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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful at least for the right hon. Lady's last, rather entertaining, comment. I suppose that Opposition Front-Bench Members have to live in hope, but that is all they will be living in.
On the right hon. Lady's specific points, I see no reason at all why right hon. and hon. Members should not make contributions about dentistry in today's debate. I am sure that one of the things that they will want to do is to note the fact that the Government have recruited the equivalent of 1,453 more dentists to the national health service, which has contributed to a net increase of 1,100 dentists; that overall there are 4,000 more dentists in primary care since 1997; that we are in the process of agreeing a new contract that will enable committed NHS dentists to earn an average of £80,000 a year; and that a third of dentists are already working under those new arrangements. There is significant progress, over and above the difficulties causedin case the right hon. Lady has forgottenby the reduction in the number of places for trainee dentists under the last Government. We inherited that problem and have sought to tackle it.
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On the nonsense about queues and forcing people to register by telephone, I would have thought that in the 21st century the right hon. Lady might welcome the fact that it is possible to register by telephone rather than having to stand outside in a queue, but clearly the Conservative party is still looking backwards. I recognise that for some of its members the telephone is a new-fangled invention, but it is nevertheless one that most people in society have got used to using. I welcome the efforts of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to modernise the Conservative party; perhaps soon it will use the telegraph rather than the pigeons that are clearly part of its internal communication system.
On Herceptin, I am sorry that the right hon. Lady raised the issue in the way that she did. Obviously, everyone has sympathy for those diagnosed with cancer and it is important that we try to ensure that the drug is made available, especially given the promising results of recent trials, but it is equally important that we have a proper process to determine how new drugs are used, and I would have thought that all Members would agree about that. It remains the case that once the drug is licensed it can be generally used, but before it is licensed the matter is for local decision. That remains the position, and I would have thought that Members would support and welcome it.
On the economy, the right hon. Lady is on rather weak ground when she criticises the Government about unemployment. We realise that the Conservatives are experts on unemploymentthey created and fostered so much of it during their period in office. The truth is that since 1997, 2,341,000 new jobs have been created, filled by people who are working hard to contribute to the success of the country's economyexpressions that could never, ever have been used during the Conservative period in office. I would hope that, rising occasionally above party political rhetoric, the right hon. Lady might acknowledge that success and congratulate the Government on it.
I have always made clear my personal support for compulsory voting. It seems a modest commitment to expect of citizens in society, but I recognise that there are many views in that debate. I am happy to contribute to them.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend represents a former coal-mining constituency, he will know of the great progress that has been made on compensation payments to former miners. However, the issue of surface workers has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, so may we have a debate on that important matter?
I prefer not to be drawn further on my hon. Friend's latter question, but he raises an important
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point about compensation payments. The Government have provided enormous funds to ensure that those harmed as a result of their experience of working in collieries are provided with compensation, although more work remains to be done to ensure that the final payments are made. Certainly, I recognise that there is an outstanding issue in relation to surface workers. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industrywho, incidentally, has just answered questionswill contact my hon. Friend with the details of this matter.
Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the future of the Post Office card account? Is he aware that there is very great concern in many parts of the House about the news that it will cease in 2010not only the fact of that, but the manner of it as well? Is he further aware that although the Government argue that it was always known that the card account would be temporary, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt), said yesterday in Westminster Hall:
We need such a debate not only for the sake of the 4.3 million people who have those accounts and rely on the convenience that they bring, or, indeed, because of the £1 billion a year that the contract is worth to the Post Office, butthis is a very immediate pointbecause sub-postmasters who have reached retirement age who want to sell their businesses now discover that, as a result of that major blow, the business itself has a much smaller value and they are now struggling to sell. It is a very important issue and I urge the Leader of the House to make Government time available to debate it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also find time for a debate on local government reorganisation, as contradictory signals are coming from the Government about their intentions, about the time scale and about the processnot least from the Deputy Prime Minister, as we heard yesterday?
Mr. Hoon: I do not know whether I am supposed to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. Perhaps his hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is out in the country campaigning for the write-in vote that I thought should be required of such an outstanding candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party, but we are all sorry that he is not here to receive our continuing support in his efforts to lead the Liberal Democrats.
The Government have always made it clear that the Post Office card account was an interim arrangement. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will accept that it is an arrangement whereby those who want to continue rightly to use their local post office to receive a range of benefits can do so. Between now and the end of the arrangement in 2010, it would clearly be possiblepilot schemes are already under wayto allow people, having learned from the experience of using a Post Office
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card account, to use many of the similar accounts made available by the Post Office. They operate on exactly the same basis as the Post Office card account and will enable them to continue to receive benefits that way. That seems a wholly sensible and straightforward arrangement, and it will allow post offices to continue to receive the same level and quality of business as they enjoy under the present arrangements.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): We have heard the happy news from Opposition Members of the flurry of babies that have arrived, but may we have a debate in Government time on the contrasting attitudes in the Chamber to the family-friendly policies that have been introduced? Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition is on paternity leave, but someone very like him was seen in the voting Lobby yesterday. Perhaps we can find out whether personation has taken place. Among Government Members, we are seeing the use of family-friendly policies affecting those with coming babies and upcoming retirement in that, according to the TV bulletins, job sharing and hot desking are taking place on a grand scale in Downing street.
Mr. Hoon: I am trying to work out which part of my hon. Friend's observations has anything to do with me. I will probably resist a running commentary on the various issues that he has raised, but the Government are certainly committed to family-friendly policies. I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), whom I should congratulate on the birth of a child, has been converted to the cause of paternity leave. We all know that he voted against the provision when it came before the House, but we always welcome a conversion, and we seem to be welcoming a conversion of large parts of the Conservative party to Labour policies. Long may it continue.
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