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Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): May we have a debate on the reorganisation of the health service in the midlands, specifically the west midlands? Earlier, my right hon. Friend said that more money should be provided, but that people should receive value for money. If we were able to hold a debate on the reorganisation of the health service in the west midlands, should not Members be allowed to test the relationship between restructuring, value for money and costs?

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that, once any proposals for the reorganisation of the health service in the west midlands, or, indeed, any other part of the country, are decided, there will be opportunities for my hon. Friend and all Members to have their say. I emphasise that by 2007–08 the Government will treble the amount of money spent on the health service. Alongside that, it is necessary to ensure that that money is spent successfully and effectively, and provides value for money for taxpayers—the people who contribute to that excellent health budget. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with that approach.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the Leader of the House ask the Deputy Prime Minister or
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one of his Ministers to make a statement on noise and disruption caused by construction works, particularly overnight working, the powers of the local authority to control that through planning and environmental health measures, and perhaps the moral duty of contractors and developers such as Asda, which is building a supermarket in my constituency, to compensate people kept awake at night because of the necessity of overnight working?

Mr. Hoon: I recognise that construction can cause temporary disruption to people's lives, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter directly with the company concerned. I have sympathy for those affected, but I am sure that he would welcome the employment prospects provided by construction and the opportunities provided by a new supermarket for employment in his constituency.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Now that we have banned smoking in all enclosed public places and private members' clubs, is it not hypocritical that the House is exempt and that Members will still be able to smoke in the Smoking Room? What does my right hon. Friend propose to do about that?

Mr. Hoon: I am used to answering questions on matters for which I have absolutely no responsibility, but I recognise the importance of that matter to the outside world, following the votes in the House the other day. It is my strong personal view that although it is not formally subject to the legislation, the House should apply the decision that we have taken for other people to our own arrangements here. I look forward to suggestions as to what the Smoking Room will be called in future.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Through the Leader of the House, may I express my thanks for the great courtesy shown by the Downing street police and staff at the door to a group of second world war veterans handing in a letter yesterday to the Prime Minister on behalf of the widow of the late Lieutenant Norbury, who was wrongly denied a war pension? I hope that my meeting on the subject with the veterans Minister this afternoon will lead to a positive outcome.

May we have a statement or debate on the way in which criminal sentences are described to the public when they are imposed? Last week we saw a great deal of publicity that Abu Hamza had been sentenced to seven years in prison, whereas the reality is that he will serve three and a half years. Would it not be more honest to tell the public that people have been sentenced to a range from three and a half to seven years, so that people will not be disillusioned when they see that those whom they thought had deservedly been put away for a long time are out on the streets all too soon?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is regularly discussed in the House and with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Although my right hon. Friend would accept that there are various circumstances that can lead to a reduction in a sentence, those reductions are not automatic. They are a
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necessary part of our sentencing system. They provide proper control over prisoners in prison, and although the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that some people are not aware that discounts are available for good behaviour, the great majority of the public are aware of that. Indeed, in my experience most people assume that the discounts are rather greater than they are in reality.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): In the last round of post office cuts, more branches were closed in Worsley than in any other constituency in Greater Manchester. Now there is a threat to one of the remaining branches in Roe Green. A series of management problems have led to post office counter trading in an otherwise empty shop, and my constituents rightly fear that that is the forerunner of another closure. In view of that, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the accessibility of post office branches now and in the future?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has made her point, I think, but I recognise the importance of post office counters to people throughout the country, particularly to those who cannot travel further afield for the range of services that the post office provides. I know that the Post Office keeps the matter under regular review, and it is of enormous importance to our citizens and our constituents.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May I add to the right hon. Gentleman's reading list by drawing to his attention early-day motion 1499 on abuse of the elderly, which the motion rightly describes as a national shame?

[That this House condemns the abuse of older people as a national shame; supports the Help the Aged campaign, which is being taken forward in partnership with Action on Elder Abuse, to raise awareness of abuse and increase recognition that all of us need to take responsibility for putting a stop to the abuse of older people; believes that older people have the right to live free from fear and harm; urges immediate action to prevent and tackle elder abuse; and calls for improved mechanisms to address elder abuse through more effective regulatory systems and law enforcement, vetting and barring of health and social care workers and increased access to advocacy and support for people affected by elder abuse.]

The elderly have the right to live free from fear and harm, and an early debate would allow us to highlight the important issue of abuse of the elderly in our society, particularly attacks on the elderly, which many hon. Members know are increasing weekly. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House spared Government time to debate this important matter.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an issue that is important throughout the country. There can be no excuse for such appalling attacks. He has highlighted the issue in his early-day motion, and we shall continue to watch it carefully. I assure him that the Government do not take the matter lightly. We want to see it dealt with and we want the appropriate authorities to take appropriate action.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware that there is great pressure on home
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owners, with a potential rise of 25 per cent. in energy prices. Has not the time come for someone who buys a new home to pay no VAT? People who renovate their homes to try to create warm homes have to pay full VAT. This anomaly needs to be dealt with. We should encourage people to maintain their properties and keep them at a good standard, so let us remove or reduce the burden of VAT.

Mr. Hoon: I take that as an early Budget submission. I am sure such issues will be properly considered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor once the Budget has been set out to the House.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I feel sure that the Leader of the House will recognise that the speech today by the chief executive of the RAC has made a significant contribution not just to road safety but to improving our environment. Mr. King pointed out that we suffer a severe road sign overload. Can the right hon. Gentleman give me some assurance that when the House returns after the recess a Minister will make a statement on changing the regulations so that there is better planning guidance to local authorities and to the Highways Agency?

Mr. Hoon : I have seen press accounts of the speech and recognise that the chief executive of the RAC raises an important issue that affects road safety across the country. Obviously there is a balance to be struck between the need to ensure proper communication of information to motorists in order to provide for their safety, while not overloading their understanding at a time when they are concentrating on driving safely. I am sure that the speech will be considered carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

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