Will she ask the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to make an early statement on the closure of post offices? On 28 May, the north-east of Scotland will hear the fate of its post offices. We need the Minister for Employment Relations and
Postal Affairs to announce a suspension of the closure programme so that he can make concrete proposals to bring new business into post offices.
Following the hon. Ladys answer on referendums, we need an early debate on communication between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster so that we can clear up the Governments exact stance on referendums and the strategy for taking the issue forward. Clearly, the confusion created by Wendy Alexander and the Prime Minister does not help us to tackle the agenda and does not bring clarity to the future of our constitution.
Later today, the House will have the opportunity to pay tribute to the courageous work of our armed forces in Afghanistan. The hon. Lady will know that the Governments reply to the International Development Committees report on Afghanistan was published last week. Will she therefore arrange a wider debate on Afghanistan? I am a member of the Committee and when we visited Afghanistan we saw the work that is being done by Department for International Development staff on the ground, not just in Helmand but throughout Afghanistan. A lot of essential development work is being done and it is important for the House to see and hear about the work and to focus a debate on our priorities for Afghanistan.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman began by asking when the Finance Bill will be debated on Report. I am afraid that I do not have that information at the moment, but, as he knows, provisional business is always announced two weeks ahead, so he will get good notice of the debate. He will be aware that the Treasury Committee is looking into the issue, and it is aiming to publish a report that will inform our debate.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that, in the past six months, there have been 16 debates on post office closures. The debates have mainly been specific to communities, but there will be a general debate in Westminster Hall next week. In addition, the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has produced a report, and all Select Committee reports can, of course, be debated in Westminster Hall.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned communications between London and Scotland. As he knows, when urgent matters arise, as they did over Grangemouth, practical solutions can be reached. What he is trying to get at is a political disagreement, to which I cannot respond in business questions.
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the serious issues facing our armed forces in Afghanistan. Those issues could be raised in this afternoons debate on defence in the world, but he rightly states that there is an overseas aid aspect, which, of course, can be raised with the Department for International Development.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for us to debate the Corston report in this Chamber? It was published months ago, yet there has been no opportunity for a full debate on how the Government will implement the reports very sensible recommendations on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system.
My hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience as a former Home Office Minister, and she is quite right: the Corston report is
important and the Government have welcomed it. I will take back her suggestion of holding a topical debate on the report.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on the rising cost of living, in which we could debate the cost of fuel? It was abundantly clear yesterday that the Prime Minister had absolutely no idea how much it cost to fill up a family car in his constituency. Why are the Government so out of touch?
Helen Goodman: I do not accept for a minute that the Government are out of touch on fuel prices. We delayed the 2p a litre fuel duty increase precisely because we are aware of the needs of ordinary families and the increase in the cost of filling up a car, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should exaggerate the situation. Since 1999, the cost of fuel dutyboth petrol and dieselhas in fact fallen by 16 per cent. The reason petrol prices have gone up is that oil prices have increased. I take it that he will use the opportunity of the Opposition day debate next week to make the points that he wants to.
[That this House notes that the global credit crunch is now impacting on the ability of UK consumers to obtain access to affordable credit; notes that high cost and irresponsible forms of lending such as pay day lending, which charges in excess of 1,000 per cent. APR and traps people on lower incomes in a cycle of credit dependency, are now expanding rapidly as a result; further notes that Dollar Financial, one such US pay day lender, now has over 200 Moneyshop stores providing these loans in the UK; regards this development as extremely worrying for the Government s ambition to eradicate child poverty; and urges the Treasury, the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform, the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Services Authority to conduct a joint inquiry into the growth of high cost lending, including pay day loans, in order to inform future regulatory action against irresponsible and high cost lenders and to contribute to the Government s aim of ensuring greater access to affordable credit.]
Such lending, which is common in the United States and Canada and is becoming increasingly so in this country, involves someone having to pay out a post-dated cheque on the basis that they will borrow a lesser sum. But, of course, we are talking about much higher rates of interest, and it is really the fault of the legitimate lenders, who have a responsibility to lend to those who have lesser means. The worry is that, if that lending in the formal sense begins to dry up, people will have to go to
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman should not make a statement but ask a question. There was no question at the end of that, but I dare say that the Deputy Leader of the House will fish something out of it.
My hon. Friend is right to suggest that saver protection is as important for those on low incomes as it is for those with large amounts of money. That is why the Government introduced the Consumer Credit Act 2006, but if there are loopholes in some
parts of the financial sector I will draw his remarks to the attention of colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): May we have a debate on crime? Despite the valiant efforts of Superintendents Beautridge, Hogbern and Gladstone, antisocial behaviour that in the past would have been dealt with by the police in Gravesham is now not being dealt with. It is almost as though the bar on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not has been raised.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, overall, crime has been falling, although there are problems with some kinds of crime and, indeed, with antisocial behaviour. He can always make the points that he has made with Home Office Ministers in Home Office questions.
[That this House welcomes the proposal by the Russian Government not to require British fans to apply for visas when they visit Russia for the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United on 21st May 2008; notes that this is an excellent way to celebrate the positive spirit of competitive football; recognises that the British Government is unable to waive visa restrictions in return in respect of the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester between Zenit St Petersburg and Glasgow Rangers on 14th May; and calls on the Government to waive visa fees as a goodwill gesture.]
Will my hon. Friend arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make an urgent statement in response to the Russian Governments proposal to waive visa fees for British fans who travel to Moscow for the European cup final? Would it not be appropriate for the British Government to reciprocate by waiving fees for the Russian fans who will attend the UEFA cup final in Manchester? Unfortunately, Leicester City is in neither of the finals.
Helen Goodman: As all hon. Members know, those football matches will be played very soon, so I am not sure whether it will be possible to organise a debate within a time scale that would make a difference, but I will draw my right hon. Friends remarks to the attention of colleagues in the Foreign Office.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The hon. Lady will be aware that, yesterday, a High Court judgment denied the Home Secretary any further right of appeal in her endeavours to maintain the proscription as a terrorist organisation of the Peoples Mujahideen of Iran. The Government are therefore now in clear breach of the judgment of the European Court of First Instance. So, first, when will the Home Secretary come to the House to make a statement and, secondly, when will the Government lay the necessary orders to lift the proscription?
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the ongoing problem of the exploitation of migrant workers? My hon. Friend might be aware of reports in the papers today that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has withdrawn the licence of a company called Timberland Homes Recruitment, which supplies flowers to high street shops the length and breadth of our country. That company has been accused of 15 breaches of regulations, such as those on transportation, accommodation and minimum wage requirements. The families back home have also been threatened by the company. Will my hon. Friend join me in urging a boycott of the companys products, so that we can clearly demonstrate that the exploitation of workerswhether they are migrants or otherwisewill not be tolerated in this country?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The behaviour that he describes is totally unacceptable. That is why the Government are engaged in negotiations at European level on new measures to strengthen the rights of temporary, agency and migrant workers.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The rightly popular Deputy Leader of the House had the good grace to smile and laugh when she was reading out the Prime Ministers response to the Leader of the Opposition, so I hesitate to ask this question, but I think that I ought to. Should not the part-time Defence Secretary and sometime Secretary of State for Scotland come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement next week because the Prime Minister did not clarify the situation regarding a referendum in Scotland? The hon. Lady and I are very well aware that Wendy Alexander was talking about a referendum initiated by the Scottish Parliament, not this Parliament, and it was disingenuous of the Prime Minister to say otherwise.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend be able to find time for a debate on the importance of a co-ordinated approach to future land use? One part of Government is looking at the challenge of flood defence, with a making space for water strategy that includes more use of washlands; another is looking for more land to build on; and another is looking at the challenges of food security and the fact that we will have to produce more of our own food in future. Clearly each issue cannot be considered in isolation, so can we have a debate so that all hon. Members can contribute to the discussion on the important challenges that we face?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. These are important long-term issues. Although there have been a number of debates recently about flooding and although a major piece of legislationthe Planning Billis going through the House, I will take his proposal as a suggestion for a topical debate.
The Trusts occupancy is currently at 92% for the last 12 months as reported nationally.
the bed occupancy rate in Kettering general hospital in the latest year for which figures are available was 81 per cent..[ Official Report, 6 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 557.]
Bed occupancy rate is an important measure of hospital performance. Clearly, either the freedom of information request response is wrong or the Minister of State is wrong. Will he come to the House next week to clarify the situation?
Helen Goodman: I will ask my colleagues in the Department of Health to look at the figures that the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, he should set the issue in context. In the NHS east midlands area since 1997, the number of people on waiting lists has fallen from 30,000 to two, and the number of people receiving cancer treatment within two weeks has now reached 96.3 per cent. When he makes complaints, he should contextualise them as well.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): I am delighted to hear that there will be a debate on pensioner poverty, but can we have a debate specifically on the state pension? My hon. Friend may be aware that tomorrow sees the centenary of Winston Churchill being elected as a Liberal MP in Dundee. Political historians suggest that he was elected at least in part because of the introduction of the old age pension two days beforein other words, 100 years ago yesterday. A debate on the state pension would allow us to determine where each party stands on this very important issue.
Helen Goodman: I did not know of the centenary, but my hon. Friend is obviously a worthy successor to Winston Churchilland he is right to say that tackling pensioner poverty is extremely important. That is why the Government have introduced the pension credit and the winter fuel allowance, and lifted 1 million people out of poverty. I hope that he will have further opportunities to describe that in more detail.
Given the confusion yesterday on the Government Benches with regard to constitutional referendums, as witnessed not just by the very odd answers and by the very strange letter to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), which spoke about a Westminster referendum when none had been called for, and as witnessed by the failure to keep the manifesto promise on a referendum on Europe, would it not be possible to have a debate in Government time so that we can tease out the 57 varieties of opinion on the Government Benches with regard to referendumsand, indeed, to tease out just how little dialogue and discussion actually exists between the Prime Minister and the leader of his party in Scotland?
Helen Goodman: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is extremely interested in this subject, but I do not know why his party have been putting back the referendum that it said it wanted. As he also knows, the Calman commission is reviewing the progress of devolution over the past 10 years and, when we have the results of the commission, that will be the time to consider these matters fully.
[That this House believes that the creation of a new bank holiday is justified; further believes that such a bank holiday should be created to celebrate and commemorate the contribution of all members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, past and present, in defending United Kingdom democracy and freedom; and considers that such a bank holiday should be known as Veterans Day.]
She will be aware that there is growing support on both sides of the House for a fresh new bank holiday, and that we have fewer public holidays than most other countries in Europe. If we want to build on the popular appeal of the Government, surely now is the time to introduce a new public holiday. I suggest that my hon. Friend study my short early-day motion, and that we have an early debate on that subject.
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend draws attention to an important matter. The number of bank holidays to which people are entitled in addition to their statutory holiday has already been increased by four days, and will increase by a further four days in April next year. However, his suggestion is now clearly on the table.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): In the spirit of modernisation, may we have a joint statement from the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)explaining why he wants a referendum that he would almost certainly loseand the Prime Minister, explaining why he wants to stop a referendum which, unlike one on the Lisbon treaty, he would almost certainly win? If they have difficulty producing that joint statement, I am sure that Wendy Alexander will be happy to help in the drafting of it.
Helen Goodman: I am puzzled by the hon. Gentlemans suggestion. As he knows, oral statements are made by members of the Government, and only one of the people he mentioned is a member of the Government.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the hon. Lady knows, Lord Patel of Bradford is undertaking a review of the effectiveness of the Governments strategy for the prevention of violent extremism. Has she received any notice that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will come to the House to make a statement about the outcome of that review? If she has not, will she be able to write to me with whatever information she may be able to glean?
Helen Goodman: I do not know what the timetable is for that piece of work, but I will pass the hon. Gentlemans remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask her to keep him informed.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Could we have an early debate on last nights astonishing revelations about airport security? Given that the Government have now said that criminal record checks for those working airside apply only to criminal records in this country, and that wider security checks apply only to those specifically involved in security jobs, can the hon. Lady now confirm that there is no barrier whatever to somebody who has committed a serious terrorist offence abroad working airside in a British airport?