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Mr. Hoon: I am delighted to welcome the right hon. Lady's observations on a range of policy matters. This week, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, we have witnessed the wholesale conversion of the Conservative party to large parts of the Labour Government's manifesto. The phrase about sinners repenting comes to mind. We all want the Opposition to maintain their commitment to economic stability, which   they say is a good thing; to protecting the environment—we have been telling them so for years; and to the belief that poverty is a bad thing. The fact that the Conservative party has admitted that is progress of sorts. It wants, too, to encourage family-friendly policies.

I am sure that Opposition Members would benefit from reading the rest of the Labour Government's manifesto. I have it with me and would be delighted to make it available to the right hon. Lady so that, when her party publishes its next document—the present one is curiously entitled "Built to Last", presumably followed by the words "for at least a week"—it can continue in the same spirit and adopt our manifesto. Government Members are delighted by that progress, just as we are delighted with progress on the Education and Inspections Bill. I am sure that there will be
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adequate opportunity for hon. Members to debate that important measure in due course. We have debated on several occasions the Government's excellent preparations to deal with the prospect of a flu crisis.

As for climate change, the right hon. Lady is entirely in order in raising those issues, but it would be helpful if she were in order on her own party's policies. As for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, there is no doubt about the Government's commitment to fund high-quality scientific research. The funding of the overall science budget and the Natural Environment Research Council is outstanding. Indeed, it has doubled since 1997. It is important that that organisation should set its own scientific priorities. It is not right for Ministers and politicians to determine the way in which that money is spent. It is for that organisation to judge how best to develop its own research.

We have had a number of discussions about the Post Office card account in recent months, but I should have thought that everyone was united in the objective of ensuring the continuation of the services that the Post Office provides to people who take advantage of the Post Office card account. Everyone will accept that it is sensible, given the long lead time during which the Government are funding the card, that we should find ways of encouraging people to continue to take advantage of the Post Office and use a range of other services that it offers. If Opposition Members had thought this through, they would see that there is a clear and obvious link between the Post Office card and the future of the Post Office, which provides a range of services. It should be clear to people using the card—[Interruption.] I hope that the right hon. Lady will listen—I listened to her—instead of screeching from the Front Bench. I hope that we all share a commitment to the Post Office and the services that it provides. It makes available a range of accounts, which should be used to support the people who use the Post Office card.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I do not know whether the Leader of the House had the opportunity yesterday to visit the "Stop Climate Chaos" lobby across the road, but would it not be opportune to hold a debate on early-day motion 178?

[That this House agrees with the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser that climate change is a threat to civilisation; welcomes the cross-party agreement in favour of major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and particularly in carbon dioxide emissions, by 2050; believes that such a long-term target will best be met through a series of more regular milestones; and therefore notes the Climate Change Bill that was presented by a cross-party group of honourable Members in the final days before the General Election, and hopes that such a Bill will be brought forward in this Parliament so that annual cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of 3 per cent. can be delivered in a framework that includes regular reporting and new scrutiny and corrective processes.]

The motion was tabled by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) and signed by no fewer than 338 hon. Members, including almost the entire Liberal Democrat parliamentary party. This is an important issue, and it needs to be debated in the House.
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May we have a debate on higher education, given that this year the number of applications to universities fell for the first time in six years, with a particularly pronounced fall among English students applying to English universities, which suggests that tuition fees are an important factor?

If we are to properly address terrorism, as of course we must, would it not be the right time to examine again the admissibility of intercept evidence? Perhaps the Police and Justice Bill is an opportunity to do so, given the view expressed by Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman last week that to continue banning telephone tap evidence would be foolish.

Lastly, may we have a debate in Government time on the Government's view of local government? The Minister of Communities and Local Government gave his views last week about what he called "double devolution" without mentioning local authorities at all. We also have the Secretary of State for Education and Skills determining that local education authorities cannot build schools without her having a veto, and the Home Secretary wanting to appoint police authorities himself. Do the Government still believe in local government?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those matters. This is probably the last day on which I will be able to comment on his prospects of becoming the leader of the Liberal Democrats. There does not seem to be any sign of a write-in vote, but we live in hope. We have yet to see the result of that magnificent contest.

I was intrigued to discover the other day that the party committed to proportional representation seems to have failed to persuade its own Members of Parliament to cast their second preference votes. Since the party constantly, at business questions and on other occasions, encourages the Government to consider the benefits of proportional representation, which presumably involves second, third and other preference votes, it is surprising that members of the Liberal Democrat party in the House do not seem to have followed their own advice. I was intrigued to see comments by various Members, including the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who apparently said:

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was adopting the same approach as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who said:

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I have given the right hon. Gentleman a very generous run. I take the old-fashioned view that this session is about the business for next week. If everyone is hoping to catch my eye in the time available, that is what we should do.

Mr. Hoon: I entirely agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
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With reference to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I have already dealt with climate change. The Government would always be delighted to debate the matter. The United Kingdom is on course to meet and exceed its Kyoto target—one of only two of the EU 15 to do so. We have an outstanding record in this regard, of which the Government are extraordinarily proud.

On higher education, there is a clear explanation for the adjustment in the figures for this year. Last year, there was a significant increase in the number of university applications. Not surprisingly, that has been adjusted. It is impossible to keep up that level of increase, but overall there is a significant increase in the number of people applying for university places, which the Government strongly support.

On the admissibility of intercept evidence, anyone responsible for trying to bring terrorists and other significant criminals to justice wants as much evidence as possible to be made available to the court. That is not the issue. I hope the hon. Gentleman will think about this carefully. The issue is the extent to which making intercept evidence available jeopardises the way in which that evidence is secured. Frankly, that is a difficult balance to strike. I have seen the product of such intercepts, and it would be extremely dangerous for the future of our security services and the means that they adopt if we were to allow such evidence to be adduced in court and challenged in cross-examination. He must think through those important issues.

The Government are undertaking a number of important pieces of work on local government. I anticipate that a White Paper will be produced in due course, as a result of which there will be lots of opportunities for hon. Members to debate the matter.

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