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There have been plenty of opportunities to debate post office changes, including during the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and during yesterdays Opposition day debate about the DTI. All hon. Members are affected by the changes, but they have not been occasioned by either the Government or the Post Office: rather, they have been caused by changes in peoples practices, and above all by the increasing use of the internet. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues must answer the following question: what better alternative is there to the policy being pursued by the Government, which has cost £2 billion already? In addition, he and his party must decide whether they
want the Post Office to be controlled directly by Ministers, or whether it should be given a degree of commercial freedom.
[That this House condemns the actions of Greenbelt Group Ltd with regards to the customers it serves, whilst recognising that it provides over 750 estates across the UK with open space maintenance, serving some 50,000 homes; notes that it is frequently failing to meet the standards as set out in the title deeds of each property it serves; further notes that whenever a customer contacts the company to lodge a complaint - including on health and safety issues - that customer service is consistently unsatisfactory; and believes that charging each household up to 180 per year is an abuse of customer trust.]
May we have a debate about the actions of Greenbelt Group Ltd? It is a factoring company that purchases common land when builders have completed an estate. It charges a nominal fee of £40 to £50, but very quickly raises that to £180 to £200. The company provides a very poor service to 750 estates and nearly 50,000 houses throughout the UK. A lot of money is involved, and we need a debate on this subject.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Returning to the subject of President Mugabe, is the Leader of the House absolutely certain that honorary knighthoods cannot be taken away? If so, perhaps I should put my ordinary one on the transfer list pretty quickly.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): May we have an urgent statement from the appropriate Minister about the Olympic logo? The visuals in the advertisement have had a major impact on people who suffer from epilepsy. In Great Britain alone, the advert has adversely affected 15 people already. Surely that is unacceptable, given how much we want to be proud of the games.
Mr. Straw: I was told this morning that discussions are under way with the British Epilepsy Association about this problem, and the part of the logo that featured in a film has been withdrawn. I understand that the logo has not received universal approbation, and that it will continue to be the subject of some discussion.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con):
Given the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), will he acknowledge the growing
consensus among colleagues that we made a dreadful mistake when we accepted the Procedure Committees daft recommendation to replace the Sessional Orders with a dismal homily from you, Mr. Speaker? It would meet with everyones approval if one of next weeks Order Papers contained a motion to reverse that decision.
Mr. Straw: May I, Mr. Speaker, from a position of total sycophancy say that you are absolutely right? However, I can tell the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that I wish that the matter was that simple. The truth is that all the problems that I faced when I was Home Secretary arose[Hon. Members: Look behind you!] I see that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary has arrived, but the difficulties that I faced when I was in that post arose even though the Sessional Orders were still being passed. The problem is deeply frustrating for all of us: we all want an end to it, but the question is how we find a way through.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the past three years local government workers have been trying to negotiate their future pensions with no success? Can we have a statement about exactly where the Government stand on this?
Mr. Straw: I am aware of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and a number of trade unions, particularly Unison. As he knows, discussions are continuing, involving my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, local government associations and trade unions on what we hope is a more positive way forward.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I want to take the Leader of the House back to the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the debates on the two Iran inquiries. Lord Drayson has already said in the other place that the Government will make an announcement to ParliamentI presume to both Houseslater this month. He made the point that the Secretary of State for Defence took full responsibility for the event. I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that it is an oral statement to give Members the opportunity to question him. It is important, as my right hon. Friend said, that the debates on those inquiries are separate because they raise different issues about media handling and operational issues. It would be for the benefit of the House if we could discuss those matters separately.
As I said to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), I am sympathetic to those points. I am giving active consideration to the announcement being by oral statement, which is appropriate. I do, however, have a disagreement with him. As the two inquiries arose from exactly the same incident, albeit with different implications, it would be
for the benefit of the House for them to be debated at the same time. Many colleagues on both sides of the House will wish to make comments about the operational aspects as well as the media handling.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): May we have a debate on mobile telephone communication systems for our brave young men fighting in Iraq? Two weeks before going to Iraq, Private Jones, one of my constituents, took out a mobile phone contract with 3, only to find that it did not operate in Iraq. Nevertheless he is expected to pay a standing charge, despite not being able to communicate with his family at a time of great stress and difficulty. Can we look at how we can support our young people and make sure that companies sell them products that are fit for purpose in Iraq?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important matter and I shall certainly pursue it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence as well as with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who could perhaps talk to the telecommunications companies concerned.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Yesterday from the Dispatch Box the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health claimed that over 3 per cent. of the NHS budget in 2005-06 was spent on IT, but on 5 March his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said in a written answer that the figure was 2.02 per cent. comparing like for like. The difference, which is getting on for £1 billion, may be a mere trifle to Ministers, but could the Leader of the House ask both of his hon. Friends to attend the House and say which of them is correct?
Mr. Straw: That is probably not necessary. Often the answer to these apparent inconsistencies is found to be different definitions and different questions. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take up the matter with me, I will follow it up and write to him.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have been concerned about the use of restraint in secure training centres following the death of a boy in Northamptonshire. Is he also aware of concerns that the Youth Justice Board might shortly be considering changing the rules on the use of restraint? If so, will he ensure that a ministerial statement, either written or oral, is made to the House about the rules, the changes and the reasons for them so that we can apply proper scrutiny and understand exactly what is going on in secure training centres?
Mr. Straw: I know that my hon. Friend has been very concerned indeed about this tragic case and its implications. I will certainly follow it up. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in his place as we speak and has taken note of this. We will give consideration to a written ministerial statement on the matter.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
Returning to next weeks business, can the Leader of the House ensure that there are no deputy leadership hustings
outside London on Monday so that each of the candidates for the deputy leadership of his party can be here to vote for our motion which they have been supporting during the hustings, namely to have an inquiry into the war in Iraq? Their absence might be misconstrued by Members of his party who have to vote for a deputy leader.
Mr. Straw: I will draw the right hon. Gentlemans comments to the attention of those who are standing for this position. I am happy to say that I am responsible for many things, but not for the release of members of the parliamentary Labour party for other duties.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the double standards of the BBC? [Hon. Members: Hear, hear.] My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent criticism of the Deputy Prime Ministers trip to the Caribbean by the BBC and, indeed, others, yet that same organisation agreed to send one of its favourite political daughters to the Caribbean to retrace her roots and teach her to play the piano. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is not a proper use of taxpayers money? If rich, middle class yuppies want to learn the piano, they should pay for it themselves. I have written to the BBC on this issue, but have yet to receive a reply.
Mr. Straw: As we all know, the BBC is a special kind of public corporation at arms length from Government, but all of us who are responsible for spending public money, including the BBC, must do so wisely. I will certainly draw to the attention of the director-general what my hon. Friend has just said.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Following todays announcement of 225 job losses at the Faslane naval base in my constituency, can we have an urgent debate on how the Government allocate work to naval bases? Although there is a gap in the work load at the moment, in a few years time the work load will increase when the new Astute class submarines require maintenance work. These job losses are short sighted because they will lead to a shortage of skilled workers when that work needs to be done. An even flow of work is required, so may we please have an urgent debate?
Mr. Straw: I obviously understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and any hon. Member when there are job losses in their constituency. I hope that he takes into account the fact that the defence budget has increased considerably, including in terms of building warships, ancillary vessels and like equipment. I hope that relatively shortly there will be an opportunity to debate defence generally, in which he can take part.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
My constituent Mr. White is currently in a long-running dispute with Ryanair, which I am sure is not unusual. So far Ryanair has not responded to the representations that I have made on my constituents behalf, which I am sure is not unusual either. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on enforcing consumer rights for air travellers and does he agree that
if airlines repeatedly refuse to respond to customers reasonable complaints, we should take measures to ensure that they do?
Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend says, this is not unusual, sadly. I note that Ryanairs results were not good either, which may mean that potential customers have noticed the same. We shall certainly give consideration to a debate on this.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Today every household in the country on average pays £4,280 a year to fund the NHS. That is a staggering 175 per cent. increase since the Government came to power. Yet, the number of patients treated has increased by only 29 per cent. Is it not time that we had a proper debate on this extraordinary and shameful financial mismanagement of the NHS by the Government?
Mr. Straw: We have had many debates on the health service. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on leading with his chin. He has published a terrificif that is ones point of viewpamphlet describing the NHS as a Stalinist system. He wants compulsory insurance of the kind which, I suggest, has done so much to collapse health care for millions of people in the United States. What he forgets are the international studies which have just come out showing that the NHS, which he so derides, including the hundreds of thousands of nurses and doctors who work in it, is delivering the highest standards of health care among OECD countries at very good cost indeed.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Early-day motion 1609 draws attention to the Divisions that took place after my private Members Bill, Grammar Schools (Ballots and Consultation) Bill, some time ago.
[That this House recalls that in division 368 of the 2003-04 parliamentary session, the hon. Members for Havant and Witney opposed the introduction by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire of his private members' Grammar Schools (Ballots and Consultation) Bill which, among other things, proposed the ending of a grammar school system which the hon. Member described as the response to the needs of a vanished society which required a small educated class and a large number of manual workers'; notes and welcomes the recent public resilement from their original position on this issue by those two hon. Members of Her Majesty's Opposition; and keenly anticipates a similar change of heart by all other Conservative hon. and right hon. Members who spoke or voted against the Bill at that time.]
It welcomes the fact that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) have recanted their original position. Can the Leader of the House find time in a packed parliamentary schedule for perhaps a Minister for truth and reconciliation to open a debate that will allow a solemn and formal recantation by the rest of the Conservative party in Parliament and they can fall behind their new policy?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises a very, very important issue. I am certainly, with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, looking anxiously to find time for a full debate in Government time if necessary on the future of grammar schools and the delusional policies that many Conservative Members have now been subject to. I hope that in the course of the debate we are able to recount, for example, the Daily Mail editorial of a couple of weeks ago, which said that the position of the Leader of the Opposition
has about it the reek of political positioning, without a whiff of real conviction.
It's all part of an attempt to capture that illusory 'middle ground', and to counter the perception that Mr Cameron's team are a bunch of Etonian elitists.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): The Leader of the House and the Home Secretary may have seen a press report last week following the coroners report into the death of a young constituent of mine who was a gifted and bright student but appears to have taken his life after looking at suicide websites. Will the Government bring forward urgent measures to close down websites that encourage or assist suicide and may we have a debate in the House on this evil and disturbing practice?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue in the way that he does. I hope that he is able to obtain a debate on the matter. He will also be aware that closing down websites in a democratic country like ours is very difficult, but of course we will have a look at it.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): If the Leader of the House accedes to the request for a debate on extra funding for delusional services, can I make a bid for some of that funding for myself? Like a lot of people, I was deluded into thinking that we were going to get a referendum from the Prime Minister on the European Union constitutional treaty. Everyone knows that Angela Merkel is driving it forward and Nicolas Sarkozy is supporting it. She does not care about the nuancing of language. We understand from leaks that major constitutional issues will be at stake, including home affairs. Surely we do not want a tidying-up exercise or to delude people into thinking that nothing has happened. Surely we should trust the people, and we can do that only if we have a referendum.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is anticipating what may or may not be in any amending treaty. There will be a full opportunity to discuss the forthcoming European Council before it takes place. If proposals have to go through the intergovernmental conference that require changes in legislation, which any change in treaty will do, they will be the subject of the greatest consideration by this House and judgments will be made at that stage. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to anticipate this.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on naming himself as delusional. Indeed, he fits the category exactly, given what he has told the Lancashire Telegraph about his 100 per cent. support for grammar schools, even after Tory party chiefs decision to ditch them.
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