§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)
Madam Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Business for next week.
MONDAY 28 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
TUESDAY 29 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
WEDNESDAY 30 JULY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, the first of which is the three-hour general debate that precedes a recess.
Supplemental allocation of time motion relating to the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill.
Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill.
THURSDAY 31 JULY—Debate on the White Paper "Scotland's Parliament", on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.
Subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Thursday 31 July until Monday 27 October. The provisional business for the first week back after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:
MONDAY 27 OCTOBER and TUESDAY 28 OCTOBER—
Debate on British defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
WEDNESDAY 29 OCTOBER—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Second Reading of the Wireless Telegraphy Bill [Lords].
Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill.
THURSDAY 30 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Bill [Lords].
FRIDAY 31 OCTOBER—The House will not be sitting.
The House will be aware that the Minister without Portfolio has already made it clear that he will answer questions in the House on his specific responsibilities within Government for the millennium experience at Greenwich. In order to facilitate that commitment, it is intended that after the summer recess he will have a short regular place on the rota, to answer questions on the millennium experience at the end of questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. That will ensure that there will be a regular opportunity to put questions on that specific topic.
May I also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, say a word about the statement made in the House yesterday? I understand that copies of Sir Ron Dearing's report were not immediately available in the Vote Office when the Secretary of State for Education and Employment made his statement. My right hon. Friend had ensured that copies of the 54-page summary of the report were available to Members, and that copies of the full report were placed in the Library. 1069 In addition, a pamphlet summarising the main recommendations and the Government's plans for the future was sent to all hon. Members.
However, given the huge interest in the matter, copies of the full report were placed in the Vote Office shortly after the end of the statement. I think that those should have been available from the beginning of the statement, and I regret any inconvenience caused to Members.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)
I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement. She could not better have illustrated her Government's disdain for the parliamentary process, nor their inability to manage their own legislative programme, than by her breathtaking announcement that she plans to keep the House in recess until the end of October—simply, I assume, because she and her colleagues are too incompetent to organise their own business.
It is curious that the right hon. Lady has combined that announcement with the fact that, between now and the end of the Session, she intends to introduce the third guillotine in eight weeks. I hope that she will be able to explain to the House the consequences of that particular incompetence for the rest of the parliamentary year.
However, I am sure that we are all delighted to know that the Minister without Portfolio will be explaining his plans for the dome. That is indeed something to which we will all look forward. Perhaps we could even come back early for the pleasure.
Sadly, last week I had to remind the right hon. Lady of her responsibilities to the whole House. It is now clear that the Government's spin doctor machine operates entirely independently of her. Even if she wished to involve the House in announcements and in changes in policy, and to protect its interests and those of all hon. Members, it is clear that she has not the power to do so.
Nevertheless, will the Leader of the House belatedly arrange for a debate next week on the new Cabinet consultative committee to be chaired by the Prime Minister and to include Liberal Democrat Members, the establishment of which was announced on Tuesday to the press but not to this House? Will she ensure that such a debate addresses the concerns of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—who is in his place—who correctly pointed out that such an arrangement should be announced to the House so that its implications can be examined?
In particular, does membership of such a committee mean that the Liberal Democrats can continue to enjoy the rights of Opposition parties? Can a Liberal Democrat spokesman ask questions with knowledge acquired from the Government that he cannot disclose to the House?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that, according to his reply yesterday to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, the Prime Minister's criterion for policy change is:I say that if it is the right thing to do, why not do it?"—[Official Report, 23 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 943.]Will she explain how such an attitude accords with parliamentary democracy?
Can we have an early debate on the Dearing report? Would the Leader of the House point out to the House the reference in her party's manifesto which lays out the 1070 Government's intention—using the Secretary of State's own costings—to charge all higher education students £10,000 for their university education? Will she explain how such an intention accords with the sentiment in her party's manifesto—to make higher education more accessible for all students?
Can we have a debate next week on the Government's plans to introduce a national minimum wage? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the President of the Board of Trade intends to propose legislation before advice on the level of the wage is received from the Low Pay Commission—despite promises to the contrary in Labour's manifesto, its business manifesto, its small business document, its industry policy paper and countless statements from Labour Members, including the Prime Minister?
When can we expect the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to make a statement on the outcome of the review of defence exports and, in particular, on whether sales of jets to Indonesia continue?
Finally, when does the Leader of the House intend to publish the report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) asked first about the length of the recess, and she will not be surprised to learn that I have checked what has happened in previous years. The length of the recess on this occasion is no different from the length of the first summer recess after the 1992 general election, which her party won. It is not an unusual length of recess. We have done a remarkable amount in the first three months of this Parliament—perhaps more than has been done before in such a period. We have introduced 18 Bills and we expect six Bills to receive Royal Assent before the summer recess. We have also published White Papers and made statements in the House on four separate issues.
A lot has been achieved, but I make no secret of the fact that, following a change of Government, there is not the usual length of time to draft new legislation. There is still a long way to go in terms of the drafting work which would normally take place on an on-going basis but, in this instance, could not start until May of this year. I make no promises about the length of the recess on other occasions.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the issue of the Cabinet committee yesterday, and said that the membership of it—once decided—would be announced to the House. I should remind the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk that on the very same day that the Cabinet committee was announced, the Liberal Democrats—not the Conservative party—opposed us in the lobbies on the Social Security Bill. We should not draw too many implications from the creation of the committee.
The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk referred to the Dearing report, published yesterday, which she called for when she was the Secretary of State for Education. We have been interested in the amount of support that we have received from Conservative Members—particularly those who were Education Ministers. There is a case for debating that report, but I am not sure whether we can find time for such a debate when we come back. The Select Committee on Education 1071 and Employment—or the Conservative party—may decide to make inquiries and call for a debate on the matter.
I can confirm that the level of the minimum wage will not be set before advice from the Low Pay Commission has been received. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk's question on defence and other matters can be dealt with in the two-day defence debate that we will have in October when we return.
The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk's final question was on the Modernisation Committee. I can confirm that the first reports of the Committee will be published next Tuesday. If I might change the mood of our exchanges today, I must say that we have had a good working Committee and we have received co-operation from Members on both sides of the Committee.
§ Mrs. Taylor
That is why we have been able to produce a report which I hope the House will welcome when it is published on Tuesday.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Unlike Tory Members, I have often complained about the length of the summer recess. Perhaps this matter could be looked at by the Modernisation Committee so that, in future, we do not break up for three months and come back for just a few weeks before Christmas.
It has been reported widely today that the Home Secretary is to set up a commission of inquiry into the case of Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death. I welcome that decision. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on Monday, giving the terms of reference of the commission? It is essential that justice is done in this case, in which a person was put to death for no other reason than the colour of his skin.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I know that my hon. Friend has been consistent in his view about the recess. The rest of the parliamentary Session following our return in October will be extremely busy, and that is why I make no promises about future recesses.
As for to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Home Secretary is considering how to address the matter, and the House will be informed of his conclusions in due course.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving the details of the publication of the report by the Modernisation Committee. When are the report's recommendations likely to be debated in the House? She has recognised that there will be a heavy legislative work load immediately after the recess. Will she assure us that there will be proper timetabling of legislation to be considered? Will she also assure us that, before the recess, we will have an indication of the timetabling of questions to Ministers? Finally, in view of the statement by the shadow Leader of the House, can we have an urgent debate on the length of the shadow Leader of the House's questions?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I think not on the last point. I do not want to go into too much detail in advance of the publication of the Modernisation Committee's report, but we have taken 1072 our task seriously and come up with what we think are positive working proposals to improve the legislative process in this House. I hope that the House as a whole will agree to act on our representations, which will be for the benefit of the House. We hope to make progress as soon as possible.
§ Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
As one of our firm commitments at the election was to ensure full disclosure of donations to all political parties, and as Lord Nolan has said that his committee does not have the time at the moment to discuss this matter, what thought has my right hon. Friend given to how the Government can help the Conservative party's members along the path towards agreeing among themselves to make full public disclosure of party donations?
§ Mrs. Taylor
Far be it from me to advise the Conservative party on its internal workings, but I welcome the outbreak of glasnost from the Leader of the Opposition, belated and limited though it may be. I cannot promise a debate on the matter in the near future, but there will be opportunities to debate the funding of political parties, because we still intend to introduce measures on the subject.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
What will be the terms of reference for the debate on Scottish devolution and the White Paper? It is extremely difficult for hon. Members to ask questions of the Scottish Office or anyone else about the amount given in the Scottish block grant from the Barnett formula. The Leader of the House will know that, in setting up that formula, his noble Friend Lord Barnett was trying to deal with what the then Government said—and the last Government agreed—was a democratic deficit.
If that deficit is being reversed for England, we should have a full debate about the Barnett formula. I seek an assurance that we can have not only a debate but a vote, so that English Members of Parliament, whether Government or Opposition Members, can justify giving Scotland both an independent Parliament and 25 per cent. extra for local government, health and other matters.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was giving a trailer of the speech that he hopes to make next Thursday, should he be fortunate enough to catch Madam Speaker's eye. I want to take issue with him on one point: he said that it was difficult to ask questions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland; not only is it easy, because he often makes himself available, but he gives extremely good-quality answers.
§ Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)
Has my right hon. Friend read the recent reports that the director general of the Royal Opera house is in receipt of a rather handsome £10,000-per-month salary, made worse by the fact that he is no longer working at the opera house, which is closed? Are there any plans for a statement? Right now, it seems that only the fat cats are singing on the matter.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend raises an issue that has caused considerable concern. I understand that the payments are in line with Sir Jeremy Isaacs's contract; those arrangements were agreed when the previous 1073 Government were in office, and the situation is clearly unsatisfactory. I understand that the basis of the contract is to be changed.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
Will there be an oral statement by the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday about the outcome of the accelerated roads programme review? Is the Leader of the House aware that, last Monday, Madam Speaker expressed grave disquiet at the way in which the House was being bypassed by the Government in making important announcements?
Yesterday, at the Local Government Association conference in Manchester, the Deputy Prime Minister was asked in an open forum about the outcome of the M25 review, and he said that he could not answer because he had to tell the House first. By yesterday evening, the headline on the television news was his announcement that the M66 around Manchester was to be completed, and it is clear from today's newspapers that he has already made substantial announcements about the outcome of that review. Does that not show that the Deputy Prime Minister has a cynical disregard for Madam Speaker's rulings? What does the Leader of the House intend to do to protect the interests of all hon. Members?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman is misleading—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am sorry, I meant to say that he was inadvertently misleading the House in his interpretation of Madam Speaker's comments. Her criticisms were not on the basis that he suggested. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister about the matter, and he shares my concern about the amount of speculation. The reports in the press seem to contradict one another, and that in itself suggests that the story is not the result of deliberate leaking. My right hon. Friend will make his decisions known to the House.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on bus re-regulation? I am sure that she was horrified to hear last week of the massive hike in profits of Stagecoach plc that has been almost entirely brought about by worsening conditions and wages for the work force in my constituency, and by a further deterioration in bus services.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend makes his point well, and I am sure that his constituents share his concerns. I will bring those concerns to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, but I cannot promise an early debate.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I am happy to note that the Northern Ireland Select Committee is at least on the Order Paper, but will there be time for the Committee to meet, select a Chairman and plan its business, or will it have to wait until we come back in October? Why is the gestation period for the Northern Ireland Grand Committee so much longer than that of the other Grand Committees, which are already in session?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman knows something of the history of the discussions. We are glad that we have reached agreement on the composition of the Select 1074 Committee, and that could be implemented early next week, which, at least in theory, and we hope in practice, would enable the Committee to meet next week.
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
Will my right hon. Friend allow time in the near future—next week, if possible—for a debate on energy and an energy programme? A substantial number of hon. Members have concerns and anxieties about the unfair charging for fuels for generating electricity. Is she aware that next Monday there is to be a lobby of people who are employed in the mining industry, asking for fairness and justice in the pricing of fuels for generating energy? Many reports are available that can explain the unfairness that obtains at present. Will my right hon. Friend take note of the concerns and find time for a discussion?
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend has raised the matter before, so I know his concerns. He may be able to air the subject in Trade and Industry Questions on Thursday or in the Adjournment debate on Wednesday, but I am afraid that the Government cannot find time for the early debate that he wants.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Claridge Mills, a textile manufacturer in my constituency, went into liquidation this week, with the loss of 50 jobs, which is obviously a devastating blow to the employees and their families and to the people of Selkirk, where the company was based. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the issues surrounding the company's collapse, so that we can seek assurances from Scottish Office Ministers that they will work with Borders Enterprise, Borders council and the other relevant agencies, such as the Benefits Agency, to ensure that the problems in Selkirk are alleviated as soon as possible?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am sure that Scottish Office Ministers will hope, and be willing, to help as far as possible. I do not think that I can find time for a debate, but the hon. Gentleman may be able to raise the matter on Wednesday morning, in the open three-hour Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)
I for one am looking forward to spending October working hard in my constituency. Let no observer leave this debate thinking that my right hon. Friend has granted us additional holidays.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that beef farmers in High Peak, as elsewhere, still have many concerns about the impact of BSE on their livelihood and their industry, whether about levels of consumption of home-grown or imported material, about standards of hygiene in abattoirs or about the disposal of fallen stock. A statement of reassurance is needed. Will she invite my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement on his discussions in the European Community, which by all accounts have been so successful?
§ Mrs. Taylor
First, I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the work that hon. Members do in the recess. People who think that the recesses are an open holiday are far from knowing the real situation. On BSE, the House should welcome the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. 1075 The way in which he went about those negotiations in Europe recently was far more productive than anything that we saw from the previous Government, and it is a good sign for the future.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement and debate on the operation of the office costs allowance, given that the creation of a Scottish Parliament would mean that Scottish Members of this House would shuffle off about 80 per cent. of their constituency case load elsewhere, so I am sure that there will have to be a statement on appropriate cuts in their allowance?
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
May I gently press my right hon. Friend, for the third time I think, on the need for a debate on Nirex and the future of radioactive waste disposal in the United Kingdom? I wonder whether she is in a position to give an assurance that, before any decisions are taken on the future of Nirex, there will be a full debate in Parliament.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am not sure about a full debate in Parliament, but there will certainly be opportunities for hon. Members to make their ideas, concerns and opinions heard by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend, who is very experienced, will, I think, find many opportunities to raise that issue.
§ Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
Following on from the right hon. Lady's remarks about the non-availability of the Dearing report in the Vote Office yesterday, is she aware that the part of the report that deals with Scotland is published as a separate volume? Not only was that volume not available yesterday, but it is still not available today, and the Vote Office did not know this morning of its existence. Given that fact and the fact that the arrangements for higher education in Scotland are different, would it not be appropriate to have an early debate on the effects of the Dearing proposals on Scotland?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment that that is a separate report, and was not necessarily totally a part of what was being discussed yesterday. All the relevant material should have been available, however. If it was not, I apologise. I said earlier that it was wrong that the full report was not available straight away—having the reports in the Library is not sufficient. I have brought that matter to the attention of my colleagues, because I do not think that that should happen.
§ Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a report published today by the health service trade union, MSF—the Manufacturing Science Finance Union—based on statistics drawn from the Department of Health census of the non-medical work force, which show that 40 per cent. of NHS employers have failed for the third year running to produce a return for the Department on the ethnic composition of their work force? In view of her commitment to equal opportunities—unlike the Conservative party—will she find time for the Secretary 1076 of State for Health to come to the House to say whether the performance bonus of chief executives of failing trusts and authorities will be reviewed in view of their failure to perform?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I cannot promise a statement or a debate, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will bring his remarks and concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who I am sure will be somewhat worried about the information that my hon. Friend has given us.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Will the right hon. Lady arrange an urgent debate so that we can hear the truth behind the apparently shady deal between her right hon. Friends in the Government and certain elements of the Liberal Democrat party? If it is true, it will surely have profound parliamentary and constitutional implications in ways that many of us cannot yet foresee. Surely the right hon. Lady must accept that that matter has such implications for Parliament—for example, where the Liberal Democrats should sit; if they are in bed with the Government, surely they should be on the Government Benches—as will all the matters which will flow from it and which are, as yet, completely unconsidered. Will she please give that some urgent thought?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The right hon. Gentleman managed to say that with a straight face, but I am not sure that it is a serious point. I mentioned earlier that, on the very day that that agreement was announced, the Liberal Democrats—not the Conservative party—voted against the Government at 10 o'clock on the Social Security Bill. Perhaps I could remind the right hon. Gentleman that we were grateful for what he said about welcoming the Dearing report yesterday.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 201, which has 130 signatures and argues against arms sales to Indonesia?
[That this House believes that human rights should be at the forefront of decisions on arms exports; notes the appalling human rights record of the Indonesian Government; further notes that Indonesia has illegally occupied East Timor since 1975 in contravention of United Nations resolutions; further notes that United Kingdom made military, security and police equipment has been used by the Indonesian authorities, in breach of assurances given by them, against civilians in Indonesia and East Timor; believes that any further equipment exported is likely to be similarly used; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to stop the export of all military, police and security equipment to Indonesia, and to withdraw the invitations approved by the Conservative Government last year to the Commander in Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, and the Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff, to visit the Royal Naval and British Army Equipment Exhibition in Farnborough in September.]
Does she know that the Nobel peace prize winner, Jose Ramos Horta, the campaigner for East Timor, last week addressed the parliamentary human rights group in the House? He drew attention to the fact that things are worse than ever in East Timor—as bad as they were in 1975—and that torture, imprisonment and violence are endemic 1077 in that country. He asked for a freeze on arms sales to Indonesia. In view of the rumours in the press about the imminent sale of Hawk aircraft and in view of the Government's commitment to human rights, may we have a statement on that important issue before the House rises? It would be regrettable if a statement were made and a decision taken to sell the Hawk aircraft while the House was in recess.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend has a long interest in that matter. As she said, the reports in the press are rumours. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that question yesterday and made it clear that any decision to revoke licences issued by the previous Government would have to be announced to the House. The matter is still under review, in terms of the new criteria that we have laid down, and the House will be informed in due course.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Given that the House will be away for 12 weeks, will the Leader of the House give thought to extending Prime Minister's Question Time next week, to enable us to put to the Prime Minister a number of issues that remain unresolved? One is the question of the sale of armaments to Indonesia.
Another is that it has only just come to light that a letter from the President of the Commission to the Spanish Foreign Minister makes it clear that the United Kingdom Government never sought any changes or derogations to the treaty in relation to quota hoppers at Amsterdam, but simply clarification of existing European Union law. How on earth that can be seen to be the great triumph that the Minister sought to present it as after he returned from Amsterdam, it is difficult to follow. Perhaps we could have an extended Prime Minister's questions, next Wednesday—a bumper bonanza, sorting out all those issues before the House rises for the recess.
§ Mrs. Taylor
Given the performance of the previous Administration and their abject failure in Europe on all those issues in Europe, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has had the cheek to ask that question, although it allows me to remind the House of the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture only this week. The hon. Gentleman asked for a change in the format of Prime Minister's questions—he wanted them lengthened because there is to be a long recess. As I pointed out, we have had equally long recesses before, with no consequential changes to Prime Minister's questions.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement next week on the Government's attitude towards oil exploration on the Atlantic shelf and the environmental destruction occasioned by oil exploration and pollution in the seas? That is a matter of great concern. There is obvious concern that decisions may be taken during the recess, which will have far-reaching implications for the pollution of the Atlantic.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend is another experienced Member. I am sure that he will find ways to raise that 1078 issue, not least because it is Environment questions on Tuesday and Trade and Industry questions on Thursday. I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
Will the right hon. Lady find time for an early debate on the need to defend the mutual financial institutions of this country? I am sure that she will be aware of the greedy and avaricious band of predators, led by the inappropriately named Mr. Hardern. I hope that she will be able to give the House an opportunity to discuss measures by which those activities could be curtailed. I think that she will join me in congratulating members of the Nationwide building society for showing that common sense and altruism are not entirely dead in the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Lady will be aware that Mr. Hardern has said that he proposes to move on to every other mutual building society and that when he has finished with them he will move on to friendly societies and credit unions. Is it not time that something was done?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman may have alarmed the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who gets worried when there is agreement across the Chamber. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He will have noted the comments of the Prime Minister yesterday welcoming the result of the Nationwide ballot.
§ Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on legal aid? When a Danish bank sues Scandinavian ex-employees about property deals in Spain and Gibraltar and the British taxpayer ends up paying a £10 million bill for it, there is obviously something very wrong with the system.
§ Mrs. Taylor
Legal aid generally, and particularly legal aid for foreign nationals, is another issue on which there may be agreement across the Chamber. The House knows that the Lord Chancellor has appointed Sir Peter Middleton to review civil justice, including legal aid. We must await the outcome of that inquiry.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
May we have a full debate before the recess on the massive increase in Britain's contributions to the European Community budget? Gross contributions have risen 32 per cent., to about £8.6 billion. There was some sort of debate on the matter in European Standing Committee B yesterday, but no substantive answers were forthcoming from the Economic Secretary. She was unable to tell us what effect the changes would have on the PSBR or why there appears to have been a 78 per cent. reduction in the money allocated in the budget for fraud.
The documents were in an appallingly shoddy state, and the hon. Lady had to begin her comments by correcting many of them. Many Labour Members share our concern about increases in the Community budget, especially in respect of the common agricultural policy. The Community budget is one of the great scandals of our time. Can the House give it urgent consideration before the recess?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I understand that there was a full and lively debate in European Standing Committee B yesterday. I have full confidence that my hon. Friend the 1079 Economic Secretary dealt with the matter extremely well. There was also a debate on a similar matter on the Floor of the House, but it was very poorly attended.
§ Ms Beverley Hughes (Stretford and Urmston)
In view of my right hon. Friend's role in co-ordinating the Government's initiative on drugs—about which I know she shares the concern of many hon. Members—when will she be able to make a statement on the matter generally, and in particular on the appointment of the so-called drugs tsar to take things forward?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is right to say that I and many other hon. Members are concerned about developments on this matter. I am afraid that I cannot promise a statement, but we expect to advertise for a person to fill the role by the end of this month.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have raised the issue of long recesses on a number of occasions? It would be wrong of me not to repeat that today because 88 days cannot be justified in this Chamber or, more importantly, outside it. I know that the legislation is not ready, but she has heard requests for at least 14 different debates—Adjournment debates, not Bills—on issues ranging from coal to Indonesia.
It would not be impossible to come back a week earlier and arrange debates of an Adjournment character so that all those matters could be dealt with. Back Benchers in particular would be able to raise issues. While that may not be possible this time, I suggest that she tries to do it next time. If legislation is not available, use Parliament for raising other issues.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend said that he has raised this issue before. I have heard him do so before other recesses; he is certainly consistent on the point. He knows that I am on record as having said that we could make better use of parliamentary time by better spacing of 1080 parliamentary sittings through the year. I want to consider that. He is right to say that legislation is not ready because this is a new Parliament. That is a significant factor. I have some sympathy with his overall objective. The Modernisation Committee may have views on the issue when it comes to consider it.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
In connection with her response to an earlier question, how does the Leader of the House imagine that it would have been possible for the House to debate the European Community budget before the beginning of this week, given that the draft budget was not available to hon. Members before Monday?
§ Mrs. Taylor
There was a debate in European Standing Committee B, which was attended by hon. Members. That is normal procedure. There was a debate in the House on a related issue, and very few hon. Members attended it.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Will the Leader of the House address one of the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard)? The right hon. Lady omitted any reference to the guillotine. Can she give us a firm undertaking that next week's guillotine will be the last that we will have until the House has had an opportunity to debate the Modernisation Committee's proposals, and the Government have had a chance adequately to respond to them?
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend suggests that I say, no guillotines in the recess. I can give that assurance. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. He is informing the House that there are proposals in the Committee's report that we feel may help to reduce the need for guillotines. I hope that he is right, and that we can make progress by implementing the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee, which I hope will reduce the need for guillotines.