing anything about them.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Given that the Leader of the House expects us to be grovellingly grateful that he has finally consented to give us a debate on police restructuring, albeit in the last day or two before the Christmas recess, why is he afraid of having a substantive vote? Is it because he realises that it will expose yet again that a large number, if not a majority, of his Back Benchers are almost certainly against that absurd and dangerous proposal? Will he use his limited ingenuity to find some way even now of
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giving us a substantive vote on the issue on the Floor of the House, so that the Government can know, in numbers, how wrong they have got it?

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