HC Deb 05 June 1997 vol 295 cc547-59 3.30 pm
Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House for the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 9 JUNE—Debate on the European Union on a Government motion.

Motion on the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 compensation scheme.

TUESDAY 10 JUNE—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 11 JUNE—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

THURSDAY 12 JUNE—Motion on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Stratford Station and Subsidiary Works) Order.

Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY 13 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

MONDAY 16 JUNE—Progress in Committee on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 pm.

Mr. Goodlad

I thank the right hon. Lady for the business as far as it goes. She seems again to have forgotten her promise to do her best to give us the business for two weeks. I wonder whether she can give us any idea of the business for the remainder of the week commencing 16 June.

Can the right hon. Lady tell us when the motions to set up the departmental Select Committees will be tabled and when the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges will be set up? There is a desire on both sides of the House to proceed with that as a matter of urgency, not least in the light of the position of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar).

Does the right hon. Lady agree that, given the range of subjects that will be covered at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference in Amsterdam, the Government's determination to take this country into the social chapter, their intention to concede further qualified majority voting and the need for them to set out their position in respect of a single currency in the light of developments in France and Germany this week, it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister to speak in the debate on Europe on Monday rather than the departmental Minister? Can she confirm that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House after the conference?

Will the right hon. Lady arrange for an early statement to clarify how the Government intend to resist pressure from our European partners for all companies with more than 50 staff to set up works councils or face sanctions?

Will the right hon. Lady arrange for an early statement about the announcement on union recognition made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the GMB annual conference, about which the Queen's Speech was noticeably reticent? Could such a statement include an interpretation of the remarks of Mr. John Edmonds of the GMB, who expressed the view that every Labour Member should continue to remember the help that they received from the GMB and so many other trade unions?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister's secret discussions with the public sector unions yesterday included the possibility of abandoning compulsory competitive tendering, and will she arrange for her right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to make an early statement on that matter?

Can the right hon. Lady tell us whether we might expect a statement on the Government's defence review, which was announced outside the House during the Whitsun recess?

Will the right hon. Lady make an early statement on whether the Prime Minister plans to attend the transfer of sovereignty ceremonies in Hong Kong? Will an early statement be made on the Government's attitude to the Prime Minister's attending the proposed swearing-in of the provisional legislature?

Is it not clear that concern has increased in the House and among the public at the politicisation of the civil service? Last week, Sir Michael Bett, the First Civil Service Commissioner, publicly expressed his misgivings about the Government's behaviour. Will the Leader of the House confirm that she will arrange for an early debate in Government time on the matter, which has constitutional implications, and publish in advance the names and salaries of all political appointees?

Yesterday, a point of order was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) on allegations that political appointees who have not been positively vetted have sought or gained access to classified material, which can be handled only by those who have been positively vetted. Will the right hon. Lady tell us when we can expect a statement in the House on that matter, which has serious security implications?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that any announcement by the Home Secretary about changes to the primary purpose rule will be made first in a statement to the House?

Mrs. Taylor

I shall deal with all the points raised by the shadow Leader of the House. I, too, regret that it is not possible at this stage in the Parliament, because our business is only starting, to give more advance warning of what will happen. We shall, however, start to do so in future weeks, as the pattern of business becomes clearer.

I share the concern expressed by the shadow Leader of the House that departmental Select Committees should be established as soon as possible. Some discussions have already taken place, and we can build on those. This week, we have been able to establish a couple of Committees that are dealing with more urgent matters. I agree that establishing the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges is a priority, and I hope that we shall be able to do so before long.

As for the Government's agenda at Amsterdam, a range of documents will have to be considered on Monday, partly because the previous Government were reluctant to discuss some of the issues in the House. Monday's debate will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The shadow Leader of the House asked whether the Prime Minister would be willing to make a statement after Amsterdam. I can confirm that that is the situation, and that a statement will be made to the House.

The proposals on works councils that are currently being discussed are ones that have not found favour. My right hon. Friends have made it clear that they will want to consider very carefully any proposals on that matter.

On the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

The House knows my views on electronic devices.

Mrs. Taylor

Madam Speaker, the House shares those views.

In his comments at this week's conference, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said that there should be consultations on those issues. There will be wide consultation, which I hope will be generally welcomed.

The shadow Leader of the House suggested that the Deputy Prime Minister had had secret discussions. If the discussions were so secret, I am not sure how he knows so much about them. It is not a matter of abandoning any system of value for money within local authorities. Questions have already been answered in the House about CCT, and the Government have made it clear that we want local authorities, and everyone else, to ensure that best value for money on all contracts is obtained.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said that he will conduct a defence review, which is what the Government said they would do before and during the general election.

Statements have already been made on Hong Kong, making it clear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the changeover. I think that the Prince of Wales will also attend. The question of anyone else attending remains open, and final decisions have not yet been made.

The shadow Leader of the House was not correct in his interpretation of Sir Michael Bett's opinion on political advisers. Sir Michael Bett said that, at this stage, he was not concerned about what has happened, and I think that hon. Members have tried to take his comments out of context. There is no reason to have any debate on that issue. We shall, of course, follow normal practice on publication of names and salaries.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is answering a parliamentary question on the primary purpose rule. That is in general the procedure that has been adopted with other changes in the immigration rules.

On the question about positive vetting, my understanding is that very few special or political advisers have any need to be positively vetted, as they do not see material that comes into that category. The only person who does come into that category is Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff. He has been positively vetted in the past and that is being renewed.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On the delicate matter of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that, back in February and March, some of us chided Tony Newton on the delay in publishing the report, yet now my right hon. Friend is saying, "before long". What is the difficulty? Is it drowned in a mire of lawyers?

Mrs. Taylor

The difficulty is in having proper consultations. People who are interested in that Committee might be interested in other Committees as well, so we have to consider the matter carefully. It is in the interests of every Member of this House—past and, I hope, present—that the report that causes my hon. Friend concern is published as soon as possible. That will be a decision for the new Committee.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Has not almost every Labour Minister said frequently from the Dispatch Box that there is a need for open government to be practised by the new Government? Does the right hon. Lady agree with that? If so, will she now do two things? The first is to publish a list of all the review bodies and consultative bodies mentioned in every ministerial speech from the Dispatch Box, so that we can keep up to speed on that matter.

Secondly—following on from what my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House said—as political advisers to Secretaries of State are likely to see documents that would usually require positive vetting, will the right hon. Lady list all the political advisers and those who have or have not been positively vetted and publish their salaries?

Mrs. Taylor

On the last point, I made the position clear to the shadow Leader of the House. There is not a whole raft of people required to undergo positive vetting. Were they required to do so, that would be carried out. However, as far as I have been able to determine, only one person falls into that category.

With regard to a list of review bodies, Ministers are responsible for any that they establish and I do not propose to keep a central list.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite Conservative protestations, the Conservative Government intended to sack more than 300 Customs and Excise officers. In the fight against drugs, it is absolutely essential that we retain the highest level of care. Having just returned from Colombia, I know the enormous reputation of British customs for its superb work. Can my right hon. Friend find time in the coming week to make that clear to the House?

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure about the coming week, but I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that Customs and Excise officers do, especially on the difficult issue of drugs. They have performed extremely hard and difficult work to good effect, although there are still many problems to be tackled. I shall bring my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, as I know that she is also concerned to ensure that Customs and Excise officers are there in the numbers required and able to do the job for which they are appointed.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Given that the Government announced this week, by way of a written answer, that there would be no statement on the defence estimates this year, will the right hon. Lady ensure that there is a debate on defence before the House rises this summer? The defence of the realm cannot wait for another Labour review.

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure that there will be a debate before the House rises for the summer, but there will be defence debates in the normal course of events and I think it inconceivable that there will not be one during the next few months.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

May I bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the concerns of many in Staffordshire about the reduction in the number of continuing care beds for the mentally frail and elderly? Does my right hon. Friend intend that there will be an early opportunity to debate the issue in the House? There is a genuine concern among elderly people about the closure of beds.

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is taking a hard look at mental health services in hospitals and in the community. We must ensure that those services are provided in the best interests of the patient and of the community. I am sure that my hon. Friend's comments will be taken into account.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Will the right hon. Lady consider having an urgent debate on responsibilities and ministerial manpower in the Department for Education and Employment? Whereas there used to be three Ministers responsible for school matters, there now appear to be only two. That is causing problems. Already, colleagues have received a letter discouraging too many delegations to Ministers. The situation has resulted in a delay in the decision on the age of transfer in my local education authority in Buckinghamshire, causing great anxiety to parents, pupils, teachers and the local education authority. I believe that the explanation for the delay is inadequate ministerial manpower.

Mrs. Taylor

It is unusual for Conservatives to request more Ministers in a Department. I hope that the difficulties that the hon. Lady suggests do not exist—that has not been my experience. I should have thought that the activities of the Ministers in that Department, including this week's announcement about summer literacy schools, show that they are very much on top of their job.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I know that we have a heavy legislative programme, because the Government have 26 Bills, but we are keen to get on with discussing many other proposals that were in our manifesto. Will it be possible to have a debate about a disability rights commission, which many of us have strongly advocated? We know that it will not be legislated for in the first year, but if we had a debate about it, perhaps we could work out where we stand, what the proposals are and when they could be delivered.

Mrs. Taylor

I respect my hon. Friend's long-term interest in the issue, but I cannot promise an immediate debate. However, I shall keep a list of the requests that could be processed if time allows. I shall ensure that his request about disability rights gets some consideration. I shall come back to him on that as soon as possible.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I support the plea of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) about Customs and Excise. She has identified a tremendous need. Does the Leader of the House agree that Thursday's motion on Northern Ireland is rather narrow? I should also like to know when we can look forward to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee being set up, so that it can get down to business.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sure that those who work in Customs and Excise will welcome the hon. Gentleman's support. Thursday's motion on Northern Ireland is specific, as he said. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had discussions on the issue in the usual way. We are hoping for progress on the Grand Committee before long. Communications and discussions have been established, and we shall make progress as soon as we can.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

Will my right hon. Friend provide parliamentary time to debate important public safety issues, such as the discovery yesterday by trading standards officers in Reading of alcohol levels of up to 4.5 per cent. in freezerpops on sale to young children at retail outlets such as Asda and Kwik Save? My constituents are outraged that those products have caused illness in children as young as two. They are looking to the Government for action.

Mrs. Taylor

Many people will share my hon. Friend's concern. He used the most appropriate word when saying that people were outraged. It is not acceptable for a company to provide so-called freezerpops in that way. I understand that the items have been withdrawn, but the situation should not have arisen, and action must be taken to ensure that it is not repeated.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the disaster facing the fishing industry, especially over quota hopping, but that such issues are not part of the draft consolidated intergovernmental conference treaty? In addition to Monday's general debate on Europe, will the right hon. Lady arrange a debate specifically on fishing, or guarantee that her ministerial colleagues will raise the matter at the IGC?

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. and hon. Friends who are involved in those discussions have been talking to colleagues within the European Union about the problem of quota hopping. We realise that it is a very difficult situation for many fishermen and, indeed, that it could be for the British consumer. The problem is of very long standing—the previous Government made no progress, which makes our task more difficult. However, I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that my right hon. and hon. Friends are pursuing the matter with all possible vigour.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Can my right hon. Friend, who is a keen football supporter, say what the Government have done to enable the Football Trust to complete work on ground safety and other necessary work such as that now being undertaken at Bolton and that which has been undertaken at Burnley football club?

Mrs. Taylor

In view of my hon. Friend's last comment, I should perhaps again declare an interest in Bolton Wanderers. The Government have today announced a package of help for the Football Trust amounting to £55 million, half of which will come from the Football Association and Premier League and half from the Sports Council. That will enable many clubs, especially those in the lower divisions, to bring their grounds up to the required safety standard. All of us are very pleased that progress is being made.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, in a conference that is overlapping with business questions, the Deputy Prime Minister is announcing the publication of a White Paper on transport, a statement that should perhaps have been made to the House? Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) was delayed in coming here because he felt it necessary to monitor that statement. In view of the important position that transport and the environment allegedly have in the Labour party's manifesto, does not the Leader of the House believe that the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement should have been made in the House, thus allowing hon. Members to be here rather than having their attention divided?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure why Conservative Members are saying, "Hear, hear," because the previous Government rarely announced White Papers in the House. My right hon. Friend is not announcing the publication of a White Paper; he is announcing that there is going to be a White Paper, which is a reasonable thing to announce outside the House. Clearly, there is a need for better co-ordination of transport policy with other aspects of Government policy. That is what my right hon. Friend has been emphasising, and he has made an important statement on World Environment day.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on defence and foreign policy, which we have not yet debated in this Parliament? Such a debate would give the House the opportunity to discuss NATO expansion ahead of the Madrid summit that is due to take place in early July, and the proposed expansion of NATO has enormous financial implications and implications for nuclear proliferation.

Mrs. Taylor

I said earlier to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that I could see no prospect of a defence debate in the very near future, or this side of the summer recess. However, I am sure that there will be such a debate before very long. Of course, we did not have the usual defence and foreign policy debate during consideration of the Queen's Speech. We might take that fact into account when considering the allocation of time for debates in the next few weeks.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

Does the right hon. Lady recall that, when she was shadow Leader of the Opposition, she was a strong supporter of the Jopling Committee and the reforms that it brought about? Will she therefore explain why the Government are this evening suspending the 10 o'clock rule on the Education (Schools) Bill? Why are the Government in such a rush? The spirit of Jopling was that debate on controversial legislation would stop at 7 o'clock on Thursdays. Why are the Government in such a hurry?

Mrs. Taylor

Of course, we want to get our business through—that is one of the responsibilities of a Government. I must correct the hon. Gentleman: I was not shadow Leader of the Opposition, but shadow Leader of the House—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members may not have known that. It is normal practice to use the 10 o'clock motion to protect Government business.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we debate early-day motion 57?

[That this House welcomes the statement of the Alzheimer's Disease Society of 28th May that in residential homes for the elderly many drugs are being inappropriately used, probably for the benefit of care home staff, which reinforces the recent recommendations of the Royal College of Physicians on the over-use of sedatives and a study in Glasgow that proved that 88 per cent. of elderly recipients of powerful neuroleptic drugs did not need them; is alarmed that alert residents of homes for the elderly are being reduced to a confused zombie-like state by inappropriate prescribing; and calls on the Government to investigate the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs.]

The motion refers to the over-medication of the elderly in residential homes and, following the evidence given last week by the Alzheimer's Disease Society and the Royal College of Physicians, it is important to discuss that. The evidence shows that there is vast over-prescribing of neuroleptic anti-psychotic drugs in residential homes. In one study, 88 per cent. of the elderly residents were receiving those drugs when they did not need them. People who might well be frail physically, but alert mentally, are turned into a zombie-like state by those drugs. Do we not need to consider the matter urgently in the House?

Mrs. Taylor

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a great deal of concern about the issue, and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I know that my right hon. Friend agrees that there is a need to encourage high standards of prescribing and that when drugs are made available, they must be of proven clinical effectiveness. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will listen to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who may want to consider other ways in which he can take the matter further.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

The Leader of the House may be aware that my constituency of Fylde is the British home of the Eurofighter. She will also be aware of the considerable concern felt by many of my constituents at recent statements made by the German Government, which place in doubt their future funding intentions for that vital project. In the light of the discussions of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister with their opposite numbers in Germany, may I have the right hon. Lady's assurance that she will arrange for a statement to be made to the House, both on the precise assurances that are being given to British Ministers about the project, and on exactly what the German Government have said about honouring their obligations?

Mrs. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are firmly committed to the Eurofighter programme. He will also know that it will provide the Royal Air Force with a multi-role aircraft with the operational flexibility to respond to the challenges that we might face in the future. As to the right hon. Gentleman's concerns about Germany's attitude, my right hon. and hon. Friends are actively seeking assurances from the Germans as a matter of priority.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

The Leader of the House may not be aware of criticisms made by a judge in Nottingham this week following the stabbing of a child by someone with a known record of violence and abuse of children. May we have a statement by the Secretary of State for Health on the extent of under-funding of care in the community that this Government have inherited and the extent to which the social dumping of the mentally ill has been taking place? I hope that we can also seek to spell out the costs involved in providing adequate protection both for communities and for those with mental health problems.

Mrs. Taylor

As my hon. Friend says, there is a great deal of concern about such issues; unfortunately, this is not the only time that such incidents have taken place. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is taking a hard look at mental health services, both in hospitals and in the community. We have to take into account not only the needs of the patient, but the safety of the public. My right hon. Friend is very much aware of the need to give further guidance and to try to ensure that such incidents do not happen in future.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Why is it necessary to use the Wednesday before and the Monday after the Amsterdam summit to discuss further draconian legislation on firearms, which will do nothing for public safety, when far more important issues relating to the summit—particularly the state of the beef sector—are crucial to our constituencies, which the House should discuss? When shall we see the new Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the Dispatch Box telling us what he is doing about the problem? Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the Prime Minister will raise the issue at Amsterdam and ask other Prime Ministers of the European Union why, when the previous Government implemented all the measures agreed at the Florence summit, there is still a ban on British beef?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Conservative Government's record was one of delay and incompetence. That has made life infinitely more difficult for current Ministers, who have spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks trying to improve the situation. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism of them, given the background against which they have been operating.

I do not think that the vast majority of the public would agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not be discussing extending the ban on firearms.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the collapse of beef prices following the previous Government's mishandling of the BSE crisis? In Cowbridge market last week, finished cattle prices were lower than they were 14 years ago. That is a threat not just to the industry but to our rural environment. Just last week again, for the first time in recent memory, prime agricultural land could not be sold at auction. There will be no one to manage the countryside unless the problem is looked at.

Mrs. Taylor

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, and I am sure that he speaks for many of his constituents. Life has been very difficult for many people in the farming community. As I said earlier, Ministers are now trying to make progress. That is not made any easier by the climate created, and the attitude displayed, by the previous Government; but I assure my hon. Friend that the Government regard the matter as an important priority.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

In view of the comments by the newly appointed chairman of the low pay commission—he believes that the introduction of a minimum wage would destroy jobs—and in view of the fact that the jobs most at risk will be those held by young people with few skills, will the right hon. Lady arrange for a debate at an early date when we can fully discuss the new Government's threat to the employment prospects of young people in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mrs. Taylor

Ministers at the Board of Trade were answering questions about that a short time ago. They made it absolutely clear that the chairman-designate of the low pay commission has been quoted out of context. What he said was that there would be a problem only if the minimum wage was set at an unreasonable level, and only if economic circumstances were not taken into account.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the need for the A650 Bingley relief road in my constituency—a road that would bring immense economic and environment benefits to local people? I am fully aware that the Government are undertaking a review of transport policy; but will there be an early opportunity to debate the roads programme review on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Taylor

As another west Yorkshire Member, I am fully aware of the work and campaigning done by my hon. Friend in that respect. As he says, the Department is conducting a review; before that review is complete, I do not think that a full-scale debate of the kind he would like would be appropriate or likely to take place. My hon. Friend may, however, wish to consider applying for an Adjournment debate or a Wednesday morning debate to advance his cause.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

When may we expect a statement—I hope for one next week—from the Government on their review of the roads programme? Certain road schemes appear to be in doubt, not least in my constituency. The former Government set a starting date for the Manchester airport eastern link road and committed themselves to building it. That link road is now in question because of the roads review, which is causing great anxiety in the whole Cheadle area. I hope that the right hon. Lady will arrange for an early statement to the House, so that my constituents and those in other parts of the country who are similarly affected can find out exactly where they stand as soon as possible.

Mrs. Taylor

I think that that matter came up during Environment questions on Tuesday. The review must be thorough and serious, but we do not intend that it should be unduly delayed.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does the right hon. Lady understand that there is growing concern about the way in which she appears to be acquiescing in draconian timetabling of important legislation? I am referring not only to the guillotine on the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill this week and the fact that the Education (Schools) Bill that is before us today was given a Second Reading as recently as Monday of this week, but to the fact that similar treatment is being given to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. The Second Reading debate on that Bill will be on Wednesday next week, one sitting day, and the Committee stage will be on Monday 16 June, which gives precious little time for important amendments to be tabled to what is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, a draconian piece of legislation.

If the right hon. Lady cannot change the timetable for that piece of legislation at this late stage, will she at least guarantee that there will be a long period between Committee and Report, to enable amendments to be considered on Report that could not be considered in Committee?

Mrs. Taylor

The way in which we handled the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill and the way in which the guillotine motion was tabled ensured that some of the debates that were most important to those who were closely involved—the main debates—did take place. It is obvious that when we, like any other Government, are introducing our new programme, we must move quickly on certain Bills, for two reasons. First, we have time on the Floor of the House and it is a good use of that time; and secondly, the measures that we are talking about are all measures that we promised to introduce, and we would have been criticised had we not taken action on measures that were in our manifesto.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

As the Labour Government were elected on the rather empty promise that it would be easy to transfer spending from social security to education, and as it is now becoming evident that the actions necessary to control social security are being abandoned and it will be necessary to increase the money devoted to social security, may we have an early debate on the way in which the Government are already abandoning their pledges to the British people?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been following any of the statements that have been made, not least by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. He has announced the first stages of our welfare-to-work programme—an approach that has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Can the right hon. Lady tell the House what the size of the compensation package under the firearms Bill is likely to be?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not have the details before me now. That matter was subject to discussion during the previous Parliament and flows directly from the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, which became an Act of Parliament during the previous Session.

Mr. Garnier

I am talking about the firearms Bill, not the Firearms (Amendment) Act.

Mrs. Taylor

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about the new measures under the extension, they will be attached to the Bill, and he can then read all the details.

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