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Mr. McFadden: Throughout this process, we have emphasised that the consultation relates to how the plans are implemented, not whether there should be closures. Replacement closures sometimes have to be identified because the Post Office is closing post offices
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that cost significant amounts to run—on average, £18,000 a year for each branch. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but that is the reason why such decisions have to be taken.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Notwithstanding the fact that the Post Office got wrong the name of one of the postmistresses in my constituency whose post office is due to close, that same postmistress then applied to have a pay point in the post office when it is removed, but the Post Office has said that it will remove all compensation from that post office if it acts within a year. Does not the Minister think that that adds to the cruelty of the closure programme and illustrates the bovine stupidity with which it has been implemented?

Mr. McFadden: I do not think it is correct to say that Post Office Ltd is removing all compensation from people in those circumstances. The Select Committee discussed the matter when compiling its recent report, and the general secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters said he thought it quite right for the taxpayer not to compensate sub-postmasters for business that they were not actually losing because they would replace it the day after closure. There is an adjustment in the compensation to take that into account, but it is not the case that all compensation has been removed.

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Business of the House

11.30 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows.

Monday 3 March—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [9th Allotted Day].

Tuesday 4 March—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [10th Allotted Day], so far not completed on 3 March.

Wednesday 5 March—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [11th Allotted Day] covering clause 8, the schedule, new clauses and new schedules.

Thursday 6 March—A debate on international women’s day.

Friday 7 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 10 March will include the following.

Monday 10 March—Estimates [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on Northern Rock and banking reform, followed by a debate on London Underground and the public-private partnership agreements.

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 11 March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Wednesday 12 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 13 March—Topical debate: Subject to be announced, followed by continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 14 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The House may wish to be reminded that we will rise for the bank holiday at the end of business on Thursday 20 March and return on Tuesday 25 March.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 27 March will be as follows.

Thursday 20 March—A debate on creative industries.

Thursday 27 March—A debate on the report from the Quadripartite Committee on strategic export controls: 2007 Review.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

May we have a debate in Government time on spinal injuries units in the national health service? Last Friday my constituent Baroness de Knayth, who was disabled as a result of spinal injuries and who was a hard-working and much-respected Cross-Bench peer, was taken ill. When she arrived at her local acute hospital, Wexham Park, the hospital did not even have the right sort of
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bed for a person with her disabilities. The spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital refused to admit her. On Sunday morning, she died. I am sure that the whole House will want to send condolences to her family and friends.

The House was promised line-by-line consideration of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, but so far we have had a daily average of less than two and a half hours of detailed debate on amendments. That has meant that important amendments concerning such matters as asylum and immigration, borders and visas, defence, and climate change have not been discussed at all. May I repeat the call made last week by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, for an extra day of debate on defence matters?

During Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, the Prime Minister said

I have here an internal document that was sent to Labour Members by the Minister for Europe, which highlights the question

May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on why he is forcing Labour MPs to break their promise to the British people?

Having pushed through the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and introduced 85 new clauses and 11 new schedules to the Bill after Second Reading, the Government have since removed 52 clauses and nine schedules, including proposals on prostitution. We know that the Government are desperate to get the Bill through before the threatened prison officers’ strike, but may we have a statement from the right hon. Lady on the appalling handling of the Bill?

May we have a debate on Cabinet responsibility? The Cabinet, which includes the Justice Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Culture Secretary, has agreed to close 2,500 post offices. Those very same Ministers are campaigning against post office closures in their constituencies. As a Member with six post offices in my constituency under threat of closure, I oppose the closure programme. Where does the Leader of the House stand?

Talking about disunity in the Cabinet, was it death sentences for those who wanted to flee, torture and prison sentences for dissidents, gags for the press or jail for homosexuals that made the Leader of the House support Castro? Given this list of atrocities, and the fact that the Prime Minister obviously does not agree with her, will she tell the House if she still believes that Castro was a hero of the left?

The Government have broken their pledge to the British people, shown utter contempt for the procedures of the House and double standards at the very top. New Prime Minister, same old ways; nothing has changed.

Ms Harman: I would like to join the right hon. Lady in expressing my condolences to the family of Baroness Darcy de Knayth and I will refer her serious points
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about the late noble Baroness’s care to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to write to her.

I remind the right hon. Lady and the House that we have had more debate in Committee on the European Union (Amendment) Bill than we had on the Nice and Amsterdam treaties and the Single European Act put together. The procedure motion had a considerable amount of debate and it is for the House to go through the Bill, as it has done, day in, day out. We are three quarters of the way through the Committee stage, on day eight. There will be further debate, as the House will have heard, next week. It is for hon. Members to decide whether they want to table an amendment on a referendum and it is for the Speaker to choose which amendments to select. It is then for the House to decide.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. She is right; we want clarity about the legal position in relation to strikes in the Prison Service. That has put a time scale on the Bill and added to the consideration of how it is handled not just in this place, but in the House of Lords. She mentioned the withdrawal of the two clauses on prostitution. She will know that we are engaging in what will be a six-month review into how we deal with the demand side of prostitution. It will not be a bad thing to look at how we deal with prostitution of a piece when we have considered the review of how we tackle the demand side of human trafficking.

The right hon. Lady mentioned post office closures, and she will no doubt have heard some of the discussions during topical questions to Ministers from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. She will know that there are about 14,000 post offices in this country and that there has been a drop in use of post offices because, for example, of the loss of the contract for television licences, because more people are choosing to get their tax discs on line and because more people are opting to have pensions or other benefit payments made by direct debit. Fewer people are using the post office and, therefore, there has been an increase in the taxpayer subsidy. She knows that the framework has been agreed and that up to 2,500 of the 14,000 post offices will be closed. There is the question of which post offices will be closed, and, as my hon. Friends said during Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions, there will be a consultation on which post offices are put forward for closure. It is important that that consultation is realistic and that it examines the individual circumstances of each post office, including the deprivation of the local area, transport to nearby post offices and the usage of the post office in question.

The Conservatives have made yet another unfunded public spending pledge. They say that they do not want any post offices to close, but we have put in a great deal of public subsidy from the taxpayer, whereas their policy is to put in no public subsidy. I will add unfunded commitments on post offices, which I will report to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to the unfunded commitments on defence and health. Those unfunded promises are matched only by the promised tax cuts, and they do not add up.

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Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House comment on supermarkets and others that set the price of a can of lager at 22p, which is at cost, close to cost or below cost? Will she ensure that the Office of Fair Trading allows supermarkets and others to agree a minimum price for such products, which is part of the necessary action to tackle the scourge of alcoholism in this country?

Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend’s point. The issue was the subject of a topical debate before Christmas. Since then, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have conducted further work, and I will bring my hon. Friend’s point to their attention.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Leader of the House has rightly announced that we have had eight days’ debate on the European Union (Amendment) Bill and that we will have four more days’ debate in the next two weeks. Will she arrange a debate on how an amendment supported by a party that was backed by nearly one quarter of the British electorate at the previous election and by one third as many Members as the other major Opposition party cannot be selected after eight days of debate, because of the rules of the House of Commons? Will she allow us to debate the processes that prevent issues that the public want to be debated from being discussed?

Following the welcome announcement by the Members Estimate Committee of the speeding up of the process of examining Members’ allowances—a decision will be taken in July rather than in the autumn—will she make a statement confirming that any proposals will be subject to external approbation to ensure that they are not solely concocted within this place? Will she ensure that any such proposals have the support of independent and reputable bodies outside this place?

On Members of the House of Lords, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and a similar Bill that was introduced yesterday in the House of Lords by my noble Friend Lord Oakeshott are given the parliamentary time that will allow us to end the practice of Members of the House of Lords in the UK Parliament taking seats when they do not pay tax in the United Kingdom, which is an absolute disgrace?

The Leader of the House has announced that we will quite properly have a debate on international women’s day next week, and we are quite properly having the St. David’s day debate today. There has still been no word on having a Commonwealth day debate—Commonwealth day is a week on Monday. Given the important Commonwealth issues, not least the new presidency in Cyprus, which raises the hope of new negotiations for peace, can we have a Commonwealth debate, for which some of us have been asking for a long time?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady talk to the Home Secretary not about post offices, although she might do that, but about finding time for debates on important Home Office matters that are currently not listed to come before the House? The immigration
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changes that are due to come into force at the end of this month will make it very difficult for many long-term husbands, wives, fiancés and partners to come and settle in this country with their lawful other half. Will she also give us the opportunity to debate in this place the citizenship Green Paper, which many Commonwealth citizens are very angry about because they feel the ancestry issue and their commitment to this country is being disregarded, and to debate Home Office policy, which is still willing on occasions to send gay people back to countries such as Iran where they could be persecuted, and even executed?

Finally, given that we now know that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does not have information on drug trials that show that certain drugs are no good for their purpose, such as dealing with depression, may we get that subject on the Order Paper so we can expose the pharmaceutical industry’s unwillingness to reveal that patients often spend a lot of money on drugs that are probably of no clinical use at all?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the consideration of amendments to the European Union (Amendment) Bill. As he knows, the tabling of amendments is a matter for individual Members and the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker. I do not want to trespass on the Speaker’s territory, but I would assume that tabling an amendment that is about our leaving the European Union to a Bill that is about the Lisbon treaty would not be in order, as it would not be within the Bill’s scope. However, that is a matter for the Speaker, not me, to decide.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Members’ allowances. As he knows, before the case of the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) arose on a report from the Standards and Privileges Committee, we debated on 24 January not only Members’ pay but reimbursement for our expenditure on activities as Members. The House decided unanimously to refer the question of Members’ allowances to the Members Estimate Committee, which the Speaker chairs. Under its remit from the House, that Committee has been taking forward its review and on 25 February published how it will make progress. The Committee has invited all Members who wish to do so to give evidence, and it states that it will consider not just a root-and-branch review of the structure of allowances and reimbursements, but how there can be proper checks and auditing of claims made under the new process. That is important work, and the Members Estimate Committee is getting on with it. The review will also deal with the question whether there may be an additional role for the Committee on Standards in Public Life or any external auditing.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether consideration could be given to having a debate on Commonwealth day. He has made that point a number of times before, and I shall consider whether there should be a topical debate.

The hon. Gentleman raised Home Office matters in relation to immigration and the citizenship Green Paper. Those are important issues for the public as well as this House, but I assure him that the Home Office does not send people back to where they would be tortured or executed, and if there were any question of that happening the courts would rightly step in and stop it.

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On drugs trials and NICE, we need to be sure that it has all the necessary published and unpublished material so that it can make its decisions on the basis of the fullest possible information.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for the House to debate the regulation of paediatricians? Following the striking off of Professor Southall last year in respect of an incident, witnessed by a third party, that occurred some years ago, paediatricians are very reluctant to involve themselves in interviews with parents or to undertake examinations, because they could be subject to false allegations even when such an examination or interview has been witnessed by a third party. There is great reluctance and fear among paediatricians. Will my right hon. and learned Friend examine the matter?

Ms Harman: The question of there being enough properly trained paediatricians is a matter of concern for my colleagues in the Department of Health, and I shall bring my hon. Friend’s point to their attention.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Why did the Leader of the House fail to answer the question about her comments on Fidel Castro? Does she not understand that as Leader of the House, deputy leader and chairman of the Labour party and deputy to the Prime Minister, her backing a homophobic dictator who has abused human rights in his country is no laughing matter?

Ms Harman: I also said in that interview that it was time for Cuba to move on, and I look forward to its moving on to democracy and full human rights.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): May I thank the Leader of the House for making time for the annual St. David’s day debate this afternoon? I am looking forward to it. Tomorrow, the national minimum wage outreach campaign bus comes to Pontprennau in my constituency to spread the news of the minimum wage and employment rights. When can we have a debate to celebrate the success of the minimum wage and the benefit it has brought, particularly to low paid women workers?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which has reminded the whole House of the importance of the national minimum wage, particularly for low paid women workers. It gives me the opportunity, in a non-partisan way, to remind the House and everyone who has benefited from the minimum wage that the Conservative party voted against it, saying that it would undermine the employment of women. In that respect, as in so many others, Labour Members were right on the economy and social justice, and the Conservatives were wrong.

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