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30 Nov 2006 : Column 1221

Mr. Straw: On the issue of the police grant, my hon. Friend’s area as a whole will receive a 5.1 per cent. increase in formula grant. As he knows, the numbers of police officers have increased significantly, along with appointments of community support officers, since we came to office. I agree that the treatment of those seriously addicted to drugs requires considerable debate. He will be aware that, in practice, the system being recommended by Nottinghamshire’s deputy chief constable existed in this country until about 1970, and was then changed. However, we must always search for new ways of dealing with such an intractable problem.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Can we have a debate on the fitting of explosive suppressant foam on the Hercules fleet? Despite the armed forces’ requesting that five years ago, the Secretary of State for Defence has confirmed that only two of the fleet have been fitted. As a consequence, Flight Lieutenant Stead, whose parents live in my constituency, died when his Hercules was shot down. Given that this nanny state Government are always passing laws to protect us from ourselves, can we get them to protect our armed forces, who are putting their lives at risk serving our country?

Mr. Straw: First, let me pay tribute to the crews of the Hercules fleet, with whom I have flown on many occasions into Iraq and Afghanistan. They are people of astonishing skill and bravery. Secondly, I will follow up the hon. Gentleman’s point and write to him. Thirdly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has the safety of service personnel as his highest priority.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East) (Lab): I recently met a number of constituents who were in their late 70s and fairly frail, but who were being denied the home help service. I thought that that was a Leeds phenomenon, but the Leader of the House will know that, today, the Commission for Social Care Inspection reported that 100 out of 150 local authority providers are depriving the frail and vulnerable by supplying the home help service only to those with serious and critical illness. Does the Leader of the House share my dismay at the ending of home help service to ordinary, frail, vulnerable people? If so, will he draw it to the attention of his Cabinet colleague responsible, and provide some time in the Chamber for a public debate?

Mr. Straw: I will, of course, draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I have examined this matter with some care. Local authorities are concentrating their increased resources more on those in greatest need, and therefore less on those in what is judged as lesser need. As for having a debate, as my hon. Friend knows, there are many opportunities to raise such matters on the Adjournment, either here or in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The head of the Home Office’s immigration and nationality directorate, Lin Homer, has been used as a ministerial body shield in the past. She cannot be held responsible, however, for the lack of provision of accommodation for failed asylum seekers and others. The prison system is in chaos. It is not good enough for the Home
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Secretary to hide behind a written statement. When will he come to the House, and when will we have a debate on the issue?

Mr. Straw: It is palpable nonsense to accuse the current Home Secretary of hiding behind anyone else. He is always delighted to be in the House— [Interruption.] He will be in the House in about 20 minutes, making a statement on something else. I am sorry to say that it was also my experience as Home Secretary that so many things can happen in the Home Office, sometimes on the same day, that there is an embarrassment of choice as to which difficulty must be dealt with in an oral statement, and which must wait. That situation has faced my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and it would even face a Conservative Home Secretary should such a situation ever arise.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at early-day motion 195, on the UK’s Antarctic heritage?

[That this House notes that it will shortly will be the centenary of the Antarctic expeditions led by Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott; believes that it would be an appropriate recognition of the achievements of the expeditions for the huts and artefacts used by the expedition on Ross Island, Antarctica, to be conserved for future generations; notes, however, that although funds have been secured to conserve Shackleton's hut and artefacts, insufficient funds are available for the conservation of Scott's hut and its artefacts at Cape Evans; and urges the Government to recognise the achievements and significance of Scott's heroic expedition by ensuring sufficient funding is made available for the conservation of his hut and its artefacts.]

As it is almost a century since the expeditions of Shackleton and Scott, will he ask his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider ways of supporting the conservation of artefacts from the expeditions in Antarctica in the same generous way as the New Zealand Government are providing support?

Mr. Straw: I will certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I understand that part of the problem is that the Heritage Lottery Fund cannot be used, as the artefacts are overseas. I will follow the matter up and see what can be done.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): It is proper that the Serious Fraud Office should investigate fraud and misdoing in business. Its current inquiry into BAE Systems, however, has been going on for a very long time. As the Leader of the House will know from aerospace workers in his constituency, that is now causing a great deal of concern, as it appears that the current inquiry is impacting on important negotiations for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoons to the Saudi Arabian Government. May we have a statement next week from the Attorney-General indicating whether he is willing to put more resources into that inquiry to bring it to a conclusion and therefore to stop it gumming up the works of such important discussions?

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Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman and I share a constituency interest in this matter. I applaud the way in which he has represented the interests of the British aerospace industry, generally and today. He will, however, appreciate that I cannot comment on a continuing investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, other than to say that I will pass his remarks to my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): May we debate early-day motion 319?

[That this House congratulates the Government on the success of its courageous reforms of the licensing laws enacted despite widespread hostility from opposition parties, the public and press; welcomes the halving of drugs deaths since 2001 following the Portuguese government's courageous decision to depenalise drugs against similar opposition; regrets that illegal drug use, crime and deaths persist at high levels in the United Kingdom; recognises the waste and futility of using the criminal justice system against drug addicts; and urges the Government to summon up the courage to challenge popular prejudice and adapt health solutions that have reduced drugs harm elsewhere.]

The motion congratulates the Government on their courage in introducing—in the face of almost total opposition from the press, public and Opposition parties—a licensing law that has proved very successful.

Before 1971 there were fewer than 1,000 addicts, virtually no drugs deaths and no drug crime. Now we have 280,000 addicts, and the highest rates of drug crime and drug deaths on our continent. Is it not time for the Government to summon up a little more courage, do the unpopular thing, and concentrate on drug policies that work rather than continuing with harsh prohibition?

Mr. Straw: A debate in which my hon. Friend could offer the Government further congratulations on their achievement would be cause for high celebration. I hope to arrange it as soon as possible, and hold him to his word.

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) earlier, I believe that we should take account of experience, including experience of other countries. Certainly there is no perfect way of dealing with the very difficult problem of serious drug addiction.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Leader of the House may be aware of early-day motion 238, which stands in my name.

[That this House notes that about 80,000 endowment policies are sold each year in the United Kingdom; acknowledges that there is a general recognition that while these policies provided a useful repayment vehicle for paying off mortgages when interest rates and stock market returns were much higher, this has not been the case for some time; and calls upon the financial services industry to undertake a fundamental re-assessment of the commission basis on which many of these products are sold in order to protect home owners who have depended on policy proceeds to redeem their mortgages.]
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The motion draws attention to the fact that, year on year, about 80,000 endowment policies are still being sold in the United Kingdom. The primary purpose of endowment policies was supposed to be the repayment of mortgages, but they are clearly unsuitable for that purpose now. When may we have a debate to pressurise financial service providers to sell policies that are not driven solely by commission?

Mr. Straw: There will be plenty of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to make his point. The difference between then and now is that the market is now much more regulated, and commission must be declared to the potential policyholder. It is also true that endowment policies have not always been sold to, and are not only useful to, those obtaining mortgages.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 360?

[That this House is appalled that while the City of London booms most cleaners there receive no sick pay, no pension, only the legal minimum holiday allowance, earn as little as 5.35 per hour and many take two jobs to make ends meet; commends the courageous campaign by cleaners in the City to secure a living wage; welcomes this campaign's extension to other major cities; believes that the cleaners' endeavours will lead to a real improvement in their treatment; notes that a living wage is about more than hourly pay but includes sick and holiday pay and pensions; contrasts the shocking gulf between the estimated 8.8 billion paid out in City bonuses this year with the poverty-pay cleaners must survive on in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world; recognises that global companies make significant profits by operating out of London and requests that they therefore behave responsibly towards their most vulnerable workers; is extremely concerned that progress towards a living wage is being impeded by the intransigence of the City's major banks and law firms' refusal to recognise the cleaners' trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union, and allow them to negotiate on behalf of the cleaners; and calls upon companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, CitiBank, Lehman Brothers, Nomura and Lovells to instruct their contract cleaners, including ISS, Lancaster and Initial, to settle with the Transport and General Workers Union on a living wage, holiday pay, pension, sick pay and union representation.]

The motion concerns living wages for cleaners, and the dispute with London merchant banks such as Goldman Sachs. According to the Transport and General Workers Union, a Christmas dinner for a typical family of four costing £14 per head—which is quite expensive—would take a cleaner a full day’s work to earn, while it would take a director of one of the banks less than 90 seconds, although it might take a little longer to earn the champagne. Is it not time the dispute was brought to an end, and cleaners were given a proper living wage?

Mr. Straw: I hope very much that the dispute is indeed brought to an end. My hon. Friend has reminded those involved of one of our many major achievements, the introduction of a living minimum wage.

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Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that blind people are currently excluded from the higher-rate mobility component of disability living allowance. It is extremely difficult for them to use buses, trains and the underground unless they are accompanied, so they are forced to use taxis and private hire vehicles, which are far more expensive. The problem is highlighted in early-day motion 46, which stands in my name.

[That this House expresses its concern that blind people are excluded from claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance; believes that blindness should be regarded as an impairment that has a severe impact on a person's independent mobility; notes the substantial extra costs that blind people have to pay to travel by taxi and private hire vehicle; and therefore calls on the Government to reconsider eligibility criteria which exclude blind people from being able to claim this important extra-cost benefit.]

The Leader of the House will also be aware that a mass lobby of the House by the blind is proposed for 4 December. Will he find an early opportunity for us to debate the issue?

Mr. Straw: I am certainly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will convey his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The hon. Gentleman will, however, understand that judgments must be made about the criteria for payment of the higher-rate component, and also about the use of resources.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): An article in a back issue of The Political Quarterly, available in the Library, describes in precise detail how patrons’ clubs are being used to raise funds, employing the dining facilities of the House. As a number of Members have kindly put details of the cost of joining such clubs and the profit margins on their websites, and as the practice is forbidden by the House, is it not time we had a full debate enabling us to learn all the facts, such as who precisely are using patrons’ clubs—and other such clubs—every day, including today, to raise funds for the Conservative party?

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, is present. I know that he would be delighted to receive details of that alleged breach of the rules from my hon. Friend, or from any other Members.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): May we have a debate on the arts? It will not be a very happy new year for them, because on 7 January 2007 the Theatre museum in Covent Garden will close its doors. It has one of the largest collections in the world, dating back to the 16th century. A debate would give the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport an opportunity to tell us that if the decision cannot be reversed, at least this wonderful collection could be put on display so that it can be seen by people not only from London, but from all over the world.

Mr. Straw: Subject only to time, I should be delighted to arrange a debate on the arts to
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demonstrate our support for museums; but the hon. Gentleman, who is a constituency neighbour of mine, can do better than that. He is trying to insinuate that all is dire when it comes to museums, but he will know that our record in museum attendance and funding has been astonishing—not least because we broke with the Conservative policy of charging for entry. Entry is now free, and there has been a huge increase in investment. As a result, museum patronage has increased.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, if he gives me the details I will follow them up.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): May we have a statement on ministerial training? I understand that the first ever training course for junior Ministers was held at the National School of Government in Sunningdale only recently. Given all the controversy about the management of the Home Office and other Departments, it would be nice to be told how people are getting on.

Mr. Straw: I think that the success of the training is perfectly obvious. If the hon. Gentleman is pitching for a role as a tutor to keep Ministers on their toes, I will ensure that his offer is passed on.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that on the advice of one of his predecessors we changed our Standing Orders, and are now obliged to set up a Standing Committee on the English Regions. He will also know that, 18 months into the current Parliament, the Government have failed to provide such a Committee. As we appear to be doing perfectly well without it, will he change the Standing Orders back to how they were?

Mr. Straw: That is an interesting idea. It requires further consideration, and I will give it.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is, I hope, aware of the Bill being introduced in the other place by Lord Dubs to ban cluster munitions. A useful debate was held here last Monday on an Adjournment motion, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). I am pleased to learn that the Government intend to support the ban on dumb cluster munitions, but, following the Government’s wonderful leadership on landmines, is it not about time we also banned cluster munitions? Would it be possible to bring the Bill here from the Lords, as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Straw: I cannot promise that we can bring the Bill here quickly, but I can promise that I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the views expressed so eloquently by my hon. Friend, and then contact him again.

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