Photo of Chris Grayling

Chris Grayling (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Leader of the House of Commons; Epsom and Ewell, Conservative)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 27 JuneSecond Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Tuesday 28 JuneSecond Reading of the Identity Cards Bill.

Wednesday 29 JuneOpposition Day [3rd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 30 June—There will be a debate on "Helping Africa to fight poverty" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, followed by at 6 pm the House will be asked to approve all outstanding estimates.

Friday 1 JulyThe House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 4 July—Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Tuesday 5 July—Second Reading of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill.

Wednesday 6 July—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Thursday 7 July— A debate on defence in the world on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 8 July—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:

Thursday 7 July—A debate on sustainable development.

Photo of Chris Grayling

Chris Grayling (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Leader of the House of Commons; Epsom and Ewell, Conservative)

The Leader of the House has just confirmed his decision that the debate on the Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill will be held next Tuesday. He was, of course, until two months ago Secretary of State for Defence. Does he not remember, in that role, taking a decision that next Tuesday should also be the day when the Royal Navy holds a major international celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar? It is an event that will be held in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and many Members of the House will be attending.

Does the Leader of the House not realise that setting the debate for such an important and controversial measure as the Identity Cards Bill on the same day as that major national occasion will be seen as an insult to the Royal Navy, to the royal family and to Members of the House? Does he not also realise that Members attending the event may struggle to get back to the House in time for the vote, and certainly will not have the opportunity to participate in the debate? Will he recognise the clash that he has caused and move the debate on the Identity Cards Bill to a different day next week?

Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the problems that the Licensing Act 2003 is causing for small village halls and clubs. He refused. Yesterday the issue was raised with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's questions. He showed that he had little idea of the nature of the challenge facing many of our halls and clubs. There are only six weeks left for those halls and clubs to comply with the new regulations that the Government have imposed on them. I ask the Leader of the House again, will he provide an opportunity for Members to debate this issue once again, to allow them to tell the Government of the very real problems that these measures are causing for halls and clubs in their constituencies, so that something can be done about it before it is too late?

Why are the Government delaying the Committee stage of the National Lottery Bill? Even though the debate on Second Reading is over, they are still refusing to give dates for the Committee. It is a disgraceful measure, whereby the Government are hijacking national lottery money to plug the gaps in their public spending plans. It received widespread criticism in the House and elsewhere. Given that delay, are the Government planning to drop the Bill; or is there another reason for what is an abnormal and unwarranted delay in the Committee stage?

Finally, let me take the right hon. Gentleman back, once again, to the issue of Zimbabwe. When I asked him last week and the week before for a statement by a Foreign Office Minister on the disturbing situation there, all he could suggest was that we hold an Opposition day debate on the issue. Does he not think that the situation in Zimbabwe is serious enough for the Government to provide the House with a proper briefing about what they are doing, without having to be dragged and, indeed, argued into doing so by the Opposition?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

As someone who is looking forward to participating in next Tuesday's celebrations and to voting at 10 pm on Tuesday, I was somewhat surprised to hear of the difficulties. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will be able to witness the splendid celebrations on Tuesday and still be back in time to vote at 10 o'clock. That is certainly my plan and my intention.

As for small village halls and clubs, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister acknowledged their importance and that of maintaining their financial position.

As for the National Lottery Bill, there is simply no delay. We had a vigorous debate on Second Reading very recently; and, of course, the Bill will take its place in a crowded legislative programme—crowded simply because the Government are determined to make the necessary changes in our society and to ensure that the legislation that we set out in our manifesto, on which we were elected, as I have to remind the hon. Gentleman each week, passes into law and into effect.

Certainly, we treat the issue of Zimbabwe with great seriousness.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)

May we have a debate in Government time on the Government's proposals to abolish the right of appeal on visitors' visas for oral hearings? A number of hon. Members had a very useful meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality yesterday. The fact is that the abolition of that right of appeal is not covered in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, because Ministers can make such decisions according to the rules. This issue affects a large number of our constituents, especially those of hon. Members with immigration case loads. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether we can debate that very important issue?

Photo of Geoff Hoon

Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

My hon. Friend is an acknowledged expert on this question, and I shall certainly not trade detail with him from the Dispatch Box given his expertise. I will certainly ensure that my right hon. Friends with responsibility for such issues are made aware of his concerns.

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David Heath (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

Sadly, there is news today of a further 30 people killed in Baghdad and many others wounded. The British Army is in the field in Iraq. The last statement from a Minister was, I believe, on 31 January from the Foreign Secretary. We have not had a debate for a whole year. Can there ever have been a time when British forces were not given the benefit of a proper report to the House while engaged in active service over such a long period?

Many commuters in overcrowded, sweltering trains will have been exasperated by the announcement by the Association of Train Operating Companies last week that it proposes to charge more to travel in those trains, particularly given that South West Trains has increased its profits so massively. May we have a debate on those proposals, so that we make it clear that we support public transport, want people to use it and do not want to discourage people from using trains in the capital city and elsewhere?

I understand that progress has been made on setting up the Select Committees. That is very welcome. What plans has the right hon. Gentleman to set up the Scottish Grand Committee and, I hope, to move away from its slightly anodyne proceedings in the previous Parliament, perhaps by incorporating some novelties, such as Question Times for Ministers and considering Sewel motions passed to it by Scottish Ministers?

Lastly, may I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the Prime Minister's comment on tax credits in answer to Mr. Gale? He said:

"we will not seek to get the money back if the error is on the part of the Inland Revenue." —[Hansard, 22 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 798.]

That was flatly contradicted by the Paymaster General in her statement less than half an hour later. Given that a lot of people feel strongly about the matter and want clarity, may we have a debate entitled "Chaos in the Tax Credit System" and, if so, will the Leader of the House assure me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open it and not send a junior Minister? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has become the Macavity of the Cabinet:

"He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare",

whatever time there is blame to take, "Macavity's not there".

Photo of Geoff Hoon

Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

If I may deal first with the question of British troops deployed in Iraq, Ministers have kept the House regularly informed about their position. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening a touch more closely earlier, he would have noticed that I announced a debate on defence in the world for 7 July. I am sure that the debate will give my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence the opportunity to deal with such questions.

The hon. Gentleman asked about train congestion charging, but I think that he might need to listen a little more carefully because he elevated what was no more than a suggestion from the train operators into an announcement. That is not Government policy—there has been no change to Government policy on pricing. It is important that we do not run away with the idea that something that was no more than a suggestion by train operators is a specific new initiative.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations about progress on Select Committees and am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome that progress. It is important to get Committees, including the Scottish Grand Committee, set up soon.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on tax credits, but he has a perfect opportunity to hold such a debate next week. His party has to make up its mind about what we will be debating next Wednesday, so I would have thought that he would have the perfect opportunity to put forward the suggestion that he made to the House.

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Bob Blizzard (Waveney, Labour)

May I ask my right hon. Friend how he would feel if he received a bill from BT for expensive long-distance phone calls that he had never made and was threatened with disconnection if he did not pay? Is he aware that thousands of people throughout the country face that situation, including a children's charity helpline in my area, because they have all been victims of so-called internet rogue dialling? May we have a debate on that topic so that the House can send a message to BT and other telecom providers that people should not have to pay for what they have not bought?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

My hon. Friend made his point clearly and succinctly and I am sure that those responsible will have taken note of what he said.

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Maria Miller (Basingstoke, Conservative)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Secretary of State for Health has said that all primary care trusts should offer one cycle of in vitro fertilisation treatment for eligible couples by April this year. A £10 million funding shortfall in my North Hampshire primary care trust, which covers the Basingstoke area, means that it cannot offer any IVF treatment at all now or in the foreseeable future, which is causing extreme distress among my constituents who want such treatment. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent and full debate on the matter because my constituents are fed up with empty promises from Ministers on IVF treatment when there is no money available on the ground to put it in place?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

The hon. Lady raises an important issue and I am sure that those responsible will note her points. However, I must remind her that the national health service is currently in receipt of record amounts of money. That money is being given year on year, so as the Government are increasing funding to the NHS by such huge amounts, it is not unreasonable for trusts to manage that money responsibly and effectively.

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Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes South West, Labour)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the written statement produced by the Home Office today on the sectors-based scheme review and especially the part relating to the hospitality sector? It is proposed that that scheme should be terminated at the end of July, but it has proved extremely useful to restaurateurs in my constituency and, I suspect, many others. The Home Office reasons for terminating the scheme are, in my view, based on circular evidence: entry clearance officers refuse applications, thereby demonstrating that applications are not valid, whereas I know that one case was overturned by an adjudicator on the basis that anybody applying for a job in the UK was clearly doing so because they would be earning more money than in their country of origin, yet that was used by entry clearance officers as a reason for refusing the claim. That will have disastrous consequences on employers in my constituency, so will the Leader of the House ask Home Office Ministers to meet representatives of Indian restaurateurs to explore urgently how the scheme can continue and not jeopardise businesses that employ many people and provide a good service to many members of the public?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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Michael Martin (Speaker)

Order. Before the Leader of the House answers I hope that every hon. Member will take note that I do not want long questions.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was minded to say that we should not need a debate after the contribution of my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, but she makes an important point and I will ensure that the Ministers responsible are informed of what she has said.

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Peter Robinson (Belfast East, DUP)

The Leader of the House will know that next week the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is to meet—once again—in the precincts of the House. Why do the Government permit three Members of the House to block the Committee from meeting in Northern Ireland? Surely, there is a requirement that the people of Northern Ireland see the Committee at work, especially as the three people who are blocking it come from a party that is prepared to go with the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs to Northern Ireland, to be members of that Committee when in Northern Ireland and to have their party representatives make representation to the Committee when it is in Northern Ireland.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I am sure that those responsible will have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

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Jonathan R Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford, Labour)

In my constituency, unemployment has dropped by 42 per cent. since 1997 and now stands at 2.7 per cent., but if we are to maintain that economic prosperity, is not it vital that we have investment in skills? That cuts across all Departments, so will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that we have a cross-cutting debate in Westminster Hall to consider skills?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

Recent employment figures demonstrate that, yet again, the Government have created economic circumstances in which a record number of people are in work in the UK. Obviously, it is important that we continue that progress and my hon. Friend makes a good point about the importance of skills. People who are without work now tend to be without work simply because they lack appropriate skills, so it is certainly important that we hold the kind of cross-cutting debates that he described and I anticipate that the subject he mentioned will be a good one.

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Paul Beresford (Mole Valley, Conservative)

The Leader of the House will be aware, I hope, that there are about 19,000 village halls in England. All of them will be hurt badly by the Licensing Act 2003. The Prime Minister was faintly positive yesterday, yet his junior Minister swept the whole concern aside in a sentence and a half in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall. Can we have an assurance that the Leader of the House will ensure that the appropriate Minister brings forward changes to save those 19,000 village halls?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

Again, I think that the hon. Gentleman is somewhat exaggerating the impact of proposals. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear the Government's strong support for the excellent facilities provided across the country. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, there has already been an Adjournment debate on the subject and it is obviously a matter that the Government take extremely seriously.

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Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston, Labour)

On Monday, a report will be published called "Where will the next generation of UK mathematicians come from?" The conference that led to that report was organised by one of my constituents, Dr. Tony Gardiner. Following the question put by my hon. Friend Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), may I ask that we urgently debate where our skills base will come from, especially in fields such as mathematics, so that we ensure future prosperity for this country?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Having responded positively to a previous question, I can see the opportunity for some good co-ordinated teamwork.

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Andrew MacKay (Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party; Bracknell, Conservative)

As the highly controversial Identity Cards Bill is rightly seen by many people as a major civil liberties issue, surely there is a strong case to hold its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. Can the Leader of the House give me an assurance that that will happen?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance, which will probably not come as a surprise. I anticipate, however, that right hon. and hon. Members will have a vigorous debate on Second Reading. Obviously, the Bill will then proceed in the usual way.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a debate on the Government's excellent scheme to give free bus travel to pensioners from next April? Many of my constituents are disappointed, however, as they have been told that the free travel scheme will not apply to the Sheffield supertram. There is unfairness either for the people who use the supertram or for taxpayers in south Yorkshire, who would have to subsidise an additional scheme to extend the free travel to the supertram. If we believe in integrated transport, surely tram passengers should enjoy equal treatment with bus passengers.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I assure him that I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is made aware of his concerns.

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George Young (North West Hampshire, Conservative)

The Leader of the House will know that today is the date of the election in the South Staffordshire constituency. The Opposition clearly wish a safe return to Sir Patrick Cormack. Can the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on whether there is a better way to deal with those unusual but tragic circumstances in which a candidate dies during a campaign that does not involve a constituency being disenfranchised for two months?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

Sir Patrick Cormack remains a distinguished member of the House of Commons Commission. I need to be careful about what I say about the prospect of his return, but there is a meeting of the Commission on Monday, and I am confident that the issue will be raised in due course.

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Anne Begg (Aberdeen South, Labour)

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of it, but next year the analgesic co-proxamol is due to be removed from the approved list, and GPs will not be allowed to prescribe it. GPs are already desisting from prescribing it, which is causing a great deal of concern among people who depend on the drug to manage their pain and allow them to carry on with their life. Will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate on such a matter?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue for many people across the country. It is important that those issues are dealt with in a consistent way, so I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health writes to her and sets out the Government position.

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Stewart Hosie (Dundee East, Scottish National Party)

The Leader of the House may be aware that recent figures from the Ministry of Defence showed that the shortfall in complement of the Scottish division was improving, with a marked improvement in the shortfall of the Black Watch. Given that new information, will the Secretary of State for Defence come to the House and make a statement to justify whether the merger of the Scottish regiments remains appropriate, whether it should be postponed and reviewed, or whether it should be halted?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I hope that the excellent recruitment is the result of the tremendous publicity given to the Scottish regiments as a result of the proposals for change. I emphasise, however, that those proposals were not based on a lack of complement but on ensuring that we have the right kind of armed forces and the right organisation to face the challenges confronting the country in the 21st century.

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Sin Simon (Birmingham, Erdington, Labour)

I have a constituent, Mr. Fred Overton, whose wartime service in Japan was not commemorated by the Ministry of Defence with a proper medal. Many hon. Members have constituents who feel that their service in many theatres in the last war and succeeding conflicts was not properly commemorated with a medal, so I would like to ask the Leader of the House, given his recent career history, to arrange for a wide-ranging debate on the general principle of how the Ministry of Defence deals—or, indeed, does not deal—with the recognition of service in defence of this country.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

Obviously, I am not familiar with the case raised by my hon. Friend, but I am sure that Defence Ministers will examine it carefully if he writes to them. I can only say from my previous experience that the question of medals probably causes more controversy, difficulty and debate than almost any other subject covered by the Ministry of Defence. It is certainly important that these issues are debated, because they affect many brave people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of this country over many years.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Mr. Heath kindly pointed out earlier that in response to my parliamentary question yesterday the Prime Minister said of tax credits that

"we will not seek to get the money back if the error is on the part of the Inland Revenue."—[Hansard, 22 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 798.]

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is also correct that half an hour later, the Paymaster General kicked the bottom out of that promise by saying that that would apply only if it would be "unreasonable to assume" that claimants did not realise that an overpayment had been made. The adjudicator's report clearly indicates that 50 per cent. of the complaints that she receives are about tax credits, and that 86 per cent. of cases find in favour of the claimant. The Inland Revenue refuses to change its view that while it cannot get its figures right our constituents ought to be able to do so. Would the Leader of the House do Dame Barbara the courtesy of ensuring that the adjudicator's report for 2004–05 is debated fully in the House?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I do not accept that there is any inconsistency between what my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Paymaster General said. A detailed and thorough statement was made, and right hon. and hon. Members had a full opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General a series of questions on the subject.

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Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

May we have a debate on legislative processes? Later this year, we are bound to transpose the European directive on artists' resale rights into British law, and we will probably do so by means of a statutory instrument that will be debated for no more than an hour and a half and will be unamendable. Similarly, two years ago, we reclassified cannabis on the basis of a one-and-a-half hour debate. I support the former—I did not support the latter—but the point is that neither measure is amendable, and one-and-a-half hours is simply not enough time. It may not be appropriate to subject either matter to a full legislative process, but could we introduce a third way whereby we have a longer debate and amendable statutory instruments?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

It is a matter for the House, but a Modernisation Committee will be established in due course this Session, and my hon. Friend may be able to make representations to it with a view to ensuring more effective scrutiny where appropriate.

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Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield, Conservative)

If I may say so, I am not sure that the Leader of the House gave the right reply. As a past Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I think that the answer to the question asked by Chris Bryant is that that is a matter for the next Procedure Committee to consider. I hope that he will bear that in mind.

To return briefly to the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on village halls, on Saturday, I shall attend a fundraising event in a village hall that will also be attended by my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth. As I have received many representations from my village halls about the impact of the Licensing Act, will the Leader of the House treat the matter seriously, as the Prime Minister did when he responded to a question about it yesterday, by arranging for a Minister to come to the House to explain the current situation and to give an assurance that the Government will review it in the light of experience? We do not want village halls up and down the country to have to close because of the additional costs that the Government are imposing on them.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I am not going to debate with the hon. Gentleman the respective responsibilities of the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee. No doubt, we can discuss them in future in one or other of those Committees. As for the impact of the Licensing Act on village halls, I assure him that it is a matter that the Government and I take extremely seriously. It was raised with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and he gave it due attention.

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David Taylor (North West Leicestershire, Labour)

The Government have achieved a great deal in the past eight years in their attack on social exclusion, and they have taken tentative steps to tackle financial exclusion. There is evidence in constituencies such as mine, however, of the return in greater numbers of loan sharks and doorstep credit sellers. Is there not more that we can do? It would be very helpful indeed to have a debate on the matter, as we could look at the role of credit unions, whose membership has tripled in a decade to 500,000, including the Prime Minister and myself. Credit union membership is relatively low in the United Kingdom—it is 45 per cent. of the population in Ireland, 30 per cent. in the USA, 20 per cent. in Australia, but just 1 per cent. in this country. Could we discuss by means of a debate how we can tackle some of the despicable piranhas of poverty who prey on poorer communities?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

My hon. Friend makes an important point and one that the Government are keen to address, which we will do through the Consumer Credit Bill currently passing through Parliament. He has made his point effectively, and I am sure it will be acknowledged in the legislation.

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Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam, Liberal Democrat)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 310?

[That this House regrets the ongoing confusion and inequity that surrounds NHS continuing care; notes with concern that the retrospective review of eligibility for continuing care has often been accessible to only the most articulate leaving many vulnerable people unfairly paying for their continuing health care; regrets the missed opportunity by the Department of Health to clarify the situation by drawing up national eligibility criteria after the publication of the Ombudsman's report in February 2003; calls on the Department of Health to use the forthcoming National Standards Framework to introduce national eligibility criteria that make it clear that those with primary health needs must be entitled to NHS continuing care, give equal weight to mental and physical needs, and clearly distinguish between patients eligible for NHS continuing care and those eligible for high band registered nursing care contribution; notes the widespread support for these measures from such groups as Age Concern, Alzheimer's Society, Citizens Advice, the Health Service Ombudsman and in the conclusions of the recent report of the Health Select Committee, NHS Continuing Care.]

Early-day motion 310 deals with the continuing confusion and chaos in the system for determining entitlement to NHS-funded continuing care for older people, in the community and in care homes. The issue has been running in the House for more than 10 years and remains a problem, with the ombudsman making a condemnatory report of the Government's handling of it. May we have a debate on the Health Committee's report? If we did so, we could explore the seriousness with which Government are tackling the issue with a view to removing the confusion and ending the postcode lottery of access to free health care for older people so that they no longer have to sell their homes to pay for what they thought they would get free.

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I have not read in detail the alleged charges set out in early-day motion 310, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government take this matter extremely seriously and will respond in detail to the Select Committee report.

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William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

Does the Leader of the House know that I wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday regarding the European Scrutiny Committee? The problem is that it has not been set up, so there are scrutiny reserves which are not being carried out as the House has resolved. This is a serious matter, particularly in view of recent events in France and the Netherlands and the collapse of the constitution. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the European Scrutiny Committee will be set up at once?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's concern about the European Scrutiny Committee and other Committees that need to be established quickly in order to allow their work to continue. I assure him that the matter is receiving rapid and urgent attention.

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Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

Following the vicious attack on a lawful and peaceful parade in my constituency last Friday night resulting in severe injuries to many innocent people, there is real anger and concern in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast, as we approach this weekend that the violence aimed at the lawful parade has been rewarded through the bizarre and provocative decision of the Parades Commission in respect of another parade, the Whiterock parade, this Saturday. May we have an early debate in Government time on the role of the Parades Commission—an unelected unaccountable quango that is making decisions that cause great instability and rising tension in Northern Ireland? The issue needs to be addressed. May I respectfully urge the Leader of the House to tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that no longer can the Government hide behind that quango and leave everybody else to clear up the mess?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman knows better than I the sensitivities of these issues. I am sorry that he is so critical of the work of the Parades Commission, which after all has to balance a number of factors in the difficult judgments that it has to reach. I assure him that I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

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Gerald Howarth (Shadow Minister, Defence; Aldershot, Conservative)

I hope the Leader of the House is able to combine a visit to Trafalgar 200 with attendance at the House for the Second Reading debate, thanks to the services of his hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who he knows to be a distinguished helicopter pilot and who will no doubt be ferrying him backwards and forwards. Is it not the case that the Leader of the House has staged the Second Reading debate of one of the most controversial Bills of this Parliament on a day of national celebration of the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar in the hope that publicity surrounding the row about ID cards will eclipse Trafalgar 200, thereby sparing him the embarrassment of exposing the shameful way in which he ran down the Royal Navy during his stewardship? Is this not his parting two-finger gesture to the First Sea Lord, who consistently attacked the Secretary of State, as the right hon. Gentleman then was, for his run-down of the Navy?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman exceeds his normal standards of conspiracy theorising in relation to the timing of the debate on Tuesday. The 10 o'clock finish will give me and other right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity of returning, not necessarily in the tried and trusted hands of my hon. Friend, but by more conventional forms of transport. I am sure that all Members who want to will be able to return in time. As regards the reorganisation of the Royal Navy, I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is necessary to ensure that the Royal Navy continues to be equipped for the future and does not depend on providing ships that are of historical interest but no more than that.

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William McCrea (South Antrim, DUP)

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on major environmental issues affecting Northern Ireland, and my constituency in particular—issues such as the approved asbestos sites at Crumlin and Antrim and the major waste dump at Cottonmount, which are totally rejected by the community and strike fear into it?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

By raising the issue today, the hon. Gentleman has no doubt made his point effectively. However, it is important that we continue to debate environmental issues, not only in Northern Ireland but in all parts of the United Kingdom. I will ensure that his observations are passed to the appropriate Ministers.

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Paul Goodman ((Also PPS To the Chairman of the Party), Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform; Wycombe, Conservative)

Can the Leader of the House assure us that the Secretary of State for Defence will not have to cut short his attendance at the Trafalgar day celebrations in order to return to the House to vote at 10 pm to try to save the Government's repulsive Identity Cards Bill? Is that not just another illustration of the folly that the Government have wrought by timetabling the two events on the same day?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's concern about the Secretary of State's travel plans. I am sure my right hon. Friend will manage his time in the best way.

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Julian Lewis (Shadow Minister, Defence; New Forest East, Conservative)

Is not the Leader of the House showing just a touch of disingenuousness in focusing on the question whether or not people can get back for the vote? Surely the point about his ingenuity in keeping the spirit of Jo Moore alive by seeking to bury bad news—at sea, on this occasion—is the way in which these events will be reported. The debate on identity cards is not good news for the Government and it will be overshadowed by the report of the first royal fleet review since 1977. So may I congratulate the Leader of the House on his ingenuity in seeking to cheat the media in this way?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

There is a competition on the Opposition Benches for the title of chief conspiricist, but I am sure that hon. Members who persist in reminding me of my previous responsibilities will also be able to contribute to Defence questions in due course.

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Sandra Gidley (Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities; Romsey, Liberal Democrat)

The Leader of the House will be aware that this is the time of the year when many decent citizens have their lives blighted by the sort of travellers who trespass on land, intimidate the local residents and leave behind a trail of destruction. In my area, the county council, the borough council and the police all seek to blame each other and pass the buck, but the buck surely stops with the Government. When will they devote some Government time to tackling the problem?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

That is an issue that right hon. and hon. Members raise regularly. We all understand the harm done to local communities when illegal trespassers settle and leave behind significant disruption, but increasingly effective legal measures are available, and the Government have improved those measures over the years. If there are specific legal difficulties, I hope the hon. Lady will raise them with me and I will ensure that the problems are examined.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury, Conservative)

May we have an early debate on early-day motion 339 about the future of the Supporting People programme, which has commanded support across the House?

[That this House condemns proposals by the Government to cut Oxfordshire County Council's Supporting People budget by 60 per cent., or in real terms by £5.9 million by 2007–08; further notes that the service loss has been described by Oxfordshire Age Concern as 'alarming' and by mental health charity Oxfordshire Group Homes as 'disastrous'; agrees with Oxfordshire County Council that the proposed Supporting People distribution formula is a 'rushed job done by the Government's consultants through the minimal consultation' with neighbouring authorities faring dramatically differently from 48 per cent. gains to 73 per cent. cuts; believes that the proposed distribution formula threatens to be a one-way street for support services with big cuts in the services which lose and virtually no expansion of services in the authorities which gain; and calls on the Government urgently to review the proposed Supporting People distribution formula to ensure that the most vulnerable in the community continue to receive the funding and support they require.]

We need an early review of the distribution formula for the "supporting people" programme. As it stands, counties such as Oxfordshire will have a 60 per cent. cut in the budget. Not surprisingly, organisations such as Age Concern say that that is alarming. Mental health charities have said that it will be disastrous. This is ticking time bomb for the Government, since it will mean that in the year to come all sorts of organisations will not get the money that they thought they would get to do valuable work supporting the vulnerable. Please will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an early debate on the topic?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I will ensure that the appropriate Minister responds to him in detail.

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Nigel Evans (Vice-Chairman (Conservatives Abroad), Conservative Party; Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I will be at the fleet review on Tuesday, too, so if the Leader of the House could give me a lift back, I would be extremely grateful. I wonder whether he saw the BBC "Panorama" programme on Sunday night about cannabis and psychotic disorders, particularly affecting young people who take cannabis regularly. We used to have an annual debate on the Government's drugs strategy and an annual report, but that seems to have gone by the board. Is it possible to have an urgent debate on the Government's drugs policy before the Government inquiry reports around Christmas time on the reclassification of cannabis from class B to class C?

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Geoff Hoon (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons; Ashfield, Labour)

I, too, saw reports about the harmful effect of cannabis. It is a matter of great concern and I know that the Government will respond in detail to the recommendations.