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Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving the House the opportunity for a debate on the security of energy supply, which my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) has been requesting for some time. I trust that I will have the same degree of success with the request that I shall make to the Leader of the House today.
Given the importance of the outcome of the Montreal talks on climate change, which is of long-term significance to us all, and the fact that there has been only limited opportunity to question Ministers through Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions because there has been no oral statement on the matter, will the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be a debate in Government time on the Montreal agreements on climate change?
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I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not have missed the various reports of recent weeks about the problems in public services. In the health service there are many NHS trusts that are in deficit to a total of many hundreds of millions of pounds. Operations are being cancelled and people's names are being taking off waiting lists. As an example of the problem, the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust will be cutting 280 jobs, crucially including those of nurses and doctors. We learn today that two thirds of our hospitals do not reach the top standards of cleanliness. In education, we heard yesterday that four out of 10 children come out of primary school without being able to read or write properly. So does the right hon. Gentleman not accept the need for a debate in Government time on the delivery of quality public services when Members can press Ministers on why, with so much extra money going to our public services, the Government are still failing to deliver the quality of services that people need?
Of course, public services are also delivered by local councils. The Audit Commission reports today that four out of five of the top-performing local authorities are Conservative-controlled. I am sure the Leader of the House will want to join me in congratulating the best performing council in the country, Conservative-controlled Wandsworth. At the same time we are told that half of all town halls are wasting council tax payers' money, so will he ensure that there is a debate in which we can discuss how local authorities can best deliver improved public services and how they can learn from the success of Conservative councils?
Finally, in the spirit of Christmas good will, may I say to the Leader of the House that we on the Conservative Benches stand ready to give any help and advice[Laughter.] Wait for itany help and advice to Labour or Liberal Democrat Members who wish to learn how to run a successful leadership election.
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Lady referred to the season of good will to all men and, indeed, to all women. I am delighted to welcome her to her new responsibilities as shadow Leader of the House. I always enjoyed my exchanges with her predecessor and I welcome her unreservedly to her new role. No doubt our friends the sketch writers will already be working hard on their Punch and Judy comparisons.
The Government will be delighted to engage in debate and discussion on the outstandingly successful Montreal talks on climate change. I am sure there will be many opportunities for the House to debate that remarkable success, and I am sure all Members of the House will want to pay tribute to the extremely effective negotiating position adopted successfully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has gone straight from Montreal to Hong Kong, where no doubt she will continue the Government's record of success in international negotiations. I am delighted that in the spirit of good will and co-operation, the right hon. Lady wants to congratulate members of the Government on achieving such remarkable successes in international negotiations.
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I am sorry the right hon. Lady spoiled the sense of good will by making allegations about problems in public services. Possibly the way in which we might have a more rounded debate on the subject is to have a debate comparing the state of Britain's public services today with those in 1997, when we inherited a sorry picture. Let me go through the same list as she gave usthe appalling problems of waiting lists in the national health service, which were resolved by the present Government, and the appalling number of operations cancelled. If she checks the report, she will see that those figures are much reduced. What is remarkable about that reduction is that we are conducting many more operations and cancelling many fewer, a fact which, in the spirit of fairness at this time of year, I hope she will take into account when she next comes to the Dispatch Box.
On cleanliness, the same report refers to the remarkable improvement in cleanliness. I pick out 1997 as a convenient date but these things have improved significantly since that time. The same is true of primary education, the quality of education and the amount of investment provided. The Government have no worries at all about the possibility of debates on public services. Every time we debate health, education, transport, policingthe whole range of public expenditurethe Government have a record of which we can be proud. I only wish that Conservative Members could come to the Dispatch Box and say the same.
In relation to local authorities, the right hon. Lady relied on a rather narrow sample. If she looks a little more widely, she will see that there are more Labour councils improving than Conservative ones. We would all want to ensure that the information set out to the House was accurate.
I mentioned to the House last week that I intended to visit the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Given the decision of the new Leader of the Opposition to pull his Members of the European Parliament out of the European People's party group, I am sure that Conservative Members will be delighted to hear that Alessandra Mussolini's group send their seasonal greetings to them. I hope the right hon. Lady will be receiving a Christmas card from her new potential sister party, described affectionately by a Conservative MEP, Struan Stevenson, as
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): This morning, a paper reviewing the coal health compensation schemes was laid in the Library. Like many others, I welcome that report, which indicates that between £5 billion and £7 billion will potentially be paid out in compensation to miners' widows and retired miners. However, I am sure that hon. Members will be as angry as me when they read the report and find out that an estimated £1.6 billion will be paid out to solicitors. Will the Leader of the House make time available to debate that issue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which affects many constituencies across the countryI represent a former coal-mining area. There have been some 580,000 claimants on the lung disease scheme and 170,000 claimants for vibration
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white finger. Total costs by 2011 are estimated to be approximately £7 billion, with £4.5 billion paid in compensation. We will study the report carefully, because we have learned lessons in the course of running such huge compensation schemes, and if similar arrangements are required in future, we would obviously seek to implement those lessons.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on the unlikely subject of Government help to distressed citizens? [Hon. Members: "Charles Kennedy"] Is the Leader of the House aware that since the beginning of 2003, 119 million calls to so-called Government helplines have been missed? That is 126,270 missed calls a day, so about 1,000 calls have been missed since we started business questions. Given that many of those calls come from people who are distressed because the tax credit system is working so badly, can we at least get the phone system working so that those people can make a proper complaint?
Many hon. Members expect the Government to know which planes from overseas powers, whether or not they are friendly, are flying into British airspace and the reason why such planes are landing at British airports.
Finally, will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be statements following the European Council and the World Trade Organisation summit? Given that the failure of one is likely to impact on the failure of the other, until we do something effective to reduce the common agricultural policy, there will be a continuing barrier to helping developing countries through the WTO.
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