§ 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 9 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill.TUESDAY 10 DECEMBER—Estimates Day [1st allotted day—1st Part]. There will be a debate on access to Government information. Details will be given in the Official Report.Consideration of Lords amendments to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill.
At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree the winter supplementary estimates and the vote on account.
Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.WEDNESDAY 11 DECEMBER—The morning debate will be slightly different from the norm. Until 12.30 pm, debate on the first report from the Social Security Committee on unfunded pension liabilities in the European Union followed by a debate on the fourth report from the Environment Committee on World Trade and the Environment. Followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.In the afternoon, a debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, which will be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 12 December. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.FRIDAY 13 DECEMBER—Private Members' Bills.For the following week, I am at present in a position to give information only for the first day.MONDAY 16 DECEMBER—Progress on the Protection from Harassment Bill.The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 11 December there will be a debate on Community railway policy in European Standing Committee A, and a debate on development of the social dialogue in European Standing Committee B.
The House will also wish to know that it will be proposed that on Tuesday 17 December there will a debate on the information society in European Standing Committee B.
Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
§ [Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 December:
§ Debate on the European Union—Relevant European Community Documents:
- (1)The White Paper on Developments in the European Union, January to June 1996 (Cm 3469).
- (2)Presidency General Outline for draft revision of Treaties.
- (3)The Commission's Work Programme for 1997: New Legislative Proposals (SEC(96)1819).
- (4)The Commission's Work Programme for 1997: Political Priorities (COM(96)507).
- (5)European Community Document No. 10867/96 on the introduction of the euro.
- (6)European Community Document No. 10893/96 on reinforced convergence procedures and a new exchange rate mechanism.
- (7)European Community Document No. 10892/96 on a stability pact for ensuring budgetary discipline in stage 3 of EMU.
- (8)Second and Third Reports from the Select Committee on European Legislation, HC 36-ii and 36-iii (1996–97).
- (9)Sixth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation, European Documents on Economic and Monetary Union: The Scrutiny Process, HC 36-vi (1996–97).
- (10)Eighth Report from the Treasury Committee, The Prognosis for Stage 3 of Economic and Monetary Union, HC 283, Volumes I and II (1995–96).
- (11)Minutes of Evidence taken by the Select Committee on European Legislation on 3 December (HC 136-i).
- (12) Minutes of Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 5 December.
§ Tuesday 10 December:
§ Estimates Day [1st Allotted Day—1st Part]. Vote on Account, Class XVIII, Vote 1 Cabinet Office: Office of Public Service in so far as it relates to Access to Government Information. Relevant Reports: The Second Report from the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Session 1995–96, (HC 84), Open Government, and the Government's Reply published in the Committee's First Special Report, Session 1996–97, (HC 75).
§ Wednesday 11 December:
§ European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community Documents: (a) 10003/95, Community Railway Policy; (b) 9654/96, The Community's Railways. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: (a) HC 51-i (1995–96); (b) HC 51-xxix (1995–96).
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Document: 10305/96, Development of the Social Dialogue. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 36-ii (1996–97).
§ Tuesday 17 December:
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Document: 9795/96, The Information Society: Priorities and Implications. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 36-i (1996–97).]
§ Mrs. Taylor
I thank the Leader of the House. The whole House will welcome the fact that the Government have responded to its demands for a full-day debate on economic and monetary union, which is to take place on Wednesday, in addition to the more general Euro-debate on Thursday. We have no objection to that debate being on the Adjournment. However, will the Leader of the House tell us what is to happen to the documents relevant to that debate which have still not been voted on? Surely it would be appropriate to vote on them at the conclusion of the debate on Wednesday evening.
1205 We welcome progress on the Protection from Harassment Bill, which is to have all its stages as quickly as possible on the Floor of the House starting on Monday 16 December, and the fact that the Government have taken up our offer of co-operation. As the Bill goes further than the original proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), which the Government blocked earlier this year, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the additional provisions in the Bill are the subject of proper consultation so that the legislation will be workable? To that end, will the Leader of the House reflect that we might need more than one day to consider the Bill properly? That should not materially affect its progress.
Can the Leader of the House say whether, as has become usual practice, we will have the annual fisheries debate in the next few sitting weeks because that involves many important issues that concern both Government and Opposition Members?
Finally, there is today's appalling news about aspects of the Budget statement that were not made clear to the House during the Chancellor's Budget speech or when the Secretary of State for Social Security opened his debate last Thursday: the changes to the benefits of disabled ex-service men and war widows. The Prime Minister made the situation worse a few moments ago by not being able to answer some very basic questions, and today the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has said of one Minister:Someone who has so little regard for our war heroes should not be in the Government".Surely shabby and misleading ministerial actions that provoke such comments warrant a debate in the House.
§ Mr. Newton
On the debate before the Dublin European Council, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for acquiescing in the idea of a debate on the Adjournment. She asked about the completion of scrutiny. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor still has detailed issues to raise with other Finance Ministers, including points made by hon. Members in the House, we do not intend to seek to complete scrutiny at present. Legislation is not likely to be finally adopted until after the Amsterdam summit next June. Detailed negotiations on the legal text of the stability pact have not even started. Our intention is to return to the House with the revised text next year once it is clearer how the eventual proposals will look. If the proposals are acceptable to the United Kingdom—which, in due course, we believe that they should be—we will then seek scrutiny clearance. In the meantime, at Dublin and on other appropriate occasions, where necessary, we will table a parliamentary reserve. I repeat the assurances that have been given that the Government will not participate in political agreements until scrutiny is cleared.
I note what the hon. Lady said on the Protection from Harassment Bill. One of the reasons why I have not been able to give details for the days following Monday is that discussions are going on through the usual channels. I certainly acknowledge that the point she has raised deserves consideration, and I hope that we will be able to reach an agreement on it.
I can confirm that we intend to have the fisheries debate before the recess.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position on war pensions perfectly clear. The changes that were the principal focus of The Guardian story today rest 1206 on medical advice, precisely in the same way as the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's proposals, which we have been repeatedly pressed to accept for many months, rest on medical advice. I do not think that it can be reasonable for the Opposition to argue that medical advice should be ignored in some cases and accepted in others.
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
May we have an urgent debate soon in Government time on constitutional developments, given that many of us on the Conservative Benches wish to demonstrate our opposition to proportional representation, the abolition of the House of Lords, the break-up of the United Kingdom and the imposition of regional government on England? Those policies, if enacted, would be a constitutional nightmare for the people of this country.
§ Mr. Newton
I can readily agree with my hon. Friend that such a debate certainly has much merit, but I am afraid that I cannot undertake to provide time for it before Christmas, unless my hon. Friend wishes to be here at Christmas.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he has not confused the widespread support in the House for the passage into law of the Protection from Harassment Bill with the idea that all stages should be taken without any proper opportunity being provided between those stages for people to consider what has been agreed at each stage? There is a danger that, as has happened with previous legislation, that Bill will appear speedily on the statute book and will be a muddle.
Given the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time, may we have a debate before Thursday next week, either during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill or the debate on the estimates, on a wide range of pensioner issues, although they should specifically include war pensioners, who are the subject of the concern expressed in today's press reports? That debate could also refer to the fact that many councils, such as Barnsley, do not disregard war pensions from council tax and housing benefit. The Government and the Opposition are making sure that war pensioners are treated differently up and down the country.
§ Mr. Newton
I am afraid that I cannot undertake to provide time for a debate of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has sought. There is provision for a debate on one aspect of pensions—unfunded pension liabilities—although I accept that that is a fairly narrow issue. I should remind the hon. Gentleman that we recently had a full day allocated to social security during the debate on the Budget.
As for Barnsley, a degree of local discretion in such matters has been exercised for a long time, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman's remarks will have been noted in Barnsley.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the announcement he has just made about the debate that we were expecting and hoping for on the regulations, the stability pact and so forth shows that the Government have now accepted that the opinions of the House as a whole, which come from all parts of 1207 the political spectrum, have prevailed? The Government have now accepted the fact that they must always take note of what the Select Committee says with regard to debates being taken on the Floor of the House. Will he absolutely guarantee that what happened two weeks ago will never happen again?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend, for reasons that I understand, rather stretches his interpretation of what I have said. I have not changed the proposals for the debate. We made it clear long ago that we would provide time for a debate before the Dublin Council. We have now extended that debate to two days, particularly to allow greater time for discussion of EMU. On the other points, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor made it clear in two sets of exchanges that we have had during the past fortnight that he understood some of the points and concerns that were raised with him. Those are the ones that he has been pressing and is continuing to discuss with our European partners.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I intervene as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion. Is it not totally unpardonable for the Secretary of State for Social Security to have written to the Chief Secretary about how to divide the ex-service community? When shall we have a statement from him? Will the ministerial correspondence be published in full? And why make a plea to Japanese business men to help the former prisoners of war of their country, when the Secretary of State's letter so blatantly dishonours our war-disabled people?
§ Mr. Newton
I do not for one moment accept the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric. I shall bring his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, but he will know that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in another place has this morning met and discussed those matters with the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions, in the proper and understood way.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
May we have a debate next week on animal welfare, so that the view held by many hon. Members on both sides of the House that animals should be recognised as sentient beings in European legislation may be put across the Floor of the House; and so that we can investigate the possibility of lottery money being used to assist animal welfare organisations in the valuable work that so many of them do?
§ Mr. Newton
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's persistent and proper interest in animal welfare matters. Even so, I cannot promise time for a debate. The best opportunity in the next couple of weeks that I can think of would be the morning of Wednesday 18 December, when I will be here for three hours, during which time hon. Members can talk about any subject.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
The Leader of the House has conceded a debate on European monetary union and the stability pact next week, but he 1208 has denied us a vote. Whatever consideration the Government have given to that—I note with regret that Opposition Front Benchers have not pressed for a vote—surely the Leader of the House realises that he has obligations to Back Benchers and that there are Back Benchers on both sides of the House who feel that sufficient progress has been made on the stability pact and on European monetary union for the House now to make clear how far we are prepared to go. We can indicate those limits to the Government only if there is an amendable motion.
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot add to what I said, which—perhaps understandably—I thought was extremely reasonable. The possibilities in that field are still under discussion and are not likely to be finally adopted for many months and detailed negotiation on the legal texts in respect of the stability pact has not even started.
§ Sir Jim Spicer (West Dorset)
May I ask for my right hon. Friend's help? The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and I are both advisers to the Royal British Legion. I understood that the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions had approved of the changes, either yesterday afternoon or today. In view of what has been said today, it is now my intention to go—with, I hope, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe—to meet the committee. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ensure that, together with the chairman of the committee and a representative of the Royal British Legion, we can then meet the appropriate Social Security Minister?
§ Mr. Newton
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will look carefully at my hon. Friend's point. I can only confirm that those changes have been discussed this morning, in the usual and proper way, with the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions.
§ Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)
May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 302, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden)?[That this House is seriously concerned by the continuing decline of the Merchant Navy; recalls the important role played by the merchant fleet for over a century including two world wars; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to address as a matter of urgency the effects the decline of the Merchant Navy has on the ship building industry, the port transport industry, the British seafarers and the economy as a whole.]Bearing in mind the fact that we might be one of the only maritime nations in the world that does not have a maritime policy, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a debate on that subject in Government time on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Newton
I acknowledge the importance of the subject, but I cannot make an immediate promise along the lines that the right hon. Gentleman seeks. We have put in place a range of measures, including simplified procedures, liberalised officers' nationality requirements and many others, including tax incentives to replace aging tonnage. We believe that those measures are making a positive contribution to the industry's position.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
Will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to a debate on 1209 the reform of the House of Lords proposed by the Labour party? Is he aware of the very deep concern felt by my constituents and further afield that there is an arrogant disregard for the constitution of our country, especially when the Labour party plans to flood the House of Lords with 700 life peers? Those important constitutional matters should be debated by all, and rejected.
§ Mr. Newton
I have already told my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) that I regard a debate to examine those aspects of the Opposition's policies as an attractive proposition, and I will bear my hon. Friend's further representations in mind.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
The Leader of the House may be aware that I was at Hillsborough on the fateful day of the tragedy. Will he arrange to hold a debate in the House as soon as possible? Many people, including the families of the Hillsborough victims, have not had a fair deal in the courts. I invite the Leader of the House to view tonight the film on that subject, or ask the Attorney-General to do so, so that they may better understand what happened that day.
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot make an immediate promise to watch the programme tonight, but I shall try to ensure that I view it subsequently, or at least gain a clear idea of what it says. I am sure that that will be true also of my right hon. and learned Friends the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
May we have an early debate on the situation in Cyprus, so that we can emphasise the need for Cyprus's application to join the European Union to be determined as a matter of urgency, regardless of whether there has been a political solution—welcome and necessary as that political solution would be?
§ Mr. Newton
I take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion and will bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Does the Leader of the House consider that the debate on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill next week would be an ideal opportunity for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement about the safety case for reopening the channel tunnel? The right hon. Gentleman could come to the House and publish all the evidence on which the opening has been based, to reassure the general public that the service is now safe, and that the reopening is a responsible act which people will welcome.
§ Mr. Newton
My right hon. Friend said that he would respond appropriately when the reports of the various inquiries that have been set up are available to him. Meanwhile, I understand that the intergovernmental commission, taking into account the advice of the independent Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, has raised no objection to the resumption of commercial passenger services through the tunnel, and undertook last Sunday an exercise that was one of several conditions that had to be 1210 fulfilled to the safety authority's satisfaction before the authority was prepared to make a favourable recommendation.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
May we have an early debate on the Commission for Racial Equality? Hon. Members know that many millions of pounds are voted for that organisation. It appears to be a fairly large waste of money, not least because, in recent days, an hon. Member made a racial attack on Finnish people because they were white and had blue eyes, and no action has vet been taken against that person, who, obviously, was trying to incite Afro-Caribbean people to hatred of those people.
§ Mr. Newton
I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks, like those to which he refers, will be studied with great care by that organisation.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
Speaking in my role as the only political leader who understands Scotland—[Laughter].—according to Labour party research—may I ask the Leader of the House for an immediate debate into some vital research documents that have been made public? Is the Leader of the House aware that people in Scotland seem to believe that the Leader of the Opposition is smarmy, untrustworthy and a Tory, but believe that the Prime Minister is ineffective, wimpish and a Tory? Does not that represent a crisis of Unionist leadership, which the House must address before Christmas?
§ Mr. Newton
The perceptions reported in the research seem somewhat mixed. One is bound to question them in view of the hon. Gentleman's initial point about attitudes to him.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
May I support the calls for a debate on the reform of the House of Lords? We have heard how the Opposition would destroy the second House of the United Kingdom Parliament, but they have not been clear about a replacement. On the one hand, they propose to promote 700 of Blair's boys and girls to the other House—which strikes me as sleaze on a grand scale—and, on the other hand, they propose elections to a second House which would compete with the democratic authority of this place.
§ Mr. Newton
Clearly demand for such a debate is growing by the minute, and I take careful note of it.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
Is the Leader of the House aware that a recent answer to a parliamentary question revealed that the Government have decided riot to proceed with the sale of the Royal Greenwich observatories in my constituency? With the fate of so many other public sector research establishments hanging in the balance, will the Leader of the House call upon the President of the Board of Trade to make an early decision about those sales and make a statement to the House so that he may be questioned about the chaos that has resulted from the prior options review?
§ Mr. Newton
It will not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that I do not accept her terminology. The Government's purpose is to find the best way forward for those 1211 organisations and to secure the best possible futures for them. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will examine her remarks with interest.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Did the Leader of the House hear the earlier question from the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir. I. Lawrence) and the ensuing rather shameful exchange when the Home Secretary endorsed the intemperate language of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who referred to the European Court of Human Rights as interfering, meddling foreigners? It is one thing for a Government Back Bencher to say that, but quite another for the Home Secretary to endorse his comments. I think that we should be very clear about the Government's attitude. Could there be some form of statement or explanation of the Government's real attitude towards the European Court of Human Rights?
§ Mr. Newton
The straightforward answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that I was present for only the last two or three minutes of Home Office questions, so I am not in a position to comment directly. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the exchange, but, as I am not in a position to comment, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
In view of the widespread outbreaks of different strains of meningitis around the country, and the fact that some medical health officers are warning people of more possible outbreaks and some hospitals are opening closed wards to prepare for any such developments this winter, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on that subject next week? It is an urgent matter about which many people have expressed anxiety. Will the Secretary of State for Health make a statement to the House allowing hon. Members to express their concerns? We need some policy guidance on how the Government plan to combat any further outbreaks of meningitis.
§ Mr. Newton
When outbreaks occur, guidelines are published and the outbreak teams follow them. I am quite sure that, if anything fresh emerges following the statement earlier this week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about the outbreak in Cardiff, appropriate guidance will be considered. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I welcome the fact that next Monday we are to debate the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill, but the Leader of the House and right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that, throughout the past 28 years, service men and others have been severely injured and women have been widowed. Therefore, I press the Leader of the House for a statement so that we can examine what has been reported in the press, for many of us missed the earlier exchanges. My attention was drawn to the problems as a result of the case of Charles McConaghy, a former constituent, who was blinded and deafened, as well as receiving other injuries, in an IRA explosion. Under the new terms, he is losing about £50 a week in 1212 compensation. Can we have a debate on that, because what have been called sweeteners seem to be saccharin—a substitute for the real thing?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman fairly acknowledged that he had not heard the earlier exchanges. I am not in a position to comment on a particular case, but as we are talking about medical advice that would affect future decisions, the hon. Gentleman might do well to examine with care what has already been said.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
May I lend the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the call that has been made three times in these exchanges from the right hon. Gentlemen's own Benches for a debate on the future of the House of Lords? That would enable us to consider in particular the view expressed yesterday by the Leader of the House of Lords that hereditary peers are more representative of the common man than are hon. Members elected to this House.
§ Mr. Newton
I note that support for such a debate has now spread from one side of the House to the other, which means that I must take even more notice.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
When may we debate the question that the whole country is asking today: have the Government gone mad? All of us receive letters weekly from embittered ex-service men and women who feel that they have been cheated by the Government. They believe that they have sacrificed their health for their country, yet they are to be cheated again of £50 million. When will we debate that?
§ Mr. Newton
I have now commented, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, several times on this. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on whether he would find it acceptable, if medical advice produced an extended entitlement to benefits, for the Government to reject that medical advice. We really must consider whether we are going to rest on medical advice or not.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Since the Leader of the House has declined the suggestion of a debate and vote forthwith next Wednesday on the important stability pact regulations, will he consider, when further documents have been laid and further discussions have taken place, tabling the motion after such a debate?
As full official texts of the treaty that will be discussed in Dublin next weekend will not be available, will the Leader of the House ensure that at least a summary of what is proposed is before the House next Thursday?
§ Mr. Newton
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I have made the position clear in what I said at the outset. We will return to the House with a revised text next year once it is clearer how the eventual proposals will look. If the proposals are acceptable to the United Kingdom—we think that they should be in due course—we will seek scrutiny clearance. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
On the second point, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State told the Scrutiny Committee earlier this year, we shall make the draft treaty document available to the 1213 House as soon as is practicable, that is, within 24 hours of our having it. The House will have the opportunity to debate that fully as part of the two-day debate next week.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on today's statement by a senior health service manager from Newcastle, who said that national health service competition is not working and that it is beingpushed to deal in commodities and not patient care"?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman might acknowledge the support that there is around the country, for example for GP fundholding. He might choose to describe it in that way, but the fact is that most people are finding that it is producing a better service.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Is not the Government's position on the working hours directive disgraceful? When will the Leader of the House organise a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House? The directive is appropriate to industrial society at the end of this century.
§ Mr. Newton
I often agree with the hon. Gentleman, but not on this occasion. His description of the Government's attitude to the directive is unreasonable. The Government are seeking to ensure that as many of his constituents as possible are employed, not unemployed.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Why must we wait until June next year, after the general election, before we can seek scrutiny clearance on the three important European Union documents? They were considered to be so important that they were pushed into European Standing Committee B, and if they had been carried there, they would have been taken forthwith on the Floor of the House. Why have the Government changed their position so dramatically?
§ Mr. Newton
I can make an additional point. At the time when the documents were sent for scrutiny in Committee, we expected interim political agreements at ECOFIN on 2 December, with subsequent endorsement from the Council in Dublin. In the event, negotiations proceeded more slowly, and agreement was not reached at ECOFIN on 2 December. The position with which we were dealing has now changed.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Has the Leader of the House studied the report of the Office of the National Lottery on the sale of scratch cards to under-age persons? I have come to the conclusion that scratch cards are a curse. They were not properly discussed when the legislation to set up the lottery went through the House. The second weekly draw is coming along. We were promised that the lottery would be monitored, and that we 1214 would have a chance to debate the issue. Many matters need to be discussed. May we have a debate on the workings of the national lottery, and particularly on its impact on charities?
§ Mr. Newton
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I cannot promise a debate. I draw his attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is due to answer questions before Christmas—on Monday 16 December.
§ Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)
I refer the Leader of the House to the earlier questions about war pensions. My father, Thomas Hall, served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 to 1945, and suffered perforated eardrums when his ship was bombed. In later life, he had a hearing loss of between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent., but because of the Government's changes to the regulations he was not entitled to a weekly war pension. His hearing deteriorated, and he was later assessed as having a hearing loss of more than 20 per cent. He could not claim his war pension until October 1997. Sadly, my father died a week last Saturday, so he will not be able to claim that pension.
The Government are now changing the threshold from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. That has nothing to do with doctors' advice: they are cheating pensioners of their entitlement. We deserve a debate on this issue soon.
§ Mr. Newton
As I cannot add to what I have said, I shall confine my response to expressing my sympathy to the hon. Gentleman for the family circumstances to which he referred.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for more reasons than one!
I remind the Leader of the House that 1997 is an important year for global environmental policy and sustainable development. The Commission for Sustainable Development will meet in New York in April, and Earth summit II will be held at the General Assembly of the United Nations in June. Would it be appropriate for us to have a full debate in Government time on the Government's position on the important issues that will be discussed next year? We should have a statement from the Prime Minister on the Government's approach to the key themes, including an undertaking that he or his successor will attend the session at the United Nations in June.
§ Mr. Newton
It might be appropriate to have such a debate. That is an important subject. No one is in serious doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, with the full backing of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has played an important and leading role in such matters throughout the international negotiations.