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Mr. Hoon: Once again, I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising such a range of subjects. Obviously, in the fullness of time, they will afford the opportunity for debate in the House. The right hon. Lady began by complaining that there had been 39 written statements. I did not quite reach 39 when I counted the debates that she encouraged us to hold, but the list fell not far short of that number, ranging across foreign and domestic policy.

Of course, the House has a procedure for written ministerial statements. I assume that if my right hon. and hon. Friends did not table such statements, the right hon. Lady would complain about that as well. Trying to keep the House informed about matters that are of obvious consequence and fall within the House's rules seems to me a matter for congratulation, not complaint. If the right hon. Lady believes that written ministerial statements should be made in a different form, she has the opportunity under the House's rules to make representations to that effect. I am not aware that any such representations have been made other than today, just now, which—as the right hon. Lady will see if she looks at the rules—is a little late.

The right hon. Lady asked for a debate on Foreign Office policy. The matter was raised last week, we are considering it, and I am sure that there will be an opportunity for such a debate in due course As for job cuts in the national health service, the right hon. Lady has adopted a common Opposition policy, which I vaguely recall from former times—the policy of highlighting particular incidents, and purporting to suggest somehow that they represent a general trend. If she checks the position, she will find that a large number of jobs have been created in the NHS. There are a large number of new nurses, consultants and doctors, all providing vital health care for the people of this country. I hope that the right hon. Lady will put the record straight in future.

I should have expected the right hon. Lady to welcome the use of consultancy to assist large organisations such as the national health service. I assume that she shares the Government's wish to ensure that the money that the NHS receives from the taxpayer is spent properly, wisely and effectively, and delivers the service that we all want. I should have thought that she would welcome the contribution that consultants can make to that, rather than criticising it.

The use of the word "epitaph" was interesting. I know that Opposition Members do not like being reminded of the number of recent general elections that they have managed to lose, but I remind them that the most recent took place less than a year ago. As far as I recall, Parliaments can run for as long as five years. The Government have many more years to run, many more new policies to introduce, many more reforms to make and will continue with their commitment to the people of this country, delivering high quality services at an affordable price—

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On and on and on.

Mr. Hoon: Well, I am being heckled about the length of time that this Government may continue, but that is a matter for the British people. They have certainly not
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shown much enthusiasm for the Conservative party recently, and there is little sign in the current polls that they intend to do so. I know that the hon. Gentleman is busy trying to change the party's policies, but we will all wait to see whether the result of those flip-flops is any more successful than previous efforts. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman lives in hope, otherwise he would not be here. At the moment, it is all that he has got.

As for a debate on equal opportunities, the Government would be delighted to defend their record on equal opportunities and, in particular, on care for the elderly. The Government are extremely proud of the substantial amounts of extra money that have been provided to support pensioners, especially the poorest pensioners, and we would be delighted to defend that record in any debate on the subject.

As for the question of Cabinet government, we heard earlier today from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and we have heard from a series of Cabinet Ministers this week. I assure the right hon. Lady that Cabinet Government is alive and well. It certainly was an hour ago when I attended the most recent meeting of the Cabinet.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): With reference to the superfluity of written ministerial statements today, I remind the Leader of the House that the ministerial code of conduct contains a specific rule that such statements should not be given the day before a recess. Will he get a grip on his colleagues in other Departments and ensure that they abide by the rules?

We need an urgent debate on long-term care for the elderly. I have asked two questions in consecutive weeks of the Prime Minister on the subject without any sort of sensible reply—so I tried a different question to the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday. The Wanless report reinforces the point made by the royal commission that long-term care for the elderly should be provided free at the point of use and is an urgent matter. Given that five long Budgets ago the Chancellor peppered almost every paragraph with, "Mr. Wanless this and Mr. Wanless that", he obviously sees Mr. Wanless as a guru—

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): He's a knight, now.

Mr. Heath: He is now, but he was not then. In any case, it is time that we did something to give elderly people dignity in their old age. I hope that we can have an urgent debate.

May we have a debate on housing? We have 1.5 million people waiting for a council house and homelessness has doubled in the lifetime of this Labour Government. We had an announcement in the Budget, with considerable fanfare, of £970 million for housing, but the small print of the budget for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister contains not a single extra penny for housing. We need an explanation of why this Government do so badly in providing social housing that people can afford.

Finally, may we have a debate on communications with Australia, because there is evidently a problem? We hear that the Prime Minister has apologised for the only thing that we did not want him to apologise for—saying that he was going—and we also hear that he has
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fundamentally undermined the energy policy by saying that new nuclear power stations are the future. Why on earth are we bothering with a review? There is clearly something garbling communications with Australia, and it is not even the Deputy Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House look into that and arrange a debate?

Mr. Hoon: I was intending to commiserate with the hon. Gentleman because there was a superfluity of candidates for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Democrats, and he sadly came third. However, we live in hope, because the website that encourages such matters has already opened a book on the next leadership contest.With our sterling support, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can only improve his position for next time.

We welcome the Wanless report and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not seen the Government's response. We want to study it, and we believe that it endorses our vision as set out in the White Paper, "Our health, our care, our say". Everyone recognises that the social care system needs streamlining and reforming, and the report will help in a constructive debate about how to achieve that.

I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on ensuring the dignity of elderly people in retirement—an issue that this Government have concentrated, and will continue to concentrate, on. On housing, he is well aware of the significant changes in our society, which clearly mean that more people require housing. In fact, today, more people have a roof over their head than ever before. I recognise that some of the social changes mean that more people are on waiting lists and looking for accommodation, but that does not mean that they are homeless, in the sense that they have nowhere appropriate to live. As for communications with Australia, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they are extremely good; indeed, the flight home is going well.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see a recent documentary by the BBC on the unscrupulous and unacceptable practices of some estate agents? I know that the Government are committed to legislating for the introduction of a mandatory redress scheme that will cover all the activities of estate agents, but can he assure me that such legislation will be introduced as soon as possible, and that its scope will extend to the establishing of minimum criteria that must be met to qualify to set up as an estate agent? We owe it to our constituents to ensure that they are fully and properly protected in making what, for most of them, will be the most important financial transaction of their lives.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and as he rightly says, for most people, such financial transactions are probably the most important ones that they undertake in their entire lives. Estate agents are currently regulated by the Estate Agents Act 1979, which gives the Office of Fair Trading the power to prohibit persons from acting as estate agents in certain circumstances. However, the Government are looking at ways of improving estate agents' regulation, and we will put in place arrangements to ensure that consumers get redress from
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an independent body when they have legitimate grievances against estate agents. So the Government do take this issue very seriously, we recognise that there is public concern and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.

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