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Mr. Hoon: And a fairly predictable one it was, as well. I seize on one part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks"regardless of what the Leader of the House just said." I am not sure that he can ignore what I said in quite the way that he has chosen to do. We all want rural postal services to be preserved and, indeed, enhanced where appropriate. We all want to ensure that people who currently use the post office to receive their benefits continue to do so and that a large number of simple and straightforward Post Office accounts are available. Surely all that means that it is wholly sensible to continue to have the benefits paid in this way and, moreover, to enhance the interest available to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and other constituents around the country, through using the other Post Office accounts.
[That this House is concerned that medical and scientific evidence shows that as many as 200,000 passengers a year are exposed to air contaminated with organophosphates and hydrocarbon
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compounds on UK registered aircraft and that the number of contaminated events in 2005 reported by the British Airline Pilots Association, were a record high; regrets the lack of UK research into the danger of exposure to pyrolised engine oils; notes that effective filtration systems costing less than £10,000 per aircraft are available and calls for their mandatory use to reduce serious risks to the health of the travelling public and operating crews; and believes that passengers should be informed when they have been exposed to air contamination on UK registered aircraft.]
That matter has been raised by the British Air Line Pilots Association, which is greatly anxious about the incidents that occurred last year in which 200,000 passengers on British planes were exposed to contamination from fumes from organophosphates and hydrocarbons. Since the early-day motion was tabled on 9 January, there has been a further incident in a plane flying from Belfast airport whereby the pilot became incapacitated and could not react to his safety instructions. The other pilot had to take over, and the flight was recalled to Belfast airport. There is a serious danger of a catastrophe
Mr. Hoon: I could not have put it better myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that this matter is taken extremely seriously by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. It is being investigated, and I will ensure that he writes to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate in Government time on Government measures to help to create and sustain job and employment opportunities in economically deprived areas? Such a debate would allow us to raise the issue of the Trivirix plant in west Belfast. Sadly, that constituency is not represented in this House by its elected Member, but I am happy to raise the concerns of workers and constituents on this occasion. Those workers have been badly treated, and the management have simply abandoned the operation. I urge the Leader of the House to allow a debate so that we can highlight those issues.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes his point with his customary clarity. I am sure that the issue will be considered very carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that next month sees the introduction of the Government's scheme for free bus travel for pensioners. Is he aware that a serious anomaly has arisen in Tyne and Wear, where there is a £5.5 million shortfall in funding the scheme? Given the urgency of the situation, can we have a debate next week to establish how it has arisen and what might be done about it, and, in particular, to make it clear that it is not local councillors, but Ministers and mandarins in Whitehall, who are responsible?
I emphasise to my hon. Friend the importance that the Government attach to bus travel
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and bus services. That is why a significant amount of money has been made available right across the country to ensure that free bus travel and other concessionary schemes are available to our constituents. I will invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to respond directly on the specific issue in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): When can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the future size and shape of the Territorial Army? It has been rumouredand interestingly not deniedthat the TA unit in Shetland is to be closed as part of the rebalancing exercise. If true, we will be left with no military presence in Shetland and any Shetlander wishing to serve in the TA will be denied the opportunity to do so. An Army spokesman told us in January that an announcement would be made in the House in early to middle February. When will we get it?
Mr. Hoon: I know from my experience in the Ministry of Defence the importance that it and the Government attach to the contribution of members of the TA to our armed forces. In recent years, they have provided an indispensable source of support for regular forces in ways that would not have been recognised historically. Instead of simply training regularly, they now train and deploy, often alongside their regular Army counterparts. The Ministry of Defence therefore attaches great importance to the service that they provide.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on special schools? There is a good school for those with moderate learning difficulties in my constituency, which Ofsted rated as excellent, yet the Conservative council in Wandsworth plan to close it. A debate would give us time to explain Government policyand, I believe, that of the Leader of the Oppositionthat we should not close special schools but ensure that parents have a choice between special and mainstream schools. Hon. Members of all parties should support that policy.
Mr. Hoon: I recognise the concern that has been caused to my hon. Friend's constituents. The Government's position is clear: it is for local education authorities rather than for Ministers to determine school provision in their area. That is a matter for school organisation committees, but that policy does not appear to be followed with any consistency by Conservative-controlled local authorities, which act as they think fit, and not according to the policy that the Conservative party leader set out.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I do not know how much the Leader of the House knows about planning, but it appears that Her Majesty's Government are changing the planning status of airfields by characterising them as brownfield sites. Of course, we need more affordable housing in the countryside but surely such a far-reaching change should be properly consulted upon.
I am sure that a far-reaching change would be consulted upon. Obviously, it is important that the appropriate planning rules should be applied to specific
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circumstances. I have no doubt that that will happen and I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no significant change in Government policy on that.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend grant time for a debate on the postcode lottery and loss of patient choice for those requesting stem cell salvage from umbilical cord blood samples? My constituent, Claudia Harrison, has multiple sclerosis. She wants a simple blood test taken from the umbilical cord when her baby is born in June. My local hospital has refused that request, yet the hospital 17 miles down the road will do the blood test, but only if she transfers her ante-natal care to it. It is unfair that parents are faced with the choice of either travelling extensive distances for a test that will cost nothing to the local hospitalmy constituent will pay for the stem cell bankingor doing without it. It is unfair and not right that parents should face such choices, and the House should debate the subject.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has made her point clearly. I shall not comment on an individual case with which I am not familiar but I am sure that, if it raises wider issues, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will respond accordingly.
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