§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the business for next week.
MONDAY 1 DECEMBER—Opposition Day [5th allotted day].
Until about 7 pm, there will be a debate on Government policies on welfare, pensions and disabled people, followed by a debate entitled "The Government's new burdens on business". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
TUESDAY 2 DECEMBER—Consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill [second day].
WEDNESDAY 3 DECEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be the usual debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill [third day].
THURSDAY 4 DECEMBER—Debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
FRIDAY 5 DECEMBER—Debate on special educational needs in schools on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
The provisional business for the following week will be as follows.
MONDAY 8 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Government of Wales Bill.
TUESDAY 9 DECEMBER—Consideration in Committee of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.
At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree the winter supplementary estimates, the votes on account and supplementary defence vote A.
Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
WEDNESDAY 10 DECEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be the usual debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.
THURSDAY 11 DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.
FRIDAY 12 DECEMBER—Private Members' Bills.
The House may wish to be reminded that on Tuesday2 December there will be a debate on tobacco advertising in European Standing Committee B, and on Wednesday 3. December there will be a debate on part-time work, European works councils and parental leave in European Standing Committee B.
It is also proposed that, on Tuesday 9 December, there will be a debate on Agenda 2000: structural and cohesion policy, in European Standing Committee B. On Wednesday 10 December, there will be a debate on Agenda 2000: reform of the common agricultural policy, in European Standing Committee A, and a debate on Agenda 2000: a new financial framework, in European Standing Committee B.
1118 Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
It may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Monday 22 December, and return on Monday 12 January. That means that the open three-hour Adjournment debate held before each Recess will be on the morning of Wednesday 17 December.
§ [Tuesday 2 December:
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 6294/97 and unnumbered, Tobacco Advertising. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-vii (1997–98).
§ Wednesday 3 December:
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 10230/97, Part-Time Work; 10975/97, European Works Councils; 10975/97, Parental Leave. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-vi.
§ Thursday 4 December:
§ Relevant documents: White Paper on Developments in the European Union, January—June 1997 (Cm 3802); The Commission's Work Programme for 1998. Political Priorities (COM (97) 517); The Commission's Work Programme for 1998. New Legislative Initiatives (SEC (97) 1852; European Community Document No 9984/97 on "Agenda 2000".
§ Tuesday 9 December:
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 9984/97, Agenda 2000 Structural and Cohesion Policy. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-vi (1997–98).
§ Wednesday 10 December:
§ European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community document: 9984/97, Agenda 2000: Reform of the CAP. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-vi (1997–98)
§ European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 9984/97, Agenda 2000: New Financial Framework. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 155-vi (1997–98).]
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I once again thank the Leader of the House for announcing two weeks' business. That is very helpful, and much appreciated. I thank her also for providing the dates of the Christmas recess, but I ask her to think again.
The right hon. Lady must be aware that there are many working mothers—she is one herself—within the Palace of Westminster; and I do not refer only to elected Members. Would it not be more sensible to forgo a non-sitting Friday so that the House may rise on 19 December, rather than returning for one day and causing great inconvenience to hon. Members, and to members of staff—who are often neglected and who serve us so well in this place?
Will the Leader of the House kindly assure us that there will be no Government statement—we have seen this afternoon how long they can take—on Monday, which is a Supply day? Will she do her best to ensure that, unless there is an emergency, she will never schedule statements for Supply days?
1119 The right hon. Lady may recall that there was always at least one day's debate on autumn financial statements in the past. A major financial statement was delivered this week: can the Leader of the House promise that we shall be able to debate it for at least one day?
The House will spend a number of days debating the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Will the right hon. Lady provide an assurance that she has no intention of imposing a guillotine on that measure? In that context, as the House has now approved the Modernisation Committee's first report, will she say when she proposes to begin implementing the report's recommendations with respect to future Government legislation?
A statement this afternoon revealed the enormous potential danger posed by the millennium time bomb. Can we please have a full debate on that issue in the fairly near future?
Finally, I have received several very disturbing accounts from hon. Members—and not just those in my party—about the length of time that Ministers are taking to reply to letters. I refer not to letters on what might be called contentious topics, but to letters that often forward requests and inquiries from constituents and organisations. It is unacceptable that Members should have to wait from 1 September until 27 November, for example, for replies. Will the right hon. Lady, in her capacity as Leader of the House, deliver an early statement about that matter?
§ Mrs. Taylor
As to the first point, about the late sitting of the House until 22 December, it is not a matter of personal choice. Like the hon. Gentleman, I could do other things on that day, in both a personal and a constituency capacity. I know that many hon. Members try to attend constituency functions, sorting offices and things of that kind. However, the House has a heavy programme. I think that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the reasons why Parliament cannot return any earlier, so we must sit on 22 December.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a guarantee that there would be no statement on Monday, or on Supply days generally. We try to avoid scheduling statements on such days. I can never say never, but we shall use our best endeavours to ensure that there are no statements on Monday. That is one reason why we had two statements today.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on Tuesday's statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was somewhat surprised that there were no requests for such a debate during the question-and-answer session on Tuesday. Perhaps hon. Members have thought about it since then. Hon. Members had a good opportunity to question the Chancellor on Tuesday, but I will not rule out a debate. Perhaps we can discuss it through the usual channels: I am happy to enter into discussions on that point.
As to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, we are allowing two days for further discussions next week, and we shall see what kind of progress is made then. We have just had a statement on the "millennium time bomb", as the hon. Gentleman called it. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that he would keep the House informed about the issue, and that he intended to place significant information in the 1120 Library. We shall monitor the situation, and, if it proves necessary, my right hon. Friend will return to the House and update hon. Members.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire referred to the delay in ministerial replies to hon. Members. I am aware of that problem, because it was raised in the House a few weeks ago. I said then that, if any hon. Member had particular difficulties, I would try to check on the situation. One or two examples were provided, but there have been few representations.
I know from my own inquiries that Ministers are receiving far more letters than their predecessors did in the previous Administration. Expectations of Ministers are higher this time, so replies sometimes take longer. I repeat that, although I offered to try to help, very few hon. Members have taken up that offer of assistance.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I welcome the fact that the Government of Wales Bill is to have a Second Reading. If the Government intend to split the Bill between the Floor of the House and Standing Committee, will hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies be fully consulted about such a split? Will my right hon. Friend give considerable thought to how the Committee stage will be dealt with? She may remember that there were many protests about the handling of Welsh legislation in the last Parliament. Will she ensure that all Welsh Members who are interested in serving on such a Committee will be able to do so?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I know that my hon. Friend has very strong views on this matter, as do other hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is no simple party divide as to how we should handle legislation of that kind.
As I said in my statement, I have announced the business for the second week on a provisional basis. Discussions have begun through the usual channels about the handling of the Government of Wales Bill—and, later, of the Scotland Bill. We want to try to agree a way forward with all parties in the House. I hope that hon. Members will make their views known and will feel able to make representations in the way that my hon. Friend has done. When we have had further discussions, I hope to be in a position to make a more definitive statement about how the Bills will be dealt with.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I reiterate the concern felt by many hon. Members about the delays in ministerial correspondence. There is equal concern about the apparent increase in the number of delayed replies to written questions.
I reinforce the concern that I think will be expressed by hon. Members and members of staff about the business on Monday 22 December. Perhaps the Leader of the House can examine carefully the business for that day to see whether she may ease the strain and stress.
I thank the Leader of the House for listening to representations about the timing of the debate on welfare to work. Many hon. Members—particularly those who serve on the Social Security Select Committee—would have been at a considerable disadvantage and would have been unable to participate in the debate as they will be on a special study tour on the day specified. Will the Leader of the House announce an exact date for the usual 1121 statement on social security benefits upgrading, which we expect at this time of year and which is of considerable importance to our constituents?
We were anticipating the arrival of several measures— both Bills and White Papers—from the Department of Health, perhaps in conjunction with other Departments. However, they seem to have been pushed into a backwater or up a branch line in Downing street—to either No. 10 or the Cabinet Office—with the intervention of yet more Ministers and consequent delays. We expected to see three Bills in the next few days, as well as a White Paper on food safety, and we now do not know when they will arrive. Will the Leader of the House assure us that that is not a sign that the position of the Secretary of State for Health is now unassailable?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman made about delays in letters and written answers. If he has specific information on such delays, I should be happy to deal with any queries that he may wish to raise with me.
I appreciate the problems that the 22 December sitting will cause for some hon. Members, but we have a very packed legislative programme, and there are some Second Readings that we wish to progress.
In his last point, the hon. Gentleman complained that the House is not making enough progress, yet he complains that we will sit on 22 December. These are difficult judgments, but we want to go ahead with as much of the programme as possible.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments on changing the date of the welfare-to-work debate, which is provisionally scheduled for 19 December. I hope that that date will be for the convenience of hon. Members who, for very good reasons, requested a change of date. We will try to accommodate such changes if they are necessary. That is one reason why I say that business for the second week is provisional.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is happy with progress on the various very large issues that are facing his Department. We will have a White Paper on health in the very near future, and it is important that such a White Paper is launched by a statement in the House. We need to make statements to the House on a series of issues. Therefore, it will be better if we try to pace them, and ensure that each gets proper consideration.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for an urgent debate on maintaining jobs in manufacturing industry? My constituency might serve as an example. We are facing pressure on jobs in train repairing, in Rolls-Royce motor cars, and even in a tea factory. Will she also seriously examine the business of retaining the absurd system of having Fridays off—which effectively means that Thursdays, too, are a dead day? Ministers and hon. Members would really much prefer to work solidly through the week, right up to Christmas, rather than to have extra days, such as 22 December.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The House will be sitting every Friday this month. Two of the Fridays will be used for debates on the Adjournment, in Government time, and two of them will be used as private Members' days. We currently have a good mix in the use of Fridays. I think that most 1122 hon. Members appreciate constituency Fridays, because we can plan some time in advance what we will do in our constituencies.
I appreciate and understand my hon. Friend's long-term concern about jobs in the manufacturing sector. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on Tuesday and the Government's welfare to work programme will help to improve skills in this country, with a consequential beneficial impact on jobs in manufacturing. Perhaps that matter could be raised in the debate that I said should be held on 19 December.
§ Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)
Will the right hon. Lady look again at the business on Friday, 5 December? Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he could not answer questions about disability benefits, because a consultation process was going on. There is, of course, also a consultation process going on about special educational needs in schools, and it is not due to finish until 9 January 1998.
Therefore, it would be much better to hold the debate scheduled for Friday, 5 December after the consultation process has ended—in the middle of January. If that were done, she could move the programme for Monday, 22 December to Friday, 5 December, perfectly dealing with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) on the organisation of business in the House.
§ Mrs. Taylor
It is very easy to shuffle all those cards around. Ultimately, however, we have to provide, for example, for two weekends after Second Readings. If we did not, Conservative Members, including the hon. Gentleman, might well complain. The matter is therefore not quite as simple as shuffling the cards, as he suggests.
It is a very good idea to have a debate on special educational needs. Many hon. Members feel that it would be beneficial if the Green Paper itself were discussed. It would be a good opportunity for hon. Members to report on the consultations that have already taken place, and for Ministers in that Department to open the debate and to give the paper further publicity, so that more people can participate in the consultation exercise.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
If, as we hope, tomorrow's private Member's Bill will be passed by a large majority, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether, next week, there will be a statement of the Government's intention? Has she seen the latest opinion poll, in today's edition of The Times, which shows that more than two thirds of the public support the measure? It seems to me that the Government should give either time or a definite commitment that such a measure will be added later—for example, to a Criminal Justice Bill. The House should be told. The public want such a measure, and they have a right to expect progress towards proper legislation.
§ Mrs. Taylor
There is a great deal of interest, both inside and outside the House, about tomorrow's debate on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill. I myself will be voting for it. If the House supports the Bill tomorrow, I hope that the Bill's opponents will respect that support, and not attempt to frustrate its passage. 1123 We should not anticipate problems before they occur, but we have made it clear that we cannot provide Government time for any private Member's Bill.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on Members' privilege? She will be aware that, last week, I raised the issue of the M5 contract irregularities. I am restricted in making the case on that matter directly to the Secretary of State, because an hon. Member is not covered by the same privilege when making a case to the Secretary of State as he or she is when speaking in the House.
It seems to be a ridiculous compartmentalisation of our work that we can raise an issue orally in the House to deal with something that we regard as a wrongdoing in our constituency, but that we cannot put the matter to the Secretary of State in writing. If we are to work effectively, does not that anomaly have to end?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman raises a significant point that affects all hon. Members trying to perform their job on behalf of their constituents. I cannot promise a debate, as he requested, but I will draw his comments to the attention of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. Perhaps I should remind hon. Members of the existence of that Committee. We will be inviting anyone with an interest in the matter or who wishes to comment on changes to submit evidence to the Committee. Examples of the type that he gave will help the Committee in its work.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
Before the Christmas recess, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Security that will end, once and for all, the social insecurity being caused by her proposals to cut benefits for single parents and their children? More than 100 Labour Members have signed a letter of protest, and more than 90 hon. Members have signed early-day motion 333, deploring such an attack on the living standards of single parents and their children.
§ [That this House notes that a major impact of any cut in lone parent child benefit will be on parents who obtain work and that this appears to be contrary to the Government's strategic objective of encouraging lone parents to get jobs; therefore considers that before proceeding with this proposal a full assessment of its impact on the living standards of the children should be undertaken, including reference to the Social Security Advisory Committee and consultation especially with women's organisations and those campaigning against child poverty, so that these can be taken fully into account by both the Government and the House.]
§ Mrs. Taylor
On other occasions, Ministers have explained not only the position and the difficulties that we have inherited, but the significant initiatives that have been taken to help lone parents back into work. The points raised by my hon. Friend can, of course, be raised in other debates that will be held in the near future.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
What liaison has the Leader of the House had with the Scottish Office and with Scottish Members in determining the pattern of business in the House? Why, for example, will we not have before 1124 Christmas the publication or a Second Reading debate on a Scottish Parliament Bill—although we welcome the debate on the Welsh Assembly?
May I point out also that, next week, the Scottish Grand Committee will meet on Wednesday afternoon. Hon. Members who serve on the highlands and islands convention will have to leave on the Thursday afternoon to attend a meeting, on Friday, in the Orkneys. That will deprive us of the opportunity to participate in a debate on the European Union, although the European Union is very important to the highlands and islands of Scotland. There needs to be a recognition of the pressures that are placed on hon. Members who come from the far-flung corners of the United Kingdom.
§ Mrs. Taylor
All hon. Members find it very difficult to do all the things that they would like to do. Very often, choices have to be made between constituency work, attending Committees and being in the Chamber. It is an inevitable difficulty, which always arises. As for the Scotland Bill, I have not announced all the business up to the Christmas recess or all the Bills that will be published.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Does that mean that the Scotland Bill is likely to be debated on 22 December?
I have given the Leader of the House notice of my next question: given the widespread feeling among Arab countries that Britain is acting as the poodle of the United States, is there any possibility of some proper discussion of our relations with the Arab world?
§ Mrs. Taylor
In response to my hon. Friend's suggestion that I am simply keeping the House sitting on 22 December to debate the Scotland Bill, I have to say that other Bills are awaiting their Second Reading as well as the Scotland Bill. As for his request for a debate on our relations with the Arab world, I am grateful to him for giving me notice of it. My hon. Friend is always heard with great respect on these issues. During the recent crisis, we tried to keep the House as informed as possible, but I am sorry that I cannot find time for the debate that my hon. Friend wants. He could perhaps raise such issues in the Adjournment debate before the Christmas recess.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
I am sure that the right hon. Lady will be as concerned as I am that I received a telephone call in my office only at 11 am today, informing me that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was opening a new building at a college of further education in Altrincham at lunchtime today. I gather from the point of order raised yesterday by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that this lack of notice is an increasing trend. Will the right hon. Lady arrange a seminar on procedure for her ministerial colleagues?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I will certainly investigate what the hon. Gentleman has said, although, if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was to be in Altrincham at lunchtime, he must have done very well, because he was certainly in London at 11.30 am.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of press rumours that there might be a change in Government policy with regard to freemasonry and the 1125 appointment of the judiciary. Will she find time for a statement to be made to the House next week to clarify the Government's position in that respect?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The Government have not changed their mind on freemasonry. We remain of the view that the public interest is served by having a register of membership of the freemasons for police officers, magistrates, Crown prosecutors and judges. We are considering the detail of how to implement that approach, and we will be responding as soon as possible to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which has commented on this matter.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
Will the Leader of the House stand by the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Wales in a press release issued this morning on the publication of the Government of Wales Bill:During the Bill's parliamentary progress, it is, of course, open to any hon. Member to pur forward changes to the Bill and to have these explored in detail through open debate."?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am sure that the Bill will get the full attention of all hon. Members, which it deserves. As I said, we are discussing through the usual channels and with other hon. Members the detailed handling of the Bill.
§ Mr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a short debate on industrial relations, particularly in light of the extensive lobby of the House this afternoon by members of staff from Barclays bank, who have been involved in a long-running dispute, which I regret has not been the subject of conciliation and arbitration by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, as the Government would wish?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am afraid that I cannot arrange for such a debate. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government would not wish to intervene in or comment on disputes of this kind. If he has a particular constituency interest, he might find other ways—perhaps by applying for an Adjournment debate—to raise the issue in the House.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on the national minimum wage, as that would enable the House to explore the deep and worrying split between the President of the Board of Trade, who believes that widespread exemptions from it are impracticable, and the Minister without Portfolio, who believes that they are essential? Does the right hon. Lady understand that, if her answer is the usual niggardly no, people will start to inquire what exactly this shabby and unprincipled Government are afraid of?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware that the National Minimum Wage Bill was published today, and will be discussed in the House in the near future.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The Leader of the House referred to the fact that hon. Members like to have two weekends between Second Reading and the Committee stage of a Bill. I understand that my 1126 colleagues were not able to table amendments to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill because of pressures placed on them by the Stormont talks. Would it be possible for amendments to be taken on Third Reading?
§ Mrs. Taylor
If hon. Members face any particular difficulties, we will always consider them, but we have given as much notice as possible of all stages of the Bills that have been introduced.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) in thanking the Leader of the House for giving two weeks' notice of business. It is extraordinarily helpful to colleagues to be able to plan further ahead. It is very good of her to make the effort, and I am sure that it is a practice that she will continue.
I respectfully draw to the right hon. Lady's attention a point made by several colleagues about the lateness of ministerial replies to constituents' letters. Not only are they consistently late—it is not true that the burden of letters is greater now: I have checked with my former Department and the burden is about the same, although it is still onerous—but many are not signed by Ministers, and this is happening regularly.
Of course, Ministers often have to go abroad and letters have to be signed in their absence perfectly straightforwardly, but the number of instances of this happening is unacceptable. Does the right hon. Lady accept that such a practice is not only impertinent to hon. Members who are writing to Ministers in an official capacity, but extremely rude to their constituents who have a right to expect a Minister to take the trouble to sign a reply which has, in any event, been drafted for him by someone else?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I will try to sustain the practice of giving two weeks' notice, but, as I said, it might not always be possible and such business will be provisional.
As for ministerial replies, I have said that I am concerned if there is a problem. I would welcome evidence from individual Members. The burden of letters is greater—I have checked with one or two Departments where that is clearly the case. The hon. Gentleman referred to Ministers not signing letters personally. There are always occasions, under any Government, when Ministers are not available, and I am glad that some hon. Members recognise that. It is of course desirable that Ministers should sign letters to hon. Members wherever possible, but that cannot always be the case.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
Will the Leader of the House clarify her views on the conduct of European Standing Committee B? There have been a number of occasions—indeed, this has happened at every sitting so far—when papers have been delivered extraordinarily late, sometimes with only 12 hours' notice. There have also been times when Ministers have steadfastly refused to answer serious questions, and the Liberal Democrats have been utterly absent from the previous three sittings, thereby illustrating their contempt for the Committee proceedings.
1127 Will the Leader of the House tell us why the most recent papers for the tobacco debate to which she referred fail to contain any reference to compliance costs or risk assessment, despite the relevance of those issues to that debate?
§ Mrs. Taylor
If the hon. Gentleman has some queries about any of the factors he mentioned at the end of his question, he will be able to raise them in that Committee. I take this opportunity to remind all hon. Members that they can attend the European Standing Committees—and, indeed, some do. I know that there was a difficulty this week—on Tuesday, I think—in the sense that one of the documents that was tagged as relevant to the debate was not available until the evening before. However, it was not the document that was to be approved. It was an incidental document, which was useful but not vital to the work of the Committee.
As for the absence of Liberal Members, it is not for me to answer for them, although I suspect that some may have spent some time in Winchester.
§ Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)
Will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity for a debate on local government finance, or allow for a debate shortly after any statement on the revenue support grant settlement? Is she aware that that will present an opportunity for a matter of serious concern in Cambridgeshire to be aired? Less than a month before the general election, the Prime Minister promised that the recommendations of the Elliott review into the area cost adjustment would be implemented for 1998–99, but her hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Housing says that that is not to happen, so that promise is to be broken.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I can confirm that the Department is considering a fairer system for the working of local government finance, and that there is much discussion on that matter. A statement on this year's settlement will be made in the near future.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
Can the Leader of the House be a little more specific about the Committee stage of the Government of Wales Bill, following the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and also the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who sits on the Government Benches? Will she take into account the fact that, although hon. Members from Wales have a great deal to contribute to such a Bill, so do hon. Members on both sides of the House?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am sure that hon. Members from Wales have a great deal to say, although none of them will be 1128 representatives of the Conservative party, because it has no Members for Wales. I have been as fair as possible. The usual channels are discussing the handling of the Bills, and my colleagues and I in the usual channels are happy to receive any representations from any quarter of the House.
§ Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the growing public concern at the aggressive and predatory marketing of pre-paid funeral services targeted particularly at the elderly and the vulnerable, as set out in some detail in early-day motion 504.
§ [That this House notes the growing concern over allegations of widespread aggressive and predatory marketing of prepaid and at need funeral and burial services targeted at the elderly and bereaved, the lack of transparency in the ownership of seemingly family run funeral parlours and in the prices charged for their services; the lack of control over the use and management of investments into prepaid funeral plans, now exceeding £10 million and growing rapidly and over the endorsement of these products by registered charities whose subsidiary trading companies are in receipt of commissions on sales; further notes that recommendations made by the Office of Fair Trading in 1995 to curb anti-competitive practices in the supply of funeral services have yet to be acted upon; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislation without further delay to regulate the selling and management of prepaid funeral investment plans, require total transparency in the declaration and display of ownership of funeral businesses and their charges, control the commercial activities of registered charities and their trading subsidiaries in the context of their charitable status and prohibit anti-competitive and predatory trading practices through direct selling techniques, through monopoly positions, and through exclusive commercial arrangements with nursing homes, hospices and NHS hospitals bereavement services.]
§ May I remind the right hon. Lady and the House that, in 1995, the Office of Fair Trading reported in some detail on the unregulated nature of those services, and made several recommendations on introducing regulatory legislation? Please will she find time to debate that issue fully in the House to try to stamp out the unfair practices and predatory behaviour of those organisations?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, which may be shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. There have been difficulties, which have been reported to many of us as constituency Members. Presumably that is why that early-day motion was tabled. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for consumer affairs is studying that matter and consulting. Perhaps that issue would be suitable for an Adjournment debate.