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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We have had four very wordy interventions so far. At that rate, I shall not be able to call every hon. Member who is trying to catch my eye, so I would appreciate hon. Members' co-operation in being concise in putting their questions.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend initiate a debate on the future of junior football clubs, which play a vital role in our communities? An unnecessary tax burden is being placed on them that has never been placed on them previously. If that happens, it could mean their closure.
Mr. Hoon: I know how seriously my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes Scottish football and I am sure that he would be anxious to hear of the issue raised by my hon. Friend. I am not aware of the detail that she refers to, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond to her appropriately.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): On Tuesday, we had the Second Reading of the Commons Bill [Lords]. When might we expect the Second Reading of the Lords Bill [Commons], delivering the Government's 2001 election manifesto pledge for a more accountable second chamber?
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished Member and knows the conventions that govern constitutional change. The Government have already delivered the first stage of reforming our second chamber. It is important that any second stage continues by consensus. This is not a matter that has traditionally divided the political partiesor not across the Chamber, at any rateand in those circumstances, I hope that he will bear this time a little more patiently, as we review the way in which we are determined to deliver our manifesto commitment. That will necessarily take some time.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Just two weeks or so ago, the Chancellor's welcome initiative to fund free off-peak bus travel in local authority boundaries for pensioners and those with disabilities was implemented with great success in most parts of the country, to be rolled out nationally in two years' time. Will the Leader of the House comment on the fact that both Labour-controlled Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire county councils have been able to work with their local authorities to extend that initiative county-wide, which makes sense in many areas, whereas Conservative-controlled Leicestershire county council has not been able to do so? That runs against the Chancellor's intention, does it not? May we have a statement on that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I am well aware that that national initiative
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has not been followed through by some local authorities. It is essential that all local authorities recognise the importance of free off-peak bus travel for our pensionersit is of huge benefit to them and to our societyand it is important that the money that is made available to local authorities is used for that purpose.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): On 25 October, the Secretary of State for Health stated that no primary care trust should fail to prescribe Herceptin on grounds of cost. Following a decision yesterday by the priorities committee of the Shropshire PCT, my constituents must raise £47,000 to be treated, and they are being treated in NHS hospitals where the same equipment, the same drug, the same ward and the same oncologist are delivering that drug free to patients with Welsh addresses or certain Staffordshire addresses. That is medically wrong, it is morally wrong and it is politically inept. Will the Secretary of State for Health come next week to explain to the House why the NHS is not delivering on her promise?
Mr. Hoon: The position has not changed as far as the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health are concerned. She has very clearly set out the position, as the hon. Gentleman has very fairly stated. We would expect every health service organisation throughout the country to accept the terms of what she has set out. That is something that should happen.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Yesterday, the Home Secretary made a very important announcement in a written statement about changes to the compensation paid to the victims of miscarriages of justice and other changes. That has caused a great deal of concern to people who have suffered miscarriages of justicein particular, my constituent, Mike O'Brien, one of the so-called newsagent three, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 11 years. When can we debate those proposals, particularly the Home Secretary's proposed review of whether technical errors in the trial constitute miscarriages of justice?
Mr. Hoon: Of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out in his statement how to deal with the discretionary scheme. That will not affect the legal rights of those who have been subject to miscarriages of justice. I am sure that that issue can be raised with my right hon. Friend at an appropriate stage during Home Office questions. It is an important issue, but we believe that, in making those proposed changes, we are achieving the right balance between compensating those who suffer a miscarriage of justice and those who suffer the consequences of crime.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The Government have been considering the distribution of Olympic events to regions outside London. When might we have a statement in the House so that we can learn what benefit will be derived in Northern Ireland?
As someone who represents a constituency well outside London, I recognise the importance to the rest of the country of understanding how the bid will benefit other parts of the country, but it is equally
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important to recognise that the bid was won by London for London and that, necessarily, a balance must be struck between ensuring that, for example, athletes do not have to travel great distances to compete in their events and recognising that this will be a great national opportunity for the country. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will inform the House in due course, once decisions have been reached about the appropriate distribution of events.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the council tax is hugely unpopular and grossly unfair to people on fixed incomes. Is it not about time that we scrapped that tax, which the Conservatives introduced? May we have a debate on that and on alternative means of raising the revenue that we receive from the council tax?
Mr. Hoon: As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are considering ways in which local taxation could be raised fairly and equitably across the country. That is currently the subject of a detailed review. As soon as that review has been completed, an appropriate statement will be made to the House.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Returning to out-patient appointment times in the Thames valley, which includes my constituency, it was clear, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) pointed out earlier, that the Prime Minister inadvertently gave incorrect figures to the House yesterday. How does the Leader of the House propose to correct that and by which mechanism next week?
Mr. Hoon: If that is the caseobviously I am not in a position to say whether it is true at the momentthere is a well-used process by which statistical mistakes are corrected. Letters would be written and placed in the Library.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): Bearing in mind that, in fewer than four years, China will produce more PhDs than the whole of the United States, clearly the idea that emerging markets are just about cheap and available labour is plainly wrong. Will the Leader of the House provide an opportunity for the House to hold a debate on encouraging more people to go into higher education, particularly in areas such as mine, which historically has suffered from low take-up 20 per cent. as against 35 per cent.? Will he support a campaign that is being launched on Wearside by the university and the Sunderland Echo to encourage more people to go into higher education so that we can unlock the potential on Wearside to compete in a changing and rapidly developing global economy?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that important issue. In business questions today, we have already discussed the manufacturing industry. The challenge for the United Kingdom is to remain competitive in a global environment where we will face real challenges intellectually from countries such as China and India and other countries already engaged extensively in manufacturing. I strongly support the initiative that he mentioned. It is important not only for
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the north-east, but for the whole of the United Kingdom, that we ensure that more and more of our young people get the benefit of a higher education.
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