HC Deb 02 July 1992 vol 210 cc963-74 3.30 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 6 JULY—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate described as "The Recession in Industry", followed by a debate described as "The Government's Failure to Contain Bovine Spongiforrm Encephalopathy". Both debates arise on Opposition motions.

Motion on the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (Contracted Out Prisons) Order.

Motion on the Parole Board (Transfer of Functions) Order.

TUESDAY 7 JuLY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

At Ten O'clock the Question will be put on the supplementary estimates 1992–93.

Motion on the Value Added Tax (Payments on Account) Order.

WEDNESDAY 8 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motions on the House of Commons Members Fund.

THURSDAY 9 JULY—Motion on the summer Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

FRIDAY 10 JULY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 13 JULY—Debate on the report from the Select Committee on Sittings of the House on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the nominations of departmental Select Committees.

The House will wish to know also that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 8 July at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:

Committee A—Document 5185/91 relating to bird conservation;

Committee B—Document 6831/92 relating to the extractive industries, mines and quarries.

European Standing Committee A will also meet on Thursday 9 July at 10.30 am to consider European Community document 6414/92 relating to the identification and registration of animals.

[Wednesday 8 July:

European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community Document

5185/91 Bird Conservation

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee HC 29-xvii (1990–91), HC 29-xxvii (1990–91) and HC 24-xv (1991–92)

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Document

6831/92 Health and Safety in mines and quarries

Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee

HC 79-i (1992–93)

Thursday 9 July:

European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community Document

6414/92 Identification and Registration of Animals Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee HC 79-i (1992–93)]

Mr. Grocott

I welcome the promise of a debate, on Monday week, on the report of the Select Committee on the Sittings of the House. I should like to know, however, when the House will make some decisions on this matter. As I understand the situation, the debate will be one without any conclusion. May we be provided with an opportunity to make some clear decisions so that we can have a more sensible way of working?

We recognise the Government's problem in trying to fill parliamentary time since the withdrawal of the European Communties (Amendment) Bill—Maastricht Bill? I should like to make two helpful suggestions. First, is it not high time, in the first full week of the United Kingdom's presidency of the Council of Ministers, that we had in debate, in Government time, on unemployment—not least in view of the Prime Minister's totally unsatisfactory reply today? We want the Secretary of State for Employment to come to the House to explain why our unemployment record is so much worse than those of all our European competitors, and why the Government seem to think that workers in Britain need to work longer hours and with fewer holidays than our counterparts in other European countries.

Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House for another visit from a Secretary of State? I feel that the Secretary of State for National Heritage should visit the House next week, so that we can have either a statement or a debate about broadcasting. Today, many of our constituents—particularly those who are infirm or elderly—have an opportunity to watch both Wimbledon and the test match live on television, but if the Government persist in their current policy of allowing programmes to go over to Sky television, this could be the last year in which they can watch live sport. Is it not high time that the Secretary of State for National Heritage explained to the House why the Government are restricting freedom of choice for our constituents?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has asked a good many questions.

I hope that the debate on what I will describe in shorthand as the Jopling report, which will take place on Monday 13 July, will pave the way for the House to reach some decisions very soon after it returns in the autumn. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that employment was a particularly important subject for debate in this first week of the British presidency. I consider it more important to debate our objectives for the presidency as a whole, and that is the subject of the debate that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will launch after Business Questions. Moreover, the Opposition will have their own debate on a motion that they have described as "The Recession in Industry", which will take place on Monday. No doubt that will enable hon. Members to make some observations along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott).

I shall not have to drag my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage to the House during the period covered by my statement, to satisfy the hon. Gentleman's request. My right hon. and learned Friend is due to answer questions on Monday 13 July.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the idea of the sovereignty of Parliament rests, at least in part, on the conventions and procedures of the House, which protect minority views and interests? If the European Communities (Amendment) Bill is bashed through in a fortnight's marathon, as was suggested by informed sources in The Sunday Times last week, the whole idea of the sovereignty of Parliament will be damaged and the case for a referendum will become stronger.

Mr. Newton

I see no real basis for the suggestion that the Government's handling of the Maastricht Bill, both before and since the Danish referendum, gives anyone reason to suppose that we are not taking proper account of the position of Parliament and the desire of Members of Parliament—including my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen)—to make their views clear. As my hon. Friend will know, I have in any case undertaken to arrange a further debate before the Bill proceeds.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that, unless the position improves in France—where the road blockade is causing substantial dislocation—there will be time for the Government to make a statement next week? The piracy on the roads is not only causing dislocation and disruption to tourists; loads of perishable goods are going to wrack and ruin as a result of the French farmers' activities.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a statement next week. The hon. Gentleman will he aware, however, that next Thursday's business in particular—the summer Adjournment and Consolidated Fund debates—will provide him with substantial opportunities to raise such matters, if he feels sufficiently assiduous.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

My right hon. Friend has announced that the European Standing Committees will sit next week. Will he ensure, however, that the precedent set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not followed in future? The first two attended a meeting of the Council of Ministers, and did not report back to the House on important policy matters; my right hon. Friend the Chancellor acceded to a directive calling for an amended VAT rate of 15 per cent. for four years.

Mr. Newton

May I gently observe to my hon. Friend, who I know has a considerable interest in all these matters, that no agreement was reached at the Economic and Finance Council this week on the directive that he seems principally to have in mind, so I am not sure that his suggestion that my right hon. Friend has in some way failed the House is justified.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House invite the President of the Board of Trade to come to the House and tell us about the findings of the Director General of Fair Trading in his interim report on the beer orders? The brewing industry is in chaos. The problems over competition and consumer choice have led to disarray in the beer industry. When people want to buy a pint of beer during their summer holidays, what price will they have to pay for it and what sort of competition—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not put questions like that to the Leader of the House. It may be an important subject, but it does not need to be argued at this stage.

Mr. Turner

Then I would ask the Leader of the House to oblige us by inviting the President of the Board of Trade to come here and tell us the outcome of those deliberations.

Mr. Newton

I undertake to pass on the invitation extended by the hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure that I shall initial it.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on getting the departmental Select Committees under way. I know that he has booked time for motions on the membership of the Committees on Monday week. Bearing in mind that the Committee of Selection is to meet next Wednesday, would it not be possible to deal with the matter towards the end of next week and thus provide a little more time for the Committees to get under way? Will my right hon. Friend look again at that matter?

Mr. Newton

I have given some consideration to it. My right hon. Friend has kindly recognised that, given that the Committee of Selection was unable to come forward with names yesterday, it cannot now do so before next Wednesday. Difficulty arises from the fact that the proposal needs to be on the Order Paper for two days. If there were any way of speeding it up, I should be happy to look at it, but I am not sure that there is. What I have done is make sure that it can be dealt with as soon as possible.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Could we have a statement next week to clarify whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has handed over tax-raising powers to the European Community for four years and thereby robbed this Parliament of those powers? The Leader of the House denied the claim of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). If the Chancellor made a statement, he could clarify the position. At the same time we might be given some information on the VAT payments on account order and whether it should really be taken on Tuesday, particularly since the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet completed its deliberations and has asked for a memorandum, which it is to consider on Tuesday. The Committee may wish to take evidence upon it, but it will be denied the opportunity of doing so if the order is taken on Tuesday.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's last point and I undertake to reflect upon it. As for his first point, I certainly did not seek to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had had no discussions on these matters. That is clearly not the case. The Chancellor clearly has had discussions on these matters. I simply made the point that no conclusion about the relevant directive had been reached. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention and, for that matter, the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood to the fact that the Chancellor is to speak at the end of the debate that is about to begin.

Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)

I think I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend was present for the short Adjournment debate that I had earlier this week on the question of illegal encampment by gipsies and new age travellers, and in particular on the question of the mass rallies that they have held. He will know from that debate that there is tremendous interest in the subject on this side of the House. There was an unusually high turnout for the debate, particularly by my hon. Friends. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can accommodate that matter before the recess by arranging for a debate on the subject?

Mr. Newton

I am very conscious of the interest in this subject, not least because this is probably the third or fourth business question time in the last few weeks at which it has been raised with me by my hon. Friend and other colleagues. I did indeed note the unusually heavy attendance at the Adjournment debate the other night and also the vigour with which my hon. Friend spoke. I do not think I can promise what I would call a dedicated debate but, as I have already said to one or two other hon. Members, there are substantial opportunities to raise such matters next week, so perhaps my hon. Friend will wish to take further advantage of them.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

In view of reports in the press today that the Home Secretary believes that the draft European frontiers convention should be scrutinised by the House, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement before the recess and ensure that time is available for that scrutiny in due course?

Mr. Newton

Again, I must reply very much in the terms in which I replied to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). I must point out that the matters in question were the subject of substantial evidence given by the Home Office to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this year. To suggest that the House is in some way being prevented from taking an interest in these matters goes beyond what the situation would bear.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will the Leader of the House consider two linked points about Europe and the media? The first is whether it would be possible to arrange a debate, if that is the appropriate way of dealing with the issue, on the threat to broadcasters and journalists from the European data protection provisions, which, as I understand it, would require individuals to give their consent for the media to have files on them, which is not the best way to help the media to do their job? Secondly, will he try to ensure that European Community procedure does not start leading to Governments having responsibility for print journalists—one can understand that they may have to for broadcasters with limited licences—because we should try to keep the Government and Parliament away from the press's problems?

Mr. Newton

They sound like two quite interesting points for my hon. Friend to pursue on one of the occasions that I have already mentioned during these exchanges.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Has the Leader of the House had time to study the report which was made available this morning by the Audit Commission on its grave anxieties about whether the Government can deliver their community care policies next April? As even yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) could not give any commitment on the level of funding available to local authorities and still less on ring fencing, are we not heading for even greater chaos than that identified by Sir Roy Griffiths? Should we not therefore have an urgent debate?

Mr. Newton

I have not yet had time to study the Audit Commission's report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but of course I am aware that a substantial debate took place on these matters during consideration of the Community Care Bill yesterday, when a great deal of ground was covered. As with any other matter, the financial and expenditure decisions relating to next year will in the end be taken as part of the public expenditure round this year.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on the Post Office and in particular on the operation of local post offices in the London area where, all too often, closure is proposed against the wishes and interests of local people? Such a debate would give me the opportunity to raise the proposed closure of Church road post office in Northholt, which is a very misguided proposal.

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a classic of its kind to be raised on one of the occasions that I have already mentioned—the summer Adjournment debate, the Consolidated Fund debate or the timed Adjournments just before the recess. I wish my hon. Friend luck in securing one of those opportunities.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the question that I have tabled about the transfer of pension funds of workers who have been removed from British Nuclear Fuels to the Uranium Enrichment Company. My question was redirected from the Treasury to the Department of Trade and Industry. Through my own research, I subsequently discovered that the matter is the subject of a Treasury policy which will result in those workers losing some of the benefits of the scheme that they are in. The workers regard it as a fraud of Maxwellian proportions.

Madam Speaker

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to argue a case but to come directly to the point. That is the purpose of business questions.

Mr. Miller

Will the Leader of the House make a statement to the House next week to explain that policy, and to tell us how many other industrial workers covered by the civil service schemes are covered by it?

Mr. Newton

You will probably agree, Madam Speaker, that for me to do so would lie slightly outwith my duties as Leader of the House. However, as part of those duties, I shall certainly try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives an appropriate response from either or both of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

If there is a prospect of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer being invited, in conjunction with the other European Finance Ministers, to agree a minimum rate of tax, would it not be appropriate for us to debate the sovereignty of the House in taxation matters?

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether my hon. Friend will seek to catch your eye in the forthcoming debate, Madam Speaker—still less would I pre-empt the decision that you would make should he do so. However, if he succeeds, he may wish to raise the matter that he has mentioned.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Why do the Government refuse to make a statement on aid to Sarajevo? Is it because the Minister is in the House of Lords?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will know that Yugoslavia, and in particular the Community's attitude to it and part in its affairs, is one of the subjects to which the British Government will attach importance during the presidency. Indeed, I do not think that I would be breaking the confidence of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary if I said that he has just whispered in my ear that he intends to refer to that subject in the speech which he is about to make.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern of the parliamentary human rights group about the human rights abuses by the Indonesian Government in East Timor, which have cost 200,000 lives over the past 10 years. May we have a statement or a debate next week, so that we can discuss both the conditionality of aid being given to countries with human rights records such as that of Indonesia, and the publication of the recent report on those appalling problems by Amos Wako, the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Mr. Newton

In refraining from giving my hon. Friend the undertaking that he seeks, I must fall back on referring not to the de bate about to take place but to the other opportunities next week which I have already mentioned.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Is the Leader of the House aware that yet another group of workers in Cammell Laird have been given their redundancy notices today as a direct result of the Government's policy in "Options for Change"? That policy brings general benefits for the community, but its cost is being borne disproportionately by a minority, who were previously in defence jobs. Will the Leader of the House concede the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms. Eagle) and myself for a debate before Parliament rises on what selective measures are necessary to ensure that the communities concerned make a successful transition from military to civilian production?

Mr. Newton

Again, I must draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that there are a number of opportunities during the coming week when he may be able to raise that matter. If he chooses to do so, I wish him well.

Mr. Andrew MacKinlay (Thurrock)

Will the Leader of the House reflect between now and next week on the bewilderment of many of our constituents, who cannot understand why, for three months in the summer, the role of Parliament in checking, cajoling and criticising the Executive becomes unimportant? They cannot understand that nothing happens in government all that time. Will the Leader of the House therefore consider whether it might be appropriate for us to have at least a brief sitting some time in September, when questions could be put to the Executive and it could be brought to account, rather than our meeting only when legislation is being railroaded through by the Government?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I should not push that too far.

Mr. Newton

For once, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I are in complete agreement. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman was only about 10 seconds ahead of me. I was about to say that I would not chance putting that proposition to a vote.

However, I recognise why my fellow Essex Member of Parliament—I would not dream of calling him Essex man—raises the question. It is important that our constituents should understand that the recess is not a question of our all going away to spend three months on the beach—at least, I cannot speak for the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), but I do not expect to do so.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House invite the President of the Board of Trade to come to the House next week to make a statement in defence of the way in which European Community money, given from its budget to modernise pits, has been spent on sacking people? The Leader of the House should also ask his right hon. Friend to explain why not a single penny piece of RECHAR money, which was intended to replace jobs in the coal mining areas and which was allocated for that end three years ago, has been spent on that purpose.

Mr. Newton

I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will, as ever, be in almost ceaseless action next week, because he is due to take part in the debate on Monday 6 July on the Opposition motion and to answer Trade and Industry questions on Wednesday 8 July.

Ms. Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Leader of the House make time next week for the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House to make a statement on the Government's policy on defence diversification in the light of the redundancies announced at Cammell Laird today, which affect not only the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) but my constituents?

Mr. Newton

I note what the hon. Lady says, but, necessarily, I must simply advert to the remarks that I made to her hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the Lord President recollect that, at column 397 in last week's Hansard, he gave the undertaking that he would consider the three orders on Libya? As he is now flanked by the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State—the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad)—can he explain whether the orders recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) will give us the opportunity to ask deep and serious questions about whether the Foreign Office might not be wrong about Libya? It would also give us the opportunity to consider the powerful letter written by Mr. John Lace, the managing director of Babcock and Wilcox, which the Minister of State has seen, because, after all, 5,500 of our fellow countrymen are in Libya and enormous engineering orders are at stake.

Mr. Newton

I have also seen that letter. The sensible course for me to pursue in response to the hon. Gentleman is to say that, manifestly, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign Office Ministers now present will have noted what he said.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable surprise at the fact that, despite the turmoil at one of the country's largest national newspaper groups, Mirror Group Newspapers plc, which has lost its chairman and its finance director this week and which is due to hold its annual general meeting within 10 days, no Government statement appears to be on the cards next week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a statement would be appropriate? Does he also agree that it would be a good idea for Lord Williams, Lord Donoughue and others to follow the example of Lord Walker and declare how much income they have received from non-executive directorships in Mirror Group Newspapers plc in the past few years?

Mr. Newton

I sense from the way in which you are moving in your seat, Madam Speaker, that you might check me if I sought to respond in anything like the terms invited by my hon. Friend. I am sure that those at whom his remarks appear to have been directed will note them.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to what he said to his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and recognise that, on such a vital issue as a treaty that has implications for British sovereignty, there should be a free vote, if I may say so, on both side of the House? Could arrangements be so made? It would be quite wrong for the Government to rely on Labour Members to help them out of their difficulties in Committee. Labour Members were not elected for that purpose.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, happily, the voting arrangements in this place are not a matter for me, but the seats held by the usual channels are fairly well occupied at the moment, so no doubt those concerned will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will know that I welcome the announcement about the nomination of Select Committees, but look forward to the day when the Northern Ireland Office—the last bastion of oligarchy in this place—might be so scrutinised. Is there the possibility of a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland next week arising from the incidents reported from the frontier yesterday evening, so that we might learn when the trial took place; whether there are audio tapes of the interrogation; and whether justice is being done when people regularly cry for justice and their fellow travellers throughout the world support them?

Mr. Newton

I know of no plan of my right hon. and learned Friend to make a statement at the moment. However, I note the points that the hon. Gentleman makes by implication, and I will ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of them.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I press the Leader of the House on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard)? The right hon. Gentleman may not have seen today's issue of The Guardian, in which there was a remarkable interview with the Home Secretary, in which he admitted that the convention on free movement within the EC could be signed by the Government without the House seeing it —still less having a chance to debate or amend it. Will the Leader of the House understand that a cosy discussion in the Select Committee on Home Affairs is no adequate democratic substitute for the House having the fullest opportunity to see, debate and possibly amend that important convention, which will place serious obstacles in the way of non-EC nationals enjoying free movement within the EC?

Mr. Newton

I have, of course, seen the report in The Guardian. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that conventions govern the way in which draft conventions—we are talking about a draft convention, not a signed convention—are laid before the House. However, I will ensure that the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend is drawn to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

In view of the intense public interest, can we have an assurance from the Leader of the House this afternoon that next week the Minister of Agriculture will make a statement on the conclusions of the International Whaling Commission? As there is unanimity in the House on the issue, such a statement would give the House an opportunity yet again to let the Japanese, Icelanders and Norwegians know just how strongly we feel about whales and the possible decision of those countries to continue to flout international whaling agreements.

Mr. Newton

I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman speaks for many hon. Members on both sides of the House when he expresses concern about some of the developments at the International Whaling Commission. I cannot commit my right hon. Friend to making a statement at the Dispatch Box, but I will ensure that he is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

As the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), is on the Government Front Bench, may I thank him for the fact that, following my representations and those of others yesterday, the Government have issued stronger advice to people warning them not to travel in France this weekend. However, I want to refer to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) about using the debate a week today to raise issues about the blockade in France.

Is the Leader of the House aware that my constituents were stuck in the motorway service station for four days? I would have liked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office or some other responsible person to make a statement in the House about what was happening in France three days ago. Can we have a statement next week, because there is also talk about action to spoil the Barcelona Olympics? We need quick action, not a four or five-day wait for a debate 11 days afterwards.

Mr. Newton

In reply to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who is no longer in his place, I drew attention to the opportunities for raising various matters next week. That was not intended to be a flat negative to his suggestion, but I cannot promise that a particular statement will be made at a particular time.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's instant dismissal of the definition of poverty given by the National Children's Home last month, although that definition reflected the experience of many of my constituents and, I am sure, the constituents of many of my hon. Friends, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to give us his definition of poverty and arrange for a debate on the matter at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Newton

In a relatively recent incarnation, I had considerable experience of arguments about definitions of poverty. No Government of any colour have signed up to a definition of poverty. It was at least as much resisted by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) when he was Minister for Social Security as by anybody else. There are genuine difficulties, and that is the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was making.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Further to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), is the Leader of the House aware that the European convention on frontier control is a classified document and that it will not become public until after it comes into force? There is no point in our purportedly holding Ministers to account if we cannot discuss treaties of that importance. Does he not understand that that matter goes to the heart of parliamentary democracy and that we should be able to discuss such matters before they come into force rather than when we face a fait accompli? Will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement on what is in the draft treaty and let us have a debate so that we can discuss it properly?

Mr. Newton

As I have now said a couple of times, there has certainly been no attempt to conceal from anybody the points that are covered by the draft convention. It is, as I understand it, normal practice that draft conventions of that kind are laid before the House when they have been signed. I was making no more than that point.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Will the Leader of the House give a firm assurance that he will make time available before the recess either for the Home Secretary to introduce the legislation that will be necessary to delay or cancel local government elections in Wales next year, or for a statement from the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Wales that there will be no such cancellation? Does he accept that it would be intolerable for us to go from the House for the summer recess without the question whether there will be local government elections next year answered firmly and once and for all?

Mr. Newton

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who is my appropriate right hon. Friend in that respect.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have heard the Leader of the House refer to a whisper from his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about the fact that the Foreign Secretary was likely to make a statement on aid to Yugoslavia during his statement at the beginning of the next debate. Is not that a prime example of how development issues are being marginalised in the House of Commons? Because a Development Minister is not in the House of Commons but only in the other place, statements are now being grafted on the back—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman had the privilege of making that point earlier and he was heard in good order by the House. I hear no whispers whatsoever in the House. We have to wait for the debate to see what statements are to be made.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to my point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to press it, but it is a very important issue of principle. I am not alluding to the question that I asked. I am simply saying that, historically, statements were made to the House of Commons by Aid Ministers on such matters. That is no longer the case. When an important statement has to be made on matters relating to aid and development, the Foreign Secretary makes them in the course of other statements that he is making to the House, as indeed is happening today.

Madam Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.