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The Local Government Association has calculated that council social services this year will have a funding
shortfall of £1.8 billion. The situation is made worse by the fact that with many NHS trusts in deficit, social care is now often having to replace care in hospital. Councils are having to revise their eligibility criteria, which means, for example, that some vulnerable people are going to have to pay more for services such as home care. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did not address the issue in her statement last week. Will she now come to the House to make an urgent statement on the impact of Government policy on the provision of social services?
The Leader of the House will be aware that there has been widespread concern and anger that Abu Hamza was able to sell and buy property while on remand and in jail, and while his assets supposedly had been frozen by the Treasury. He had apparently transferred his assets to his son. Last week at Treasury questions, the Economic Secretaryfollowing questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands)said:
The transfer of property, which was discussed between ourselves and the police, was not an illegal act.[ Official Report, 26 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1651.]
In other words, when suspected terrorists assets are frozen, they can get round the rule by transferring assets to a member of their family. Does not this expose a very big loophole in the Governments legislation? How was Abu Hamza able to transfer assets to his son when they had been frozen by the Treasury? Will the Economic Secretary now come to this House to explain the position and tell the House what the Government have done to close this loophole?
Yeldall Manor is a very effective drug rehabilitation centre in my constituency. It is facing problems because it is receiving fewer referrals from local authorities and others, something that is a problem across the country. Indeed, as the noble Lord Taverne, chairman of Alcohol and Drug Prevention and Treatment Ltd, said in a recent letter to The Times:
Several units providing residential treatment now have occupancy rates below 40 per cent and many may have to close before Christmas.
Lord Taverne also said that the problem was that local drug action teams have been set targets, but find in practice that they can meet them most easily and cheaply by maintaining addicts on methadone or by sending them to short treatment courses that include day treatment centres, which are often unregulated. Yet recent research in Scotland has shown that giving methadone to heroin addicts has a 97 per cent. failure rate. Research has also shown that the overall reconviction rate for those on drug treatment and testing orders was 80 per cent. Will the Home Secretary come to the House to make an urgent statement on the failings in the Governments drug treatment programme?
Finally, the Leader of the House has always been clear that he expects Government Ministers to reply in a timely and helpful fashion to questions from hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) recently asked the Deputy Prime Minister a written question about his trip to the far east, including who had gone with him at public
expense, how they had travelled and how much the trip had cost. The answer he received, effectively, was that the cost would be published next July and that it was all in accordance with the ministerial code. In other words, the answer told us precisely nothing. When will the Government come clean on how much the Deputy Prime Minister is costing the taxpayer for doing nothing?
Mr. Straw: We on this side all accept that the arrangements for issuing printed copies of the Stern report were not satisfactory, and I apologise to the House for that. I wanted to get hold of a hard copynot a hard disc copy, but one that could be read on paperand I spotted that that was not available in the Vote Office, as it should have been. Steps have been taken to ensure that that does not happen again. It is a substantial report and obviously it is cheaper if colleagues are able to make use of the hard disc or internet versions. But there are many circumstances in which that is not convenient and it is accepted that it is a duty of all Government Departments to make sure that sufficient copies of printed versions of these reports are placed in the Vote Office before the documents are published.
I am in close touch with the preparations for the Olympics, as chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics. Many speculative stories about the Olympics appear with great regularity. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture. Media and Sport were to come to this House to answer each of them, there would be little else she could do. The truth is that we had a brilliant success in achieving the nomination for the 2012 Olympics and that preparations for the Olympics are well advanced and within the plans laid down. If there are going to be any major and significant changes to the costs already proposed, announcements will be made in due course to this House.
I shall now give a joint answer on social services and drug rehabilitation. It strikes me that every week the right hon. Lady reads out a list of Government activities where our offence is that we should be spending even more money than we are spending, rather than less. She will cost the shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), a huge amount, not least in terms of his credibility, when he tries to go to the country [Interruption.] I was listening to what the right hon. Lady was saying, and I wrote it down as usual. She will cost him a huge amount in terms of his credibility when he goes to the country and tries to say that his party will cut taxes as well. However, we know that it will certainly cut spending, so it does not lie in her mouthor any other Conservative Members mouthto complain about the fact that some social services departments and some drug rehabilitation centres, which are operating on a base of very high levels of spending compared with 1997, are having to ensure that they live within their means.
In respect of social services, I can say, having been a Member of this House for as long as I have, that every year, as surely as night follows day, various local government departments claim that it will be the end of the world if they do not get more money. But we should look at the facts. [Interruption.] There is no
point in tut-tutting about this. The facts are that there have been substantial increases in spending on social services since 1997, which is illustrated by the improvements that there have been in the effectiveness of social services departments.
As for drug rehabilitation centres, I started the current Government programme of greatly increased support for drug addicts. It is absolutely right that the drug action teams, which are in touch with the drug problems in their area, should be able to make their own decisions at local level about what is appropriate. Sometimes methadone is appropriate. Very often, the use of day treatment centres is appropriate. Sometimes, full-time residential drug rehabilitation centres are appropriate. Decisions on such matters should be made by the DAT concerned.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has already written to Members on Abu Hamza, and I believe that he has offered the right hon. Lady a meeting on the matter. In this difficult and complicated area, we are always searching for ways to improve the current regime in respect of how we freeze criminals assets. I only wish that we had received the same full-hearted support when we were putting in place the mechanisms on such matters under the Bill that became the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That is fundamental to this subject, as the right hon. Lady is now implying.
On parliamentary questions, I and my colleagues are insistent about ensuring that there is accurate and timely information. But it has long been accepted in this HouseI think that this was the practice before the current Administration came to powerthat there be annual publication of the costs of flights and who went on them, by all Ministers. That was the procedure that I adopted, in accordance with standard practice, when I was Foreign Secretary, and it worked to general approval of this House.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there was a joint announcement last week by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury to exempt the trust of former Turner and Newalls workers in respect of the compensation recovery unit and benefits claw-back. I am talking about those workers who came into contact with asbestos and the families of those victims. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a right, proper and decent thing for the Government to do, and will he ensure that he uses his considerable powers and influence to ensure that the necessary regulations are laid before the House and dealt with as quickly as possible?
Mr. Straw: I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend approves of the Governments decision, and I shall, of course, do everything that I can to ensure that the regulations are brought forward as soon as possible.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Before the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill returns to us on Tuesday, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on the applicability of the Bill to the Scotland Act 1998, given the unsatisfactory answers that we have had on that in another place?
The Leader of the House has on several occasions said how much he would welcome the opportunity to have generic debates on a number of subjects before the House. Parliamentary business for next week gives him that opportunity. Given that the House originally intended to prorogue on Thursday, and that it is now anticipated that it can do so on Wednesday, he could use the time effectively on Wednesday and give us a debate on a number of subjectsfor instance, Iraq. The situation there is parlous, and there is confusion among Government Ministers about the subject of the inquiry. The Prime Minister said that an inquiry
would have dismayed our coalition allies[ Official Report,1 November 2006; Vol. 451, c. 293.]
We could have a debate on health on that day, including on the continuing difficulties with cleanliness in our hospitals and the 10 per cent. increase in tuberculosis in the past year. We could have a debate on transport, so that the Secretary of State for Transport could offer a reviewor, perhaps more accurately, a rethinkof the aviation White Paper in the context of the Stern report. The Home Office could tell us about the largest DNA database in the world, which is without appropriate safeguards, as clearly illustrated by the comments of Sir Alec Jeffreys last week. Or we could have a debate on agriculturethe forgotten subject for many of us in rural constituenciesand in particular on the state of dairy farming in my own constituency, which needs to be debated. Why do we not use the opportunities that we have in this House to debate the things that matter to our constituents?
Lastly, I wonder whether the Leader of the House noticed that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) entertained the world last night with An evening of shoes, shopping and politics? Does he have any similar plans?
Mr. Straw: I will discuss the applicability of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to Scotland with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman has made better points about the issue of generic debates than he has today. In fact, it was not really a very good try, because he knows very wellit has been announced for long enoughthat at the end of a parliamentary Session, business is inevitably dominated by ping-pong with the Lords. If he wishes to enter into a proper pact with us and agree that we can have the business [Interruption.] I am sorry to raise this, but if he wants a pact with us, and if he is willing to ensure that, at the very least, Liberal Democrat peers follow a line similar to Liberal Democrat MPs, at least for starters, and then recognise the wisdom of the Governments case on these Bills, there is a possibilityI do not think that we could manage it this timeof arranging slightly more time for debates on such subjects. But in the real world that we inhabit, in which Liberal Democrats at both ends of the House spend their time opposing very sensible legislation, I cannot
As we learned, the point and trick of opposition is to oppose legislation where the public is on ones side and there is a good case for doing so, but not to oppose legislation that, although it has come
from the Government, is none the less to be supported. [Interruption.] I know that, unlike the Tories, the hon. Gentleman has volunteered for a lifetime in opposition because he cannot cope with the idea of responsibility in government. If he carries on opposing everything for its own sake, he will stay permanently in opposition.
It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that there are no safeguards for the DNA database. My constituents are delighted that there is a DNA database that is now ensuring the conviction of rapists who were previously going free. I dare say the same is true in his own constituency, and what he needs to do is to explain to law-abiding members of the public there that, under his policy, all these criminals would be going free, but for the introduction of the DNA database.
As for the evening of shoes, shopping and politics, I am mortified that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, despite our very close association, did not invite me. I hope that she puts that right next time.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Last Friday, the Football Association council ratified the Burns report on the future of football, which was very welcome. The report, together with the independent European sports review, could shape the future of the game that means so much to people in this country. However, neither contains measures that would prevent unscrupulous business men from buying football clubs for their own purposes and, often, jeopardising the clubs future. May we have a full debate, in Government time, on what is the most important sport in this country, andnot leastthe lack of any teeth in the fit and proper person measure, which allows unscrupulous figures to acquire football clubs to the detriment of the communities in which those clubs operate?
Mr. Straw: Like my hon. Friend, I applaud the FAs decision to implement the Burns report and I entirely understand the point that he makes about unscrupulous business men who still operate in football. As for a debate, we will add it to the long list of potential subjects, but he may be able to raise the matter on the Adjournment in this House or in Westminster Hall.
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): The Ministry of Defence is carrying out a study of the naval bases at Devonport, Portsmouth and the Clyde, with a view to rationalisation, which is of course another word for cuts and closures. Is the Leader of the House aware that that is a matter of great strategic importance and local concern, because some 17,000 jobs depend directly on Portsmouth naval yard? The killer fact is that most naval families have made their homes in the Gosport, Portsmouth and south Hampshire area, and any basing of ships away from that area would cause immense domestic difficulty and, possibly, loss of personnel from the Navy. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the subject?
Of course we all understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses and the anxieties that are felt by service personnel, especially in the area
of Portsmouth and Gosport, which I happen to know well. He will also appreciate that there are bound to be changes from time to time in the configuration of our operationsit happened when his party was in government. We are operating today in a situation in which we have been able to achieve the longest period of sustained real growth in defence spending for more than 20 years, and that will continue. There are many opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue in debate, but I will of course communicate his anxieties to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Has my right hon. Friend read in this mornings press of the plans enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition to end the arrangements for civil servants pensions, should the Conservatives ever be in government? Given that that will create some concern among the very valued people working in the public interest
Mr. Purchase: I appreciate the hilarity, but the pensions proposals will be a matter of considerable concern for many people. Will my right hon. Friend therefore bring to the House next week, as a matter of urgency, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions so that he may reassure those valued public service workers that their pensions are safe and secure with this Government?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend makes an important point about security for public sector as well as private sector pensioners. I was shocked by the comments of the shadow Chancellor in the Daily Mail that he intends to ditch the public sector pension deal. That will undermine the security of hundreds of thousands of public servants and looks very odd when Opposition parties are trying to claim that they support the public sector.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Returning to the subject of the Olympics, the Leader of the House will be aware that Tablighi Jamaat is a fundamentalist group that arguably acts as a magnet for extremism. It is seeking to build the largest mosque in Europe in east London, which may act as the Islamic quarter for the Olympics. Given the fact that there have been calls for an independent inquiry and the seriousness of the issue, may we have a debate?
Mr. Straw: I am not familiar with the proposals for that mosque, but I am familiar with proposals for mosques more widely. The hon. Gentleman will know that mosques have to go through proper planning procedures, like any other application for a building, and if he feels that that application should not be dealt with locally, heor the local authorityshould askmy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call in the plan. I am not sure that a debate would be appropriate.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday, I was contacted by one of my constituents who is involved in organising a visit to the UK from the Jenin cultural centre in the west bank. The musicians who were due to come have been refused visas to enter the UK by the British consulate in Jerusalem. It is suggested that the group does not have sufficient financial resources, but I am told that it is an innocent victim of the present governmental funding crisis in the Palestinian Authority. Will my right hon. Friend ask his colleagues to look into that case, and may we have a debate on the human rights situation in west bank and Gaza and the isolation of those communities, which this case illustrates?
Mr. Straw: On my hon. Friends first point, I will certainly draw the case to the attention of Lord Triesman, who deals with visa matters in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. On the second, I invite my hon. Friend to make a contribution in the debate on the Queens Speech the week after next, when he will have many opportunities to make his wider point.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): May I bring the Leader of the House back to the subject of transport, on which he did not answer my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)? The Environmental Audit Committee found that the Department for Transport still believes that carbon emissions are an inevitable consequence of economic growth, and that is why it is still promoting airports and new road schemes. The Stern report found the exact oppositethat we have to put the environment at the heart of all our policies, or there will be an economic disaster. Surely it is time for a fundamental rethink of transport policy.
Mr. Straw: The environment is indeed at the heart of all our policies. This Government have done more to put climate change, and the need for policy change by all Governments across the world, on the international agenda than any other major Government that I can think of.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have noted that we had a short but interesting debate on Iraq on Monday because the nationalist parties succeeded in using one of their Opposition Supply days for that occasion. Can he assure us that in the next Session we will have regular debates, in Government time, on foreign policy and specifically on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan? It simply is not good enough just to point to the debate on foreign affairs that is part of the debate on the Queens Speech. We need debate in Government time on what is a serious matter that affects the lives of millions of people around the world and is a huge concern to all our constituents.
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