Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 24th March 2005.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 1:56 pm, 24th March 2005

I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the business. May I thank the staff of the House for all that they do for us and join him in wishing them, Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and hon. Members on both sides of the House a happy Easter?

Will the Leader of the House arrange for three statements to be made in the week after we return? First, will he arrange for Health Ministers to respond to the many letters and approaches that have been made to them—so far without success—on behalf of multiple sclerosis therapy centres about the charges of more than £1,000 that they are forced to pay for inspections by the Healthcare Commission, which are about to rise by 50 per cent. and will quadruple by 2008? Those centres are paid for entirely by donations and are the only such voluntary arrangements to be charged for in that way. A campaigner said to me yesterday, "I don't call it a stealth tax—it's daylight robbery." May we have a statement about that?

Secondly, the Leader of the House will recall that, on three occasions in June last year, I raised with him the problems associated with postal voting. I cited examples of babies receiving ballot papers, heads of families filling in ballot papers for the whole family, employers threatening to sack staff unless they voted for a certain political party and other worrying abuses. I quoted the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, Sir Albert Bore, calling for a "national rethink". Conservatives and the Electoral Commission have called for individual voter registration to be introduced on the mainland as it applies in Northern Ireland. We have gone further and called for Government inspectors for the coming elections in areas where abuses have been alleged. What has the Leader of the House done about that in the past nine months? May we have a statement in the light of the comments of the judge in the Birmingham postal ballots case that the system is an "open invitation to fraud" and today's Select Committee report? If not, are the Government really satisfied about this country sliding back to the worst days of personation and electoral fraud such as were seen in the 18th century?

Thirdly and finally, the Modernisation Committee has now recommended that the European Scrutiny Committee should sit in public when deliberating European documents. I have been asking the Leader of the House for more than a year to make the necessary changes to Standing Orders. What action does he intend to take—or will it be left to me to make the change after our general election victory?