On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. First, I hope that you enjoy the Dissolution, as I suspect that there will not be a candidate fighting against you. I was wondering whether the Health Secretary has said that he will come and make a statement about the future of the Victoria hospital in Lichfield, which faces closure; or, failing that, whether the Home Secretary has decided to come along and make a statement about the fact that we have lost 240 or more patrol police officers in Staffordshire since 1997; or, failing that, whether there has been a statement from other Secretaries of State, including the Chancellor--
Order. I think that I can assist the hon. Gentleman. The answer is no in every case.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether an opportunity can be found today or tomorrow for the Paymaster General to return to the House to correct a misleading impression that she may have given inadvertently during Treasury questions. When I asked about the Government's proposal to impose VAT on service charges in care homes and sheltered accommodation--a matter raised earlier by Mr. Redwood--she claimed that there was no such proposal. In fact, Customs and Excise propose to change the interpretation of Government rules, the effect of which will be to impose a new stealth tax on pensioners. At least the Chancellor was too ashamed to answer my right hon. Friend's question.
Let me answer. What the hon. Gentleman should do is put his case in writing to the hon. Lady. That is the best way to do it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am still waiting for answers to written questions that I tabled some time ago. I am waiting for two answers to questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I tabled on
The hon. Gentleman has put his problem on the record and I am sure that the Ministers will note what he has said.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of colleagues are in a similar position to my hon. Friend. Would you be kind enough, to contact Government Departments and ask for all ministerial replies to be given before Dissolution? That is something that you could do on behalf of Back Benchers, that would be appreciated by Members on both sides of the House.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, questions die when we come to Dissolution. However, I will encourage Ministers to answer parliamentary questions tabled by Back Benchers. I will do that, and I thank the hon. Gentlemen for raising the matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If possible, will you extend that help? As you may know, there have been many complaints from both sides of the House about the great slowness in dealing with parliamentary correspondence, some Departments being much worse than others. Is it within your remit, to direct from the Chair that you expect Members of Parliament to receive, before Parliament is dissolved or shortly thereafter, the backlog of replies that are due on behalf of many of our constituents?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a constituency, just as he does. Constituents write to me and I write to Ministers, and there are times when I am frustrated by the lack of replies and the time that it takes them to reply. I take on board what he says, and I hope that Ministers take note.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Your replies to the points of order have been extremely helpful. May I take the matter one stage further? You rightly pointed out that Departments can no longer reply to questions once the House has dissolved, but that does not mean that Departments of State cannot deal with questions by way of correspondence to let hon. Members have a reply, albeit in a different way. Could you ensure that Departments of State reply by letter to questions that cannot be dealt with before the Dissolution?
I cannot do that, but correspondence can be answered after Dissolution. There is nothing to stop the hon. Gentleman writing and saying, "Please reply to my question in writing. I should be obliged if the Minister would do that." However, there is nothing that I can do about that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not somewhat strange that Conservative Members want a different situation from that which pertained in 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1997? Your answers have been extremely helpful, but we did not get such co-operation from Ministers at the time of those elections.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When the House becomes noisy during exchanges at Question Time, many of us rely on the amplification equipment to hear what is said. I wonder whether, in the period between now and the election, the amplification equipment on the Government side could be checked. During questions to the Chancellor, I distinctly heard requests being made for him to deal with questions about whether taxes would rise to sustain his spending plans. However, the Chancellor did not seem to hear that question and no reply was given.
Perhaps we will hear the reply after the election.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Secretary of State for Health notified you that he intends to come to the House in the last few hours of this Parliament to make a statement about heart transplant services in south Manchester? The matter has been outstanding for some time, and people are worried because a well-respected unit in south Manchester could be closed. The delay is wrong. An election is upon us and the people of south Manchester ought to know the Government's intentions. Have you had such a request, sir?
I have had no such request.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Foot and mouth has not gone away. This is the first week since the crisis began when the Minister of Agriculture has not come to the Chamber. There are strong reports that cases are being underestimated. We all have difficult constituency problems with licensing and movement of stock. First, have you received any notice that there has been a change of mind and that the Minister intends to make a statement to the House? Secondly, a lobby yesterday reported that the tourism industry had lost £12 billion so far. Is there any sign that the Minister for the Environment has changed his mind and proposes to make a statement about the taskforce? We have had numerous announcements, but constituents are writing and asking for detail. Finally, has the Prime Minister notified you that as the catastrophe has cost the British nation £20 billion, he intends to come to the House to announce the establishment of a full, independent inquiry under the impartial chairmanship of a judge?
I have had no communication from Ministers.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for your helpful replies to earlier points of order. Further to Mr. Brady, should I take it that you think that the Minister should reply if my hon. Friend accepts your very good advice? Pensioners need to know whether VAT is to be levied on their warden services, and it would be good to clear that up soon.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Oh, I have.
I am still encountering serious problems in relation to foot and mouth, which are brought to my attention by constituents almost daily. Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that MAFF and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will maintain all lines of communication with election candidates, so that they may put to the Ministry any serious problems that they find and be assured that prompt action will be taken? For example, will the hotline be maintained for candidates' use?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the matter, but it is up to the Minister to decide whether he contacts candidates. We must be careful about that. I understand his difficulty and the very serious problems in rural areas, and I am sure that the Minister will take note of them.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the biggest concerns is that many cattle will be turned out to pasture during the next couple of weeks. There is grave anxiety in my constituency, which is very rural and situated in the dairy farming area of this country, that the foot and mouth epidemic from which we have so grievously suffered might be caused to upsurge by the turning out of cattle. If that happens, candidates of all parties will need the answers that they seek from MAFF and must be able to give authoritative, reliable and, above all, responsible information to all those who have a deep anxiety about the matter and who need answers. Can you do anything to assist?
I must take a point of order from the other side of the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The shadow Chancellor was specifically asked during Treasury questions about the £6 billion hole in his pension package. He showed a great discourtesy to the House by leaving the Chamber halfway through questions, presumably to talk to the financiers about how to overcome the problem. Do you have power to call him back to the House to apologise for his discourtesy and to allow us to get answers from him on that very important point before the general election?
The best has been saved until last.
I never doubted that, Mr. Speaker, as your impartiality is, of course, absolutely legendary. I could not understand why my intentions could conceivably be in doubt. May I ask you, on what I think is a genuine point of order, to confirm that it is incumbent upon all hon. Members, including Ministers, to address the House? In that context, is not it somewhat disturbing that the Chancellor, while not answering questions, yet again did not address the House, but kept looking at the Labour Benches? May I put it to you that his failure to look us in the eye runs the very worrying risk of ensuring that he will be regarded as in some way shifty, disingenuous or even untrustworthy?