HC Deb 11 December 2003 vol 415 cc1195-207 12.30 pm
Mr. Speaker

I must inform the House that I am of a mind to protect the business of the Select Committees, which is due for debate. The business statement will therefore be shorter, and I ask Back Benchers—and, of course, Front Benchers —to be very brief in their questions.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

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

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 15 DECEMBER —Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill followed by Second Reading of the Child Trust Funds Bill.

TUESDAY 16 DECEMBER —Remaining stages of the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 17 DECEMBER —Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants Etc) Bill.

THURSDAY 18 DECEMBER —Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

The provisional business for the week after the Christmas recess will be:

MONDAY 5 JANUARY —Second Reading of the Traffic Management Bill.

TUESDAY 6 JANUARY —Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions and Statutory Payments Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 JANUARY —Opposition Day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 8 JANUARY —Second reading of the Horserace Betting and Olympic Lottery Bill.

Mr. Heald

First, Mr. Speaker, you will recall ruling earlier this week that there should have been a statement on the Government's policy on hospital-acquired infection. Is there to be such a statement? Secondly, can the Leader of the House tell us any more about arrangements for publication of the Hutton inquiry report, following my questions to him last week? Thirdly, on the subject of two-day debates, may we please have two: one on the defence White Paper, and another on Second Reading of the higher education funding Bill?

Finally, does the Leader of the House share the widespread concern about cases such as that of Mrs. Cannings, who was released by the Court of Appeal yesterday? It is tragic that she and her family have had this dreadful ordeal, in addition to the loss of two babies. I understand that the Attorney-General has ordered a review of 50 murder or manslaughter convictions involving evidence from particular expert witnesses. Is that correct? If so, may we have statements to the House from the Solicitor-General about the review, and about the prosecution procedures that will be followed in future? Is it not time that the Department of Health launched a proper scientific review of the evidence in this area, and told the House about it?

Mr. Hain

I shall draw the issue of a statement on infections in hospitals to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. On the Hutton inquiry, perhaps I might repeat for the hon. Gentleman's benefit what I told the House on 16 October. He was not a Front Bencher then, so he may not be aware of my comments. I said: I thought it would assist the House if I outlined the Government's intentions in relation to Lord Hutton's report. When the Government receive the report, we shall publish it to Parliament, and ministerial statements will be made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. The Government will also ensure that both Houses have an opportunity to debate the report once Members have considered its content."—[Official Report, 16 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 259.] So that deals with the Hutton issue.

On the defence White Paper, the Defence Secretary will make a statement on defence immediately after business questions. The higher education Bill will be dealt with in the normal way, which is by having a Second Reading debate on a single day.

I share the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the appalling case involving Angela Cannings, and I am sure that the whole House is concerned about it. The Attorney-General has established a group to consider whether any cases in which the doctor involved gave evidence require a more in-depth review. Obviously, we want to make sure that justice is done, and done properly. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that concern about the case is widespread across the House. We must ensure that there are no other cases like it and that there is none in future.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

Will the Leader of the House say when he proposes to convene the all-party round table discussion of options for the legislative timetable for this Session? He will recall that the recommendation in the Modernisation Committee's second report of 1999–2000 was put to the House, and accepted. It was then implemented last year, most successfully, by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). The Leader of the House will acknowledge that such discussions are very useful in establishing a degree of consensus as to which legislative proposals are candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny, which should go to Joint Committees, and which might be candidates for carry-over. The discussions also help to determine the sequence of consideration of legislation.

The need for that degree of consensus is illustrated by the inadequacy of the present take-it-or-leave-it attitude to those matters in the Government Whips Office. For example, the Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants Etc) Bill is due to be held next Wednesday. There is a special meeting of the Select Committee on Selection that evening, at which the membership of the Standing Committee considering the Bill will be appointed. The result will be that that Committee will meet for the first time on the second day after our return in January. That leaves very little time for anyone—that means Labour Back Benchers as much as members of the Opposition parties—to table amendments. That sort of approach is not helpful to the good conduct of business in the House

Mr. Hain

We are adopting absolutely normal procedure in respect of that Bill, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept. As for the all-party discussions, I shall look at his proposal and see what needs to be done. However, in respect of consultation across the House, I remind him that I wrote only recently to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, detailing all the draft Bills that will be involved in pre-legislative scrutiny, and the likely timetables. Twelve or more draft Bills will be published in the coming legislative Session. I know that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that, as does the whole House. The degree of open consultation and transparency shown by the Government is unprecedented. We should build on that, and not go down the route that the hon. Gentleman is inviting us to go down.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is escalating concern in this House and elsewhere about cold calling by criminals and high-pressure salesmen? I refer him to early-day motion 219. [That this House is appalled by crimes committed particularly against older people by doorstep callers offering property maintenance and improvement services; condemns high pressure sales tactics employed by some doorstep callers, resulting in vulnerable people parting with extortionate sums of money for unnecessary, shoddy or grossly overpriced work; and calls for legislation to prohibit unsolicited doorstep calls for the purpose of offering property maintenance and improvement and for a national campaign to raise awareness of the dangers.] The Office of Fair Trading is due to report at any time on the matter of cold calling. Will my right hon. Friend therefore arrange for an early statement to the House, so that we can debate the measures needed to tackle that increasingly nefarious activity?

Mr. Hain

I understand and sympathise with the point raised by my hon. Friend. Indeed, there is an Adjournment debate today on cold calling and, if he catches the Deputy Speaker's eye, he will have an opportunity to make his points even more eloquently. However, I am with him in spirit when it comes to trying to clamp down on that problem.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

The Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants Etc) Bill is scheduled for next Wednesday. The explanatory notes state that the regulatory impact assessments have been completed for many of the issues covered by the Bill, and that they will be published. However, they have not been published. That is a crucial matter, and I urge the Leader of the House to use his best endeavours to get the assessments published before Second Reading, as the fees levied under clause 20 could be excessive. The Bill provides that they could exceed the amount incurred in administrative costs when an application is determined. That could be a killer blow for language schools in this country. The details of the regulatory assessments have been leaked, and it has been suggested that every language pupil coming to this country might face a visa fee—a surcharge—of up to £600. That is not good enough, and we need to know the facts before we debate the matter.

Mr. Hain

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and that language schools are very important in his constituency. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take a close interest in the point that he has raised. Certainly, it is our intention to make regulatory impact assessments available as early as possible, and we will seek to do what the hon. Gentleman asks.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the publication yesterday of the interim report of the Barker review on the supply of housing. That important report addresses the combination of planning constraints on house building and accusations of market manipulation by house builders. Those are critical issues for all those who wish to enter the owner-occupied sector, or indeed to find any sort of housing, and for the future growth and stability of the economy. Will he make time available in the new year for a full and adequate debate on those important issues?

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend that Kate Barker's report raises important issues of concern to him and his constituents, as well as to most hon. Members. It is for that reason that the Government initiated and published the report, and we will obviously wish to address the issues that it raises. My hon. Friend has the opportunity to apply for a debate in the normal way, but we will give serious consideration to his point.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

As the Leader of the House will be aware, the West Lothian question is the one question that will not go away, and it now deserves to be addressed and answered. Will he find Commons time to debate our sensible suggestion that you, Mr. Speaker, should use your good offices to assess legislation that is put before the House? If it is assessed as affecting England only, with no consequences for Scotland, it should be referred to the English Grand Committee. That would be fair to Scotland and to England.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hain

I can understand why it would be fair to the hon. Gentleman, because he wants Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom. He wants this to be an English-only Parliament, but that is not the view of Parliament or of the Government. As long as the Labour party remains in power, this Parliament will continue to operate with every Member, whatever part of the United Kingdom they represent, being equal. That is the basis on which we are elected and sent here. Perhaps some of the Conservative Members who approved of his question think that, for example, members of the Ulster Unionist party should not be able to vote on legislation that would not directly affect them I do not think that they would agree, and that is certainly an odd position for the Conservative and Unionist party to take. However, it is not an odd position for the Scottish National party, whose members do not want to be here in the first place.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in the context of the discussion of the modernisation of the House, we have recently had a heated debate about the impact on catering services. I understand that catering income has increased, not decreased, since the new hours were introduced, so will he ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss that point and set the record straight?

Mr. Hain

I am happy to set the record straight for my hon. Friend. Although business in various sectors of the catering provision has fallen in the evenings, demand is up overall, showing that more and more use is being made of the excellent catering facilities that are provided for Members and staff. The issue of our hours is entirely separate, and I know that she is concerned to maintain the existing position, although others wish to change it. Either way, it has nothing to do with catering.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

Will the Leader of the House give us an opportunity to debate delegated legislation and, in particular, the complete debacle of the Horse Passports (England) Regulations 2003 this morning? Is he aware that we could create thousands of potential criminals among the horse-owning fraternity—the crime being punishable by up to two years imprisonment—without those regulations ever having been discussed on the Floor of the House? When we discuss the West Lothian question, perhaps we could also discuss why six Welsh Members were responsible for voting down our prayer against that statutory instrument, thus imposing the regulations on English horse and pony owners.

Mr. Hain

I understand that we have already produced draft replacement regulations. The hon. Lady's general point is the same as that made by the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), but we are all equal in this House and we should remain so. I acknowledge that she is highly respected in the House, but she should think through the implications of what she says. Should Welsh Members vote only on certain items of legislation, and Ulster Unionists and Members representing other parties in Northern Ireland vote only on others? That is a very slippery slope which, if followed, would break up this Parliament and deny the fact that we are all sovereign Members who represent our constituencies on an equal basis.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)

My local authority in Pendle is unhappy about the revenue support grant settlement, which will bear down adversely on the council. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer generously told us that an additional £340 million would be allocated to councils in England. When will we be given details of how that money is to be distributed, so that we can find out whether Pendle council will benefit, as I hope it will?

Mr. Hain

The Deputy Prime Minister has that matter closely in mind. I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the extra £340 million for English local authorities—the total for local authorities across Britain is £400 million—which will bring in extra resources to ensure that the level of council tax rises is limited and is brought down to a reasonable figure, rather than what it has been in some cases.

In previous business questions, we have heard right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House complaining about the council tax situation. The Chancellor has acted, the Government are acting and I should have thought that everybody would welcome that.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

I support the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) that Health Ministers should clarify whether they have new policies to cope with the scourge of superbugs in our hospitals, which kill between 5,000 and 20,000 people a year. On Tuesday, when, with your support, Mr. Speaker, I asked for a statement about the policy proposals that had been announced on Friday, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), replied that if this were new policy it would have been brought to the House. It is not new policy".—[Official Report, 9 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 910.] However, the press release published by the Department of Health last Friday stated that the Secretary of State today published plans for a crackdown on… so-called 'superbugs'. It referred to wide-ranging proposals…which seek to revolutionise the way potential infections are handled". It also referred to "new rules", a "new system", a "new drive" and "new plans".

Normally when Ministers say outside the House the exact opposite of what they say inside the House to avoid being held accountable to the House, it is a serious matter and raises fears that they may be deceiving the House. However, my fear is that they are telling the House the truth and that in fact they have no plans to tackle that growing scourge. The UK's record is worse than that of any other country in Europe, and is getting worse faster than anywhere else in Europe.

Mr. Hain

I understand the points that the right hon. Gentleman is making and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will listen closely to them. However, the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, as I think my hon. Friend the Minister for Health said the other day, the problem arises from the bodged way in which the Conservative Government introduced compulsory competitive tendering. That is where the problem comes from. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the issue of superbugs, hospital infections and inadequate cleaning in hospitals has to be addressed. We intend to address it and the Secretary of State for Health will take forward certain measures. He will obviously be accountable to the House for what he is doing and how the matter is developing.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

Will my right hon. friend use his good offices to reinforce the genuine concerns of British workers—I stress the word "British"—such as former employees of Hewlett-Packard in my constituency, who were presented with a fait accompli when their jobs were transferred to an agency with no effective or proper consultation? Is that the way things should be in a modern, progressive Britain? Should modern, progressive British workers be treated in such a way?

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's statements about the Hewlett-Packard workers in his constituency and others who may be similarly affected. He knows that we are introducing employment legislation to widen the provision of information and consultation for all employees in such a predicament, but the Secretary of State for Trade and industry will certainly want to monitor the situation closely and reflect closely on the points that my hon. Friend made about his constituency.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

Can the Leader of the House get the Home Secretary to make a statement about presumption of death certificates? The son of Nev Pope, my constituent, disappeared in Angola in 1999 but, under Angolan law, no death certificate will be issued for 10 years. We wrote to the Home Office on 28 October to ask whether British laws on presumption of death certificates could be changed. The reply was that the matter had nothing to do with the Home Office and that the letter had been forwarded to the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office replied that it had nothing to do with the Foreign Office and that we needed to go back to the Home Office; so will the Leader of the House ensure either that the Home Secretary makes a statement about the matter or that I receive a reply to my letter?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to a full reply to his letter and I will ensure that he receives one. I remember that case from when I was in the Foreign Office. It is an appalling case and the family have been left in limbo and in anguish about what happened to their son. I know that both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary will want to give the family every assistance in order to find out what happened as soon as it is possible to do so. The hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that it occurred in the middle of a civil war raging in Angola, which now mercifully is ended, and that it was very difficult to determine the true situation and what Neville Pope's predicament was. I am sorry about that, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the circumstances were incredibly difficult.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, among the very large number of welcome initiatives yesterday, there was no provision for people such as my constituent, Mr. Humphrey, who has been contributing to a pension for 38 years and was expecting a pension of £18,000 a year, but who, because of the inadequacies of the Pensions Act 1995, is going to end up with £4,000 a year? It is a bleak Christmas for people who were employed by organisations such as Allied Steel and Wire and Dexion, and there is currently no provision in the legislative programme for people in that position. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister for Pensions to come to the House to explain to pensioners what is happening, preferably before Christmas, so that they can have a less worrying time over the festive season?

Mr. Hain

I know from my experience as Secretary of State for Wales that the plight of the ASW workers in Cardiff has been appalling—people are scandalously and disgracefully being robbed of pensions that they contributed to, as in the case that my hon. Friend cited, for up to 30 years. Therefore, the Government are bringing forward new pensions legislation to introduce a proper pension protection fund to ensure that that never happens again. The Secretary of State and Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions are looking at all the claims and looking at these issues very closely to see what can be done.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

The Leader of the House will have heard of the report from Amnesty International today to the effect that there are perhaps 14 persons held in British prisons under the terrorist legislation and in respect of whom there has been no trial or conviction. May we have an early statement or debate, so that we may address that matter? The Leader of the House will keep in mind the fact that the House has always protested against the holding of people without trial, whether in the Bastille in pre-revolutionary France, in the gulags, in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, or more recently in Guantanamo Bay. Surely the House should address the matter when it arises in our own country.

Mr. Hain

My own parents were detained without trial in the early 1960s in apartheid South Africa, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that the situation in Britain now is in any way or form comparable to a police state where the rule of law did not apply. The rule of law does apply here. However, the Home Secretary will obviously want to take close account of the points that he has made.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will know that in this morning's press there is published a form of university league table, which describes among other things the balance of intake to universities of students from state and private schools. Although there is some progress to report among some of our leading universities, and notwithstanding his earlier remarks about the higher education Bill having a Second Reading debate on one day, does he not think that the complexity of the issue and the controversy surrounding the Government's proposal, which I sully support, in respect of higher education funding and the widening access to universities, justifies the argument for a separate debate on the issue? I endorse the comments that were made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). Will my right hon. Friend look again at he question of a separate debate, specifically on all aspects of widening participation in our universities?

Mr. Hain

I acknowledge the effort that my hon. Friend has put into taking forward policies that improve secondary schools, which improve the chances of students from working-class backgrounds and low-income families of getting into university—something that I know he is very concerned about, as we all are on the Labour Benches. That is why the higher education Bill is intended to be brought forward to widen access, increase social justice and give a chance to university students who would never have dreamed of going, and whose families and ancestors have never been before. On the question of the timing and debate surrounding that issue, I will of course consider my hon. Friend's request, but at present the intention is to have the Bill brought through on one day.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

May I take the Leader of the House back to the Hutton inquiry, because his earlier response did not adequately settle matters? The House needs to know, first, whether all the Opposition parties will receive the report well in advance of publication? Secondly, will there be adequate time, preferably a week, between the making of a statement on Hutton and the actual debate? Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Prime Minister will not only, obviously, make a statement on Hutton but lead from that Dispatch Box when the debate takes place?

Mr. Hain

I have already made it clear that the Prime Minister will make a statement on Hutton. The way in which the report is handled is primarily a matter for Lord Hutton, obviously, as are the circumstances surrounding it, but the right hon. Gentleman will equally understand that the Government, having set up the Hutton inquiry and explicitly asked for the report, with its wide-ranging implications for everybody concerned, not least Ministers, will want to handle this in the proper way, with the House properly involved and everybody satisfied that it has been done in the proper way, so obviously his questions will be taken closely into account.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 250, [That this House notes with alarm the raid by the US occupying forces, using armoured cars and soldiers, on the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Baghdad on the morning of Saturday 6th December in which eight leading trade union officials were arrested; is further disturbed to hear that US soldiers ransacked and destroyed the federation's possessions, including banners and posters condemning acts of terror, and smashed windows, without reason or explanation; notes that the new independent trade union movement in Iraq opposed Saddam Hussein regime, and opposes terrorism by remnants of that regime and others; and calls upon the British Government to make urgent representations to the US Administration to discover why this raid took place and seek a swift apology and compensation for this appalling incident.]? The Foreign Office has always taken a progressive line on trade unions and has encouraged and facilitated their development in Iraq. On 27 November in the House, the Foreign Secretary promised to encourage the Americans to take a similar line, yet on 6 December, United States forces smashed into the offices of the trade unions and arrested eight of their officials—an act that has been condemned by bodies such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions. May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary, saying what responses he got to representations that he made about trade unionism, and what his response is to what the Americans have done?

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office always, under a Labour Government, takes a progressive line on trade unions. We have no information about an incident at the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, although we understand that United States forces conducted a raid on the morning of 6 December in Baghdad, which resulted in the recovery of a significant quantity of arms and ammunition and the arrest of eight suspected fedayeen, two of whom now face murder charges.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)

Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the Post Office, bearing it in mind that, under the Government's reinvention, four out of the five post offices in Belper are due to close early next year. Bearing it in mind that today's debate is important and is being squeezed, inevitably, by a very important statement, to which I do not object, will he consider in future protecting the time when there are Back-Bench debates, so that instead of finishing at 6 o'clock we finish five-and-a-half hours after we start them?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's request. I have just announced that there is an Opposition day early in January and the Opposition are free to choose that subject for debate, but we have responded in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman asked, by bringing forward a debate on post offices, as there is widespread concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about local post office closures. I should have thought that he was encouraged by that.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab)

The Leader of the House was a very keen supporter of the Ottawa land mines treaty, whose effects we all commend. He has also a history of opposing the trade in small arms around the world and is no doubt aware of the call that Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, made in the House yesterday at a meeting with Oxfam and Amnesty International, for a treaty on small arms. Will he ensure that the House can debate the need for such a treaty at an early opportunity, to ensure that its benefits, like those of the land mines treaty, are felt throughout the world?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly consider my hon. Friend's point about making time for such a debate. He obviously has the chance to initiate such a debate himself. I certainly agree with him that the land mines treaty, which our Labour Government initiated very soon after winning power in 1997, was a major breakthrough. I have experience of how small arms can completely devastate whole communities and regions of Africa. We need to get that under control, and the Foreign Secretary and the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Defence will certainly want to consider very carefully Mary Robinson's call and that of Amnesty International. This is an international matter, and we have to tackle it. The unscrupulous flow and spread of small arms is killing whole communities, and it needs to be brought under control.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

Once again, the Leader of the House confessed his support for the fact that we are all equal in the House, and as an Ulster Unionist I must support that 100 per cent. Is he aware that one of Republican Sinn Fein's demands is that hon. Members should not have to swear or affirm the Oath of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen, so that members of that party can take their seats in the House? Will he give a commitment that the Government will hold a full debate on that, and that they will not go down the route of ending up with second-class Members of Parliament, that we will retain the same equality and that we will all be obliged to affirm or swear the Oath of loyalty to the Queen when we first enter the House?

Mr. Hain

There was a vote that clearly established the current position, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomed, in the last Parliament. This is ultimately a matter for Members, but I do not feel inclined to give way to a demand from members of Sinn Fein who are not even prepared to take their place in the House.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)

Although I am aware that a debate on post offices will take place this afternoon, I understand that it will be answered by Department of Trade and Industry Ministers. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a recent question that I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? I asked whether he would withdraw guidance circulating in his Department that is designed to discourage people from taking up Post Office card accounts. Clearly, that is a very important matter, deterring a lot of people from using those services. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House to make a statement about that, so that the DWP is not seen to be undermining the work of the DTI?

Mr. Hain

Without knowing the detail of the circular, I am sure that there is no intention, nor could there be, on the part of the DWP or its Secretary of State to undermine the work of the DTI. My hon. Friend obviously has an opportunity to raise that issue very shortly. From my own point of view as a Member of Parliament, I believe that people, especially vulnerable pensioners who depend on their local post offices, must not be intimidated into choosing a course that is against their own choice and free will. They have the right to continue to draw their pensions and other benefits in cash. Obviously, successive Governments have tried to encourage more people to use bank accounts—we all want that to happen—and modern life has been evolving in that direction for many decades, but no vulnerable pensioner or anyone else should be forced to do anything. A free choice is involved.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

May we have a debate on hospices? Adult hospices are 32 per cent. publicly funded, whereas children's hospices are only 4 per cent. publicly funded, which is indefensible. The remainder is raised by private fundraising. The proportion should be raised to 40 per cent. for both children's and adult hospices. We could then acknowledge the tireless work and dedication of all staff and volunteers in hospices and those people ho do the fundraising.

Mr. Hain

I certainly agree that there is a fantastic voluntary spirit in the hospice movement and that the work done is in the best traditions of volunteerism and of this country, but the hon. Gentleman ought to have been a little fairer in acknowledging that, as has been said publicly in the Help the Hospices conference, the hospice movement welcomes the extra money that has come from the Government on an unprecedented scale. No Government have ever provided the level of funds for hospices that we are providing. On whether there is time for such a debate, he has the opportunity to apply for one.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

Would it be possible to hold an urgent debate on the meltdown of manufacturing industry in this country? In the north-west of England, we are losing manufacturing jobs at the rate of 700 a month. Sadly, there is news that LG Philips at Simonstone in my constituency will close with the loss of 400 manufacturing jobs. There was a time when this country was a world leader in the export of manufactured goods. Increasingly, under this Government, we are world leaders in the export of manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Hain

Obviously, I am concerned about any loss of jobs in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and for the employees involved—I am sure that he will do his best to assist them—but we knew all about the meltdown of manufacturing in the 1980s, under the last Conservative Government. Of course we did. Manufacturing, mining and heavy industry were virtually wiped out in Wales, which he was the Conservatives spokesman for until recently, but the difference is that, instead of finding themselves on the scrap heap, often for the rest of lives, people now have the opportunity to find new jobs, because of the near full employment that we have generated across Wales through our employment policies.

I also remind the hon. Gentleman that he ought to look at the facts. Manufacturing output is now up. The mood of optimism in the manufacturing sector is now greater than it has been for some time. We are part of a phenomenon that is affecting other European and advanced industrial countries, whereby manufacturing is increasingly under pressure from far more labour cost-competitive countries such as China, India and others in the far east and even eastern Europe. Maintaining the existing manufacturing sector is much tougher, but manufacturing is getting a lot of support from the Government, and it will continue to increase its output, compared with the dismal and miserable record of the Tories in their period of government.