HC Deb 10 July 1997 vol 297 cc1077-87 3.53 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY 14 July—Consideration of allocation of time motion relating to the Finance Bill.

Proceedings on the National Health Service (Private Finance) Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 15 JULY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree the summer supplementary estimates, which have already been laid.

WEDNESDAY 16 JULY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Completion of consideration in Committee of the whole House of the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 17 JULY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Until about 7 pm, motion on the Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order.

FRIDAY 18 JULY—Debate on the schools White Paper on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 21 JULY—Second Reading of the Education (Student Loans) Bill.

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business—and this is subject to the progress of business—it is proposed that the House will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 31 July. I am not yet in a position to say when we will return in the autumn.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement.

Along with much of the rest of the House, I am amazed that the right hon. Lady and her Government should seek to impose a limit on the debating of the Finance Bill at this stage in its proceedings. Given that the Bill and the Budget have been lent such portentous significance by the Government, is it not inconsistent with that significance to cram consideration of those measures into a few days?

During last week's business questions, the right hon. Lady said: The Government want to see as much transparency as possible in all areas."—[Official Report, 3 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 424.] It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the right hon. Lady's actions with her words. Will she explain what contribution to transparency, in regard to very complex issues, her business statement represents? As she herself has said, The quality of legislation can often be improved by consultation with informed opinion on both the substance and the drafting of legislative proposals. Does she consider that aspiration to be met by what she proposes in practice—the allowing of just 12 working days between the publication of the draft Bill and the completion of its Committee stage? Do not her proposals demonstrate her Government's high-handedness and disdain not only for the House, its Members and its procedures, but for all who have a legitimate interest in the Budget proposals?

The right hon. Lady should be protecting the rights and interests of Members, and the reputation of the House in the outside world. How can she reconcile the peremptory stifling of a legitimate debate on what she and her colleagues describe as measures of immense importance with the increasingly sanctimonious lectures about consultation that the country is having to endure from the Government? She has put herself into a ludicrous position.

Given the right hon. Lady's much-vaunted enthusiasm for transparency, and given the sadly contradictory statements that she and the President of the Board of Trade made from the Dispatch Box last week within an hour of each other, will she arrange an urgent debate on the current position of the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, and on the precise issues on which he is permitted to act and speak? Will she arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to be present at that debate so that she can learn about her own Minister's position? Judging from all written answers to parliamentary questions, the President is confused about his position at present. Given its rapidly changing nature, that is perhaps understandable, but it is nevertheless inexcusable.

Mrs. Taylor

In answer to the right hon. Lady's final question, I made the position clear last week. The Minister concerned has followed "Questions of Procedure for Ministers", and he is not involved in any breach of its requirements. Inquiries have been made to ensure that that is the case, and what I said last week is correct.

On the question of the Budget, I must say that the Opposition have an incredible cheek. Let me give them some rather pertinent facts. First, it is a short Bill. It is less than half the size of last year's Bill and, pro rata, we are allowing more time for discussion. Secondly, we published the Bill in draft ahead of its formal publication, which was helpful. We extended the Budget debate to four days at the Opposition's request. In that respect, we have tried to accommodate all their requests.

We have ensured that the four big issues that the Opposition want to debate on the Floor of the House will be debated on the Floor of the House. We have also agreed to their request that the Committee considering the Finance Bill should have 35 members so that they feel that they have adequate representation.

The Standing Committee will be able to meet for 10 sittings. Last year, it had 14 sittings. This year's Bill has 53 clauses, whereas last year's Bill had 111 clauses. I also point out to the right hon. Lady that we shall provide two days on the Floor of the House to consider the remaining stages of the Bill. Last year, when the Finance Bill was much larger, the previous Government allowed only one day for consideration of its remaining stages.

Finally, Members will see from the Order Paper that the committal motion that we have tabled will be taken immediately after the Second Reading of the Finance Bill today. The motion was designed to meet the needs of the official Opposition that we heard about through the usual channels. A few hours ago, the Opposition changed their mind; therefore, we shall be moving an amended committal motion.

On all occasions, we have tried to meet the wishes of the official Opposition, but the simple fact is that they have refused to make any recommendations as to how much time is required in Committee. Pro rata, we are providing for more time than was allocated to last year's Budget. The Government are entitled to some certainty, given the fact that the Opposition cannot make up their minds on these matters.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we debate the contents of early-day motion 219?

[That this House notes with alarm that of the 600,000 people who were victims of pensions mis-selling, only 10 per cent. have so far been compensated; supports the Economic Secretary in her recent efforts to ensure that those pension companies which engaged in mis-selling are encouraged to settle matters of outstanding compensation without undue delay; supports Government measures to protect and help those who are victims of mis-selling; and calls on the pensions industry to ensure that such a situation as the mis-selling never happens again.]

The motion makes it clear that 600,000 people in Britain are still awaiting compensation because they were mis-sold personal pensions. Is it not a terrible scandal that companies with national names that are so well respected are behaving so abominably in terms of compensating their victims? They sell pensions, sometimes in a quarter of an hour, but it has taken them seven or eight years to compensate their victims. They move with the speed of a striking snake on speed when selling pensions, but when it comes to compensation their reactions are those of an arthritic sloth. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that the my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will report on what progress has been made in compensating these unfortunate people?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is quite correct to describe it as a national outrage and, as he says, hundreds of thousands of people are involved. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is on the Treasury Bench, made the first of what will be regular statements about the state of affairs in respect of action on the issue. She will review the position in the autumn and will make further decisions about what action is required as and when they are needed. Those involved in the pensions industry should be under no illusions. My hon. Friend will keep up her actions, as many people have waited too long for justice.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Reverting to the subject of the timetable motion, may I assure the Leader of the House that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches do not oppose in principle the programming of the legislation.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Tyler

Indeed, there are some advantages. One can ensure proper opportunity to debate all sections of important legislation and obtain proper consultation with outside interests, but—[Interruption.] I always like to oblige the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The Budget, whether it has 53 clauses, 76 clauses or 176 clauses, is not a mini-Budget. This is not a mini-Finance Bill; it is a major Bill. I hope that the right hon. Lady will have proper regard to such considerations in the details of the timetable motion and, indeed, the timetabling of discussion in Committee, which will, of course, be equally important.

Has the Leader of the House checked that the Bill as it stands complies completely with the very tight constraints for a money Bill under section 1(2) of the Parliament Act 1911. If it does not, there could be major problems in the other place. Will she also address the question of Standing Order No. 50 in the other place? It is headed: No clause to be annexed to a Bill of Aid or Supply foreign to the matte". and states: The annexing of any clause or clauses to a Bill of Aid or Supply, the matter of which is foreign to and different from the matter of the said Bill of Aid or Supply, is unparliamentary and tends to the destruction of constitutional Government. Has she been briefed that the Bill as it stands completely and utterly falls within the natural constraints of a money Bill? If it does, all the issues of timetabling in this House could fall by the wayside. Is she confident that, if there is a delay in the other place, we can still begin the summer recess on the date that she announced?

Mrs. Taylor

Clearly, if there is a delay anywhere, we could not begin the summer recess on the date that I have announced. Of course, the Bill has been checked in the usual way and complies with all the regulations.

I turn to the scale of the Bill. It will bring some major benefits to many people and it is important that we should press ahead on that basis. We have agreed through the usual channels that what Opposition Members believe are the four main items will be debated on the Floor of the House. We have also been accommodating about the issues that should be taken in Committee. I think that we have been generous compared with other years in the total amount of time provided.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

My right hon. Friend will know that one of our hon. Friends is bringing in a Bill on fox hunting, which many of us will want to support. Is she prepared to consider arranging a special debate on fox hunting in the next few weeks to enable us to put the case for the Select Committee on Agriculture to carry out an early and urgent inquiry into the whole question of fox hunting so that the many thousands of people involved may at least feel assured that their case has been heard in Parliament before we have legislated?

Mrs. Taylor

I can hold out no hope of a special debate on fox hunting of the kind that my hon. Friend wants.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

The Leader of the House will understand that until we see the details of the timetable motion, we are dealing with shadows. I heard what she said about sittings, but it sounded to me as if there will be an acceleration in lapsed time, which puts a considerable strain on those interests in my constituency who will be wishing to advise on the Bill as it goes through Committee. Was the Bank of England consulted on whether the accelerated process was sensible on so complex an issue?

Mrs. Taylor

I have no idea whether the Bank of England was consulted. I am not sure of the relevance to the timetabling of business in Committee. As I have said to Opposition Members, we published the Bill as early as possible in draft form so that extra consultation could take place over the weekend. In fact, we went further than usual because we published it on the Internet.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Did my right hon. Friend see an article in The Sunday Times that suggested that meetings were taking place between manufacturers of contraceptive pills and health Ministers that might lead to a prescription charge for contraception of up to £8 a month? Does she agree that many women throughout the country would be extremely concerned if such a charge were introduced? Will she take steps to ensure that Parliament is made aware of whether that is the intention of health Ministers?

Mrs. Taylor

There is no need to make Parliament aware of any change, because The Sunday Times report is wrong. No proposal has been made to stop free contraceptives and no meetings of the kind described in the article have taken place; nor are they planned.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

In view of the decision to put a timetable motion on the Finance Bill, will the Leader of the House make time for a special debate on the windfall tax? I am especially concerned that the windfall tax could be applied to companies other than those mentioned in the Bill, including, for example, BP. Her noble Friend, Lord Simon, who is chairman of BP, will be able to tell her that part of the privatisation process for British Gas included the sale of its exploration interests to BP. which gained a large windfall from that purchase from the Government.

BP, Cable and Wireless, and other Companies could fall within the definition in schedule 1 to the Bill and that is so important to the stock value of so many companies—indeed, to the value of the shares that Lord Simon holds—that we should have a special debate on how the windfall tax will apply, to ensure that the definition that the Government believe they have a mandate for is properly applied.

Mrs. Taylor

I can confirm that the first debate on the Budget in Committee of the whole House will be on the windfall tax. There will also be provision for debate on the windfall tax in Standing Committee.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I have heard some phoney arguments in my time, including those on the so-called guillotine on the Finance Bill. Some Tory Members have been running to the Table Office for several weeks to try to find out when the recess will begin so they can go on holiday, yet they are now complaining. I have a suggestion for my right hon. Friend. If the Tories are so keen on staying, we will stay beyond 12 August when the grouse season starts and then we will see what happens.

May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate on air safety, because British Airways is now training cabin crews in a few days to man aircraft whose crews are legitimately out on strike? For many people, flying is a nervous matter, and ill-trained cabin crews will make it even more frightening. We should have a debate so that all those matters can be aired.

Mrs. Taylor

I got the feeling that my hon. Friend was taking Members with him until be mentioned 12 August. The protests from Opposition Members have been somewhat half-hearted and, for some weeks, I have received inquiries from them about recess dates.

The British Airways dispute is not a matter for the Government. although we wish to ensure that all air safety requirements are met. We do not want passengers and those who are looking forward to holidays to be worried about air safety.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Does the Leader of the House agree that, to justify a guillotine motion, there must be some evidence or assumption that the Bill would otherwise be delayed? The right hon. Lady has made no such suggestion to the House and the only reasonable inference that can be drawn is that the Government are becoming increasingly embarrassed by their finance provisions. Doubtless, she will have seen today in the national newspapers that more than one commentator observed that the Prime Minister got into a terrible muddle yesterday on public spending. When one considers the inflation deflator, the much-vaunted £1.2 billion for the national health service—

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)

This should be about next week's business.

Madam Speaker

Order. I will determine whether a question is in order. I am waiting for the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) to refer to next week's business. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) must allow me, as Speaker, to determine whether a question is in order. I understand that he is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Council, and he should have more sense than to intervene during business questions.

Mr. Baldry

My point about next week's business—and this week's business—is simply this: clearly, the guillotine motion will be used not because the Opposition will obstruct the passage of the Bill but because the Government are frit at the proper scrutiny of their proposals.

Mrs. Taylor

I had not assumed that the Opposition wanted to delay the Bill. They were simply unable to tell us what time they wanted in Committee, and we cannot make decisions on that basis. Timetable motions are not used just to prevent delays and they can produce orderly debates. We have agreed with the Opposition our proceedings for debate on the Floor of the House to make sure that four main issues are debated. The timetable in Committee will be reached by agreement in the normal way. I would say to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that if we were frightened of debate on the issue, we would not have extended the Budget debate to four days and we would not have been so generous in the time we are allocating.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can have a debate before the summer on the accelerated highways review, particularly in relation to the proposed widening of the M25 for over a mile without any hard shoulder? That proposal is bad for the environment and for transport, and if it were to be approved by the Government over the summer recess it would raise questions about the impartiality of the Government in relation to the terminal 5 public inquiry.

The Department of Transport has given evidence to the inquiry that the widening of the M25 is essential to terminal 5, yet, in replies that I have received, the Government say that they have a different view on the widening of the M25 in relation to terminal 5. It is time that this delicate matter—and the proposed terminal 5, which I abhor—was debated on the Floor of the House.

Mrs. Taylor

I am afraid that I cannot promise my hon. Friend the kind of general debate that he wants. He is a very experienced Member, who usually finds ways of raising the issues that he thinks should receive extra attention. I am sure that it has occurred to him that the usual three-hour Adjournment debate will take place on the Wednesday morning prior to the summer recess.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Surely the Leader of the House realises that there is considerable uncertainty in financial circles about the effect of advance corporation tax as it applies to foreign investors, and of foreign income dividends as they apply to companies with large foreign earnings. Surely she realises that this is important to those companies. It is not just a matter of how much time is provided in this House, but how much time is available for debate outside the House, so that those most involved can give a considered view and can advise us so that we can criticise the Finance Bill.

I raised the issue with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, in relation to comments by the Paymaster General last Friday, and I see from Hansard that the reply was just waffle. It is not good enough for the Leader of the House to provide this foreshortened programme to consider such important financial measures.

Mrs. Taylor

I think that there is sufficient time to debate the issues that we are talking about. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the issue of advance corporation tax is not one which has been identified by the Opposition as an issue that should be debated on the Floor of the House. It will be for the usual channels to agree on the division of time to debate the issues in Committee.

Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)

Along with many of my constituents, I am concerned about the promotion and sale of alcohol to children. I am aware that the Portman Group has set up a task force to look at this matter, but it is very important that the drinks industry does not target its marketing and sales on this vulnerable group of people. Will my right hon. Friend find time in the Government's busy programme for a debate on this issue?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right that this is a very worrying problem, and many parents in particular are concerned about the sale of alcopops. We welcome the Portman Group's attitude and the way in which it is looking into the problem, and we will study its findings in due course. There is a ministerial group looking at alcopops. We are considering it in the context of under-age drinking in general. My hon. Friend made her point about the marketing issues well. Those are points which we would want to take into account.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we have a statement from the President of the Board of Trade to explain why at last week's trade and industry questions she did not know the details of the possession of financial interests and their implications by the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, even though he is a serving Minister in her Department?

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and others, including myself, made it clear that there is no conflict of interest about Lord Simon and no problem about his shareholdings. He has complied with all the provisions of "Questions of Procedure for Ministers". I am sure that my right hon. Friend was aware of that.

Ms Beverley Hughes (Stretford and Urmston)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the emerging reports that some young people are combining Ecstasy and Prozac—apparently, Prozac intensifies and prolongs the effect of the Ecstasy. As general drug misuse is a serious problem in many constituencies and in the light of her role in co-ordinating the Government's initiative on drug misuse, can she provide an early opportunity for debating that serious issue?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to say that that is another problem which causes parents and, I think, everyone throughout the country a great deal of concern. Taking any drug is risky. The safest option has to be not to take any drugs. Obviously, mixing drugs in the way that my hon. Friend described is extremely dangerous. We recently announced the grants to drug action teams to counter such problems. From what I have seen in the past few weeks, a great deal of positive work is going on to counter drug abuse and it is important that we all support those efforts to counter silly crazes of that type.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

A few moments ago, the right hon. Lady talked about discussions through the usual channels relating to the timetable motion for the Finance Bill. Does she not have a duty to Back Benchers on both sides of the House and not merely to the usual channels? Does she agree that it is odd that a timetable motion should be a weapon of first rather than last resort, bearing in mind the number of questions that Opposition Members have asked on matters of great importance to my colleagues, which perhaps did not appear in the list of priorities of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House?

Is it not vital to have open government and transparency and to use a timetable motion as a weapon of last resort and not decide on one even before the Second Reading of the Bill?

Mrs. Taylor

I always thought that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of sensible timetabling on all Bills. If he has problems with the usual channels, that is a matter for the Conservative party. We have followed the normal procedures. I repeat that we did not lack generosity when it came to discussion of the Budget. We had four days for the Budget debate and we are having a Second Reading debate and two days in a Committee of the whole House. There will be 10 sittings in Committee upstairs and then we are allowing two days for Report. I do not think that that lacks any generosity in terms of the time provided.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep concern felt by many Labour Members about the proposals set in train by the previous Government to reduce the number of Customs officers? In view of the serious implications of that proposal, particularly for the importation of illegal drugs, will she find time for an urgent debate on that matter so that those concerns can be raised on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Taylor

The previous Government made such proposals. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has responsibility for Customs officers, has been concerned about the possible impact of those cuts. I have talked to Customs officers about their drug-related work and we attach great importance to that. We will have to await the outcome of further discussions, but I hope that we do not have to wait too long before a decision can be announced.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will not the Leader of the House acknowledge that she is rather missing the point on the compressed timetable for the Finance Bill? The problem is not that she is not providing enough sittings in the House but that she is making a fundamental mistake: she is on the record as saying that the Bill is effectively a minor measure implementing the Labour party's manifesto commitments, whereas in fact it contains major proposals that were not in the manifesto and have considerable implications that, as Government Members' confusion shows, are not fully understood even by them. It is not possible for those affected to marshal the arguments between now and the end of the month.

Mrs. Taylor

I believe that many people have marshalled the arguments. People who operate in the sector are well able to work quickly. I did not say that the Bill had no major proposals—every Finance Bill will probably contain major proposals—but I said that it was half the size of the previous Finance Bill. I thank the hon. Gentleman for saying that we are allowing enough sittings on the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate early-day motion 96?

[That this House notes the considerable pressure being applied to the Nationwide Building Society which is committed to remaining mutual to become a bank; further notes that this would threaten homeowners with higher mortgage interest rates and savers with lower interest rates; and calls for the mutual status of building societies to be respected and maintained to ensure that homeowners and savers have more choice.]

The motion concerns building societies and the future of the financial services sector. Building societies are under threat. Despite previous demutualisations, the existing building societies are committed to their current status. Mutuality brings stability, not to mention choice, diversity and much-needed competition, to the financial services sector. The matter is urgent and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some time to discuss the implications for the health of the financial services sector.


I am aware that some people are concerned about developments in the area. We recently had an Adjournment debate on this very matter. I appreciate my hon. Friend's concerns, but I do not think that it will be possible to find time at an early stage for the debate that he wants. I regret that.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

The Leader of the House will be aware that there are motions on the Order Paper concerning the setting up of Committees of the House. When might they come up for consideration, and does she have any role in the composition of Committees? An examination of the names suggests that the Government have seven members on the Select Committees, and the Opposition four, which means that small parties such as the Ulster Unionist party are poorly represented. Will the right hon. Lady consider our objections?

Mrs. Taylor

The Committee of Selection made its nominations yesterday for a number of Select Committees. Those stand on the Order Paper and will be considered in due course. The composition of those Select Committees has been determined on a ratio, as is normally the case. There is nothing exceptional about the balance. Indeed, on several Committees the Government have, quite exceptionally, offered extra places on occasions, to ensure the best possible representation. If the hon. Gentleman has any other problems, he should take the matter up with the Chief Whip of the minority parties, who deals with such negotiations.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Has my right hon. Friend heard the good news that the Germans have committed themselves to the Eurofighter? That is good news not only for Chorley but for the rest of the country, as it will safeguard 32,000 jobs. When can we expect a general debate on defence?

Mrs. Taylor

I know that my hon. Friend had a useful debate on the issue yesterday. It is slightly premature to say that the Germans have committed themselves formally to the Eurofighter, but the indications are positive. I am sure that he was pleased that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence said yesterday that the Government were committed to the purchase of 232 Eurofighters. I am afraid that it will not be possible to have a more general debate before the recess, but I said last week that I hoped that we could have a defence debate before too long, and I hope that we will do that when we return in the autumn.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider an application that I made to her last week for a debate on the Budget leak that was so widely discussed in the Sunday newspapers? Opposition Members understand that there is always speculation about Budgets, but does she agree that it is plain—and everyone knows it—that there was a leak? Will she therefore assure the House that, instead of the frivolous answers given by the Prime Minister, there will be a serious inquiry into what is an extremely serious matter?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was frivolous. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's basic proposition that there was a leak. As he said, there is always speculation about Budgets.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

Will the right hon. Lady find time next week for a statement on the Government's attitude to a decision on community care by the Law Lords that need is no longer the only basis for assessment? That has fundamentally changed our understanding of how community care should be assessed. As the Government last night failed to support in the other place a private Member's Bill introduced by Lord Ashley which would have returned the position to that understood by everyone for the past 27 years, we desperately need a statement. Many thousands of people outside this place rely on that legislation for support, and they no longer feel that it is there.

Mrs. Taylor

We all know that the funding of community care has always been a problem, both for local authorities and the Government, but I am afraid that I cannot hold out much prospect of a debate or statement. It would not be helpful to comment on a private Member's Bill in another place.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am very grateful, Madam Speaker, for your patience in getting this far. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House could persuade her ministerial colleagues responsible for housing to table a motion before the recess in Government time to do something about the housing crisis faced by the nation and, in particular, by the city of Portsmouth, which I represent. Despite the fact that it has sold council houses and amassed a £50 million fortune, it is getting less than £1 million to tackle the serious issues that we face in a city where the housing situation is no better than it was 25 years ago when I entered local government there.

Mrs. Taylor

The whole House knows that we inherited many housing problems, but it also knows that we are very short of time before the recess. I cannot therefore hold out any prospect of the debate that the hon. Gentleman wants. We have, of course, made progress on the Bill to release capital receipts, which will be widely welcomed.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Is it not mildly ironic that when the House should be debating the timetable motion, the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons is supposed to be sitting upstairs? What really is the point of hon. Members giving their time and effort to try to modernise our procedures if the right hon. Lady anticipates things, rides roughshod over the House and gives the old meaning to the word "transparency"—that one can see through her?

Mrs. Taylor

If the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons makes progress, we may not need so many guillotines in future.