HC Deb 07 November 1996 vol 284 cc1363-75 3.31 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 for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 NovEMBER—Second Reading of the Education Bill.

TUESDAY 12 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 NOVEMBER—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled "The BSE Crisis and the Lack of Progress on Lifting the Export Ban on Beef and Beef Products" on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Debate on Hong Kong on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER—Debate on rail privatisation on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that, on Wednesday 13 November, there will be a debate on the identification of cattle and labelling of beef and beef products in European Standing Committee A, and a debate on cinema and television films in European Standing Committee B.

In the following week, more provisionally, the business will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER—Consideration in Committee of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Proceedings on the Welsh Development Agency Bill.

WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [2nd allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, of which the subject will, no doubt, be announced in due course.

THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Until 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the impact of a windfall tax on the privatised utilities on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that it is proposed that, on Wednesday 20 November, there will be a debate on waste management strategy in European Standing Committee A.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 13 November:

European Standing Committee A—European Community Document: 10495/96, Identification of Cattle and Labelling of Beef and Beef Products. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 36-i (1996–97).

European Standing Committee B—European Community Document: 12357/95, Cinema and Television Films. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 51-ix (1995–96) and HC 36-ii (1996–97).

Wednesday 20 November:

European Standing Committee A—European Community Document: 9651/96, Strategy for Waste Management. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 36-i (1996–97).]

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. In view of today's High Court ruling against the Secretary of State for Social Security—which has implications for the benefit entitlement of many thousands of disabled people and many other claimants—will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to make an urgent statement to the House on that important matter?

Recently, certain Departments have changed the way in which they handle parliamentary questions, with some apparently transferring all key statistical questions to the Treasury. In addition, Ministers' excuses for not answering parliamentary questions are becoming ever more creative, the latest example being an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who was told that the answer to his question is not suitable for publication".—[Official Report, 22 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 121.] Will the Leader of the House initiate discussions on enforcing clearer and consistent guidelines to Departments on the answering of parliamentary questions?

On a totally different matter, the Leader of the House will have seen the extensive list of senior military figures who have expressed concerns about the plight of Hong Kong Gurkhas who are being relocated to Britain and are being forced to leave their wives and children behind. Will Ministers be making statements about a matter which even senior military figures have decided is an inhumane example of defence incompetence?

At this time of year, our attention turns to those who served our country in time of war. Would not it be appropriate for the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on early-day motion 19?

[That this House, mindful of the increasing needs of the United Kingdom's ageing ex-Service population and the many problems of younger members of the ex-Service community, in direct consequence of 'Options for Change', considers that there is now a pressing need for an Ex-Service Affairs Unit within an existing Ministry and with a designated Minister to be responsible, as the only fundamental and long-term solution for the care and welfare of ex-Service people and their dependants; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government now to respond positively to the Royal British Legion's urgent call for such a unit to be established.]

In such a debate, the House would have an opportunity to discuss how to improve the care and welfare of ex-service people and their dependants. On a related matter, will the Leader of the House tell us what arrangements have been made by the House authorities to ensure that next Monday's two-minute silence of remembrance is observed by those who work within Parliament?

Mr. Newton

On the first question about the ruling in the High Court this morning, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is studying the judgment, and clearly he has not had it very long. In due course, he will no doubt communicate the conclusions that he draws from it.

On parliamentary questions, the hon. Lady may be aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is responding this afternoon to a number of Select Committee reports on those and related matters, including the issue to which she referred. New guidance will be issued and made openly available on drafting answers to parliamentary questions, and she might have a look at it. If she has any further comments, she can make them in the light of that consideration.

As far as the Gurkhas are concerned, the forthcoming withdrawal means that a wide range of issues affecting the Gurkhas' terms of service are being reviewed by the Ministry of Defence. That review is nearly complete, and I am confident that it will produce a fair and equitable package of recommendations that fully address the brigade's concerns.

On early-day motion 19, the Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that we believe that the creation of a special unit responsible for former service people would simply add—

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

We should have a debate.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman did have a debate on the matter.

The Government believe that that would simply add another tier of administration without improving the present arrangements.

On the arrangements for the observance of the two-minute silence on Monday by those working within the House, perhaps that is a matter for you, Madam Speaker, and not for me.

Madam Speaker

I should like to inform the House that my entire staff in the Speaker's Office will observe the two-minute silence, and I hope that others will follow that example.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

As Monday's business on gun control may result in a number of legitimate sporting clubs and other organisations going out of business or finding themselves unable to meet the financial commitments into which they have entered, will my right hon. Friend consider changing the wording of the money resolution, which would seem to rule out not only the possibility of such organisations being paid compensation, but even the possibility of a debate on such a subject?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend might well make that point in the debate on Tuesday. I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

On the point raised by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), which is important, will the Leader of the House confirm that a money resolution in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is unamendable by the House? It is essential for him to consider broadening the terms of the resolution—only he has the power to do so. Otherwise, property the possession of which becomes unlawful", referred to in the resolution, will restrict the debate and consideration of possible compensation for anything other than the guns.

Mr. Newton

I have already undertaken to draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and I shall do so.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I support the call for a two-minute silence on Monday? It will certainly be observed by my branch of the Royal British Legion.

May we also have a debate on planning procedures, so that I may draw to the attention of the House the great concern of the people of Greenford about an enormous planning application for Greenford green, granted by Ealing council, which will hugely damage the local community by drawing in large amounts of unwanted traffic, as well as destroying jobs in other parts of my constituency?

Mr. Newton

I note what my hon. Friend said about observance of the two-minute silence. I shall certainly be trying to do so. On the latter point, the right course would be for me to bring my hon. Friend's concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

As the Leader of the House will be aware, the Social Security (Claims and Payments Etc.) Amendment Regulations 1996 have reduced or withdrawn the mobility allowance from large numbers of severely disabled people, not least those with severe learning difficulties. Is it not quite wrong that we have had no opportunity to debate those regulations? When shall we be debating them?

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Gentleman has raised such matters several times, as have other hon. Members. I am not in a position to add to what I have said before.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

May I revert to the question about compensation raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins)? The Leader of the House kindly said that he would draw the matter to the attention of the Home Secretary, and for that we are grateful. Could he go a stage further and ensure that a statement clarifying the position is made in the House on Monday, so that we know what that position is?

Mr. Newton

I shall draw that suggestion also to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The Leader of the House made a welcome suggestion, by saying that we shall be able to debate rail privatisation and highlight the many abuses, such as the award of £2.25 million in success payments to two City firms.

Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently consider what is happening to answers to parliamentary questions? Frankly, they are becoming almost farcical. In recent times, I have received one answer saying that it was too soon to say and another that was factually inaccurate, which I drew to the attention of the agency head, but which still has not been corrected in the Official Report. Will the Leader of the House take that problem seriously? It is not simply a matter of reminding people that they ought to behave sensibly. The answers are misleading Parliament and it is getting beyond a joke.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Lady knows that that is the sort of matter that I and the Government take seriously, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been working on it in the way that I mentioned. It is difficult for me to go beyond that in my response, as the hon. Lady has not given me details of the questions that concern her. If she will provide me with such details, I shall see whether I can do something to help.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Can the Leader of the House tell me when he might find time in the programme to discuss the important issue of the underfunding of the health service in Northern Ireland, which has led to the closure of many wards and has meant that many people in the Province have failed to have the major operations that they urgently need?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can undertake to find immediate time for a debate on that matter, but I can draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is due to answer questions here this day week.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

With regard to what Madam Speaker and the Leader of the House said about the two-minute silence on Monday, would it be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to have words with the House authorities about the annunciator system, to ensure that people know when it is 11 am, so that tours and other activities could come to a standstill, to enable people to pay appropriate respect at that time?

Mr. Newton

As I have already drawn the matter to the attention of the ultimate House authority, to whom I genuflect once again, I am sure that you will consider that suggestion, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent early debate to allow the attention of the House to be drawn to the fact that there are deteriorating road conditions on the A2 trunk road, as it runs through my constituency in north-west Kent, and to enable us to endorse the high-profile campaign being run by the Kentish Times group of newspapers demanding that safety features be incorporated on the road as soon as possible, to minimise accidents and fatalities?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will study my hon. Friend's remarks with great care.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the questions raised by my hon. Friends about the Government answering questions, is the Leader of the House aware of the alarming events of the past few days, when my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) asked for statistics on lottery pay-outs, constituency by constituency? He was refused that information, so he decided to find it out for himself. The cost was not disproportionate: he estimates that it cost £15. It showed that there was a great lottery fiddle, inasmuch as Derbyshire authorities were not getting a fair crack of the whip.

I drew that to the attention of the House at the beginning of the year, but nothing has been done—in fact, the situation has got worse. It is high time that different regions and different constituencies had a fair crack of the whip in the pay-outs.

Mr. Newton

There were two points there—one rather better than the other. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage recognises that the request for information could have been met within the £450 limit, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State is writing to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) about that today; so the first point was fair. For the rest, frankly, the hon. Gentleman is on rather less safe ground. The plain fact is that lottery awards are made by people independent of Ministers; they are invited to take into account various criteria for determining the pattern of awards, and those criteria, as I understand it, are never geographical but based on quality of project.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can my right hon. Friend ensure that a Minister of the Crown makes a statement to the House after the European Court gives its judgment on the United Kingdom's appeal against the working time directive next Tuesday? The judgment will have the most profound implications for working practices, for employment law, for competitiveness and for what should be Britain's internal social affairs. Can we have a guarantee that we shall be able to question a Minister of Her Majesty's Government about it?

Mr. Newton

There are two points. First, I share my hon. Friend's view of the importance of the matter, and he will be well aware of the views expressed by the United Kingdom Government. Secondly, I shall bear in mind his request for a statement.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

May I remind the Leader of the House that I raised with him last Thursday the introduction of regulations on the concessionary television licence scheme? I did so after I had extended the normal courtesy of ringing the Department of National Heritage to say that I intended to raise the matter. A week has gone by, and I have heard nothing from the Department. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is now in a position to say whether the regulations will be introduced before Christmas.

Mr. Newton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in warning me that he intended to raise the matter again. That has enabled me to be in a better position than I was last week, and I can inform him that I understand that the Department of National Heritage intends to lay regulations before the end of the year and is about to write to him about the matter. It may be of interest to the House to know that the new regulations will not only deal with sheltered housing, which is the hon. Gentleman's focus, but clarify the treatment of caravans.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

My right hon. Friend will recall that last week I asked for an urgent debate on the recent Social Security Committee report on unfunded pensions in Europe. I should again like to call for such a debate, because in Hansard of 6 November there is a question headed "Public Pension Liabilities" from my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks). My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has sought to answer some of the points. We seem to be engaged in a debate, because I notice that the Chairman of the Social Security Committee has given notice of a question calling for a response to the report. I urge my right hon. Friend to think carefully about that and urge his right hon. and hon Friends to hold a debate rather than conducting so important a discussion across the pages of Hansard.

Mr. Newton

I think that I have demonstrated over the years that I take account of requests for debates, but I am not immediately able to respond this afternoon. I pointed out last week that we are not many weeks away from a substantial debate over several days on the Budget, when such matters would be in order.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 105?

[That this House notes the continued suffering of the people of the Sudan and the Reverend Dr Dick Rogers' 40 day bread and water sympathy vigil outside the Foreign Office; encourages Her Majesty's Government to become actively committed to the pursuit of a fair settlement of the war in Sudan as part of a multi-national effort to that end, with consideration given to the appointment of a special envoy; and calls on both sides of the conflict to enter into negotiations that embrace all parties in the country, with a view to the acceptance of the subsequent settlement by the said parties.]

The motion calls for peacekeeping in Sudan and draws attention to the 40-day vigil in Whitehall by the Rev. Dr. Dick Rogers. I urge Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers to keep a closer watch on what is happening in the Sudan and to take a lead in bringing people together towards peace.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that the Government share his concern for the people of Sudan as expressed in the motion. He may know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office explained in answer to questions on 30 October that we do not believe that a British initiative would be fruitful at the moment.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on firework safety, so that the House can assist my hon. Friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs in the review of firework regulations to which he referred yesterday? I ask that because of the plea in my local paper, the Bromley and Hayes News Shopper, by the brother of Steve Tinker, the man who was tragically killed last Saturday in a firework accident.

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate, although my hon. Friend might like to consider the Wednesday morning possibilities. I assure him that my hon. Friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs is well aware of the widely expressed concerns about the availability of certain sorts of firework and is reviewing firework controls and the availability of bangers.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 151, the contents of which have already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

[That this House notes that in response to a parliamentary question for written answer by the honourable Member for North East Derbyshire, the Department of National Heritage has supplied a computer disc to the Library which details, by parliamentary constituency, each National Lottery award made up to 30th September 1996; further notes that a list compiled by the Library from this disc shows the total amounts awarded in each United Kingdom parliamentary constituency listed in descending order with the top award of £201,480,455 and in 651st place the bottom award of only £12,000; is dismayed that there is such a massive maldistribution of awards with the bulk of awards being skewed towards a small group of constituencies and to certain parts of the United Kingdom, as illustrated by the fact that the three constituencies in north eastern Derbyshire all fall within the bottom 10 per cent. of places on the list with North East Derbyshire placed 587th, Bolsover 616th and Chesterfield 628th; further calls upon the Government to take immediate action to ensure that the National Lottery is obliged to correct this disgraceful state of affairs and to operate formulas based on equity and need, subject to regional, county and district democratic input; and regrets that the National Heritage Minister claimed it would be of disproportionate cost—defined as £450—to rank the awards per constituency when this operation only cost the Library £15.]

The Library now has a list detailing how much lottery money each constituency had received by 30 September. The sums range from £201 million at the top to £12,000 at the bottom. That is a massive maldistribution, whatever considerations are given to the needs of particular areas. Should we not therefore have a full debate about the national lottery and the way in which funds are distributed, so that they can be better related to the people who purchase lottery tickets and so that some areas are not almost excluded by the current provisions?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman might like to consider trying to raise that matter on a Wednesday. I cannot add to what I said before. The lottery money is distributed by independent bodies according to the merits of the proposals that are made and I think that that is right.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

May I say respectfully to my right hon. Friend that he showed some irritation in answering the questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) on the compensation for those who suffer through the intended legislation on firearms? Does he accept that that legislation is not worthy of a Conservative Government, and that it will affect thousands of innocent people, cause the loss of jobs and put businesses out of business? The money resolution as drafted will not cover that problem. Will he ensure that it is changed before we come to Tuesday's debate, so that the people involved are fully compensated for a loss of business incurred through no fault of their own?

Mr. Newton

I must say that I do not think that I betrayed the slightest sign of irritation when responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) and others. I simply said—as calmly and straightforwardly as I could, given that it is clearly not a matter that I can decide at the Dispatch Box—that I would draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I am bound to say, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has irritated me somewhat.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I hope that I do not irritate the Leader of the House. Will the House, or any of its Committees, be considering the annual report of the prisons ombudsman? He said that the Prison Service withheld vital files and lied in one case, but instead of taking appropriate action, the Home Secretary reduced the prisons ombudsman's. powers, so that he can now obtain only the files that the Prison Service wants to give him—indeed, he cannot check on the Home Secretary's and other Ministers' roles, either. Surely, that is not the right way to proceed, and the House should consider the ombudsman's report.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will himself consider the report very carefully.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend find time, as soon as possible, for the House to discuss the impact of the 48-hour directive and the minimum wage on employment and the economy of his country? The 48-hour directive is totally impracticable and a lunatic suggestion to be imposed on this country. On the minimum wage, we are discussing not only a level of pay below which people would not drop, but the massive impact of differentials throughout the economy. Both are job-destroying measures and both are supported by the two Opposition parties, and that will not go unnoticed.

Mr. Newton

I have already indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that the Government are aware of those concerns. I cannot add to my earlier answer, but I take note of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans).

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we debate a matter of great importance that was recently the subject of a lead story in "GP News", in which it was revealed that one in four of all elderly patients who were admitted to a hospital in Gloucester were suffering from the misuse of medicinal drugs? As 40 per cent. of all hospital admissions are elderly patients, does that not show that there is an extraordinary over-prescription of medicinal drugs? Most of those people were taking up to six different drugs for non-life-threatening conditions. If deaths from medicinal drugs continue at the present rate, within four years more people will die from misuse of medicines than die from all road traffic accidents. Is that not a matter of prime concern to the House?

Mr. Newton

The Government have sought to tackle issues of over-prescribing for a long time—certainly going back to my time as Minister for Health. Ministers continue to take such matters very seriously and I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's concerns to their attention.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate, or draw to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for National Heritage, my early-day motion 154, which was published today?

[That this House continues to honour, respect and cherish the name of Mahatma Ghandi; takes note that in a will made in 1940 the Mahatma left all his property and the copyright to all his writings, published or unpublished, to the Navajivan Trust, which he had set up in 1929, with absolute rights vested in the Trust, the will being duly probated after his assassination in 1948; that Mr. Kalyanam, an employee in 1948 in the office of the Mahatma, offered some of his papers for sale by Sotheby's who commendably refused to put them on sale; that the papers are now advertised for sale by auction by Phillips on 14th November, which would cause a sense of outrage in India; and calls upon Phillips forthwith to withdraw these papers from sale and to take steps to ensure the safe return of these objects as soon as may be to their rightful owners, the Navajivan Trust in India.]

Action should be taken to ensure that Mahatma Ghandi's own papers, which appear to have been purloined by a former employee of the Mahatma's, either before his assassination in 1948 or shortly thereafter, and which have been placed on sale to be auctioned by Phillips in London one week from today, on 14 November, can be safely recovered and returned to their rightful owners in India.

Mr. Newton

I should say that, as far as I know, that issue has not been raised with us by the Indian Government, either in London or, to our knowledge, in Delhi. However, I am told that the Indian Government have supported attempts to have the papers withdrawn from auction and that the sale to which my hon. Friend referred may not now take place.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Has the Leader of the House seen the feature in tonight's Evening Standard about poverty in London, which is based on the report produced by the London Research Centre, "The Capital Divided"? The report uses only official Government statistics and, as the Evening Standard says, shows that poverty in London is worse than anywhere else in Britain and spreading like a cancer. Is that not an indictment of Government policies as applied to the capital city over the past 17 years? Could we please have a debate on London? There is a Minister responsible for London, and it is about time we held him accountable for what is going on in this city.

Mr. Newton

I have not seen the feature article to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I shall ensure that I look at it, and I am sure that colleagues will do so. I shall keep in mind the idea of a debate on London; I hope that, in return, the hon. Gentleman will keep in mind the huge amount that the Government have done—not least through the London Docklands development corporation and the huge infrastructure projects that are going on in London—to regenerate the city and provide a firmer basis for employment.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

With the peace process hanging by a thread, will the Leader of the House persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House next week about two matters—first, about how quickly Sinn Fein would be allowed to enter all-party talks should there be a further cessation of violence by the IRA, and secondly, about confidence-building measures, especially regarding the treatment of prisoners from both communities? Does the Leader of the House agree that it is imperative that that statement is made to the House rather than to any other forum elsewhere?

Mr. Newton

Of course I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am bound to say, however, that it seems to me that our position on the talks and a settlement is clear and on the record.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), may I ask that a statement be made to the House about the report by Dr. Brian Caddy on the use of questionable forensic evidence in terrorist cases? May I ask that, in such a statement, there be specific reference to the interviews, which I understand have now been concluded, by Home Office officials with Padraig MacFhloinn in prison? He has accepted responsibility for the Warrington bombings and made a formal statement about the non-involvement of my constituent, John Kinsella.

If, in the absence of any forensic evidence and any other substantive evidence, those interviews confirm statements that John Kinsella knew nothing about the contents of the holdall that he was left, will his sentence and conviction be reviewed immediately?

Mr. Newton

I understand and respect the hon. Gentleman's reasons for raising what is obviously an important constituency case to him. He will understand that I am not in a position to comment from the Dispatch Box this afternoon on the detail, but I shall ensure that the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is drawn to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May I take the Lord President back to the request of the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on ex-service men and women's affairs? On 1 July 1994, I instituted a private Member's motion and debate, which was approved unanimously by the House of Commons, calling for a Minister responsible for ex-service people's affairs. Since then, there have been early-day motions signed by 279 Members from all parties in the House of Commons, asking the Government to look at that possibility and to think about it again.

This is not a party matter; hon. Members from all parts of the House want the Government to reconsider it. There are 1.5 million members of the Royal British Legion, and many hundreds of thousands more in the Royal Air Forces Association and the Royal Naval Association, who are bewildered and dismayed by the Prime Minister's belief that, uniquely, the United Kingdom does not need a Minister responsible for veterans, whereas most countries, including our former adversaries, the United States and Commonwealth countries, have one.

Mr. Newton

Of course I accept that that is not a marked party matter. I have not treated it as such, and nor has anyone else, to my knowledge, but it is a matter of judgment to decide the best way of providing the help and support that we all wish to give to our ex-service men. On that front, I cannot add to what I said earlier.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

When my right hon. Friend reads the Evening Standard report on poverty, will he note the extraordinary correlation that the worst examples appear to occur, time and again, in boroughs that have been controlled and run by the Labour party? Is that not a reflection on Labour's approach to policies to help business and encourage employment, and is it not a further example of Labour's record in government in the 1990s?

Mr. Newton

Had I wished to he more aggressive than is my wont with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I might have added to what I said earlier about the London Docklands development corporation by saying that, until we took that out of the hands of the Labour local authorities in the area, nothing happened; had we not done so, docklands would still be derelict.

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

Was not the question asked by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) a gross misrepresentation of the facts? He is playing with statistics, and he knows it. Was the Leader of the House in the Chamber yesterday when I expressed my concerns about the unemployment statistics that have been published in relation to Workington constituency? I do not believe those figures. I know that they are not true; they are false figures. I asked yesterday for a house-to-house survey to be carried out in my constituency, so that the real figures can be produced.

May we have a statement at the Dispatch Box about how the figures are being compiled? If not, may we have a debate in which hon. Members on both sides of the House can press Ministers on the compilation of unemployment statistics?

Mr. Newton

I regret that I was not in the House yesterday when the hon. Gentleman asked his question, and it had not been drawn to my attention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is due to answer questions on Wednesday next week.

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