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Thursday 16 FebruaryMotions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2006 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2006, followed by a debate on tackling health inequalities on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Mrs. May: I thank the Leader for the House for giving us the business for the coming week. He will not be surprised to hear me ask again about the date for the Budget, as he knows that the Treasury Committee recommended that two months' notice of the date should be given. We are less than two months away from the Easter recess, so that advice cannot now be met. Will he at least tell us when he expects to be able to give us the date of the Budget?
Can we have a debate on Lord Carter's review of criminal legal aid, which is being published today? As I am sure that the Leader of the House will know, that is a matter of real concern for high street solicitors.
Yesterday, a Standing Committee considered the new contract for dentists. As there is a shortage of 1,850 dentists, and only half the population are registered with an NHS dentist, will the Leader of the House make Government time available for a debate on dentistry and the problems faced by those who have no access to an NHS dentist?
The Government tell us frequently that they are family-friendly and interested in issues for working families. The Childcare Bill finished in Committee on 15 December, and its remaining stages debate has
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already been postponed once, yet we have no replacement date. Similarly, the Children and Adoption Bill finished in the Lords on 29 November, yet we have no date for the start of its passage through this House. When will those Bills return to the House?
It was revealed yesterday that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been holding talks with councils about scrapping next year's local government elections [Hon. Members: "Disgraceful."] As my hon. Friends say, that is absolutely disgraceful. The Minister for Local Government has said that it is all pure speculation, but as constituents such as mine will want the opportunity next year to vote on the record of their local Liberal Democrat council, which is putting up council tax by 4.95 per cent.an increase of 20 per cent. over three yearsand given the backlog of business in the House, will the Leader of the House confirm that no time will be made available for the legislation necessary to scrap the council elections next year, and that next year's council elections will go ahead?
Finally, can we have a debate on the public appeal of MPs? I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has been voted one of the world's 100 sexiest men. [Hon. Members: "Who voted?"] I see that in a BBC poll conducted to find the sexiest Nottinghamshire MPI have the right county this weekthe Leader of the House came seventh. Top of the poll was my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), second was "none of the above", and the Leader of the House even came behind my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). A debate would, of course, give my right hon. and hon. Friends an opportunity to give the Leader of the House a few tips.
Mr. Hoon: As the shadow Leader of the House is in a good mood, let me draw her attention to the shadow Chancellor's proposals for what appears to be a forthcoming shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The shadow Chancellor has made it clear that by the time of the next general election there will be no one in the shadow Cabinet over the age of 50. Honour forbids me to reveal the right hon. Lady's age, but shall we say that if the reports are correct, she will be looking forward to a very early general electionbut I have to say that she will be disappointed.
The date of the Budget will be made known very soon. As for the question of legal aid and high street solicitors, as one who has had ministerial responsibility for the distribution of legal aid in the past, I am confident that the Government will continue to ensure that it is available, and that the considerable amount of money contributed by the taxpayer to support the system will be used to maximum effect.
The right hon. Lady asked about the availability of dentists. I announced to the House that there would be a debate on tackling health inequalities on Thursday
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16 February. I am sure that that will give all Members an opportunity to comment on dentistry as well as other aspects of health care, and also to mention the considerable amount of extra money that the Government have put into health, almost trebling the health budget since 1997.
As the right hon. Lady said, the Childcare Bill and the Children and Adoption Bill await time in the House of Commons. They will be presented as soon as business allows, but, as I hope I have made clear, we have a very crowded legislative agenda. We are determined to continue the pace of change that the country requires, and that necessarily means that there will beas eversignificant business on the Floor of the House, not least next week.
"We expect and intend the 2007 elections to go ahead. The debate on local government reorganisation is gathering pacewe are having a mature discussion with local governmentand we will make our position clear in the Local Government White Paper in the middle of this year."
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I do not know whether, while having his muesli for breakfast, the Leader of the House managed to glance at the Venezuelan media, but if he has had a media brief, he will know of the storm of protest in that country following the Prime Minister's perhaps somewhat incautious remarks about it during Prime Minister's questions yesterday. Will he find time for a debate on Venezuela, and on United Kingdom-Venezuela politics and relationships? If we cannot agree on Venezuela's international relationships, we might at least be able to celebrate its social gains following the removal of the divisions and inequalities that feature elsewhere in the third world.
Mr. Hoon: I am always impressed by the learning and wide reading of my hon. Friends. I must confess that I managed to miss in my media brief this morning the latest revelations in the Venezuelan media, but that is my loss. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue that I am sure he will have an opportunity to raise again at the next Foreign Office Question Time.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Leader of the House referred to the very busy timetable, and I still think it very unwise to programme three potential defeats in one week, but there we are. I support the view that we need a debate on the Carter review, which is published today. It is not just small high street solicitors who are concerned about this issue; so is everybody who cares about the legal aid system. Indeed, this is a major issue in the context of our welfare state and it deserves proper parliamentary debate.
I noticed that when the Leader of the House responded to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on the question about local government reform, he did not rule it out. Many of us suspect that it
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will indeed happen, given the Government's passion for reorganising everythingbe it the police, local government or health authoritiesand making it as uniform as possible, but always bigger than the existing structure. May we therefore have a debate on that issue?
There will be a statement today on the Child Support Agency but at the same time, the Government are releasing the report of the CSA's chief executive, which might inform debate in this House. May we have a separate statement on that subject, or better still, a debate on it?
Lastly, I wonder whether there is scope for a replay of parliamentary debates. A couple of months ago, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) introduced the Armed Forces (Parliamentary Approval for Participation in Armed Conflict) Bill, which deals with the royal prerogative and the power to go to war, but it seems that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has changed his mind on that subject. When it was last debated, only two Conservatives could find their way to the Division Lobby to support such a proposal. Is it possible to introduce new procedures to deal with flip-flops?
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