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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): We shall have a free vote on next Wednesday's business on allowances for Sinn Fein, so I shall have to think for myself. Will the Leader of the House kindly help me by clarifying one or two points? As I understand it, one of the resolutions before us will not only restore the allowances that were taken away but give a new, additional allowance exclusively to Sinn Fein, which will be better than the Short money that the Conservatives and the Liberals get. Resolution 45 uses the words
That is much more widely drawn than the definition given to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) in recent replies to questions about Short money. This will be Hain moneyor Sinn Hain money, if you like. It will be a new allowance, and I am not persuaded that it can be justified by any of the criteria that have been laid down for the receipt of Short money.
Mr. Hoon: I have always defended my hon. Friend's right to think for himself, even if the consequences have sometimes been difficult for some of my right hon. Friends. I am not going to have the debate now that I have set for next Wednesday. The House will have the opportunity on that day to discuss the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, and then to decide, on a free voteit is a House matterwhether the allowances should be restored or granted.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Continuing with the subject of Wednesday's business, is it true that the Leader of the House wants to curtail the time spent discussing the allowances to Sinn Fein because a Labour bash is being held somewhere else in the precincts of the House at the time? Will the right hon. Gentleman remove that business entirely from Wednesday's schedule, on the basis of the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and me last week, which was that he could not justify such payments if the IRA was continuing with its criminality?
Again, I shall not get into the substance of that debate now. I am not aware of any Labour bash taking place on Wednesday evening[Interruption.]although a photograph is to be taken at the end of business on that day. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, in the normal timetable for Wednesdays, there will be plenty of time available to debate these issues. I look forward to all the parliamentary Labour party participating in the debate, because I am sure that they will want to be in the centenary photograph that will be taken that evening. As far as the debates are concerned, there will be ample time for the House to discuss these important issues.
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[That this House believes that the Scottish Parliament should follow the lead of the Welsh Assembly and introduce guidelines for all political parties that ensure that candidates for election cannot stand for both the list and the constituency.]
The motion now has the support of nearly 90 hon. Members and many other people. Will my right hon. Friend set aside some time for a debate on this issue? It was discussed in another place yesterday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that losers should not be winners, and that they certainly cannot be leaders?
Mr. Hoon: I know that this is an important issue north of the border and, if I can put it this way, west of the border. The matter has been debated in another place, and it is important that this House should have the opportunity to consider it. I am sure that that will be the case in due course.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): On reflection, does the Leader of the House think that he was entirely fair to the Liberal Democrat spokesman when he accused him of carping? Surely the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was right to point out the complete lack of joined-up government on the important issue of climate change, with two Departments using different statistics and coming to different conclusions. May I encourage the Leader of the House to add to his modernising and innovating credentials by arranging for a joint statement to be made by those two Departments, with two Ministers at the Dispatch Box to answer our questions; otherwise, we shall not get any answers on this subject?
Mr. Hoon: If it is now the position of the Conservatives to defend their poor, unfortunate colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I am sure that the country will welcome the close association between two such dissimilar parties. Nevertheless, I shall stand by my use of the word "carping". What characterises both Opposition parties in this regard is their complete failure to address the issues that are relevant to resolving the problems of climate change. The Government have addressed those issues with remarkable success, both domestically and internationally. I had the opportunity this morning to listen to one of the Conservative spokesmen on the radio, who seemed to have decided that the Conservatives would resolve those problems simply by handing them over to a group of scientists. That might be one way of avoiding responsibility, but I suspect that it would not be wholly welcomed by Britain's business community.
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): Given the importance to the voluntary sector of the provisions in the Charities Bill, will my right hon. Friend tell us when we shall have the debate on its Second Reading?
I cannot give my hon. Friend a specific date for that debate. This is an important matter for the Government, however, and I will ensure that the House is given early notice of the debate, as ever.
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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May we please have a debate on the National Offender Management Service, urgently and in Government time? The Leader of the House will know that NOMS, as it is called, covers both the Prison Service and the probation service. I was alarmed to discover from the parliamentary written answer that I received this morningand which will no doubt appear in today's Hansardfrom the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), that only 3 per cent. of the Prison Service budget is spent on education. Is that not an alarmingly small amount, given that 67 per cent. of prisoners reoffend within two years of their release? Surely it is high time that the Government spent more of the Prison Service budget on educating prisoners, to reduce the rate of reoffending.
Mr. Hoon: I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's view of the importance of education, especially for young offenders, but also for the general prison population. One of the key challenges is to ensure that those who serve time in prison receive the training and education that will allow them to secure employment thereafter. The National Offender Management Service is looked at closely by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on a regular basis.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Following reports in some sections of the press last week about proposals for unwarranted and wholesale demolition in housing market renewal areas, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate about pathfinder schemes? Some of us could then give credit to organisations such as Transform South Yorkshire, which have responded well and consulted properly with our constituents about some radical but constructive proposals for regeneration in those areas. It would also be a good opportunity to allay the fears raised by some of those unwarranted and inaccurate press reports.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has considerable knowledge and experience of the way in which particular local authorities participate in partnership with the Government in improving housing stock. He is, of course, right that it is not simply a question of demolitionwhich has attracted a great deal of unreasonable press interestbut a question of considering our housing stock and determining what is the best way to improve it. In some cases, it is a matter of clearing land in order to allow for new build, while in others, it is a question of spending significant amounts of money on revitalising existing houses and making sure that they are fit for the 21st century.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD):
To echo Members who have spoken previously, may we please have a statement on the disgraceful decision of the Department for Work and Pensions to abolish the Post Office card account? May we also have a debate and a vote on that? Surely, in view of the number of signatures on the early-day motion, the Government cannot abolish the card account without a vote in Parliament. May we also have a debate on the implications for small post offices? The Royal Mail's universal service obligation gives little protection to rural post offices.
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For example, within the PA postcode area, the Royal Mail could shut every post office on every island in my constituency and still conform to the terms of the USO. That is completely unacceptable, and surely it must be altered.
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