HC Deb 30 October 1997 vol 299 cc1038-50 4.12 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

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

MONDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Education (Student Loans) Bill.

TUESDAY 4 NOVEMBER—Opposition Day [3rd allotted day].

Until about 7 pm, there will be a debate on the Government's proposals for student finance, followed by a debate entitled, "The Countryside under Seige". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

WEDNESDAY 5 NOVEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the Magistrates' Courts (Procedure) Bill [Lords].

Second Reading of the Fossil Fuel Levy Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Ministerial and Other Salaries Bill.

THURSDAY 6 NovEMBER—Proceedings on the Supreme Court (Offices) Bill.

Second Reading of the Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Debate on innovation and the role of small firms on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows.

MONDAY 10 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill.

TUESDAY 11 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Bank of England Bill.

WEDNESDAY 12 NOVEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be the usual debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

THURSDAY 13 NOVEMBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which a Government reply has been given. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Debate on policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 5 November there will be a debate on the fifth framework programme for research and technological development in European Standing Committee B.

The House will also wish to know that it will be proposed that on Wednesday 12 November there will be a debate on landfill waste sites in European Standing Committee A.

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

[Wednesday 5 November:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 7310/97; (b) 10385/97, Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (RTD). Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 155-ii (1997–98); (b) HC 155-iv (1997–98).

Wednesday 12 November: European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community document: 6692/97, Landfill Waste Sites. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-iii (1997–8).

Thursday 13 November:

Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee. Relevant Reports:

Report No: Title HC No. Publication Date
1 The Office of Gas Supply: The Regulation of Gas Tariffs (The Gas Cost Index) 37 14 November
2 Progress in Completing the New British Library 38 20 November
3 The Sale of the Mining Operations of the British Coal Corporation 60 21 November
4 The Construction of Quarry House 69 27 November
5 Highways Agency: The Bridge Programme 83 28 November
6 The Audit of European Community Transactions 84 4 December
7 The Hospital Information Support Systems Initiative 97 5 December
8 Information Technology Services Agency: Outsourcing The Service Delivery Operations 98 11 December
9 Resource Accounting and Proposals for a Resource-based System of Supply 167 15 January
10 Excess Vote NI DHSS 19 February
11 Excess Votes Classes I, IV, VII, XIII, XIV, XVII (7 & l3) 293 13 February
12 ODA: Turkish Universities Equipment Project 70 27 February
13 H M Treasury: The Second Sale of Shares in National Power and PowerGen 151 6 March
14 Department for Education & Employment: Financial Control of Payments made under the Training for Work and Youth Training Programmes in England 61 13 March
15 The Award of the First Three Passenger Rail Franchises 39 13 March
16 Office of Electricity Regulation, Office of Gas Supply: The Work of the Directors General of Telecommunications, Gas Supply, Water Services and Electricity Supply 89 19 March
Report No: Title HC No. Publication Date
17 Health of the Nation: A Progress Report 85 20 March
18 National Savings: Financial Reporting 214 25 March
19 Former Yorkshire Regional Health Authority 432 26 March
20 Payments to the National Lottery Distribution Fund 99 27 March
21 The Management of Space in Higher Education Institutions in Wales 159 2 April
22 British Rail Maintenance Limited: The Sale of Maintenance Depots 168 3 April
23 Ministry of Defence: The Financial Management of the Military Operation in the Former Yugoslavia 242 4 April
24 Department of Transport: Freight Facilities Grants in England 284 8 April
25 Plymouth Development Corporation: Regularity Propriety and Control of Expenditure 450 8 April
REPLIES Treasury Minute on the First to Eighth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97 CM 3559 12 February 1997
Treasury Minute on the Ninth Report from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97 CM 3577 12 March 1997
Treasury Minute on the Twelfth to Twenty-Fifth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97 CM 3714 16 July 1997

Friday 14 November:

Debate on policing of London. The following document is relevant: Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis 1996/97.]

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement. I hope that she fully recovers her voice soon. I thank her for giving us two weeks' business—it is a precedent that we hope she will follow regularly.

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that in the debate on student grants and loans on Tuesday, we shall have a full explanation of why students from Scotland and the Irish Republic at Scottish universities will pay nothing for the fourth year of their degree courses, whereas students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to pay £1,000? Will she also confirm that the money that is garnered from students will, in fact, go straight to the Treasury?

Will the right hon. Lady arrange for a statement next week on Government information officers? Is she aware that there is widespread concern about the reasons that a number of them have given when they have resigned? The Government are in danger of tarnishing the civil service with their own image, as the gentleman from Millbank replaces the gentleman from Whitehall. Will she take on board the concern both inside and outside the House about that matter?

Will the right hon. Lady also arrange for a statement next week, preferably as part of her business statement, assuring the House that when we come to debate proportional representation for the European Parliament, all the stages of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? Does she accept that there is concern in all quarters of the House about that change to our electoral system?

Finally, will the right hon. Lady give an idea of when she expects the report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to be debated on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the two weeks' business that I have been able to announce. I shall endeavour to give as much notice of business as possible, although I am sure that he will appreciate that that will not be possible on all occasions. However, we shall try.

The debate on student loans will be as comprehensive as possible, in the half day that the Opposition are allowing for it. It was their choice to have a half-day rather than a full-day debate. It will be an opportunity for Ministers to answer questions on the Government's policy and to show that it is a far better approach to financing higher education than anything that the previous Government, now the Opposition, have suggested.

I do not think that a statement on Government information officers is necessary. I refer the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to the evidence that Sir Robin Butler gave this week to a Select Committee. I do not think that the concerns about the matter are justified.

On the Bill to introduce proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament, we are not yet in a position to announce when Second Reading will be held. We shall discuss matters relating to the handling of the Bill in the usual way.

I hope that we shall find time to debate the Modernisation Committee report during the coming month and that that debate will not be too far away.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my right hon. Friend find time in the next week to debate the appalling news that Rolls-Royce is up for sale to any foreign firm that wishes to take it over? Is she aware that many British jobs in my constituency are now at risk? As the name Rolls-Royce has always been synonymous with the best of British workmanship, we can regard the development only with fear and trembling.

Mrs. Taylor

I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend, and I know that she will be worried from a constituency point of view about the long-term outcome for that company. Ultimately, however, it will be a commercial decision. The Government will welcome any outcome that secures the long-term future of Rolls-Royce as a manufacturer of good-quality British cars.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement and particularly for her courtesy in giving us greater notice of forthcoming business. She will have noticed that the Opposition have chosen to split Tuesday's debate into two halves. Does she believe that that is to enable the two halves of the Conservative party to have their say, or does she perhaps believe that Conservative Members will save up the debate on the troubles within their party until Thursday's debate on the Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Bill?

As the Leader of the House said, Tuesday' s debate on student funding will be relatively short. Will she therefore agree to hold a separate debate, in Government time, on the Government's plans to introduce resource accounting, particularly to give us an opportunity to discuss proposals to separate, in accounting terms, lending from spending? Is she aware that, if that were done, it would be possible to release significant sums to resolve immediately the higher education funding crisis, without breaching departmental spending control limits?

Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that we can reduce our need to build more roads, by making better use of existing ones? Will she arrange for a debate on Government plans to provide means to improve our use of existing roads, and particularly to discuss Government measures to address the appalling behaviour of inconsiderate motorists who hog the centre lanes of our motorways, thereby reducing the number of lanes from three to two?

Mrs. Taylor

Perhaps we are having two half-day debates next week because the Opposition do not have much to say about either of those issues and did not think that either one was worth debating for a full day.

There is not scope for a debate on the overall funding of higher education in the very near future, not least because the Government will have to find time for the Second Reading of Bills that are now ready to be considered. Higher education funding issues will, however, have to be examined—although, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, there are no simple answers. Obviously, he was speaking from the heart, or from personal experience, when he spoke of roads. I therefore trust that he has been able to respond to the Government's consultation process and to feed in his ideas in that way.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On the question of the coal industry and the fact that there is the possibility—the danger—of another 10 pits being closed in the next 12 months or even sooner, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that, if it is right to hand over large sums to Richard Branson to run the railways industry, it should be possible to devise a system to enable coal miners to retain their jobs? If the Government find ways and means to subsidise the industry in whatever form—whether it is clean coal or some other technology—will they ensure that that money is used to take a stake in the industry? The last thing that the miners want is for the money to go into Richard Budge's pockets.

Mrs. Taylor

I know my hon. Friend's concern about the problems facing the coal industry, and other hon. Members share that concern—as was demonstrated in yesterday's debate on the Adjournment. I am sure that my hon. Friends who are Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry have listened to all the comments that have been made.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Following the Chancellor's initiation of the debate on the European single currency, may we please have an early debate on the framework for the on-going debate, which is going to last for several years? In particular, can we ensure that we highlight the possible or, indeed, likely benefits of the United Kingdom staying out of the European single currency—in the unlikely event of that succeeding—and that we tell the British people the full implications for our nationhood of this country ever joining a European single currency?

Mrs. Taylor

If and when the time comes when the Government and Parliament recommend to the people in a referendum membership of economic and monetary union, the debate will be very full indeed.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the latest craze that is gripping the nation's young people—the use of laser pens that can be bought for less than £20 and which can project a high-intensity beam of light up to 200 ft, or from one end of the Chamber to the other? Those pens are being used to dazzle footballers, temporarily blind bus drivers and generally cause mayhem. Will my right hon. Friend consult the Home Secretary with a view to an early statement on how the laser pens can be controlled?

Mrs. Taylor

The matter has been raised in my constituency because of incidents there, so I am aware of the concern being expressed. Those pens have on occasion been used as offensive weapons and can be classified as such if they are misused in that way.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

The Leader of the House kindly said that the afternoon of 12 November had been earmarked for a debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. May I nevertheless ask her to reconsider and instead to find time for a full two-day debate next week on the treaty of Amsterdam because, as I am sure she is aware, that treaty continues the process whereby more decisions that affect the United Kingdom are taken outwith the United Kingdom, by institutions that we do not elect and cannot remove? As there can be no issue that exceeds in importance that of democratic control of our affairs, may I plead with the right hon. Lady to allow the House a proper and full debate on the matter next week?

Mrs. Taylor

There is not time for a debate next week, but I have announced a debate for the week after.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Following the unfortunate but, I understand, accurate leak of the uprating statement, which reveals the disappointing news that basic pensions will next year be increased not in line with earnings but in line with prices, does the Leader of the House think that we should have a debate on early-day motion 1?

[That this House celebrates with joy and hope the election of what will be a great reforming Labour Government; applauds its manifesto declaration that 'all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation'; asserts that this can be achieved for the present generation of pensioners only by restoring the link between basic pensions and average earning; urges an immediate start to the promised manifesto review of 'all aspects of the basic pension and its value, second pensions including SERPS and community care' and a renewal of the commitment to retain SERPS.]

The early-day motion reminds us that the manifesto on which my right hon. Friend and I fought the general election a few months ago said that we promised that all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation".

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend knows that the Government are reviewing what should happen to pensions. I do not think that, in advance of the public consultation which, I think, ends tomorrow, it would be appropriate to make any further comment at this stage.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

With regard to the forthcoming debate on the European referendum Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) mentioned, does the right hon. Lady agree that it is a major constitutional change that, for the first time, the electorate will not be able to vote for an individual but will be forced to vote for a party? Will she therefore give a cast-iron commitment that there will be a full and proper debate and that it will be taken entirely on the Floor of the House? Incidentally, can she reassure me that the Labour party will not allow the gentlemen from Millbank to decide which Members of the European Parliament should be placed high on the list, thereby excluding those brave Members of the European Parliament who are trying to speak up for democracy but are being silenced by their party?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman asked about the European referendum Bill; I think that he may be anticipating other policies that are on his mind at the moment. I presume that he means the Bill to allow elections to the European Parliament to be by proportional representation. I have not yet announced when the Second Reading of that Bill will be, but his points can be made when that time comes.

Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)

My right hon. Friend joined many women from both sides of the House yesterday on the steps of Church house to raise awareness of breast cancer. As that devastating disease affects one woman in 12, will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a Government statement at the earliest opportunity on breast cancer—its prevention, care and cure?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to say that the issue is of concern to many women. The campaign to increase awareness, which has been active in recent days, has made a clear impression on them. The fact that one woman in 12 can be affected by breast cancer is devastating. All those who have helped to increase awareness of the risk and the opportunities for screening are providing a good service. My hon. Friend has highlighted that today and I am therefore not sure that we need a statement in the near future.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

When will the right hon. Lady find time for a debate on this country's relations with India and Pakistan? Does she agree that, in spite of the pressures of imperial history, the friendship between the British and those nations is wonderfully strong? Is it not right, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary should be held to account for his gratuitously condescending gaffe over Kashmir?

Mrs. Taylor

I absolutely reject the hon. Gentleman's comments. I represent many people whose origins are in India or Pakistan, and I have found no difficulties with the Foreign Secretary's comments.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

I welcome the changes to the Order Paper. After 90 years, they are well overdue. The changes are simple and effective and I wonder why they took so long. Many aspects of the House need modernisation. Are there any further proposals on the voting system?

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We are not able to debate the report of the Modernisation Committee next week, but I hope that we shall be able to do so in the near future. We shall then be able to mention some of the other proposals that the Committee is considering and give a clearer picture of our future work. The report that we have issued is not the last word on changes to the House.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

In just over a month, Ministers will go to an international conference on climate change. In view of the importance of the issue for the future of the world and the abdication of leadership on it by the Americans last week, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate in Government time, so that the House can examine the British Government's position before Ministers go to the conference in Kyoto?

Mrs. Taylor

The Government already have a good record on giving significant priority to environmental issues. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be going to the Kyoto conference, and we are making progress. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Americans have not been as quick as this country to embrace the problems and find solutions, but there is evidence of progress. We have to look for any positive moves at the conference. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do that. I do not think that there is scope for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

Will my right hon. Friend give time in the next fortnight for a debate on the Child Support Agency? Every Member of Parliament, including Ministers, receives important, tear-jerking representations from constituents. Because of the gross deterioration in the operation of the Child Support Agency, the House should be given the opportunity to debate the issue and make changes where necessary.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that next Wednesday, when we discuss the fossil fuel levy, we should be able to debate the coal mining industry? May we have a statement on that industry, because of the threat to many miners' jobs? Next Wednesday would be an opportune time for clarification on the future of the industry.

Mrs. Taylor

I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks on the fossil fuel levy to the attention of the Ministers who are dealing with that debate.

My hon. Friend calls for a debate on the Child Support Agency. I share his worries about how that agency is operating, as do my right hon. Friends in the Government. My hon. Friend may recall that shortly before the House rose in the summer, there was a debate in Government time on the Child Support Agency, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security expressed her concerns about how the system was operating. I know that she found the debate useful, because hon. Members were able to give individual examples of the significant problems that constituents of all of us have with the CSA. My right hon. Friend was able to take on board the points made and she is now reviewing the CSA.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

The Leader of the House may be aware of the worrying and serious development in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein-IRA have now extended their opposition to lawful and legitimate Protestant parades to Remembrance day parades. That shows that they are against everything that reflects the British way of life. In view of that development, will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate next week to consider the matter?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not know whether the specific points that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are accurate, but I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House view the Remembrance day parades and ceremonies with great respect. That should be the case, because people from all communities and all religions were affected by the events that we commemorate on Remembrance day.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the figures issued today by the Department for Education and Employment, which show a dramatic increase in the number of permanent exclusions from our schools? About 12,500 pupils are now permanently excluded from schools, and the seriousness of the figure is shown by the fact that 1,600 of those pupils have been excluded from primary schools. Clearly, our schools and our teachers face a crisis. The House needs to address the problem, and to try to understand some of the reasons for it and some of the difficulties involved. Many of our young people are now being forced out of school for one reason or another, and we need to address the problem as soon as possible.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to say that exclusions are a serious problem for the individual children concerned and their families, and for the whole education world. We are concerned that today's figures show a further rise in the number of children permanently excluded from school. It is important that the new guidance now available is looked at by schools and that we have intervention as early as possible, to minimise the number of children who are permanently excluded. It is important to keep children in education and for them to benefit from the education to which they are entitled for as long as possible. Exclusions have to happen on some occasions, but we should be working hard to minimise the number of exclusions and their impact.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I join others in welcoming the innovation of giving two weeks' notice of matters to be discussed.

I note that the European Communities (Amendment) Bill is to be given its Second Reading on 12 November. Can the Leader of the House help me, as I am a new member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? The Committee's first opportunity to take evidence from the Foreign Secretary on the implications of Amsterdam will be on 4 November. It will, therefore, be extremely difficult for the Committee to give adequate consideration to that and other evidence that it may wish to take, and to report back to the House before Second Reading. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House suggested any way in which that aim could be accomplished successfully.

I also have a question about the European parliamentary elections Bill. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be an early introduction of a registration of political parties Bill, as one Bill cannot operate without the other?

Mrs. Taylor

On Amsterdam, I have had a letter from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. I received the letter only last night, but I am looking at the Committee's concerns, to see whether there is any way in which we can assist it in its wish to have deliberations. I do not, however, think that we can hold up the Second Reading debate on that basis.

The hon. Gentleman referred to European elections and the system of proportional representation. He is right to say that it requires the registration of political parties. The Government intend to introduce legislation on the issue, and discussions with other parties are going ahead at present.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention early-day motion 343, on the future relationship between the national health service and personal social services?

[That this House believes that overwhelming evidence from all parts of the country demonstrates that patients, service users and carers are suffering as a consequence of the organisational divide which artificially separates health care and social care, and that weaknesses in the community care system and delayed discharges are prime examples of the impact of the current divide on vulnerable individuals, their families and the wider community; notes the Government's decision to set up health action zones and make an extra £300 million available for the NHS as important and welcome developments, but also notes that collaboration and co-operation between health, social services departments and other relevant agencies whilst essential, has too often failed to deliver high quality, seamless and cost effective services; and further believes that the future configuration of the structures established to commission and deliver services should be directed by the needs of patients, service users and carers for accessible and integrated support, that existing health and local authority structures should be replaced by integrated organisations responsible for both health care and social care, and that these organisations should be democratically accountable to their local communities either through direct elections, or management boards which include significant representations from local elected members.]

Will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate an issue that affects all hon. Members? Community care is a wonderful idea, but we all know that there are problems with the way in which the health service and local government social services interact. This is not an attack on local government, but a way in which we can try to bring the two services together.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend raises an issue that concerns many people: the need for proper co-operation between health and social services. The Government are not planning to introduce community care authorities to replace the existing structures in health authorities and local authorities, but we are concerned to achieve better co-operation. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in particular is looking to ensure that that operates in practice and that community care is not blocked by unnecessary regulation or by local authorities and health authorities not working together properly. It is a matter of concern, but I am afraid that I see no prospect of an early debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friends concerned will be willing to listen to any ideas that my hon. Friend may have.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend for two debates. First, may we have a debate on further education, as distinct from higher education? The further education sector is crushed under the weight of corruption, a lack of accountability and a shortage of funding. Secondly, let me reiterate the calls for a debate on the mining industry. There was a debate last night on the narrow issues of subsidies and coal imports, but there are much broader questions. The coal industry will probably face destruction within 10 years at the hands of Dick Budge and the Conservative Members who flogged it off a couple of years ago.

Mrs. Taylor

I cannot add to what I have already said in respect of requests for a debate on the coal industry. However, I shall of course bring all comments to the attention of the relevant Ministers. As for further education, the Government are well aware of the financial difficulties that face many further education colleges and the position that we inherited from the previous Government. Ministers are considering the future of further education as a matter of urgency and will be making announcements in the near future.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May I take my right hon. Friend back to her reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) in respect of the Bill giving effect to the Amsterdam treaty? Does she understand that there is cross-party disappointment that it will not be possible for the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to complete a report before the Second Reading of the Bill on 12 November? That is something that members of the Select Committee and the Government should avoid in future, bearing it in mind that in our general election manifestos we all signed up to enhancing Select Committees. In view of my right hon. Friend's disappointing reply, which means that we shall not have time to produce a report before the Second Reading of the Bill, will she at least give the House an undertaking that the Bill will not proceed in Committee until the Foreign Affairs Committee has been given reasonable time to produce a report?

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure that it is impossible for the Foreign Affairs Committee to complete its report. Select Committees have worked hard to meet the deadlines that we all face on certain occasions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is giving evidence next week. I understand that the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe is also giving evidence to the Select Committee on European Legislation in this House, and in another place. Therefore, while I am trying to be helpful to the Foreign Affairs Committee, I cannot give my hon. Friend the guarantees that he seeks.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the Leader of the House perhaps consider, not next week but within a short time—bearing it in mind that the Kyoto conference is approaching, Customs and Excise seems to be objecting to the reduction of VAT on insulation material and we hope to put in hand in the near future a large house building programme, which is desperately necessary to house the homeless—finding time for a debate on the building regulations? We need to debate how they stand, how they should be altered and, indeed, how they should be improved.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend has combined with some ingenuity a whole range of issues. In respect of his basic point, I am afraid that I cannot find room for a debate on the building regulations in the very near future.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to a debate on safety at sea, especially in relation to fishermen? My question is prompted by my serious concern over the refusal by the marine accidents investigation branch to sanction the lifting of the fishing vessel, the Sapphire, from the sea bed in the North sea. It is my view, as a member of a fishing family, that we owe it to the families of the men who were drowned when the vessel foundered, that the vessel should be retrieved, as the Antares was from the Firth of Clyde, and that if the bodies are inside the vessel, they should be given a Christian burial.

Mrs. Taylor

I understand my hon. Friend's concern about a serious matter that affects him and the families involved. I regret that I cannot find time for a debate in Government time. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider applying for an Adjournment debate or even a Wednesday morning debate, as it is clear that he takes the issue seriously.