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T8. [215938] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister keeps perpetuating the myth that 99.7 per cent. of people living in North Yorkshire will remain within 1 mile by road of an alternative branch. However, I could take him to villages that will be 3, 5 or even 7 miles away from the nearest branch. When there are poor roads, when not everyone has a car and when there is insufficient public transport, because of the
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rural nature of the county, how does he propose that people will get to those branches?

Mr. McFadden: I understand that anyone affected by post office closures is in a difficult position, because closures of course have consequences for post office customers. However, it is precisely because of that that we have put in place access criteria, in both urban and rural areas. In the face of losses of £500,000 a day, to which the hon. Lady did not refer, and a loss of custom amounting to 4 million customers a week in recent years, we have put in place the level of subsidy that will ensure a network of around 11,500 post offices, even after the closure programme is completed. Without the subsidy put in place by this Government, the Post Office would be in a much more difficult position than it is now.

T10. [215940] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I am afraid that I want to take Ministers back to the Post Office card account. In 2003, I was the shadow Minister responsible for the Post Office, and I well remember the way the Government, using a list of 30 questions, tried to deter people from taking up a card account. It reached the position where they seemed to be saying, “Get your own bank account.” What faith can we have in the Government’s determination to keep the card account going, when in January 2006 they actually suggested that they did not wish to have another extension of the contract? Will the Minister assure me that the Government will definitely go for the best contract, not the cheapest contract, when the Post Office card account tender comes in?

Mr. McFadden: The suggestion that the Government are somehow to blame for the changes in the way people choose to live their lives is one that I reject. Nine out of 10 new pensioners choose to have their pension paid directly into a bank account. I cannot add anything further on the decision on the contract. As I have said, that will be decided by the Department for Work and Pensions. I am sure that the Post Office is extremely keen to win it, and I am sure it has put in a strong bid, but that must be decided in a proper, legally robust manner.

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Business of the House

11.36 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

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

Monday 7 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on ticketing and concessionary travel on public transport, followed by a debate on science budget allocations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

Tuesday 8 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill.

Wednesday 9 July—Opposition day [unallotted day] [first part]. There will be a debate on the cost of living on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, followed by motion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (Maximum Amounts) (England) Order 2008, followed by all stages of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 10 July—Remaining stages of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords].

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 July will include:

Monday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 15 July—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No.2) Order 2008.

Wednesday 16 July—Opposition day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords amendments

Thursday 17 July—The House will be asked to approve resolutions relating to the Intelligence and Security Committee, followed by a general debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2007-08.

The information is as follows:

Ticketing and Concessionary Travel on Public Transport (Fifth Report from the Transport Committee, HC 84); and Science Budget Allocations (Fourth report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, HC 215).

Mrs. May: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. This week, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from Cherie Blair on crime on our streets. I am sure that the Prime Minister will have welcomed her intervention on the issue. In her evidence, she called for a more highly visible police presence on our streets. Today, a report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has
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said that front-line police sergeants spend half their day on paperwork, rather than on the beat. Indeed, one officer has said:

When can we have a debate in Government time on policing and bureaucracy?

A report this week heavily criticised the Government’s 24-hour licensing laws, saying that alcohol-related incidents have sharply increased. Indeed, one senior police chief constable has said that gang life is replacing family life and that in the last year the number of children admitted to hospital with stab wounds has doubled, so can we have a debate in Government time on mending our broken society?

This week, it was revealed that the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, was told in 2003 of security flaws in the Government’s handling of child benefit records. An internal report said that

that civil servants could

and that “the risks were serious”. Four years later, those risks became real when the Government lost the personal details of 25 million people, so will the Chancellor make a statement to the House explaining why the Prime Minister, despite being told of these problems, did nothing?

This week’s Darzi review on the NHS was particularly flattering to my hon. Friends in the shadow Health team, as they appear to have written many of the proposals. Patient choice, for example, was announced by the Conservatives in September 2007; budgets linked to quality of care was announced by the Conservatives in June 2007; and the NHS constitution was announced by the Conservatives a year ago. Labour has clearly run out of its own ideas and has to resort to using ours, so may we have a debate on original thinking in government?

May we also have a debate on communication by political parties? I would like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on having recently appeared on the front page of the Henley Standard . I agree with her that Labour did not come fifth in the Henley by-election because she launched the Equality Bill on polling day, as there are many other reasons why people do not want to vote for this Government at the moment. A debate on communication, however, would allow us to discuss the tactics used by the Liberal Democrats in the Henley by-election. The worst example of their negative campaigning and cynical approach was a leaflet that led to the following headline in the Thame Gazette: “‘Don’t use us as a pawn’, school tells Lib Dems”. At a time when trust in politicians is so low, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that such campaigning methods are irresponsible and that the Liberal Democrat party should be ashamed of itself?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I let the right hon. Lady finish, but let me say that I would not expect a response to the tactic of using the business announced today as a means of attacking a political party in this way. The comments have been put on the record, but I would not expect the Leader of the House to respond to them.

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Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the question of crime, particularly youth crime, and I would like to take the opportunity this morning to offer my condolences to the families of two people in the London borough of Southwark who lost their lives through violent knife crime in my constituency over the last four days. I pay tribute to the local police in Southwark under the leadership of Commander Malcolm Tillyer, and to all the police in our cities for their work in trying to tackle the menace of knife crime. They are working as part of a team with the Government, and we will shortly produce our youth crime action plan, which will be put before the House by the Home Secretary. The policing Green Paper will follow shortly. I remind the right hon. Lady that we are only too well aware that, although violent crime has fallen by 30 per cent. over the past 10 years, there remains the particular problem of young people carrying knives. The age at which people are carrying knives and becoming victims of knife crime is falling. That is a worrying trend which we are working on tackling.

The right hon. Lady asked about the security of data. We all want data to be gathered accurately, shared in the interests of good public services and to work as proof against fraud. She will know that the Poynter review outcome has been reported and is now being acted on.

The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Darzi review, which was the subject of a statement on Monday in this House and the other place—on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Our view, set out on Monday, is that the Darzi review brought forward by the Secretary of State for Health is the next stage in building on and then improving the quality of care in the NHS, so that we can move on from having had to rescue the NHS when it was on its knees. The big question when we came into government was whether we would have an NHS in the future—would it even survive? Now, the question is how we improve the quality of care in the NHS. If the Opposition have joined us in that approach, we welcome them.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Identity fraud costs the UK £1.7 billion every year and I am its latest victim. Last month, in a card skimming scam, £3,500 was taken from my bank account and subsequently reinstated with a note on the statement, “Smile—reimbursement”, as if I had something to be happy about. When I contacted the bank, it refused to tell me about the progress of the fraud investigation—the shutters came down. This is a huge problem that is touching thousands of people every day, and we need an urgent debate on this issue of great concern.

Ms Harman: I take my hon. Friend’s comments as a suggestion for a topical debate. We all want the convenience of credit card transactions, but we must ensure that we work with banks and through the Serious Fraud Office and the police, as well as with Departments such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to bring it all together. Fraud is not a victimless crime and we need to work together.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Leader of the House has announced that we will have a full day to debate the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill, which is an urgent measure
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that has widespread general support throughout the House. Can we ensure that before we break for the summer recess we have all the time we need for the Bill to pass between both Houses? It would be far better to get agreement in a conciliatory way on the important balance between liberty and victims’ rights, rather than force a measure up and down the corridors of this building. I hope she agrees to give us the time that we need next week and thereafter.

In that context, may I thank the Leader of the House for what she said in reflecting the question asked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about young people and crime? The House is getting increasingly worried—not only were two adults in our borough of Southwark stabbed to death, but last week in north London, a young man, Ben Kinsella, was stabbed, and in New Cross in the past few days, two people have been found brutally stabbed—that it is beginning to feel as if there is a real evil in our society. Although the numbers are not enormous, they are horrifying and each incident is an absolute tragedy.

We had a debate on knife crime, which was welcome, but before we break for the summer can we have another debate on responsibility towards and of young people? I include in that the opportunity to debate the fact that high street banks are offering Visa cards to 11-year-olds, which must be scandalous and must not add to anybody’s parental sense of being able to control their young people.

I have just two other requests to make. This week, we have rightly been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the NHS, which we all rejoice in. We had a big statement on the Darzi report this week. Before we break for the summer, can we have a debate on NHS accountability to the public—not what the service is, but how people can influence what it is locally?

Can we also have a debate on the linked great public service of which we are about to celebrate the anniversary? Next month is the anniversary of the passing into law of the Old Age Pensions Act 1908. This week, Southwark pensioners came here to start their celebrations, and there will be other events because the campaign began in Southwark. Can we have a debate on what has gone wrong with our society, when pensioners still have to apply for a top-up to make up a minimum income and people are given golden farewells from the Financial Services Authority of £600,000 and more yet they presided over a completely incompetent job of managing Northern Rock?

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): That is the nature of capitalism.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman says that that is the nature of capitalism, but we have a Labour Government who are presiding over pensioners underpaid and people hugely overpaid.

Finally, although it is right that we are to debate Zimbabwe today, I have asked several times for a debate on relations between the United Kingdom and China. May we have such a debate before the end of term and before the Olympic Games?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked about the process for the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill. I can tell him and the House that we have no
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intention of forcing the Bill through. It simply constitutes a recognition that we need to react to a court judgment that would have had the effect of allowing offenders out on appeal and requiring the Crown prosecution services, having reviewed cases in the pipeline, to drop them because the anonymity of witnesses could not have been protected when the cases came to trial.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has been discussing the issues and giving full briefings to Members in all parts of the House. Any Member who wants a briefing from him or his ministerial team should let him know; he would be happy to provide it before next week’s debate. The Bill will be published today, so Members will be able to see it. My right hon. Friend has also been having extensive discussions with peers in all parties, and with Cross Benchers. There is a great deal of expertise and interest in the matter in the House of Lords. The idea is to secure as much agreement as possible, along with recognition that we need to act quickly because of the cases that are in the pipeline.

One of the fail-safes is the undertaking given by the ministerial team that the Bill is expected to last for a year at the most. It will either fold into the victims and witnesses Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, or contain a sunset clause. We want to get it as right as we possibly can, but that fail-safe is there. Members are encouraged to talk to the ministerial team.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned youth crime. I send my condolences to the bereaved family of Ben Kinsella, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we all feel a sense of shock and horror after discovering that the deaths that we thought had resulted from a fire in New Cross now appear to have resulted from stabbings. Each of those deaths is a great tragedy, and each, as the hon. Gentleman said, instils a sense of fear and dismay that we must work together to tackle.

In mentioning the high street banks and the Visa cards, the hon. Gentleman put his finger on the fact that this is not just a question for the police. All agencies, local authorities and organisations in the voluntary and the private sector must work together to deal with it. We are drawing up a youth crime action plan and a policing Green Paper, but I shall ensure that the House has the opportunity that it clearly wants to focus on these issues.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the accountability of the national health service to the public. There is to be an Adjournment debate on health today, and no doubt there will be further discussion during consultation on the NHS constitution. The draft consultation document was launched on Monday.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to pensioners. There are two issues at stake—pensioners’ income levels and standards of living. I work closely with the Southwark pensioners action group, of which he and I are patrons and supporters. He should bear in mind that, of all the groups who are better off since we came to Government, pensioners—especially women pensioners—have benefited most, but we are not complacent and we want to do more.

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about pay at the top. We must show responsibility over pay, not only in the public sector but in the private sector, and it must be connected to performance. High pay must be connected to good performance, not bad performance.

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