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Mr. Heath: The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) is absolutely right and I am afraid that the Leader of the House's answer to his question was entirely complacent. Recent parliamentary replies reveal that 5 million people use Post Office cards each week, and the revenue to the post office network is £1 billion, so the Department for Work and Pensions proposes to scrap them. That will have a real impact on sub-post offices, so we need an urgent debate on the matter.
I also support the view that there should be a debate on health, not only to deal with the efficiency and effectiveness of health expenditureI remind the Leader of the House that hospitals are there not to make surpluses, but to treat patients effectively and efficientlybut to deal with the issues raised by the Public Accounts Committee report on cancer, which shows that there are huge inequalities throughout the country.
May we have an early debate on the reportor should I say reportsof the Education Committee, which we anticipate will be published this evening? It would be extremely useful to know whether Labour Members support the Prime Minister, whether Conservative Members support the Prime Minister, whether Conservative Members support their position of only a few weeks agowhatever. Such a debate would be a good expedition so that we could discover people's thoughts before the publication of the education Bill.
Lastly, may we have a debate on the Arbuthnot report? Many see it as a missed opportunity, but it is nevertheless of great importance to many Scottish Members. It would be useful if the House had the early opportunity[Interruption.] The Leader of the House does not know what the report is about. That is unfortunate, but no doubt he will be briefed if I carry on talking long enough.
Mr. Hoon: I do express considerable disappointment about the hon. Gentleman's decision not to stand as a candidate in the leadership election of the Liberal Democrats. All of us who routinely attend business questions on a Thursday devoted considerable effort to trying to persuade him to participate in what is quite a narrow race. There was a remarkable shortening of his odds. As I reported to the House, at one stage he was as far out as 1001, and hon. Members piled in at those generous odds. The odds came down considerably, but he still resisted the opportunity that was made available to him. I hope he understands that I am answering his questions with the spirit of disappointment that is shared by all hon. Members, although sadly, apparently, not those in the Liberal Democrats, but then one cannot have everything.
I made it clear that the post office issue is important. All hon. Members face the problem in their constituencies. Pensioners and others throughout the country are affected, so the Government are determined to get the situation right.
The Government are delighted to debate health issues. We would be delighted to debate them every single day of the week, if only there were time, not least
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because we have a remarkable record of success on increasing available funding massively, dramatically reducing waiting lists and ensuring that the national health service is a national health service of which the country can be proud.
There is not a doctor in the country who does not recognise that there has been significant improvement, but that is not to sayno one on the Government Benches would in any way suggestthat there is not still more to be done. We are committed to improving the position, and certainly remedying inequalities.
I am sure that in due course there will be significant opportunities for debating education. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome that. I can confidently say that that will be happening sooner rather than later.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has raised this subject with me on a previous occasion. I know that the request will have wide support around the House. I will try to consider the request favourably, but I cannot guarantee that time can be found to hold the debate on the Floor of the House on the appropriate date. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will find time for a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): May I pick up the points of the hon. Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about sub-post offices and the impact of withdrawing the benefits card? I was involved in this at meetings with Ministers, on a constituency basis and in working with the all-party group. At no stage was it ever mentioned that the card, despite all the Government's attempts to bully people into direct payments, once established, would not be permanent. Driving down on Sunday, I heard some form of ministerial pond life suggesting that the card was only temporary. [Interruption.] I did not catch the Minister's name. I am amazed that the Leader of the House says that it was intended to be a temporary scheme. At no stage was it ever discussed. I rang Colin Bateman of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters on that basis. Could we please have a statement
I can see that we are going to have an interesting linguistic debate. The word that I used was "interim" rather than "temporary". The hon. Gentleman has used the word "temporary" to suggest somehow that the scheme was always designed to come
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to an end, with the risk that somehow it would fall over the edge. Temporary arrangements have that sort of feeling. If the hon. Gentleman had used the word "interim", which was the word that I used, he would recognise that we were talking about moving from one sensible arrangement to another. I know that the use of that language might appear to be something that the hon. Gentleman would not entirely share. If he thinks about the matter carefully, he will agree with what I have said.
[That this House recognises the pleasure given to early rising listeners to BBC Radio Four by the subtle and evocative medley of British folk tunes in Fritz Spiegl's UK Theme which starts daily broadcasting and has become embedded over the years in the affections of listeners; and urges the BBC to reconsider its decision to drop this popular medley and to continue to use the UK Theme in the proud place it has occupied with such success and charm for so many years.]
The motion has received support across the House. Interestingly enough, it now has support from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). In the light of that, can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate so as to get some sense into the BBC management for restoring the UK theme to Radio 4?
Mr. Hoon: The one thing that I notice about this particularly important debate is that it divides those who get up early from those who stay in bed. I know well from my hon. Friend's time in the Ministry of Defence that he is an early riser. I have always been impressed by how well the theme was put together. It is certainly a startling beginning to the day. It is important that people who are listeners to Radio 4 at that time in the morning are given the opportunity of expressing their views clearly. Unfortunately, I suspect that many people who are not up at that time in the morning are also expressing their views.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Leader of the House may be aware that the Scottish quarterly GDP figures were published yesterday, which are equivalent to the UK index of production. The figures show three consecutive quarters of falling manufacturing output, the manufacturing recession in Scotland. Given the three consecutive quarterly falls in manufacturing output, can the right hon. Gentleman organise an early statement from a Treasury Minister to explain what more can be done to turn around the competitive situation in the Scottish economy and end the manufacturing recession?
We have just had Treasury questions and the hon. Gentleman would have had the opportunity of raising that matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that he would have received a robust and prudent answer. The Government take the position of manufacturing industry extremely seriously. We have given a great deal of support, not least in relation to training and education to provide the British people with the appropriate skills to contribute to our highly successful
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manufacturing industry. Where there have been closuresI know that some have recently been announced in Scotlanda significant level of assistance is given to those companies to ensure that their work force have the opportunity of retraining and developing the skills that they require to participate in an economy that is still very healthy. As I have seen in my constituency, when closures occur they are a huge shock and worry to the people affected, but in the healthy economy that we have, it is remarkable that those people are able to get opportunities of retraining and, crucially, of finding alternative employment.
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