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Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear to the House that this issue is still under discussion. The Post Office card account was always intended to be a transitional arrangement, and there are other ways of solving the problem. Part of the issue is ensuring that local rural post offices continue to be available to the communities that they serve so well, and that is at the forefront of the Government's mind. After all, that was why the card was introduced in the first place. We are not about to abandon the success of the cardwe want to ensure that it continues, but in an appropriate way.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find some time, rather urgently, to allow the Department of Trade and Industry to explain to the House why it is spending money and resources on a cost-benefit analysis of the possible extension of Sunday trading? Such a move is not wanted by the majority of supermarkets, employees or the public, and, judging by my early-day motion, might not secure the support of the House. Would it not have been better for the DTI to secure the support of the House in principle before expending that money, which could have been better spent on combating the erosion of British manufacturing jobs?
Mr. Hoon: Without challenging in any way the assumptions underlying my hon. Friend's question, it is important that we identify whether there is a demand from the public, supermarkets or other shops for a different arrangement for Sunday trading. I would have thought, given the premise of his question, that he welcomed the expenditure in order to identify more accurately the position on Sunday trading.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The European Union will shortly embark on a review of the European wine industry. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that Britain's embryonic wine industry is well protected in that review?
Mr. Hoon: I shall treat that as an application to join in the test. Certainly, the review is important to this growing UK industry. Having had the opportunity of sampling English wine at a number of recent Foreign Office dinners, I recognise the great contribution that that industry is beginning to make.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab):
While I am pleased with the Leader of the House's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), I would be absolutely delighted if he could be a little more forthcoming about a debate on the Arbuthnott report. He will be aware, now that he is fully briefed, that the report raises many issues. It is worrying that, on something as simple as Scottish parliamentary and Westminster constituencies having coterminous boundaries, the commission does not appreciate the
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need for urgency. Surely the public deserve better than that. I am sure that the Leader of the House will understand that there is a more urgent need for a debate.
Mr. Hoon: I have reflected on several occasions that one of the joys of this job is that one learns ever more about the variety of issues affecting government right across the United Kingdom, if I can put it in that way. I recognise the concern, and I have already said that it has been discussed in another place. Having spent some considerable time studying the wide variety of forms of proportional representation, I understand some of the technicalities involved and recognise the concerns that arise.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Leader of the House have a word with his Cabinet colleagues to try to persuade them to stop the increasing trend for named day written questions to receive holding answers?
Mr. Hoon: I recognise that that is of grave concern to right hon. and hon. Members. It is important that answers are given as early as is possible, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Members will accept that it is also important that Departments have the opportunity to produce accurate and detailed responses to such questions. From time to time, that necessitates the issuing of a holding answer. All Departments are made aware that the mechanism should be used only in specific and particular circumstances.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Last week, the Government published the terms of reference for the energy review, which is due to be published before the summer recess, by which time the report of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management will also have been finalised and the climate change review should have been completed. The Stern report on the economic implications of climate change, however, will not be published until the autumn. Will the Leader of the House accept that it would be more sensible if the Stern report were available before final decisions are taken on the energy review? Can he find time for a debate on the subject in the near future so that all those issues can be discussed?
Mr. Hoon: I have had cause to reflect on previous occasions on my hon. Friend's expertise and knowledge in this area. I recognise that, consistent with the kinds of questions that I have been asked already today, climate change is not an issue on its own. It has significant implications across the board, not least economic ones, and the Government take those seriously in relation to often difficult decisions and judgments. Certainly, I recognise the importance of taking account of the economic consequences of climate change.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD):
Given the mounting concerns expressed at Prime Minister's questions yesterday, DEFRA questions today and in an early-day motion about the proposed cuts relating to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which has sites across the country including an
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important one in Dorset, does the Leader of the House share my concerns about the potential long-term implications for the United Kingdom's science assets and scientific base? Does he feel that there should be some parliamentary input into the consultation? There is a real danger that a decision could be taken without any democratic input.
Mr. Hoon: This issue has now been raised twice in two days. The hon. Lady cannot say that there has not been some democratic input, given the questions raised not only with me but with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Government are committed to improving the United Kingdom's science base, into which we have put a great deal of extra resources. We have encouraged the development of science in the UK because we recognise that that is important not only in terms of understanding the implications of policy for the future in areas such as climate change but as a vital contribution to our future economic fortunes.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Student debt is a persistent and growing problem, and nowhere is that more true than in nursing and midwifery, which has a high attrition rate of almost a quarter because of financial problems. Early-day motion 197, tabled by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) following a campaign by the Royal College of Midwives, drew attention to that, and called for a non-means-tested £10,000 bursary.
[That this House recognises the vital role that midwives play in the NHS; notes that many student midwives face financial problems during their training and that according to the Royal College of Midwives' poll, around a fifth of midwives fail to complete their studies due to financial hardship; and therefore supports the RCM campaign to provide a £10,000 non-means tested bursary for all student midwives, ensuring more students are attracted to midwifery, are able to complete their course and go on to become practising midwives.]
My constituent Andrea Simpson of Donington le Heath has compiled a very large petition online, which I hope to present to the House next week. Will the Leader of the House try to find an opportunity in the coming weeks for us to discuss that important aspect of finance for vocational training? People such as my constituent are key to the provision of quality services in the NHS and elsewhere.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. No one underestimates the importance of vocational training and of ensuring that students engaged in such courses have proper financial support. I hope that if my hon. Friend looks at the statistics relating to those who have undertaken such courses, and the increasing number available to the NHS in the context that he cited, he will accept that the position is not as bleak as his question implied; but obviously we keep it under review. We have a strong commitment to vocational training, which not only benefits parts of the NHS but makes a vital contribution to our wider economy.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
May we have a debate about current trends in the Scottish economy, so that we can discuss the complacent
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and arrogant attitude of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Defence? Last week 720 jobs were lost at Lexmark in west Fife, following the loss of 1,600 jobs at Rosyth dockyard, in the same constituency. As if that were not bad enough, 7,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Fife alone. Given that appalling record, it is any surprise that people are turning away from Labour in droves, forgoing their complicit Scottish Executive buddies in the Liberal party and turning to the Scottish National party?
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