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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): First, Mr.   Speaker, may I give you a personal welcome back to the Chair and say how good it is to see you back in good health and on good form?

I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business of the House for the coming weeks.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I endorse the words of the right hon. Lady. The whole House is delighted, Mr. Speaker, to see you back in your rightful place in this Chamber.

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 24 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 25 April—Second Reading of the Housing Corporation (Delegation) Etc. Bill

Wednesday 26 April—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill.

Thursday 27 April—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Bill.

Friday 28 April—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Tuesday 2 May—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 3 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 4 May—A debate on the Government's strategy to improve the life chances of disabled people on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 5 May—The House will not be sitting.

It may help the House to know that the business in Westminster Hall for the first three weeks of May will be:

Thursday 4 May—A debate on enterprise and its contribution to society.

Thursday 11 May—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on HIV/AIDS and the provision of anti-retrovirals.

Thursday 18 May—A debate on the Darfur crisis.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks. Will he arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the House and explain his statements about the health service? Yesterday, in Prime Minister's questions, he said:

One of my constituents was watching and was annoyed because she knew that that was not true. On 19 December 2005, her GP asked for an appointment with a specialist at Wexham Park hospital in Slough, part of the Thames Valley strategic health authority area. She was given an appointment for 10 May 2006—
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not a 13-week wait, but a 20-week wait. The Prime Minister misled the House. When will he come to explain himself?

As we see yet more job losses in the NHS, hospitals threatened with closure and patients being denied life-improving drugs, people have one simple question: where has all the money gone? Can we have a statement from the Health Secretary explaining the Government's failure on the NHS?

Figures published yesterday show that one third of post offices have closed in London in the last three years, for example, seven in Beckenham, five in Hammersmith and Fulham, five in Merton and 22 in Croydon. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that post office closures hit communities hard, and allow a debate on the future of post office branches?

May we have a debate in the next two weeks on the environmental record of local councils and the link between crime and grime? Improving local surroundings can lead to lower crime. Figures show yet again that, of the top five councils for recycling and composting, four are Conservative-controlled, while the fifth is under no overall control. Conservative Richmond has reduced landfill by 20,000 tonnes a year. Conservative Woking has cut its emissions by 77 per cent. since installing its own microgeneration grid and Conservative Enfield's environmental crime unit has clamped down on fly-tipping, graffiti and abandoned vehicles, with incidents falling by 30 per cent. in one year alone. That shows clearly that people who vote blue can go green.

During that debate, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who has suddenly become interested in the environment—to come to the House to explain why he announced in his recent Budget a new zero-rate road tax on environmentally friendly cars yet failed to mention that no cars available to buy today in the UK are eligible for it?

Finally, may we have a debate on how to handle disputes between neighbours? At the last business questions, I wished the Leader of the House a quiet recess. However, I am sorry that he had to spend part of it trying to stop the battle between the Blairites and the Brownites in government. He said that they were

I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman said to his constituency Labour party, which recently voted on when the Prime Minister should resign. I understand that he owns a house in Kennington that has squatters next door: given his experience with unwanted occupiers next door, perhaps he would like to advise the Chancellor on how to remove the squatter in No. 10.

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the right hon. Lady did not intend to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had misled the House and that, with the benefit of slightly more mature thought, she will accept that it was not an appropriate observation to make. I am certainly willing to allow her to correct the record, if she wishes to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I would have intervened if I thought that an entirely improper remark had been made. I judged the matter in its context, and the right hon. Lady did not suggest that there had been deliberate misleading. However, the
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Chair is always concerned that, as far possible, moderate language should be used in the House. I hope that that will be generally observed.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): She has been let off because she is a Tory.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a grossly offensive and misleading remark on the part of the hon. Member, and I would wish that he withdraw it.

Mr. Skinner indicated dissent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the hon. Member is challenging the Chair, the Chair has certain powers that it will not hesitate to use. Is the hon. Member prepared to apologise?

Mr. Skinner: Why is there one rule for Labour and another for the Tories?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I name the hon. Member.

I see that, by withdrawing from the Chamber, the hon. Member has taken the easier way out.

Mr. Hoon: It is important that we have a proper debate about the enormous funding increases that this Government have made available to the NHS and it is right that taxpayers want that money to be spent properly and effectively. The Government are embarked on a fundamental change in the NHS that will be self- sustaining and to the benefit of patients. I am confident that the debate will go on in the months ahead and sure that the country as a whole will see the enormous benefits flowing from the extra investment being made in the NHS and from the reform programme that is under way.

The Government will take no lessons from the Opposition about the NHS. Under the Conservatives, it was a disgrace, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) knows. She understands that most Conservative party members at that time fundamentally did not believe in the NHS. It will be interesting to see, when we finally get the results of the series of reviews being undertaken by the Conservatives, whether they remain true to their principles and continue to advocate dismantling our national health service.

The right hon. Lady raises the issue of recycling and Conservative-run councils, but most Labour Members—and, indeed, most parties other than the Conservative party—recognise the degree of recycling of Conservative party policy in the months since its new leader was elected. If the Conservatives are so committed to environmental protection and tackling climate change, why are they so opposed to the climate change levy—the very mechanism that is delivering change, to the benefit of our environment? The right hon. Lady wants to lecture the House on environmental policy, but she should start closer to home by inviting the Leader of the Opposition to explain how wearing a green tie, riding a bicycle and flying to the Arctic circle is a substitute for a serious debate on environmental
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policy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is engaged in a serious and substantive debate on how to protect our environment internationally and he is dealing with what I suspect is a pretty tough audience in New York, rather than a handful of journalists on a photo-shoot somewhere inside the Arctic circle.

On the eligibility of motor vehicles, the right hon. Lady has not understood that what is important is that we set challenging and demanding targets for the motor industry—and, indeed, for the country—in promoting the environment. This issue is more important than simple photo opportunities, which, frankly, are all that the Conservative party can currently offer.

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