HC Deb 23 February 1999 vol 326 cc197-207 4.37 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The business for the remainder of this week will be as follows.

WEDNESDAY 24 FEBRUARY—Until 12.30 pm, a debate on the third report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on composition, recruitment and training of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, followed by a debate on the sixth report from the Agriculture Committee on flood and coastal defence, followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Social Security Contributions (Transfer of Functions, etc.) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Rating (Valuation) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

THURSDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Scottish Enterprise Bill.

Motion relating to the Corporation Tax (Instalment Payments) Regulations.

TUESDAY 2 MARCH—Opposition Day [6th Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Consideration in Committee of the House of Lords Bill.

THURSDAY 4 MARCH—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the House of Lords Bill.

FRIDAY 5 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

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

MONDAY 8 MARCH—Remaining stages of the House of Lords Bill.

Motion on the Implementation Bodies (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 9 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

WEDNESDAY 10 MARCH—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Continuation of the Budget debate.

THURSDAY 11 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 12 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 15 MARCH—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

The House will also wish to be reminded that, on Wednesday 24 February, there will be a debate on VAT fraud in intra-community trade, the Independent Fraud Office and the Court of Auditors annual report for 1997 in European Standing Committee B [Economic Secretary to the Treasury], and that, on Wednesday 10 March, there will be a debate on transport infrastructure charging in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 24 February:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: OJC 349, Court of Auditors report for 1997; 14031/98, Independent Fraud Office; 10786/98, VAT Fraud in intra-community trade; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 34-vi, HC 34-vii and HC 34-viii (1998–99).

Wednesday 10 March 1999:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community document: 10778/98, Transport Infrastructure Charging. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC I 55-xxxvii (1997–98).]

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The House is grateful for this week's and next week's business and for an indication of the business the week. after. Can the Leader of the House confirm that we will be reverting to the usual pattern of having business questions on Thursdays?

Will the Foreign Secretary be making a statement to the House following the expiry of the deadline for the talks at Rambouillet? In view of the interest in the subject on which the Prime Minister has just made a statement, and the large number of hon. Members who were not called, can we have a full debate in Government time on the national changeover plan? During that debate, can we have an answer to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), namely, whether the Government plan to shadow the euro or not?

The Leader of the House has confirmed the date for the Budget, but can she confirm that we have not had the normal debate on public expenditure which used to take place in the autumn? Can she assure the House that that debate will be provided in due course, in Government time?

Tomorrow, the House is expecting the report on the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. Can the Leader of the House find time to debate the important issues raised by Sir William Macpherson and initiate a debate, which will, I hope, avoid any witch hunt of Sir Paul Condon? On that subject, can she guarantee that the House will be told the outcome of the leak inquiry? What has happened to the Home Secretary's plans to publish the draft freedom of information Bill, which is constantly trailed but never appears?

Finally, the Leader of the House has outlined the broad dates for the Easter and Whitsun recesses. Can she give the House the actual dates, so that it can plan its future arrangements with some certainty?

Mrs. Beckett

I can confirm that it is normally my intention to make the business statement on Thursday, but I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House to have the statement early this week, because we were not sitting last Thursday; otherwise, hon. Members might not have had much notice of the business to come.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be making a statement on issues relating to Kosovo. Obviously that is a matter that the Government will keep under review, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that, at present, those issues continue to be discussed. He asked also for a debate in Government time on the matters on which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just made a statement. That statement was, of course, very full, although I recognise that many hon. Members wanted to speak. As the right hon. Gentleman will have realised from the business statement, there is time for the Budget debates; but we will bear in mind any request, made through the usual channels, for a wider debate on that matter.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a restoration of what he called the normal debate on public expenditure. To my recollection, what used to be the normal debate on public expenditure was dispensed with by the Conservative Government when I was shadow Chief Secretary, which was a considerable time ago, and they never managed to reinstate it. However, that is certainly a matter that I will bear in mind and will discuss through the usual channels.

We obviously intend to have a full statement on matters that are raised following the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence report, although I cannot add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said yesterday about that document being leaked.

It remains the Government's intention to publish the freedom of information Bill; and I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to give the right hon. Gentleman the actual recess dates.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

When will either the Defence Secretary or the Foreign Secretary make a statement to the House on the dramatically escalating conflict in the skies over northern Iraq? In the past few hours, two 2,000 lb bunker-busting bombs—likened by Jane's Defence Weekly to tactical nuclear weapons—were dropped very near the important Iraqi city of Mosul. As you know, Madam Speaker, Britain is not at war with Iraq and any pilots dropping such bombs who either fell from the sky or were shot down would not be prisoners of war. They would be in a very perilous position indeed, having wreaked such devastation on Iraqi cities, and would not be protected by the conventions of war.

Mrs. Beckett

All I can say to my hon. Friend is that, as he knows, the Foreign Secretary is heavily engaged in discussions on other matters at present. We endeavour to keep the House informed of major and significant developments. With regard to his final remarks, may I say to him with respect that being prisoners of war did not much protect British pilots who were shot down over Iraq in the past?

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

We warmly endorse the request for a full debate in Government time on the euro changeover plan. May we have an answer to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) put to the Prime Minister, which was not answered, about the timing of legislation for the referendum? We must ensure that it is in place before the next general election so that we can take advantage of the proper circumstances at the proper time.

On 4 February, I asked the Leader of the House whether she had taken into account the damaging statement made by her colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which appeared to suggest that maternal transmission was now the accepted explanation of how BSE could continue beyond the 30-month period, and she undertook to draw that to the Minister's attention. Can we now have a full statement on the Government's attitude to this matter, as the chief scientific adviser has now gone on record as saying that beef on the bone should not be banned on scientific grounds and that it is entirely a matter of politics? I appreciate that it is not possible to give a date for further debate on this issue because of time constraints over the next few weeks, but can we have an assurance that the Minister will come before the House and explain that apparent change in attitude?

Mrs. Beckett

On the timing of the legislation for a referendum, we are not yet at that stage. The hon. Gentleman will remember, as will the whole House, that, when the House has decided that it wants a referendum to be conducted, it does not necessarily take long to pass the legislation—I believe that it took only six weeks to deal with legislation for a referendum on the Scotland Bill.

I did take up with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised with me about beef on the bone. I recall the observations of the chief scientific adviser, although not precisely in the terms to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. He will recall that my right hon. Friend made an extensive statement on that matter in the recent past—certainly since the hon. Gentleman raised the matter with me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Pursuant to the answer that my right hon. Friend gave my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), are not few other matters more important than a parliamentary discussion of the whole question of bombing and its endorsement? Incidentally, the endorsement of the bombing of the Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum has turned out to be a huge mistake.

There should be a proper discussion in Parliament of what on earth we are up to in Iraq. Is the bombing to continue? It is all very well for my right hon. Friend to say that last time our pilots were badly treated, but if there is no declaration of war they have no legal rights, as we understand them, under the Geneva convention. Even if a shell does not hit one of the Tornados, heaven help us—if a Tornado can malfunction over Lincolnshire, it can certainly malfunction over Iraq. We are drifting into constant war. What matter could be more important for the House of Commons to discuss?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I do not share my hon. Friend's analysis of the position in which we find ourselves in Iraq. He will be as conscious as I am of the fact that those engaged in overflying, whether in the north or the south of that unhappy country, are there to prevent the free operation of Iraq's armed forces in persecuting those who live in the north and south of that country. They are there in pursuit of United Nations policy.

On the general issue of our approach to these matters and the policy that drives that approach, I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall that, only yesterday, we had questions to the Secretary of State for Defence, when these matters may have been aired.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

The Government insist on giving the House of Commons these inappropriate gift days, thereby preventing the Opposition from holding the Executive to account. If that should happen again, will the right hon. Lady procure the Prime Minister's attendance on the Tuesday before the free days, so that he can answer questions from the whole House?

Mrs. Beckett

I remind hon. Members that there was considerable pressure from both sides of the House—primarily from people who had not voted for us to run the experiment—to have different sitting hours on Thursdays and the possibility of some free days roughly during last week. The House took a decision on that matter, and many hon. Members who did not vote for it were foremost among those pressing for those days to be awarded. I further remind the hon. Gentleman that, although it has clearly slipped the memory of most Conservative Members, the Prime Minister attends Prime Minister's Question Time more consistently than either of his last two predecessors.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her answer about Iraq was totally unsatisfactory? British forces are continually engaged in conflict. They may be shot down, but they are killing civilians with no legal authority. Dennis Halliday, who is in charge of the United Nations oil-for-food programme, has said that between 5,000 and 6,000 Iraqi children under five are dying every month because of the sanctions. If the House of Commons cannot discuss that, and has to rely on the "Today" programme and "Newsnight", it reflects the Government's attitude to the role of Members of Parliament in this hugely important matter.

Mrs. Beckett

My right hon. Friend has gone beyond the terms of our defence engagement in Iraq. I am sure that he is as conscious as the rest of us of the fact that it is not because of sanctions that children are dying for lack of food in Iraq. If anyone is dying for lack of food in Iraq—[Interruption.] I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), who is interrupting, that he knows that that is the truth. The Iraqi Government have the capacity to use the resources they get from selling oil to purchase food and medicines. If they do not to do so, because they choose to purchase arms, that is a tragedy—but it is not a tragedy of the British Government's making.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I press the Leader of the House on the matter of a public expenditure debate, which was raised by right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)? Is the right hon. Lady hiding behind the arrangements made by the previous Government? Is she suggesting that she wants to continue those arrangements, and approves of them, or will she bring the public expenditure debate more into line with what her right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing? The House has the impression that she is trying to hide something. Why can we not have a proper debate on public expenditure in its own right as a matter of urgency, so that we know exactly where we stand on that key issue?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not hiding behind anything, and I am not sure what on earth the right hon. Gentleman thinks he is saying. I remind him and other Conservative Members that, when he was a Minister, the previous Government made substantial changes to the handling of our debates on the Budget and on public expenditure. Those changes were never rectified. I agree that the matter should be looked at again, and it will be. It does not, however, lie in the mouths of Conservative Members to condemn the Government on a matter about which they did nothing.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Is it not absurd that the House of Lords is now on the second day of a debate on the White Paper on Lords reform, whereas we have so far been denied such a debate, which would be forward looking? There are obviously constraints, which we have mentioned, on discussing the Government's view of how the House of Lords should be reformed by way of the Bill currently before Parliament.

Furthermore, in any debate on the arrangements that the Prime Minister has just announced, could someone answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) about the democratic control of the people over economic policy, and results through the ballot box?

Mrs. Beckett

It is true that the House of Lords is currently debating the White Paper, but the House of Lords does not have the Bill before it, because the Bill is being debated in the House of Commons. We have not ruled out a debate on the White Paper, but, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, it and the Bill deal with somewhat different matters: the Bill deals with the changes that the Government propose to make now, while the White Paper deals with the future. The fact that the House of Lords is discussing that does not mean that we should be discussing it at this stage.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield about what he described as the people's loss of democratic control over their affairs. I can only say that I have no doubt that these matters will be aired, and aired extensively, as they have been ever since the days when a Conservative Government took us into the European Community. I must add, however, that in my view both the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend are among those who would normally be telling us that the British people do not have enough democratic control over their financing in any event, irrespective of whether we join the single currency.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I acknowledge what the Leader of the House has said about the speed with which a Bill to implement the intention to hold a referendum may be pursued, and also what the Prime Minister said earlier about the need for fairness in the conduct of that referendum; but is the right hon. Lady in a position to say when the Government may present proposals for the establishment of an election commission with the remit of considering rules guaranteeing such fairness?

Mrs. Beckett

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, which was that the Government were considering the recommendations that had been made and would present proposals in due course.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

This is the fourth year running in which the European Court of Auditors has issued qualified accounts for the European Union. Would it not be appropriate for the debate on the EU's budget to take place in the Chamber, rather than being tucked away in Standing Committee B? The people of this country could then be made aware of the extent of the misappropriation of funds, the fraud and the endemic corruption in the organisation into which her quisling Government wish this country to integrate.

Mrs. Beckett

It was, in fact, the last Government who decided that such matters should be dealt with by the European Standing Committees, and their decision has been endorsed repeatedly by the House. As the hon. Gentleman will know, any Member can take part in the Standing Committees' debates. Only recently, the Government widened the remit of the Committees, enabling them to discuss the full range of issues—including legislative proposals from the European Commission—that may be relevant to European Union business. That is a major step forward. We are improving scrutiny of European business, without having to bring it back to the Floor of the House.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

The Leader of the House will have observed the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who were not able to question the Prime Minister on the changeover plan. May I repeat the call for an opportunity for the issue to be debated?

May I also make a plea for a debate on Gibraltar on the Floor of the House? That might also enable us to discuss the wider issue of dispatching Her Majesty's armed forces to other regions of the world to defend or protect people who are not Her Majesty's subjects, while the livelihoods of Her Majesty's subjects in the colony of Gibraltar are threatened by the unreasonable and intolerant attitude of a so-called partner in the European Union.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot say that I feel inclined to offer to find time for a debate enabling us to discuss sending the armed forces to Gibraltar, but certainly the Government want any difficulties and disputes arising there to be settled as amicably as possible, and we are turning our mind to that.

I did indeed observe the number of Members who were anxious to take part in the exchanges about the Prime Minister's statement, but, as the hon. Gentleman will have noted, I have reminded the House that the Budget debate will provide an opportunity for the issue to be aired.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Will the Leader of the House consider making time available for investigation of the procedures by which the House considers secondary legislation? Frequently, statutory instruments are available only late at the Vote Office, so that considerable time has passed before hon. Members are able to examine them and consider whether they wish to pray against them. SI 229, for example, was laid before the House on 5 February, but was not available to hon. Members until 15 February. SI 274 was laid before the House on 8 February, but was not available before 15 February. SI 337, laid on 15 February, was still not available as of this morning. Does the Leader of the House agree that the House cannot perform its proper job of scrutinising Government legislation if Departments withhold the information necessary to do that job?

Mrs. Beckett

I am indeed mindful of the difficulties that are caused, and I experienced for many years in opposition. The hon. Lady will find that those difficulties are not new to the House—sadly—although they might be new to her. I share her view that the situation is not desirable. The Government are doing everything that we can to improve the handling of legislation, so that such delays do not occur. However, it takes time to rectify the very many defects that we inherited.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am sure that the right hon. Lady will know that, on Tuesday 9 February, I raised a point of order with Madam Speaker, on an apparent leak of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's report on Sierra Leone. Subsequently—as I am sure that the right hon. Lady also will know—the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), provided a written answer, stating that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office first saw the report after 8 am on 9 February. Today, the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) admitted that, in January, he leaked a copy of the draft report to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, that statement does not tie in with the information that we received last week or with the stated events of 9 February.

Will the right hon. Lady therefore arrange for the Foreign Secretary to come urgently to the House to make a statement explaining exactly when he, his Ministers, his officials, his advisers or No. 10 Downing street first saw that leaked document, and what use they subsequently made of it? Was it that document that enabled them to rubbish a report that had not yet been published, by making statements to the media at 7 am on 9 February?

Mrs. Beckett

I realise, of course, that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Surely, therefore, he will be aware that it is currently a matter for that Committee, and that, if there has been a leak of a Select Committee report, procedures in "Erskine May"—which I believe he will find on page 670—state what should be done if such an issue arises. Although I bow to no one in my respect for the proper handling of the procedures of the House—personally, I cannot recall that I have ever leaked anything or ever intended to do so—I should tell the hon. Gentleman, and hope that no one will take frivolous offence at it, that for him to suggest that the Foreign Secretary should abandon the talks that we all hope will bring peace in Kosovo and come to the House to deal with a question on that matter puts into perspective the very strange priorities of Conservative Members.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the resignation from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross)—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We cannot have a debate on that matter in business questions. I shall take the point of order after business questions have been completed.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on the Government's anti-democratic arrogance and techniques in using large amounts of public money to override public opposition to the euro and in using the trade union bloc of votes to override popular opposition to Labour's crony candidate for the leadership in Wales?

Mrs. Beckett


Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

The Leader of the House will know that she has a responsibility to protect the interests of Back Benchers. May I therefore add to the calls made by my right hon. and hon. Friends that there should be a full debate—not only during the Budget debate, but in Government time—so that the House may properly consider what is unquestionably the most momentous decision to be made by a British Government in decades, if not centuries: surrender of the pound sterling in favour of a foreign currency?

The right hon. Lady should not be so contemptuous of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). We are talking about serious matters. Palming us off with the suggestion of raising them during the Budget debate is not worthy of her or her position. I advise her to reconsider, given her responsibilities to the House.

Mrs. Beckett

With respect, I did not palm anyone off. I shall be astonished if the Conservatives do not take the opportunity of the Budget debate to allude continually to those issues. Today's statement was about practical preparations to enable us to join the single currency should the British people decide at some point that we wish to do so. The notion that that is the most momentous announcement made in the House for centuries is extraordinary. Those of us who recall the announcement that we were to join the European Union, never mind the whipped decisions to join the European single market and give up the veto—all decisions taken by Conservative Governments—will view the hon. Gentleman's remarks with astonishment.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind the points made by her right hon. and hon. Friends about Iraq? If she cannot find time for a full debate on that, will she ensure that the Foreign Secretary comes to the House to make a statement as soon as he gets back from the Kosovo peace talks? This is a matter of huge national importance, and I invite the right hon. Lady to pay greater attention to the comments of her hon. Friends.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for raising that matter, because it enables me to correct something that I said in response to heckling by my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin. I referred to the purchase of arms, but I meant the expenditure of money on the Iraqi armed forces. I shall bear in mind the hon. and learned Gentleman's request for a statement, but I remind him that there was an opportunity to raise the issue at Defence Question Time yesterday.

Mr. Garnier

That is not the point.

Mrs. Beckett

This is business questions, when hon. Members can ask for opportunities to raise matters that there has not so far been an opportunity to raise.

There was an opportunity to raise this issue only yesterday at Defence Question Time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary seeks meticulously to keep the House informed, but I suspect that, should he come to the House to make a statement in the near future, it is possible that Kosovo will be more immediately on his mind than Iraq.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the House always takes seriously the leaking of Select Committees or House reports. She will also be aware that our hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) volunteered to the Foreign Affairs Committee this morning that he had leaked an early draft of the Committee's report. Will she confirm to the House that the appropriate procedure is that adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee this morning? The matter should be referred to the Liaison Committee, which is meeting on Thursday this week. It will report back to the Foreign Affairs Committee and thence, probably via this House, to the Privileges Committee. The report of the Privileges Committee, after evidence has been taken, will be debatable in the House.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The proper procedure, laid down in "Erskine May", provides for his Committee to discuss the matter and for it then to go to the Liaison Committee. I think—I am speaking from memory—that the proper course is for the Liaison Committee to send any matter that it thinks should be reported to the Privileges Committee. I am not sure that it goes via this House, but I shall check that. My hon. Friend is right: there is a proper procedure to be followed. I was confident that his Committee would follow it.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Yesterday, the Home Secretary drew attention to the distinction between run-of-the-mill statements and other statements. Will the right hon. Lady be able to tell us which are run-of-the-mill statements before they are made? If not, will she ask Ministers to make their statements to this House first, with no briefing around them beforehand?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman's question is based on a false premise, because that was not what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that I listened carefully, and my right hon. Friend said that there was a distinction—however much one might deplore it—between the leaking or other disbursement of relatively run-of-the-mill documents, such as Green Papers or White Papers, and the leaking of the report of a judicial inquiry, which is not in any way—[Interruption.] I suggest that Opposition Members take this seriously. A judicial inquiry is, in itself, a serious matter. The report is not a Government document, or a Government policy facing criticism. It is the report of a judicial inquiry in which the Government's only role was to set up the inquiry so that the matters could be examined. The Government have nothing to defend or to be concerned about in terms of the publication and leaking.

As for the hon. Gentleman's desire to have matters reported to the House first, I entirely share it. I would simply say that, given that the action yesterday of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the Conservative spokesman, was to deplore the Home Secretary's action in launching an injunction in an attempt to protect the interests of the House, I take his exhortations with a pinch of salt.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given the breath-taking inadequacy of the statement from the Prime Minister which the House has just endured, will the Leader of the House find time for a statement next week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he is able, once and for all, to commit the Government to publish a White Paper on the economic, political and democratic implications of abolishing the pound? Does the right hon. Lady understand that the publication of such a White Paper would enable the Chancellor to declare whether he agrees with the former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez that the European single currency is the greatest abandonment of sovereignty since the foundation of the European Community? Moreover, it will enable the Chancellor to explain why he believes that the control of the British economy should be given up permanently to people whom we do not elect and cannot remove.

Mrs. Beckett

No doubt, there will come a time when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may publish documents dealing with those issues, but, since he is supposed to be publishing his Budget in the relatively near future, I doubt whether he is working on those at the moment. As for the hon. Gentleman's reference to the breath-taking inadequacy of the statement, I have observed—as, I am sure, has the House—that there is no statement that has yet succeeded in taking away his breath.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

May I reiterate my request to the Leader of the House, made on 4 February, that she arrange for a statement by the Secretary of State for Health on the progress of the royal commission on long-term care which—she will recall from the Health Secretary's statement on 4 December 1997—he confidently expected would report within 12 months, and which is now more than two months late?

Mrs. Beckett

I will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request, which I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who I am confident will be anxious to publish whatever he can as soon as he can.