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Mr. Hoon: I think it is fair to say that questions of ministerial remuneration are above my pay gradeone step above my pay grade, anyway. Nevertheless, I will certainly ensure that that matter is drawn to the attention of the appropriate person. On the question of post offices, I do not believe that I can add to what I have already said to the House on that matter. It is an important issue, and the Government take it very seriously. It has been an issue over a number of years, and I believe that the Government have found the right answer, but that answer will need to be updated in the light of changing circumstances. That is the Government's position.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): May we have a debate on the level and allocation of this year's revenue support grant for local government? It cannot be right that some of the most deprived areas in the country, in the borough of Solihull, receive £237.86, while next door in Birmingham the rate is almost double at £560.40. We need a debate on the Floor of the House so that we can discuss that gross imbalance in local government finance.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on Lancashire county council's disgraceful proposal to withdraw funds for hot meals from the Women's Royal Voluntary Service? Thousands of volunteers in Lancashire go out to ensure that old-age pensioners have a hot meal during the week. It is not just the hot meal that those pensioners require; it is the contact with those who visit. All that is being put at risk for the sake of a few thousand pounds.
Mr. Hoon: I share my hon. Friend's admiration for the excellent work of the meals on wheels service. It does a tremendous job up and down the country, and I am sure that it does a tremendous job in Lancashire. My hon. Friend has made his point, and I entirely agree with him.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con):
Jack Saywood, a 14-year-old in my constituency, found that his details were on the national DNA database, although he had committed no crime whatever. It was
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purely a case of mistaken identity. I was shocked to discover that 24,000 other people were in exactly the same positionall of them children who had never committed a crime. Their details should be removed from the database. Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to come to the House and tell us when they will be removed?
Mr. Hoon: I have seen a number of references to the issue in the media. The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in raising the case of his constituent and other such cases. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is currently considering the matter.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Leader of the House may know that some avaricious train operating companies are talking of getting rid of saver tickets. The first-class return fare from my constituency is about £182, the standard return fare is about £105, and the saver ticketwhich I try to buy to save the taxpayer moneycosts £37.50. May we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Transport?
Mr. Hoon: I have seen a number of rather mischievous headlines on the subject, and I have had cause to discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I understand that the Department for Transport remains committed to saver tickets and to off-peak travel. The Government's ambition, in which we have largely succeeded, is to ensure that more and more people use our railways, and that will continue to be the case.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): As the Leader of the House will know, in December schools across Britain received important assessment and performance data which is considered vital both by schools and by Ofsted. It has become clear that that data was flawed and misleading. Students who received A* results at GCSE were counted as failures, and GNVQs were not included at all.
The Department for Education and Skills has said that it will withdraw and reissue the data. I want to know from the DepartmentI hope that the Leader of the House will arrange for a statement accordinglyhow that fundamental error occurred and what it has cost the taxpayer. I also want to elicit an apology to all the teachers and students whose efforts and achievements were disregarded by the Government, and, if I may, the definition according to a simple[Interruption.]
I am grateful for your consideration, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will drop a note to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, whose responsibility that is. I take entirely seriously the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. This needs to be thoroughly looked at and investigated, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be contacting him about it.
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[That this House notes with concern that members of the PCS trade union working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have felt that they have no other option but to take industrial action in the face of the Government's proposals for 30,000 job cuts and the adverse effect this is having on the DWP's services; further notes the staffing requirements of the Government's incapacity benefit reforms and that the DWP is running ahead of its job reduction target having already cut 15,000 jobs; and therefore calls upon the Government to introduce a moratorium on job cuts within the Department to enable an objective assessment to take place, in full consultation with the unions and service users concerned, of the DWP's staffing needs for delivering services.]
Today and tomorrow, a number of members of the Public and Commercial Services Union are out on strike because of the job cuts that have been imposed in their Department. Is it not appropriate that we discuss those job cuts in this place, ensure that union members are properly consulted and treated with dignity, and, more particularly, realise that those who use jobcentres and other such services within the benefit service need the best reception from people working in the service? Maybe this is not the way to go ahead. We should treat those people with dignity, because disputes do not help anyone.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right. It is important that those who provide a vital public service are properly consulted. As I understand it, they have been. It is important that we ensure that proper support is given in the important work that they do, but may I make it clear to him that the adjustment in numbers in the service is directly the result of the significant reduction in unemployment and the significant technological improvements in the delivery of the service? I am sure he accepts very fairly that the money we devote to the Department is best paid to those who are in need of its assistance. That has to mean a balance between those who work in the service and, crucially, those who receive the benefits. Obviously, the more money available for benefits, the better the service will be.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the review of public administration in Northern Ireland? The Government propose to remove the 26 borough, city and district councils and replace them with seven regional councils. That proposal is supported only by Sinn Fein-IRA. When will the Government unlock themselves from Sinn Fein-IRA and back the democrats?
May I invite the hon. Gentleman to stand back a little from the rhetoric and consider the proposal? I will give him the same answer that I have just given my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew): in the delivery of all public services, whether national services of the kind dealt with by the Department for Work and Pensions or local government services, it is crucial that as much as possible of the money provided by the taxpayer is spent on the service, and as little as possible on
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unnecessary bureaucratic support. The more sensible and rational the delivery arrangements, the better it is for his constituents and those of all Members of the House.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the future of regional casinos? Before the election, the House concluded that there could be regeneration benefits from such casinos and that we should run a pilot scheme, but, unfortunately, we agreed that that pilot should be simply one project. I am not sure that I could find one Member of the House who now thinks that one is the right number. What might work in an old industrial area such as the lower Don valley in my constituency will not necessarily work in seaside resorts or in London. Can we have a debate so that we can reach a sensible conclusion? Yes, we should have a pilot project, but the number involved should be eight, not one.
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