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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I also wish the House a happy new year. This is an exciting time, especially for Conservative Members, who open their newspapers each morning to find out which of their cherished policies has been ditched, and whether it is a Labour or a Liberal Democrat policy that takes its place.
I take note of what you said earlier, Mr. Speaker, but will the Leader of the House say whether there is any possibility of the Home Secretary bringing forward his six-monthly statement to the House on the implementation of Sir Michael Bichard's report? Many people have serious questions about the lamentably slow progress being made in a number of areas, not least with the IMPACT computer system. It is now three years late, and a key part of the Government's response.
May I ask for an urgent debate on defence procurement, given today's Government announcement of the flotation of Qinetiq? There are very important questions to be asked about the original valuation, the sale of a substantial stake in the company to the US group Carlyle, and that group's tax arrangements in Guernsey. Other questions involve the availability of receipts to the Minister of Defence and national security. If we cannot have a debate or a statement in the House, can the issue be referred as a matter of course to the Public Accounts Committee?
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Finally, may we have a debate on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000? The Prime Minister was reported to have said over Christmas that that legislation was the worst thing that the Government have done. Does the Leader of the House agree with that assessment, or does he believe instead that it was a very important Act that should not be subverted, either by new charging systems or further restrictions on the application of informationor is that something that he cannot tell me?
Mr. Hoon: I have already responded to the House's seasonal good wishes, and I should like to respond in kind to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps rather ungenerously, I suggested before the Christmas recess that his chances of becoming Liberal Democrat leader were in the order of 100:1. Recent events may have shortened those odds, and I am sure that we would all congratulate him if he were to succeed.
As I have said already, I agree that it is important to give people across the country confidence about the arrangements for dealing with people on the sex offenders register. All Government Departments take that seriously, and I have made it clear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will make a statement in due course about the implications for education. However, it is important to raise these matters in connection with other Departments, including the Home Office. Home Office questions take place on Monday, and they will provide an opportunity to question Ministers. Ministers representing other Departments will be answering questions on subsequent occasions.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on defence procurement, and I can tell him that the previous Secretary of State for Defence established the important tradition that such matters should be debated on a very regular basis. I assure him that there will be opportunities to debate defence procurement in the very near future but, in the meantime, a written ministerial statement today deals with the question of Qinetiq. He should read that statement, and I shall endeavour to answer any questions that he may want to raise with me in due course.
I am very pleased with reports of the success of the freedom of information legislation, which gives people opportunities to secure information in a way that was not possible previously. I am only slightly disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not congratulate the Government on their efforts in that respect.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Road Safety Bill's sanctions against those who cause death by careless driving were watered down by an amendment approved in another place? When the Bill returns to this House, will he ensure that arrangements are made for an amendment to be tabled that would restore the original penalties? That would enable hon. Members to put into effect the deeply held view that the offence is very serious, for which it should be possible to impose a prison sentence on summary conviction.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which is regarded with great seriousness, especiallyas she has indicatedby
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Members of this House. Given her knowledge of and expertise in parliamentary procedures, I am sure that she will ensure that an appropriate amendment is tabled at an appropriate stage.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The whole House will welcome the indication that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on asbestos-linked diseases. We hope that the Lord Chancellor will solve the problem without the need for a debate.
The report published today by the Health Committee on the proposed reorganisation of primary care trusts is a devastating commentary on a change that will affect everyone in England. I hope that the Government will arrange for a debate, not so that we may be partisanthe issue is too serious for thatbut to ensure that we do not lose 18 months on reorganisation and another 18 months on trying to get the benefits, when health needs need to be met now, next year and the year after. Linked to that, will the Leader of the House have a word with the Prime Minister and others who talkas the Prime Minister did yesterday in columns 281 and 282about how waiting times have reduced for nearly all the main indicators? They need to include audiology tests in hospital in the main indicators, because the waiting time for a 20-minute hearing test and to get a hearing aid is up to two or three years. It is disgraceful that those times have not been reduced. I do not accuse the Government of being at fault for that, but they have the power to ensure that people have a hearing test within a few months and a hearing aid shortly afterwards.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman achieved his ambition of not being partisan on the issues and I will try to respond in kind. What is important about the reorganisation that the Government propose in relation to primary care trusts is that it is bottom up. It reflects the concerns of health professionals in their different areas about the best way to deliver health care in their local communities. That is central to the changes that are being made, whichas I hope he will recogniseare the result of the Government investing significant amounts of extra money in health care. By 200708, we will have trebled the amount of money available to the national health service and for that moneyas I hope my previous responses have made clearthis Government, like any Government, expect to see real improvement in the standard and quality of care. It is no good investing huge amounts of extra money if it does not produce real changes for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, my constituents and the constituents of every other hon. Member. However, I accept that we still need to make significant improvements in some areas.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the issue of hearing tests. It is important that all waiting lists are reduced and if there is a significant problem in the area that the hon. Gentleman mentions I know that my right hon. Friend will want to address it.
It is in my name and has been signed by more than 30 of my hon. Friends from all over the United Kingdom. It supports the Scottish Executive's initiative to bring the Commonwealth games to Scotland in 2014. That initiative was supported yesterday by the Prime Minister and I wonder if we can have time for a debate on the practicality of assisting that excellent initiative.
Mr. Hoon: I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that question. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government would give strong support to that initiative and I am sure that there will be opportunities for my hon. Friend and others to raise the issue in due course. I am convinced that it would be of great benefit not only to Scotland, but to the United Kingdom as a whole.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange for an urgent debate on judges' sentencing decisions, especially in the light of a monster being sentenced to 12 years for raping a 10-week-old child.
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