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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th July 2009.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:30 am, 16th July 2009

The Leader of the House gave a commitment that there would be a statement on Equitable Life before the summer recess. Can she confirm that that will take place? Yes or no?

What should we make of the Government's commitment to cleaning up and reforming Parliament and our democratic system when it appears that the right hon. and learned Lady cannot provide one and a half hours to debate the setting up of the Select Committee on the reform of the House of Commons? The Political Parties and Elections Bill deals with essential matters concerning the conduct of elections and the funding of political parties, but there is no timetable for its return from the House of Lords, and if it does not receive Royal Assent, it will not be operable by the next general election. Mr. Speaker, you said earlier in the week that you did not do irony; I think that there is something deeply ironic about the fact that we cannot set up a Committee to organise the time of this House because the Government will not let us.

I have the honour of representing Royal Naval air station Yeovilton, where the Royal Naval helicopter squadrons and the commando helicopter force are based. There has been a great deal of concern from all parts of the House about the provision of helicopters for our armed forces. The report by the Select Committee on Defence is being published today, and the indications are that, in some respects, it will be extremely critical of helicopter provision. I note that we have a debate about defence on 15 October, but can we be absolutely sure that the Government will provide a full and comprehensive response to the Defence Committee's report, answering its points in detail and acting on its recommendations during the summer, so that we can be sure in turn that we are not putting our young men and women in the armed forces at risk?

Can we avoid my having to ask, when we return from the recess, for debates about either the so-called rain tax or the levy that was implicit in yesterday's Green Paper? On the rain tax, we have a holy alliance of bishops, scouts, test match cricketers and international rugby players, all saying that it is quite wrong to impose a levy on charities, community groups and sports clubs for surface water drainage. That issue needs to be sorted out this summer, and the Government must commit to doing so.

The Green Paper's implicit levy may impose up to £200 a year on people in rural areas who depend on domestic heating oil or liquid petroleum gas for their heating. Those people are most likely to pay the most to heat their houses and least likely to be able to afford it, and it cannot be right that the proposed social tariff includes no provision for them.

Finally, many Members, Officers of the House and those who work in the parliamentary estate will be going on their holidays shortly. Some will no doubt go abroad, and it will be recommended that they take up the European health insurance card, which provides for health service treatment in the rest of Europe. Mr. Speaker, if you apply for that online, the search engine will direct you to two sites:, which sounds very official, and One is organised by a company called Portcreek in Gosport and the other by Imap (UK) Ltd in Bolton. Each charges £9.95 for the European health insurance card application. However, if you go on the NHS or Department of Health site, the service is free.

To apply for the card, people will, in ignorance, go through the companies that come up first on the search engine, but those companies are charging nearly £10 for a public document that is free. May we have a written statement-I do not expect an oral one-from the Secretary of State for Health about the practice, giving clear guidance? I want everyone to have an enjoyable holiday, and I do not want them to be ripped off before they go.

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