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Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on surplus school places and the way in which Conservative county councils such as Kent seem arbitrarily and unfairly to be targeting schools in deprived and low-income areas? Such a debate would allow us to expose the reasons why Kent has suddenly singled out Dover and said that it wants to close down St. Radigund's school, Melbourne school, South Deal school and St. Joseph's school in Aylesham, against the wishes of people in those areas.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue and one that clearly directly affects his constituents. I am sure, his having raised it in the way that he has today, that notice will be taken by Kent county council.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): On 1 February, the propaganda unit at the Treasury, the Government news network, published the headline "Primarolo Hails Success of Flexible Tax Credit System". At the end of the month, by the Paymaster General's own figures,
Each and every one of those disputed payments represents misery for a family with young children. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, when the
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Chancellor of the Exchequer makes his Budget statement on 22 March, instead of singing his own praises he addresses the 44,000 families who are living in fear?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was referring in his opening remarks to hard-working civil servants serving the country with absolute impartiality and objectivity in the information that they make available. I am sure that that is what he intended to say, at any rate.
We all recognise that there have been difficulties with the implementation of tax credit arrangements. That is why such effort has been put into ensuring that the system operates fairly and efficientlyand for the great majority of people, that is indeed the case. The system provides opportunities and financial support for families that was simply not previously available. Crucially, it also helps very many single-parent families back into the labour market. That would not have been possible without the availability of tax credits. I recognise that more work has to be done to ensure that the system can in particular respond quickly to the sudden and dramatic changes that affect people in their daily livesthat is the reason for the difficulties that have arisenand we will continue to monitor that.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had a chance to look at early-day motion 1661, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern), and which states:
[That this House congratulates the Bishop of Dunkeld, Bishop Vincent Logan on the Silver Jubilee of his episcopal ordination; notes that Bishop Logan was ordained Bishop of Dunkeld in the Cathedral Church of St Andrew, Dundee on 26th February 1981; further notes that he was educated in Bathgate, Blairs and Drygrange and ordained to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 1964 and that he served Episcopal Vicar for Education in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh; further notes Bishop Logan's continuing interest in education and in the formation of candidates for the priesthood; thanks Bishop Logan for his hard work in the Diocese of Dunkeld and beyond; and wishes Bishop Logan many more years of service.]
It congratulates Bishop Logan on his ordination 25 years ago as a bishop in Scotland. It is his silver jubilee next week, and he is a well known and respected figure in Scottish society. Will my right hon. Friend join in with the congratulations?
Mr. Hoon: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in offering congratulations and grateful to him for telling me the subject matter of his early-day motion, as there seems to be a disturbing, recent trend of assuming that I have read every one of them.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD):
I hope that the Leader of the House has had a chance to read a letter in The Times today from six professors of law at Cambridge university, expressing their concern about the extraordinary powers granted to the Government by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is now widely known as the "Abolition of Parliament
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Bill". Will he take steps to rescind the decision of the House last Thursday not to consider the Bill in a Committee of the whole House but to take it upstairs? Surely, given the Bill's massive constitutional importance and the seriousness of what part 1 does to the House's powers, all Members should have the opportunity to discuss it in detail on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Hoon: I know that the hon. Gentleman is on temporary, sabbatical leave from the university of Cambridge. We are delighted to have him here for a relatively short time while he represents the people of Cambridge. I hope that he did not stimulate that letter in The Times from his former colleagues in the law faculty at Cambridge university. I know that he is a distinguished lawyer and anxious to get back to academic life as soon as possible, but before he does so he will of course have the opportunity to debate the Bill in Committee in detail, and we look forward to his observations.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that a report is due out tomorrow of a major inquiry by Lord Carlile into the outrageous use of restraint, isolation and strip-searching of children in custody, which follows the death of a teenager in custody? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a debate on that important subject?
Mr. Hoon: I have not yet seen the detail of the report, but from my hon. Friend's description, it obviously raises very important issues. I am sure that there will be opportunities to discuss it on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Does the Leader of the House not feel the slightest discomfort at the Government's committing a major deployment of troops to Afghanistan without any major debate in the House? May I suggest that he entertains seriously a request for a debate on Iran, which is contributing to the difficulties in Afghanistan? Is not it time that the Government held, in Government time, a full day's debate on the situation across the entire middle east, including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, while we consider the very serious matter of this major deployment?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that we have regular defence debates. Although they are given particular titles, the underlying arrangements have never changed, whereby right hon. and hon. Members can contribute across the range of defence issues. That has always been the practice. Debates on defence take place more regularly than those on most other subjects. There was an opportunity for discussion in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement on the deployment to Afghanistan, so I do not accept that there are no opportunities for Members to raise those issues. They are important and are discussed on a regular basis.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
There can hardly be a Member in this House whose constituents, or at least some of them, have not been disturbed, harassed or, in extreme cases, threatened by the
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activities of Travellers. In Reading, we recently lost an entire week's worth of cataract operations because of a Travellers' encampment outside an NHS treatment centre. Given the wide disparity in approaches to that problem by police forces and local authorities, does the Leader of the House agree that there is a strong case for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to take part in a debate aimed at providing more efficient and tougher action in defence of the law-abiding community?
Mr. Hoon: I know that in my constituency the issue causes enormous distress and anger among local people. That is why the Government have strengthened the law on trespass and ensured that local authorities have the power to take swift action. I can only encourage local authorities to use the full powers that the Government have made available.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to motion No. 49 on today's Order Paper, which has been tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and me, among members of five political parties in the House? The motion calls for the setting up of a Select Committee of seven Privy Councillors to look into the events and Government policy leading up to the conflict in Iraq and its immediate aftermath. Given that the motion is signed by no fewer than 155 right hon. and hon. Members across the House, is not it time to debate that matter urgently in Government time?
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