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Mr. Hoon: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for—

John Bercow: Misrepresenting him.

Mr. Hoon: I was going to say extending the range of his competencies. As an employment lawyer, he will clearly be familiar with such matters, so I will avoid misdescribing his abilities in future.

On waste disposal and nuclear power, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that the Government have undertaken an extensive review of this country's energy requirements and the ways in which we might fulfil them. That consultation period concluded on 14 April. The Government are considering those representations carefully, and will of course inform the House of their conclusions in due course.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a good deal of concern, certainly on Labour Benches, about the Government reverting to the pre-1997 practice whereby Parliament is virtually shut down for nearly three months? While it is true that constituency and casework is undertaken, at least by most of us, we are not allowed to do our main job. Does any Parliament in a democracy shut down for such a long period; and what justification can there be for reverting to the old practices?

Mr. Hoon: This Parliament probably sits for more weeks in the year than almost any other that I am familiar with. That is the short answer to my hon. Friend's question. For those who want to spend still more time here, I recognise, as I have told the House before, that it is important to consider ways of improving the arrangements during the summer recess, not least to try to bring Members back to the House as early as possible. One of the practical problems has been the timing and organisation of party conferences. I have discussed with each of the main political parties the possibility of bringing those forward to allow the House to sit promptly thereafter, and I hope that they will consider that carefully.
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Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that, sadly, Hertfordshire fire and rescue services are about to hold a strike? There is a dispute between the excellent firefighters in Hertfordshire and their employers. The chief fire officer naturally asked the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that military cover be supplied should the strike go ahead. A Minister told me yesterday that it had been refused. No request went to the Ministry of Defence for military cover—81 military people were required. It would be the first time in this country that no military cover was provided in the event of a firefighters' strike. That would put my constituents' lives at risk. Will a Minister come to the House to explain why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister did not request the firefighters that we need?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman speaks from considerable knowledge and experience. Without going into detail about the specific dispute, I hope that he will use his good offices to find ways to avoid the strike. No benefit can follow to any part of our society from it, and I hope that he will join me in urging those who call for such a strike to call it off.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend mark and celebrate with a debate nurses day, which is on 12 May this year? I do not believe that all nurses would want to associate themselves with the behaviour of the Royal College of Nursing at its conference yesterday. When a woman stands in front of a bulk of women and is harangued in such a way, it does a disservice to nurses and women. I wish that the RCN had been as passionate in supporting low paid manual workers when the Conservative party decimated their jobs.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of knowledge and experience of the nursing profession and I shall not try to match her expertise. As I have already said, the Government take seriously the tremendous contribution that nurses make. We have supported them by massively increasing the number of nurses in the national health service and substantially increasing their real income. A newly qualified nurse will now earn £19,166—a 25.6 per cent. real terms increase since 1997. We have backed our commitment to the NHS and nursing both in the rewards to individual nurses and in the number of nurses who currently practise.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House at an early opportunity to explain the policy behind the Identity Cards Act 2006? Last weekend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), said that identity cards would carry health information about individuals. Last October, the Home Secretary expressly said that they would not. Indeed, throughout our discussions on the measure, from after the general election to Royal Assent, the Government's case was that health information would not be carried on identity cards or on the national identity register. It appears that the Home Office is having a little local difficulty, and the Home Secretary needs to come here and sort himself out.
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Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has spent a great deal of time at the Dispatch Box in the most recent Session. When we consider the Bills that the Government plan to introduce, the Home Office is prominent in its contribution to legislation. We debated the important identity cards measure at great length on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I anticipate that the hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise further issues with my right hon. Friend at the next Home Office Question Time.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the assistance available to people who are made redundant? I previously raised with him the 700 workers at Outokumpu steel works in my constituency who were made redundant. As a result of his good offices and those of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, a rapid response programme was set up. However, contrary to the advice that officials are giving Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions, the information that I receive from constituents and Gary Gordon, the Transport and General Workers union representative at Outokumpu, is that many people in genuine need are being refused assistance for retraining and, when assistance has been offered, the response is often far from rapid. Those matters are important and I hope that my right hon. Friend will arrange for early consideration of them.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has assiduously raised the interests of that specific group of workers and I recognise the concern that he properly expresses. I am disappointed to learn that the rapid response programme, which has generally been a successful Government initiative to assist those who face unemployment or redundancy, has not appeared to work as well as it should have done in the case that he raises. I shall ensure that the Department of Trade and Industry is made aware of that.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate soon, in Government time, on the state of the economy in Northern Ireland? Yesterday, the Prudential insurance company announced the closure of its Belfast call centre office as well as offices in Bristol and London, with a loss of 500 jobs, many of them to India. In 2002, Prudential signed an agreement with the union that stipulated that no compulsory redundancies would be made at the firm as a result of offshoring. That deal ran out in February and there are concerns that the company deliberately waited until now so that it would not be held to it. It is a serious matter for the many workers involved and I hope that the Leader of the House can draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those important issues. No one underestimates the anxiety and the effect of such difficult decisions on those who are at risk of losing their jobs. I emphasise the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) that the Government have put in place a series of measures to assist those who are at risk of losing employment, not least because of the global effects of the modern economy. People have the prospect of better training, education and financial
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support than in the recent past. However, the most important alternative is other employment. Again, by and large, with the 2 million extra jobs created since 1997, most people who unfortunately lost work have found alternative employment quickly through the training and support packages that the Government make available.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that when people lose their jobs in the private sector, and especially in manufacturing, it is hardly mentioned in the press and the Opposition do not raise an eyebrow. However, when a fraction of the jobs lost in manufacturing is lost in the public sector, it becomes a national crisis and Opposition Members get out of their prams. What opportunities exist for a collective whinge for those in the private sector who lose their jobs daily?

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