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Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): No topic is more controversial locally than the disposal of waste. Although I do not expect my right hon. Friend to comment on a controversial planning application in my constituency, can we have an urgent debate on the strategy for waste recycling and disposal, including incineration? If he cannot find time to hold a debate immediately, will he ask his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry to put the best available scientific evidence in the public domain, which would allow hon. Members to deal with the matter constructively?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which is important up and down the country. He takes a considerable interest in such matters, so he knows that the Government have devoted an enormous amount of extra effort to, for example, promoting recycling, which is an important part of waste disposal. The level of recycling in this country has been significantly improved, but more needs to be done to meet the standards achieved in other European countries, so I am grateful for his interest in the subject.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House in anticipation of his finding time to debate the health funding crisis in Shropshire. Is he aware that patients are being told that beds are no longer available because of the low nurse to patient ratio
 
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at the Princess Royal hospital? The primary care back-up services are insufficient, which means that my constituents are suffering.

Mr. Hoon: I do not in any way minimise the difficulties and challenges faced by those responsible for providing health care in Shropshire, but the hon. Gentleman knows that there has been huge investment in the national health service. The amount of money made available for health care will have tripled between 1997 and 2007–08. When he refers to a health funding crisis, he must put it in this context: 432 out of 566 NHS organisations provide a service by balancing their books, and if three quarters of the national health service can do that, there is no reason why the rest cannot do the same. Only around 4 per cent. of NHS organisations account for 50 per cent. of the overspend, and it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to say in the light of the huge amount of extra money being put into the NHS that those organisations that are failing to balance their books should look hard at why that is the case.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I note that next week's provisional business covers Monday 13 March, which is Commonwealth day. Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1709, which has been signed by numerous hon. Members, including me?

[That this House, in common with all parliaments of the Commonwealth, gladly observes Commonwealth Day on Monday 13th March; sincerely supports this year's theme of Health and Vitality—The Commonwealth Challenge, emphasising the Commonwealth's commitment to health and fitness to bring hope to the world; and recognises the excellent work done by the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in partnership with its sister branches in the advancement of parliamentary democracy and good governance throughout the Commonwealth.]

Despite the pressures of parliamentary business, would it not be appropriate to have a debate in Government time on the performance, role, objectives and future of the Commonwealth's promotion of parliamentary democracy and good governance in countries throughout the world?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. The Government strongly support the Commonwealth and I share his commitment to Commonwealth day and what it represents. If he were to apply to secure an Adjournment debate in this House or Westminster Hall, I am sure that that topic would be suitable.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): My constituents are extremely concerned about the news, which the shadow Leader of the House has mentioned, that 10,000 more post offices around the country may be closed. Post offices are particularly important to people in isolated rural communities, and it is the old, those who do not have transport and the poorest members of our society who most depend on their services. Those people are concerned that the Government are not committed to rural post offices because of the withdrawal of the Post Office card
 
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account. The Leader of the House has said that the Government are committed to rural post offices, but can we have a debate as soon as possible?

Mr. Hoon: I have already emphasised the Government's commitment to postal services, particularly rural postal services. We all know that local post offices play a vital role in the community in many small towns and villages. The Government remain committed to that. That is why we introduced the Post Office account and why we continue to want the people who use that account to use postal services. Some 25 Post Office accounts are available to people, and they are simple and straightforward to use. The whole purpose of the various pilots that have been conducted recently is to encourage people to move away from the account to use other Post Office accounts that will give them greater benefits than are currently available to them, not least interest on their accounts.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It is some time since the House was given an opportunity to debate progress on the Government's 10-year strategy on the misuse of drugs. Several issues are in the headlines at the moment. The Home Secretary is considering the classification of drugs, many Members are worried about the increasing use of methamphetamine, and drug deaths are on the increase. May I ask the Government to give us the opportunity to debate progress on their strategy?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise an issue that is important everywhere. The Government have used their considerable powers all over the country, and indeed internationally, to deal with the threat that drugs pose in our society. We regularly discuss that in this House and I am sure that such opportunities will be given to hon. Members in due course.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House encourage his right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to attend the House as soon as possible to explain why her welcome commitment to community hospitals, as laid out in the recent White Paper, is being so flagrantly ignored by primary care trusts, notably West Wiltshire primary care trust in respect of Westbury hospital, which is due virtually to close this weekend?

Mr. Hoon: I happened to be in the Chamber yesterday evening, and I am sure that I saw my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary here to participate in debates concerned with the health service. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are making noises from sedentary positions, but I know that their ingenuity is sufficient to allow them to raise such questions in the context of yesterday's debate.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend announced that we are to debate the Education and Inspections Bill on 15 March. No doubt we will be treated to long speeches from the Front Bench and curtailed time for Back Benchers to contribute. With that in mind, will he ensure that when we come to discuss
 
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the detail of the Bill on Report, ample time is allocated so that we can all contribute to this very important debate about the future of our education service?

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that my hon. Friend, who is usually an outgoing and optimistic Member of this House, takes, if he will forgive me for saying so, such a cynical view of our proceedings. My experience of speaking from the Dispatch Box is that the length of Front-Bench speeches is largely the result of the number of interventions that are taken. Perhaps if my hon. Friends resist the temptation to intervene on the Minister there will be more time available for Back-Bench contributions. To deal with my hon. Friend's substantive point, it is important that the House has a full opportunity to debate and discuss these issues, and I am confident that sufficient time will be made available.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): May I thank the Speaker and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for helping me, following the point of order that I made 13 or 14 days ago, to extract the secret contract between the Post Office and the Government in 2002? It revealed that the POCA—Post Office card account—was intended to be an interim step for account holders. Incredibly, however, the contract that went to benefit customers did not mention the fact that the card was meant to be interim or temporary—words which, for the benefit of the Leader of the House, are synonymous according to the dictionary. That is an extraordinary deceit pulled on millions of benefit holders. The fact that the Government now intend to shift all benefit recipients on to direct payment, regardless of what the Leader of the House just said, means that 14,400 post offices across the country may be in jeopardy because Adam Crozier came to the all-party group on sub-post offices and said that he needs only 4,000 to run a postal service. Can we please have a debate—


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