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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the introduction of the national minimum wage has enhanced the quality of life of many of our constituents, especially our young people. However, a loophole remains whereby unscrupulous employers can include in the national minimum wage gratuities and tips. Will my right hon. Friend raise the matter with the appropriate Minister so that the loophole is closed and the strength of feeling among Labour Members about consumers still being asked to subsidise unscrupulous employers is demonstrated?
Mr. Hoon: The issue has been raised with me before and I recognise its importance. It is vital that the integrity of our minimum wage legislation is respected and recognised, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take up the matter in due course.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): May we please have a debate on the television licence fee concessionary schemes? More than 70 Members have signed early-day motion 1782 on the TV licence fee scheme for domestic abuse refuges.
[That this House is deeply concerned that women who have fled to refuge centres due to domestic abuse are responsible for purchasing a television licence immediately should they have a television in their room; notes that many women in such a distressed and displaced position are particularly reliant upon television, especially to entertain their children; is aware that women are at the greatest risk of homicide when they have fled their abuser; further notes that violent men who stalk their ex-partners often pose as officials to gain access to properties when seeking the women; believes that women who have fled a violent partner should not feel threatened by an enforcement officer arriving unannounced at the refuge; further notes that the Government's own targets for local authorities is one refuge bed space per 10,000 population, totalling 6,000 across the UK; further notes that women often do not know how long they will need to stay in a refuge; expresses concern that funds from charities and organisations which run refuge centres are being diverted to pay for television licences for the rooms available to sheltered women; recognises that the hospitality sector already benefits from television licence concessions; further recognises that it is the Government's stated policy to assist the vulnerable in accessing television services; and therefore calls for women's refuge centres to be included in the same television licence fee scheme as hotels and guesthouses.]
Such refuges do not enjoy any fee concessions, although profit-making businesses such as hotels and guest houses do. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the matter in light of the BBC charter review White Paper, which was published last month, so that Ministers can take account of the views of hon. Members when formulating legislation?
I do not know whether right hon. and hon. Members have had the same experience as me, but
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nothing has caused more difficulty over the years than the variety of concessionary television licence schemes. The schemes were introduced for perfectly proper reasons and they were amended, which caused still further confusion. I realise that a proper system for concessions must be fair for different individuals and institutions, so I am sure that we will strive to achieve that.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): The Leader of the House might be aware that the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in my constituency has a £50 million financial deficit. It was announced just last week that it is laying off 500 staff and closing many of its departments, so it might surprise him, as it did me, to find out that one of my constituents sent it a cheque for £15 when he felt bad about missing an appointment with a consultant at the hospital, only to find it returned with a note saying that the hospital did not need the money. We are all in favour of health care being free at the point of use, but can the Leader of the House tell me how on earth we have got into this kind of mess with the health service?
Mr. Hoon: I was interested by the hon. Gentleman's last observation. If, finally, the entire Conservative party has been converted to supporting the national health service and does not want extensive privatisation, it is a welcome improvement to its position. May I emphasise a point that I have made repeatedly? Given the amounts that are made available from the taxpayer to the national health service, it is important that all NHS organisations maintain a balance between their expenditure and income. Given that only a handful are failing to achieve that, it is important that we continue to offer help and assistance to the hon. Gentleman's hospital and others that are not able to manage their finances effectively. Such help is available, and it will go on being available until we ensure that we are getting the best value for the taxpayer out of the enormous sums that are put into the health service.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): May I return to the cross-party calls for an early debate on job losses in the NHS? Three years ago, Ravenscourt Park hospital, which is in my constituency, was nationalised. At that time the chief executive of the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust said to the press that staffing was growing all the time and that he was looking to recruit from all over the world, starting with Germany and going on from there. Three years later, the same chief executive announced 300 redundancies, so may we have an early opportunity to debate boom and bust in the NHS under Labour?
The hon. Gentleman misses from his litany of complaint the quality and number of treatments undertaken by health service hospitals and bodies throughout the country. We want to see experienced health service professionalsnurses, doctors and consultantsdelivering the service. We want them to deliver the service with overheads that are as low as can possibly be achieved. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that the national health service is delivering the treatments and quality of care for which it is rightly famed. It is a success and a cause for congratulation that that is being done more efficiently and cost-effectively.
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Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be the height of hypocrisy to shed crocodile tears for one's local health service if one is covered by a private medical insurance scheme? Would it not be a good idea if Conservative Members were to tell us whether they are covered when they ask questions on the subject?
Mr. Hoon: The Government's ambition is to continue to ensure that the national health service offers both choice and a quality of service that are comparable with anything available in private health care. That is a perfectly proper ambition for a Government who are concerned about the great majority of the people of this country.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May we have an early debate on raves? For the second time in less than 12 months, Denge wood in my constituency has had a rave involving many hundreds of people, which caused a huge amount of noise all night for local residents. A site of special scientific interest has been damaged due to rubbish, trees being torn up and even human excrement left there. How does that fit with the Government's respect agenda?
Mr. Hoon: It fits to the extent that there are proper procedures and arrangements for the licensing and conduct of such events. If they are not observed and recognised, it is important that the appropriate authorities, whether that is the local council or police service, take effective action, and we will support them in doing so.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): The Leader of the House will be aware that despite the availability of the morning-after pill to young teenage girls, numbers of pregnancies are rising, especially among the 13 to 14-year-old age group. Will he make available Government time to debate the impact that the Government's approach is having on young people in particular and society in general, and to allow hon. Members to discuss other ways of discouraging teenagers from becoming sexually active?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady raises a vital issue about which the Government are seriously concerned. We must ensure that the appropriate education and services are available to advise young people. I strongly agree with her, and the Government take the matter seriously.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In north Northamptonshire, residents want to keep their own primary care trust. The Secretary of State for Health is due to announce changes to the configuration of PCTs next month. Before she makes her decision, will the Leader of the House make Government time available for a debate on PCT reconfiguration, and will he ensure that the Secretary of State makes an oral statement to the House, not a written one?
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