HC Deb 07 December 1995 vol 268 cc493-504 3.30 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House for details of future business?

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

The Business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER—Until about seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill.

Second Reading of the Rating (Caravans and Boats) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

THURSDAY 14 DECEMBER—Estimates Day (1st allotted day). On recommendations from the Liaison Committee, in relation to specified votes on account, there will be two debates. First, there will be a debate on the provision of NHS services for women with breast cancer, clinical research into breast cancer and the NHS breast screening programme. That debate will be for up to three hours. It will be followed by a debate on the regulation of financial services in the United Kingdom.

At ten o'clock the House will be asked to agree the winter supplementary estimates and the vote on account.

FRIDAY 15 DECEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that the following European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:


European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 6612/94 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 30 November 1995 relating to environmental impact assessments.

European Standing Committee B, European Community Document COM(95)333 and the European Monetary Institute report dated November 1995 relating to the single currency.


European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 9491/93, 7511/95 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 2 June 1995 relating to integrated pollution prevention and control.

European Standing Committee B, European Community Document 10836/95 relating to state aid to the Irish steel industry.

[Tuesday 12 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 6612/94 and (b) unnumbered, Environmental Impact Assessments. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 48-xxi (1993-94) and HC 70-xiv (1994-95); (b) HC 51-iii (1995-96).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: COM (95)333, Single Currency; (b) European Monetary Institute report relating to the changeover to the single currency. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 70-xix (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (b) HC 51-i (1995-96).

Wednesday 13 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 9491/93, (b) 7511/95 and (c) unnumbered, Pollution Prevention and Control. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 49-i (1993-94), HC 48-xiii (1993-94), HC 70-xii (1994-95), HC 70-xix (1994-95), HC 70-xxi (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (b) HC 70-xxi (1994-95) and HC 70-xxvi (1994-95); (c) HC 70-xxvi (1994-95).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 10836/95: State aid to the Irish steel industry. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 70-xxvi ( 1994-95) and HC 51-U (1995-96).]

Thursday 14 December:

Estimates Day—Vote on Account, Class X1 Vote 1, Department of Health: Hospital, community health, family health services and related services, England, in so far as it relates to the provision of NHS services for women with breast cancer, clinical research into breast cancer and the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Relevant report: Third report from the Health Committee, Session 1994-95, (HC 324), Breast Cancer Services.

Vote on Account, Class XVI, Vote I, Departments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: HM Treasury, in so far as it relates to the regulation of financial services in the United Kingdom.

Relevant Reports: Fourth report from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee, Session 1993-94, (HC 236), Retail Financial Services Regulation: An Interim Report; Second report, 1994-95, (HC 26), Financial Services Regulation: The Building Society Sector; Fifth report, 1994-95, (HC 187), Financial Services Regulation: Self Regulation at Lloyd's of London; Sixth report, 1994-95, (HC 332), The Regulation of Financial Services in the UK.

In the following week, on Monday 18 December the business will be as follows:

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Remaining stages of the Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Bill.

Motion on the Copyright and Rights in Performances regulations.

Debate on the Commons Fisheries policy on a Government motion.

On Tuesday 19 December and Wednesday 20 December, I anticipate that Government business will be taken, but details of it have not yet been determined. At the conclusion of business on Wednesday 20 December, subject, of course, to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Christmas recess.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Next Wednesday morning's debate in private Members' time on the preparation, drafting and publication of Government Bills, welcome as it is, does not preclude the need for a fuller and wider debate on making Parliament more effective—the debate for which I have been asking. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has some sympathy with my request. Perhaps we can look forward to such a wide debate early in the new year.

May I ask the Leader of the House about progress on the establishment of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges? I know that he is extremely anxious, as I am, that that Committee should be established as soon as possible so that it can get on with the difficult job of establishing a new code of conduct for Members. Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that the Committee meets as soon as possible so that that important work can be started?

The Leader of the House will also be aware that the Government were defeated in the House of Lords on Tuesday on the Probation Rules (Amendment) Order 1995 and that serious concerns were expressed in the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation yesterday when the order was debated. As the order deletes entirely provision for the training of probation officers and puts nothing in place of the existing arrangements, can the Leader of the House assure us that a new training requirement to fill that vacuum will be brought before the House as quickly as possible for full debate and approval?

In view of the widely conflicting expert opinion—not all experts are as confident as the Prime Minister—about the health threat from eating beef, and in view of the widespread public concern, may we have an urgent debate on the issue? Does the Leader of the House agree that such a debate would be widely welcomed, especially by parents, following yesterday's advice to schools that beef should be taken off the menu? This is a matter of great concern to many people. It is not as simple as the Prime Minister has said. I ask the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Newton

As for the debate on legislation next Wednesday, I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's request for a wider debate at some stage although I cannot yet make a definite commitment. She and I have in common a wish to continue to build, in any practicable way, on the improvements of the past couple of years.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady says about the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges and I shall continue to use my best endeavours to ensure that it is established as soon as possible. You yourself, Madam Speaker, said yesterday that you attached some importance to the matter.

On the probation rules debate, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering what was said in another place last week and he will, no doubt, also consider what was said in the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation yesterday. I cannot, however, add to that or say this afternoon what the outcome of that consideration will be.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not presenting himself as an expert giving advice on BSE, but was reporting the advice of the expert and independent committee which advises the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on these matters and the advice of the widely respected Chief Medical Officer who advises my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Nevertheless, I note the hon. Lady's request and do not in any way dismiss it, although I make the point that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is due to answer questions next Thursday.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

May I ask my right hon. Friend yet again if he will spare time for a debate on Essex social services, as it has recently become evident that Essex county council, under Labour, is wasting £90,000 a week keeping its own old people's homes open, instead of using the private sector at a much cheaper rate?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a dedicated debate, despite my interest as my hon. Friend's constituency neighbour, and my being well aware of the concern felt in Essex. However, my hon. Friend will know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), has recently asked the social services inspectorate to investigate the position.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the plight of elderly and disabled people during the present cold spell? We do not want there to be more unnecessary deaths from hypothermia. Will he announce that the Government intend to change the rules whereby a person does not get a cold weather payment unless the temperature has been below freezing for seven consecutive days?

Mr. Newton

The cold weather payments scheme has been considerably improved over the past few years, as I know, because I was responsible for many of the improvements. The payments have recently been increased from £7 to £8.50, and there has been a 40 per cent. increase since April 1994. Since 1991 more than 8 million payments, worth more than £50 million, have been made, which reflects the extent to which the scheme has been widened effectively.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

My right hon. Friend may be aware that the compensation arrangements for big public works in this country are still lamentable. Kent is threatened yet again with another railway proposal, and the Department of Transport has not yet worked out how it might implement its promise to the ombudsman to reconsider compensation for various oppressed individuals. Will my right hon. Friend allow us a debate on that important issue?

Mr. Newton

No doubt some reference was made to that subject in the debate on the carry-over motion for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill shortly before the end of last Session, and I cannot promise an early further opportunity to discuss it. However, as his question acknowledged, my hon. Friend is aware that the Secretary of State for Transport is examining some aspects of the matter following the ombudsman's report. My hon. Friend will also recognise that the matter is difficult and complex.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

May we have an extra Scottish Question Time next week to compensate for the fact that more than half the questions tabled for the next Scottish Question Time have been planted by Tory Members representing English constituencies? And if we are still level after extra time, can we decide it on penalties?

Mr. Newton

I might be more sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's request if he would give me an undertaking never to ask a question that relates to England.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought to the idea of allowing time for a debate on victim impact statements? He may be aware that there is much interest in them in this country, and that they already operate in many states in the United States of America. Victims are allowed to go to the court and make a statement about what has happened to them since they became victims, and the sentence is passed accordingly. I believe that we could consider that idea seriously for our courts. At present many victims in this country do not even know when their attackers are coming to court.

Mr. Newton

I always consider requests on such important matters, put in such a reasonable way, but my hon. Friend will understand that I can make no commitment.

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I understand from a parliamentary answer on Monday from the Secretary of State for the Environment that he has now received the inspector's report from the public inquiry into the emergency drought order in Yorkshire, but that he is not prepared to publish it yet—possibly not until after Christmas. The people who attended the inquiry feel that they have the right to see the inspector's report in the public domain as soon as possible, so will the Leader of the House find time to ensure that his right hon. Friend presents the report to the House before Christmas?

Mr. Newton

Of course I will bring the hon. Lady's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend. But I would say off the cuff that as this is a serious and difficult matter, I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend would want carefully to study such a report.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (North Dorset)

Will my right hon. Friend expand the debate on Parliament that he is having with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to include the future of the other place? Is he aware that old Labour wanted to abolish the other place? Is he further aware that new Labour wishes to abolish all hereditary peers and convert them to life peers by an act of patronage that has not been seen before? Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend that both steps would move us in the direction of becoming a one-party state?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's concern, and I agree that in this matter—as in many others—the Opposition's policy appears to consist of a rather fluctuating set of half-baked proposals.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on specific areas of law and order? Following recent widespread consultation, my constituents told me that their top priorities are still crime and the fear of crime. Will the Government consider crime prevention measures and try to get at the roots of crime? Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to find time for a debate on the issue?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has found time for a debate on the issue tomorrow.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will it be possible to have an early debate on industrial relations in this country, so that we can make an effective comparison between this country and trade union and mob-rule dominated France? Such a debate would give us an opportunity to condemn the Labour Members of the European Parliament who signed up to a resolution supporting the strikes in France, thereby proving that the Labour party is still the striker's friend.

Mr. Newton

I share my hon. Friend's astonishment that Labour Members of the European Parliament should have acted in the way reported, and I can only assume that they would equally vote for a return to the winter of discontent here.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Leader of the House offered the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) a deal—no English crowding out of Scottish questions if Scottish Members do not ask questions on English matters. I will take that deal if it is still available.

In the mean time, may we have a debate before the Christmas recess on the Secretary of State for Scotland's forecast earlier this week that Scotland would be independent by the year 2002? Does the Leader of the House support his Cabinet colleague on the matter, or is he thinking of a quicker time scale to get us out from under this decrepit institution? Given that we are moving into the season of good will, can I have a more adventurous reply from the right hon. Gentleman than I usually get to my very reasonable questions at Business Questions?

Mr. Newton

As far as I am concerned, every season is the season of good will—even for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

May we have an urgent statement before Christmas by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment regarding the conduct of ballots on whether schools are to become grant maintained? In addition to the well-reported experiences of a school in County Durham—in the Sedgefield constituency, I seem to recall—I have recently heard that there was serious harassment of parents at Hollyfield school in my constituency by members of the Opposition regarding the proposal that the school become grant maintained? Fortunately, the parents voted yes to the proposal. Nevertheless, this is a serious matter. Unfortunately, harassment seems to be going on all over the country.

Mr. Newton

It would be unfortunate if the allegations were demonstrated to be true. My hon. Friend will understand that at a time when the Department for Education and Employment is making inquiries about the allegations, it would not be right for me to comment further from the Dispatch Box. I would make the point to my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to be answering questions on Wednesday 13 December.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

May I add my voice to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) for a debate on BSE? Given the alarm that people feel when top scientists advise against eating beef burgers, sausages and beef products and the fact that advisers are now telling schools not to serve beef, surely it is incumbent on the Government to have an urgent debate and to receive expert advice from sources other than the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because its advice is completely discredited and nobody believes it?

Mr. Newton

I underline what I said earlier. We are not talking about officials in any Government Department, but an expert committee in relation to MAFF, comprised largely of eminent academics who are certainly not MAFF officials. I rightly described the Chief Medical Officer as widely respected—I happen to know him quite well because I used to work with him—so whatever else the hon. Lady says, I hope that she will not convey the impression that inexpert people are offering advice. For the rest, of course, I note her request.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to provide time for a debate on policing so that we have an opportunity to congratulate the police on the success of Operation Christmas Cracker, led by the chief constable of West Mercia? That operation demonstrates the determination of the police to crack down on all forms of theft.

Mr. Newton

That is the third question related to crime, law and order and the like, so I can only assume that there will be a busy and crowded debate in the House tomorrow.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Bearing in mind the present spirit of good will and the concept of Santa bringing presents, is the Leader of the House aware of whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes to make a statement announcing that Northern Ireland will receive the same benefits as have been extended to Scotland and Wales and that sittings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee will be held in public in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Newton

I have not received a request from my right hon. and learned Friend to make a statement, but as I take the hon. Gentleman's question as a disguised request for something to be done, I shall bring it to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have time to debate local government spending so that I can bring before the House the subject of the refusal of Ealing Labour council to provide travel passes—which it is bound by law to provide—to children wishing to attend the sixth form of Twyford Church of England school? That is not the only school for which the council is refusing travel passes. That refusal represents a denial of parental choice of school, which the Labour party has said that it believes in, but does not practise.

Mr. Newton

That would be another good question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment next Wednesday. Of course, I would expect further debate on the local government settlement in late January or early February when the usual orders have been laid.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

May we have an urgent debate on the problems facing exporters who want to obtain money from countries to which they export goods? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Smith and Nephew in my constituency had to lay off 50 people as they found it impossible to get any money out of not only Iran, which has acknowledged foreign exchange difficulties, but Saudi Arabia, which is paying billions of pounds to the United States in recompense for the Gulf war, but cannot find the money to pay an important employer in my constituency? Can the right hon. Gentleman imagine the fury that I felt when I received a Christmas card through the post today from the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, when that country cannot pay its bills for goods exported there?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether the Saudi ambassador reads Hansard, but I am sure that in one way or another the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be brought to the ambassador's attention. I shall certainly bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I join those who have urged my right hon. Friend to have a debate on education so that we can discuss the fact that, while the Labour party nationally talks about education standards, Labour councils locally produce poor results? Does he agree that there is more than whiff of hypocrisy in the fact that those who practise choice in education for their own children seek to deny it to other children?

Mr. Newton

Yes—that is, yes to my hon. Friend's observations rather than to a commitment to a debate, but I shall consider his request.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we have a debate on the view expressed by all the hon. Members who participated in the debate yesterday on young people leaving care that the Children Act 1989 is not working and that the plight of young people leaving care at the age of 16 and 17 is deteriorating? We need that debate to draw attention to the cut in housing benefit which will further punish those young people who have faced every problem that life can throw at them, as described in early-day motion 135.

[That this House notes that 30 per cent. of young, single homeless people have experienced local authority care; recognises that young people leaving care need secure and stable accommodation; accepts that shared accommodation is often unstable and necessitates frequent moves; believes that young people leaving care should have the option of living by themselves; deplores the decision in the Budget to restrict housing benefit for the under-25 year olds to the cost of shared accommodation; and believes that this will greatly increase the problems already facing young people leaving care in finding a home.]

Is it not a terrible disgrace that we arc treating those children in that way? Most young people leave home at 22, but these youngsters are being thrown out at 16 and pitchforked from full-time care into full-time neglect.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman's question has little or nothing to do with the Children Act 1989, but is more a question about the social security proposal that was announced at the time of the Budget. I draw his attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for Social Security is also due to answer questions next week.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Unusually, may I urge my right hon. Friend to resist the calls for a debate on BSE? Does he understand that, given that British beef is completely safe, such a debate would be greeted with utter dismay by the beef farmers of Worcestershire and the rest of the country? The Opposition are prepared to exploit any issue for narrow party advantage.

Mr. Newton

I take note of those representations even though they arc somewhat different from those I have received from the Opposition.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Employment Select Committee is to wind up on 2 March, having had to complete its report on employment statistics by then. The report will have to take into account the independent report by Dr. David Steel, commissioned by the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the President of the Board of Trade when that report will be available; whether he will keep to the undertaking that we shall have it before the House by the end of January; and, if there is any doubt about it, whether he will make a statement to the House?

Mr. Newton

It is not true to say that the Employment Select Committee must complete anything by a particular date. I know that it wishes to, and our objective was to give it the opportunity to do so.

I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman has recently written to the Chancellor or the President of the Board of Trade about the matter. Of course, I will do anything I can to assist, to ensure that the report is available as soon as possible. However, I cannot guarantee a particular time.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

May I add my support for the call for an urgent debate on education, so that we can discuss the amazing inconsistencies of certain Labour Members, who say one thing publicly about grant-maintained schools, but do something completely different when they have the opportunity to send their youngsters to those schools?

We could also discuss Lancashire county council and the fact that it sent letters to parents, before it knew the amount of the Budget settlement, that frightened them into thinking that the education budget would be cut by 8 per cent. The council now knows that there will be an increase in the education budget, but the chairman of the education committee—Stan Wright—will not give a guarantee that all that extra money will be passed on to schools.

Mr. Newton

A debate on education, given the enthusiasm manifested by Opposition Front Benchers, becomes a more attractive proposition by the minute. Of course, careful students of the Gracious Speech will realise that education legislation is in prospect, partly related to grant-maintained schools. That should provide some opportunities in due course.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Following his previous answer, and in view of the fact that if the weather changes not a single penny will be received by pensioners for heating—because of the mockery and farce of the scheme—will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Security to come to the House on Monday to announce that the payments will be made regardless of the weather and because of the intense hardship experienced by millions of pensioners on the lowest possible incomes? Is that asking too much before the festive season?

Mr. Newton

I have already arranged for the Secretary of State for Social Security to answer questions on Tuesday, as I told the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). Beyond that, I cannot add to what I said earlier—except to underline the fact, which is well known to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), that the scheme has been radically improved over a short period.

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Labour party has called for a significant increase in the powers of the European Parliament. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate soon, to give Opposition Members the opportunity to specify the powers that they would like to hand over? Without wishing to tempt my right hon. Friend into indiscretion, will he comment on how damaging such a transfer of power would he for Britain?

Mr. Newton

I am tempted to say that if only people would stop asking me questions, such a debate would take place immediately.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 147?

[That this House notes that the latest official electoral figures show that there is an average of five per cent. of the eligible population missing from electoral registers in the United Kingdom; further notes that these figures under-state the problem and that as many as three to four million people may be absent from registers, a claim that is described as broadly correct by the OPCS Director of Statistics; believes that this continuing and high level of voter under-registration, particularly in inner city areas and among the homeless and rootless, black people and youth, should be of urgent concern to democrats in all parties and none as it undermines the quality of our parliamentary democracy; further notes that Saturday 16th December is the deadline for people having their names included in the annual register of voters published in February; and encourages those who have not already done so to register by this deadline; further believes that reforming the current outdated voter registration system through the introduction of a rolling register will help to reverse the dramatic shortfall in electoral registration as this will allow people to register where they live, when they live there and will give extra duties for electoral registration officers, greater local and national publicity and increased access by disabled people to polling stations and to voting; and congratulates the Full Franchise umbrella group for seeking to bring all these matters to the attention of Parliament and the people during its week of activities from 3rd December.]

That early-day motion has been signed by 157 hon. Members, even though it appeared on the Order Paper only on Tuesday, and the six main sponsors are from six different political parties. The early-day motion shows that the electoral register is in a terrible state and needs readjusting and work. The homeless, young people and others should be added to the register, so that they may enjoy their full democratic rights. All democrats should believe in the basic building block of equality of the franchise. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate, which would be appropriate now, because 16 December is the final date for checking names and recording them on the electoral register?

Mr. Newton

A lot is done to make the register as complete as possible, including television advertising by the Government aimed at the young and people from ethnic minorities, who are among those about whom the hon. Gentleman is concerned.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the House debate the panic in the Tory party, which has now reached epic proportions? Today's Financial Times reports that the 1922 Committee is accusing not just Labour and other Opposition parties but the Speaker of being biased. The Chairman of the Tory party is also monitoring the activities of Madam Speaker. I speak from a position of impartiality, having been thrown out—in rugby league parlance, taken an early bath—a few times. The last occasion was when I said that the Government were a wart on Thatcher's nose. Will the Leader of the House put a stop to that nonsense, so that we can get on with the job of proper politics? If the Tories cannot stand it, let us have a general election and sort the matter out.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that we may take them as a promise of future good behaviour.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

The Leader of the House may not have had the opportunity to read an article in today's Independent which details the extent to which £86 million that has gone into Motability Finance Ltd. to provide transportation and vehicles for the disabled is difficult to account for, to say the least. I ask him urgently to arrange a debate on the structure of Motability Finance and to ask the Prime Minister to clarify whether the matter has been brought to his attention and is one that he has raised with Lord Sterling in his capacity as chairman of Motability Finance Ltd?

Mr. Newton

I have not studied the article in the Independent although I know a good deal about Motability, having been the Minister for Disabled People and held other relevant positions over the years. The Minister with principal responsibility for the matter is the Secretary of State for Social Security, who will be in the House to answer questions next week. I will draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time in the next few days for a debate on Britain's contribution to international organisations, particularly in view of the visit to London today of Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO? I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 152.

[That this House welcomes UNESCO's Director-General Dr Federico Mayor's visit to the United Kingdom and his participation in the events which took place in London to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of UNESCO's Constitution adopted at the Institute of Civil Engineers on 16th November 1945; welcomes the strong message of support for UNESCO's work which Dr Mayor received from President Clinton on the occasion of that anniversary and his assurance that the re-entry of the United States of America to UNESCO would be given high priority as soon as the budget situation allowed; deeply regrets the negative and outdated arguments put forward by the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the debate on UNESCO on 31st October; believes that the United Kingdom is missing a very important opportunity to promote both its international obligations and its national self-interest by not joining UNESCO without further delay; laments the incalculable harm that is befalling British culture as a whole and the English language in particular as a direct result of the United Kingdom's absence from UNESCO; and seeks specific guidance from the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Her Majesty's Government is willing to set a specific target date for early re-entry and to include the financial obligations connected with renewed membership in its budget planning.]

Will the Leader of the House raise with his Government colleagues the disgraceful decision to cut funding of the British Council and of projects such as those in Gaza, where there is an enormous demand for English language tuition and where the funding of new building would greatly help the development of the middle east peace process? Also, the Commonwealth Institute is about to make redundancies because the Government cut that organisation's support a couple of years ago. Is not it time to debate the Government's disgraceful attitude to supporting international organisations?

Mr. Newton

It is well known that this Government and this country have a good reputation—far better than some larger countries—for paying their subscriptions and the like. We note the views expressed in early-day motion 152, but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said a month or so ago, the question of our return to UNESCO remains under review.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Looking around the House, it is clear that we are too late and that mad cow disease has already entered the human food chain. If the Leader of the House cannot arrange for a debate on BSE and its link to human beings, will he issue an instruction that all beef products should be removed from the menus of the House? Perhaps that would prevent us from becoming even more demented.

Mr. Newton

Even were I minded to do so—the hon. Gentleman will have realised from my earlier answers that I am not—I would not have the power to do so.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on Monday about the orders that are due to take effect which will lead to another huge upheaval in public services in Wales, in this instance the fire brigades? We have had no opportunity to debate the orders despite requests that we should be able to do so. Does he understand that many people in Wales are concerned that there has not been an opportunity for proper and democratic scrutiny? Fire services are vital to Wales and the Government's proposals are viewed with great concern by many members of the public.

Mr. Newton

I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It would seem to highlight the advantages of the proposals that my right hon. Friend has recently made to extend the role of the Welsh Grand Committee.