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Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has made his point. I am still reeling from the idea of Opposition Members in their prams. It is important to give the necessary support to provide opportunities for retraining and education to secure the jobs that will be increasingly available in the 21st century. That is not to downplay the impact of redundancies and job losses on individuals and their families. However, it is important that we continue to modernise industry and our public services to ensure that they are fit for the 21st century.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): May we have an opportunity to amend the law on hosepipe bans so that those who are forbidden to use a hosepipe to water a small garden are not disadvantaged compared with those who want to use one to fill a large swimming pool, which is perfectly legal, and so that those who want to use a hosepipe to clean a small car are not disadvantaged when compared with those who wish to use one to clean a large commercial vehicle, which is also perfectly legal?
Mr. Hoon: My constituents have not so far experienced the difficulty of filling their swimming pools, so that has not been raised with me. I acknowledge that it may be a problem for a small minority. However, there should be fairness and consistency in the operation of rulesthat was the substance of the hon. Gentleman's pointand I assure him that I will get the relevant Minister to write to him along those lines.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will doubtless know that the Competition Commission has today confirmed that the home credit industrythe doorstep lendershas been overcharging its customers by tens of millions of pounds, as many of us have said for some time. Will he join me in calling on doorstep lenders not to contest those findings and waste time on months of argument but to cut their charges now? If they do not, will he ask his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to use their powers under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to introduce the necessary legislation to make them cut their charges now rather than years in the future?
I have not seen the report that my hon. Friend mentions, but we all recognise the risks of
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making decisions on the doorstep about loans and borrowing. My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and I assure him that it will be passed to the relevant Minister.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Leader of the House will know that it has been reported this morning that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management is to recommend the deep storage of nuclear waste in as yet unspecified sites. CoRWM also said that it could take many decades to prepare the sites. This news will cause great anxiety in the communities in Scotland that featured on the last Nirex list. They opposed plans for waste dumps in the past and will continue to do so. Does this not underline the need for an urgent debate on the disposal of nuclear waste, and on the implications of the Government's inexplicable obsession with new nuclear power stations?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not trying to alarm any of those communities by referring to them in the way that he just did. I urge him not to take such a course of action. It is important that we have a thorough review of energy requirements, as I said in answer to an earlier question. That necessarily involves consideration of the disposal and storage of nuclear waste, and that will be part of the Government's consideration of the country's future energy requirements.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Our Government have a really good record on animal welfare, as illustrated by the legislation that we passed during our nine years in government. However, the one area that remains unaddressed is that of animals in the laboratory. Animal tests are the weakest link in the safety testing of new drugs; they are so poorly predictive for humans that 92 per cent. of candidate drugs fail in clinical trials, their having had success with animals. Does the Leader of the House have any idea whether the Government will respond to early-day motion 92, which has been signed by hundreds of people across the Chamber? It states:
[That this House, in common with Europeans for Medical Progress, expresses its concerns regarding the safeguarding of public health through data obtained from laboratory animals, particularly in light of large numbers of serious and fatal adverse drug reactions that were not predicted by animal studies; is concerned that the Government has not commissioned or evaluated any formal research on the efficacy of animal experiments, and has no plans to do so; and, in common with 83 per cent. of general practitioners in a recent survey, calls upon the Government to facilitate an independent and transparent scientific evaluation of the use of animals as surrogate humans in drug safety testing and medical research.]
My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important issue, and I am grateful for his observations about the Government's record on animal welfare. We are proud of the steps that we have taken to continue to protect animals. Equally, it is important that
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this country is able to go on engaging in scientific research, while ensuring that that research is effective and efficient. My hon. Friend is right to say that we must balance the need for effective scientific research against the protection and welfare of animals, and I assure him that we keep that balance under constant review.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The Leader of the House will recall the cutting of the frigate and destroyer fleet from 35 in 1997 to only 25 now, and the cutting of the replacement Type 45 programme from 12 vessels to only eight. Bearing in mind the report in The Herald today that there will be only six ships, rather than eight, despite the statement by the First Sea Lord that it was absolutely essential to have eight, may we have an urgent statement by a defence Minister on whether this cut is going to take place? If that statement is to be made, should it not be made before, rather than just after, the local government elections?
Mr. Hoon: Unfortunately, in my many years as Secretary of State for Defenceduring which the hon. Gentleman was assiduous in asking me questionsI never managed to persuade him that the number of ships is not the critical factor. I know that he is fascinated by naval history, and he will know that the Royal Navy had thousands of ships in the late 19th century. That number was subsequently reduced to hundreds, and it is now much smaller. To that extent, there have been cuts. All I can say to him is that the ships that we have now are enormously more capable, and that the judgment on numbers is made in relation to the capabilities that the United Kingdom Royal Navy requires. That is a consistent process. It has not simply taken place since 1997; it has been going on for 400 or 500 years.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
Will my right hon. Friend bring a report to the House on my constituent, Michael Shields, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Bulgaria for a crime to which another man has confessed? Michael Shields' final appeal was heard in the Cassation Court in Bulgaria on 21 March. Michael Shields, his lawyers and the Foreign Office were informed that the court's verdict would be received within 30 days. The 30 days elapsed on 20 April, yet a week later there is still no news about when the verdict will be made available. This intolerable
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situation is creating even greater strain for all those involved. Will my right hon. Friend make representations on this matter?
Mr. Hoon: Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I have followed this case with some concern over a long time. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the case of her constituent. The Government are concerned about the matter, and I know that it has been followed closely by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I will ensure that he responds to my hon. Friend in the light of her detailed question.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): May I give the Leader of the House some very simple NHS statistics? Two early-stage breast cancer sufferers are receiving Herceptin at the Royal Shrewsbury hospital cost-free from their primary care trust. Those who have Shropshire addresses could receive such care at that hospital if the Shropshire PCT would fund it, but, because it will not, they are having to raise £47,000 each for the treatment, and there are 12 of them. It cannot be right that people with a Staffordshire address, a Cheshire address or a Welsh address get the drug free from their PCT, while people with a Shropshire address have to find £47,000 for it. My final statistic is that I have written three times to the Secretary of State: on 25 March, 5 April and 19 April. She has not answered once. Will she please come to the House and answer my questions?
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