HC Deb 01 July 1999 vol 334 cc450-62 1.33 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

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

MONDAY 5 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

TUESDAY 6 JULY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 JULY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate described by the Opposition as "Crisis in the dairy industry", followed by a debate entitled "Choice and diversity in education". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 8 JULY—Remaining stages of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 9 JULY—The House will not be sitting.

As I am sure the House will understand, some uncertainty remains about the business for the week commencing 12 July. The business will, however, include:

MONDAY 12 JULY—Estimates day [2nd Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of schools in England, followed by a debate on transport policy. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10 o'clock the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

FRIDAY 16 JULY—There will be a debate on the policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 7 July, there will be a debate on the 2000 Preliminary Draft Budget Overview and the Agenda 2000 inter-institutional agreement. That debate will be in European Standing Committee B. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 7 July 1999:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Union documents: SEC(99) 600: 2000 Preliminary Draft Budget; COM(99) 200: 2000 Preliminary Draft Budget; 7698/99: Agenda 2000: Institutional Agreement. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 34-xxi and xxiv (1998-99).]

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business—which is clearly an important factor at this time—it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Tuesday 27 July, and return on Tuesday 19 October.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

I thank the right hon. Lady for next week's business and a framework for business for the following week.

The right hon. Lady will have heard of the sad death of one of her predecessors as Leader of the House: Lord Whitelaw. We all send our sympathy to Lady Whitelaw and the family. Willie Whitelaw was a brave, loyal, decent, wise and honourable man. His popularity and the respect in which he was held went way beyond my party: it extended to all parts of the House and, indeed, to the wider public, who liked and trusted him and who will miss him, as we do.

We understand all the difficulties about Northern Ireland. I assume that that is the uncertainty to which the right hon. Lady referred in relation to the week after next, but what arrangements has she in mind to keep the House informed about the important discussions that have been and, indeed, still are taking place?

The right hon. Lady announced a debate on the dairy industry. Would not that debate be informed by the publication of the Milk Marque report, which has been available for some time? As she will have heard, there is growing frustration at its non-publication. Will she seek to make it available before that debate?

The Select Committee on Standards and Privileges reported on the premature disclosure of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs report and recommended that an hon. Member should be suspended. When will the House debate that report and recommendation? Will the Foreign Secretary, whose arguments were rejected by the Committee, take part in that debate to address what was said about him, his advisers and civil servants?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, before the House rises, we shall have a debate on economic matters, and that the much postponed debate on the royal commission on long-term care will also take place before then?

We are grateful to the right hon. Lady for the dates of the summer recess, but when will she be able to announce the date of the state opening?

Mrs. Beckett

I join the right hon. Gentleman and Members on both sides of the House in asking for our sympathy to be conveyed to Lady Whitelaw. Lord Whitelaw was liked, respected and admired in all quarters of the House. He was a most distinguished Leader of the House—that was only part of a distinguished career. I am certain that he will be widely missed throughout the House.

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right: the uncertainty to which I referred is events in Ireland, where we cannot clearly anticipate what the needs of the House may be. I am not able to give him any more firm information at present. The Government are, of course, mindful of the need to keep the House informed and we will do our utmost to do so. Any arrangements involved will be discussed through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to ensure the release of the former Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on milk marketing. He will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday. He has already drawn the interest in the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I will also do so. However, the right hon. Gentleman will know that these matters are complex and difficult, and that it is only right that the report should be published when proper consideration of its recommendations has been undertaken.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me when the report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges would be discussed. A motion will be tabled at the appropriate time, in accordance with the terms of the Committee's recommendations. I cannot give him a time for that at this moment, but I assure him that we are looking for such a time.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm that there would be a debate on economic matters. I certainly hope to be able to secure one before the recess. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on long-term care before the summer recess, but I do not rule it out later in the Session.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I associate myself fully with the remarks about Willie Whitelaw. He was a great parliamentarian and a great believer in this place above all.

I remind my right hon. Friend that today is the day of the transfer of functions to both the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. We have not had an opportunity to debate how we will handle business in the House of Commons relating to Wales and Scotland. There is an interim report by the Select Committee on Procedure. It is urgent that we debate it, so that the House can clarify hon. Members' position in relation to Welsh and Scottish business. Will my right hon. Friend therefore make time available as soon as possible, so that we may debate and come to a decision on those matters?

Mrs. Beckett

I am very aware of the interest that my right hon. Friend has long taken in these matters. We are, of course, aware of the Procedure Committee's report, but I cannot undertake to find time for a very early debate on it. As he will be aware, the situation is developing—the Scottish Parliament, for example, is being opened only today. The Government will respond to the Procedure Committee's report in due course, but I cannot find time in the immediate future for a debate on it.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On behalf of my colleagues, I endorse what has been said about Willie Whitelaw—with whom, as a very new Member, 1 had the pleasure of working in the 1974 Parliament. I had the greatest respect for his talents in this place.

I also endorse the statement that we should have early information on the outcome of the MMC report on the milk retailing industry. May we have an undertaking that a Department of Trade and Industry Minister will participate in Wednesday's debate—so that, even if we do not have the Government's final determination, the Minister might at least hear the very real concerns of all hon. Members representing dairy farmers about the very long delay in reaching a decision?

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to this morning's judgment in the case of the Department of Health v. Aldridge, concerning specialist cheese production. It raises some very important issues. Will the Secretary of State for Health come before the House to make an early statement on the role of the Food Safety Act 1990, and the emergency control orders deriving from it, in driving out—I do not exaggerate; that will happen if the situation is allowed to get out of control—some of the United Kingdom's most important specialist food producers?

Reports today state that the chaos in the passport office may have been caused partly by preparations to ensure 2000 compliance. If it is true that the millennium bug is part of the cause of the chaos, which is causing so much misery to our constituents, will the right hon. Lady and her team please consider the matter urgently and make it the subject of an early report to the House?

Mrs. Beckett

I should first like to use this opportunity to reply to the final question asked by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), on the date of the state opening. I cannot do so now, but hope to do so in the not too distant future. I shall do so as soon as I can.

I am pleased to hear the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) confirm what has been said on both sides of the House about the late Lord Whitelaw.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether a DTI Minister would participate in next Wednesday's debate. I cannot give him that undertaking. Although the report is a very important matter, the aspects of it that are for the DTI are on competition policy, not on other policy. However, as I told the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, I undertake to draw the concerns expressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and to ask him whether it would be possible for a DTI Minister to attend the debate. I cannot say now whether it will be possible to arrange that, as Ministers have many commitments.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me about cheese production. Although I am aware of the concern, as he rightly said the judgment has only just been given. I cannot anticipate whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will wish to make a statement on the matter, but I shall certainly draw the request to his attention.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me—very understandably, after the press reports—whether there is any truth in suggestions that the problems in the passport office have some relationship with the millennium bug. I am assured that the millennium bug has no relationship to the problems at all. The new system was developed to introduce a more secure digital passport, and has no connection in any way, shape or form with the millennium bug. Indeed, the passport office has been processing dates beyond 2000 for many years—as hon. Members will readily appreciate when they realise that passports have a 10-year validity. Such reports are, therefore, yet another piece of scaremongering by people who should know better.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing the annual debate on policing in London, which is to take place on 16 July. Although I know that she cannot control events, will she at least try to ensure that that Adjournment debate is not interrupted by a statement at 11 am, as such statements tend to get in the way of things on Fridays? Will she find out through the usual channels who will be speaking for the Conservatives, given that the shadow Home Secretary is from Kent and their London spokesperson is apparently from Oxfordshire?

Mrs. Beckett

I am happy to say that I have no responsibility for what the Conservatives choose to do about these matters, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's remarks will have been taken on board. I shall certainly bear in mind what he said about the need to avoid a statement during the debate on policing in London. I am well aware that hon. Members consider it to be an important debate for which they have long sought a suitable day. We are trying to avoid statements on Fridays, but my hon. Friend and the House will understand that it is not always possible. Indeed, sometimes it is for the convenience of the House.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

The right hon. Lady will know of my interest in the DTI response to the Milk Marque report. I do not apologise for returning to the issue as it is so vital to the dairy industry and agriculture in general. The right hon. Lady said that it was necessary for the Government to consider fully the MMC report. The normal process is that the Government are given 10 weeks to reach a decision and to report to the House. The report has been with the DTI for 18 weeks, and I believe that the House and the industry have the right to expect the report to be published before the debate next week. Will the right hon. Lady press that forward?

Mrs. Beckett

As I have said, I will draw the concern that has been expressed in the House to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has given a commitment that he will seek to publish the report before the summer recess. Whether he can publish it before next week, however, is another matter. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is normal process that such reports are published after 10 weeks. Having been the relevant Secretary of State, I am not aware of any such rule. Indeed, I inherited a substantial number of reports that had been around for a lot longer than that. Just before the general election, my predecessor informed me that a number of extraordinarily difficult and sensitive issues had been lying on his desk for a number of weeks, and that he proposed to leave them to his successor.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Does not today's news that the majority of the drugs that were donated to Kosovo refugees were either useless or lethal mean that we need an urgent debate on the subject? It follows the case of 11 pregnant Lithuanian women who were temporarily blinded by a drug that had been donated to their country. The instructions were in English only and the drug was intended for animals. Two hundred children in Haiti and Nigeria died after taking donated paracetamol which had been mixed with a toxic substance in the donor country. Should we not investigate the reasons why so many companies gain tax advantages by donating to charities overseas, and avoid the cost of disposing of useless and unwanted drugs in tips at home? Such companies are cynically dumping their problems on people in Kosovo and other third world areas in order to increase their profits.

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest and concern in these matters. The whole House will share his anxiety about the reports that we have heard today. He has rightly identified the fact that the problem is widespread and complex, and does not necessarily involve the United Kingdom. Of course, that does not mean that it is not a matter than hon. Members might want to discuss and pursue, but I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Recalling the late Lord Whitelaw's legendary charge about some politicians going around whipping up apathy, is it really in the Government's interest that their inactivity on long-term care should begin to seem like indecision?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course we are not inactive. My right hon. Friends are giving the most careful and thorough consideration to the far-reaching proposals from the royal commission. The right hon. Gentleman and the whole House would wish the Government to undertake such consideration before producing proposals and ideas for discussion. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right. The remark about stirring up apathy is only one of many memorable observations which we all recall with affection from Lord Whitelaw.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the Home Office's disgraceful decision to grant draconian new powers to the police to levy spot fines on cyclists, a decision taken without proper consultation and with no debate in the House? Is she aware that Home Office figures show cyclists to be a negligible risk to pedestrians in comparison with the risks posed to pedestrians and cyclists by illegal parking and bad driving? Does she agree that it would be quite unacceptable if the police were to spend valuable time and resources chasing children on bicycles while illegal parking and driving were widely ignored?

Mrs. Beckett

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern for cyclists, and I appreciate that responsible cyclists have a right to proper treatment by the police and by everyone else. However, my hon. Friend, as a keen defender of cyclists, will condemn those cyclists who are irresponsible and inconsiderate and who are a danger to others, including pedestrians. A public consultation exercise was held before the order was introduced, and a notice cannot be issued to anyone under 16. We hope that the provisions will improve public safety without causing greater disadvantage to cyclists.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I, too, pay tribute to Lord Whitelaw. He was a genial man, and one of the few Cabinet Ministers prepared to apologise publicly for his mistakes, as we heard some time ago during a debate at a Conservative party conference.

Can the Leader of the House assure us that General John de Chastelain's reports will be published, and that hon. Members may have copies before any further debate is held on Northern Ireland? I ask for the reports in the light of an article in today's Evening Standard, which states that Sinead O'Connor, from whom I differ politically and theologically, has refused to appear at the West Belfast festival. She had intended to speak against victimisation and beatings, but her life has been threatened by the IRA. She has pulled out of the festival because she does not want to be a propagandist.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said about Lord Whitelaw.

I take heed of the rest of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland his request for publication of General de Chastelain's report. We all hope that the difficult and delicate issues to which he has referred may be resolved later today.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on institutional reform in the European Union, in which we might highlight links between the British Conservative party and the Italian neo-fascists? We could also raise the fact that a Conservative Commissioner has taken a post with a Spanish telecommunications company while still serving as a Commissioner. May we have an opportunity to impress on the institutions of the EU the need for integrity in public life?

Mrs. Beckett

I recognise my hon. Friend's long interest and expertise in European matters. I am aware of the embarrassing discussions held by the Conservatives in their attempts to find—somewhere in the European Parliament—a comfortable home that will satisfy the different wings of their party. They appear to have settled for being half in and half out of the European People's party, but I suspect that they will find that as uncomfortable as sitting on the fence usually is.

Whatever the origins or political party of the retiring Commissioner, the matter raised by my hon. Friend is a matter for the European authorities. I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and it may well be felt that there should be rules, such as those that apply here, about how such matters should be handled. If such steps are allowed by the contracts under which European Commissioners serve, as appears to be the case, my hon. Friend will be aware that those contracts were not negotiated by us.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

When will the concordats between this place and the National Assembly for Wales be produced? The right hon. Lady referred to the opening of the Scottish Parliament today. The vesting powers have been transferred to the National Assembly for Wales, but they will be hampered because the concordats have not been produced. Nobody in this place or in the National Assembly for Wales has seen any of them. Without them, the place cannot function. When can we reasonably expect to debate this issue?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot offer time for a debate on the issue in the near future. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is intended to produce concordats, and I will draw his wish for them to be produced speedily to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. Welsh questions will be held on Wednesday, and the hon. Gentleman may find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Many of us welcomed the Government's announcement yesterday that they would provide more than £6 million to campaign against domestic violence and to tackle violence against women. However, may I press my right hon. Friend for an early debate on the issue of domestic violence? Throughout the country, a number of organisations that already provide services to women are facing financial difficulties, largely as a result of the withdrawal of funds by health authorities. Can we discuss this matter in the House to look at how we can mesh together the new initiative "Living Without Fear" with the real problems that are facing our constituents and those organisations?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend, and the welcome that she has given for the document and for the proposals to support the helpline will be shared across the House. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future, but my hon. Friend will know that there will be opportunities in various pre-recess debates where she may seek to raise the matter.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

The right hon. Lady will know that, earlier this week, an important and thought-provoking report was published—namely, the final report of the urban task force, chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside, entitled "Towards an Urban Renaissance." As these issues raise vital matters of concern not only for people who live in cities and towns, but for those who live in the countryside, will the right hon. Lady look favourably upon an early opportunity—even if it is not before the summer recess—for a full-scale debate on this important issue?

Mrs. Beckett

It is one of the issues that I will bear in mind when I look at requests for future debates. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a full-scale debate on the matter in the near future. In fact, we had such a debate fairly recently, although I recognise that it perhaps preceded the publication of the report. The hon. Gentleman might consider talking to his right hon. Friends, who get Opposition time.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend make time for an early debate on our progress in reforming the national lottery so that we can consider the launch today of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts—the excellent national fund for talent? Such a debate would allow the House to congratulate a three-way partnership of Harrow council, Harrow arts council and Harrow heritage trust on successfully completing phase 1 of a £1.75 million lottery bid to refurbish Headstone manor, a quite delightful 13th century moated manor house in my constituency.

Mrs. Beckett

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the launch of NESTA, and I am delighted to hear of the successful moves in the Harrow partnership. It sounds like a delightful project, and I get the impression that my hon. Friend is extending a welcome to Members of Parliament to go and see what is being done. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future, but I am confident that my hon. Friend will continue to use his ingenuity to raise the matter.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

On behalf of all my constituents and all the people of Cumbria, may I take this early opportunity to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Willie Whitelaw? I followed in his footsteps, but I do not think that any man could ever aspire to fill his shoes. Today, not only has his family lost a devoted family man, Cumbria its finest ambassador and the Conservative party a true and loyal friend, but the nation has lost a great statesman.

On a business point, will the right hon. Lady please consider holding a debate, at an early opportunity, on how we handle Scottish and Welsh matters?

Mrs. Beckett

No doubt, there will a number of opportunities to consider how we handle Scottish and Welsh matters. There is, of course, a report from the Procedure Committee, to which the Government are considering their response. I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate on the matter, but I shall lodge the right hon. Gentleman's request with others on the same issue.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The right hon. Lady will remember that, during Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday, her right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister responded to questions on the passport office from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Leader of the House. The Deputy Prime Minister said: Today's figures show that the queues are getting shorter. He said later: I am assured that, by 11.30 this morning, the queues had been completely cleared."—[Official Report, 30 June 1999; Vol. 334, c. 341–42.] Those two statements are demonstrably incorrect. Home Office officials advise that the number queueing has now reached a record high of 565,536 and rising. On television last night, the Home Secretary was shown touring the queues that, only a few hours earlier, his right hon. Friend said had completely disappeared.

In accordance with the code of practice for Ministers, has the Deputy Prime Minister asked the Leader of the House for time to make a personal statement apologising to the House and to the nation for those substantially misleading remarks?

Mrs. Beckett

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is simply making a point; I cannot believe that he is making a serious request. There may well be a simple, practical reason why queues have reappeared today: on hearing that the queues had substantially diminished, people may have been encouraged to come along to the passport office.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady's deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, for telling me on Monday that he and the right hon. Lady carefully consider all early-day motions tabled during the week before delivering the business statement. Does the right hon. Lady recall having looked at early-day motion 455, on the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on Milk Marque, which I tabled on 19 March?

[That this House notes the extreme difficulties experienced by many in the dairy sector; further notes that these difficulties are being exacerbated by the delay in publication and failure to reach a decision on the outcome of the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the milk industry; believes that further indecision on the part of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is damaging the industry; regrets the entirely inadequate reply given by the Leader of the House on this subject to the honourable Member for North Cornwall on 18th March, Official Report, column 1264; and accordingly calls upon the Secretary of State to publish the report and to make a statement to the House forthwith.]

Did the right hon. Lady bring that early-day motion to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? As other hon. Members have pointed out, it is quite extraordinary that, four months later, we are still awaiting a response. It is not simply a dry matter of competition; it is a matter that affects all the dairy farmers in my constituency and all those working in milk-processing plants in my constituency, of which there are a great number. Will she give us an assurance that the report will be published before the summer recess, and that we will have a chance to discuss it on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Beckett

No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman either of those assurances. As I have already made plain, we have drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the concerns that have been expressed. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are not saying that it is merely a matter of dry competition. Competition responsibilities are serious ones. The Secretary of State is required to act in a quasi judicial role; that means taking those responsibilities with extreme care and seriousness.

I do, of course, understand the concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that they want the report to be published as soon as possible. However, the hon. Gentleman will realise that my right hon. Friend has statutory responsibilities in those matters.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Before the next Government reshuffle, may we have a debate on the processes of government? Has the right hon. Lady had the chance to read the excellent article in today's Evening Standard entitled, "How Prescott and his team took transport for a spin"? Is she aware—or does she deny—that the advisers to the Deputy Prime Minister brief against the Prime Minister? Is she aware that the advisers to the Deputy Prime Minister refer to the Prime Minister's advisers as teenyboppers? Does she not think that, far from being joined-up Government, that is interdepartmental warfare of the worst and most destructive kind?

Mrs. Beckett

I am pleased to say that I have not seen the article to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As for the notion that we should base a Commons debate on it, given the title cited by the hon. Gentleman, it sounds as though it is a less than impartial piece of reporting. Having had some recent experience myself of press reporting that was literally a piece of fiction from start to finish, I do not take it very seriously.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Welsh Assembly plans to report on a proposed lifting of the beef on the bone ban before it rises for its recess? As the majority of Members elected to that Assembly promised in their election manifesto to vote for the lifting of the ban, will the right hon. Lady give me some advice? What is the position of my constituents living right on the Welsh border if they go over the border, buy beef on the bone in Wales and bring it back? The question also applies to innocent travellers from the south of England, who might pass through in their caravans. May we have a clear statement on the position of those living in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom if they commit an act that is legal in one part of the United Kingdom, but prohibited in the three remaining parts?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question, but it is based on a decision that has yet to be made by the Welsh Assembly, and I do not propose to anticipate that decision.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we have an early statement from the Home Secretary to clarify Government proposals to resolve the escalating passport crisis? Is the right hon. Lady aware that my constituent Sarah Crisp currently intends to go on honeymoon with her husband-to-be Jonathan Breaks on 7 August; that she applied for her passport in May; that the cheque has been banked; but that she has received no communication to reassure her that her application will soon be processed? Is she aware that, in responding to the debate the other night, Ministers said only that they would move heaven and earth to ensure that people received their passports in time, but that they did not give a categoric pledge that people would receive their passports in time? May we have a statement to enable such a pledge to be made?

Secondly, will the right hon. Lady take account of the genuine and widespread concern that, although Ministers are saying that the passport in person charge will be waived—[Interruption.] No, I do not need to hesitate when asking my questions, unlike the Under-Secretary of State for Defence when he responds to debates.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is taking rather a long time. Will he put his question now, briefly?

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful for your guidance Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Can the Leader of the House guarantee that, if people have to make an application in person and incur travelling costs in the process, they will be reimbursed for those costs?

Mrs. Beckett

All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has repeatedly made clear in the House, Ministers are doing everything possible to make sure that the problems experienced in the Passport Agency are resolved, and they are extremely mindful of the difficulties that people are experiencing. Any Minister who gave a guarantee that there would never be a mistake in his Department's handling of any issue would be a less than wise Minister, but Ministers are doing all they can to resolve the difficulties.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House to resolve an apparent contradiction between two answers he gave to questions about whether the Security Service is or is not continuing to monitor subversion? On 21 June at column 783, the right hon. Gentleman cast doubt on my assertion that the Security Service was no longer monitoring subversion, but in a written answer yesterday, he asserted that what was said in his Department's booklet about MI5 was still valid— namely, that the Security Service is currently undertaking no investigations into subversion. In view of the failure of intelligence about the riot in the City, which the Home Secretary acknowledged was thought out in advance in a conspiratorial way, is it not important that the House knows whether MI5 is still doing its job in that vital respect?

Mrs. Beckett

I have not studied closely the two answers to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but it seems possible to me that there is no contradiction between them. If I heard him correctly, one answer is that there are no current operations, which is not the same as saying that the Department has given up the role entirely. Although I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate to clarify the matter, if the hon. Gentleman feels that there is confusion, he may find that dropping a line to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is a fruitful way of proceeding.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

The right hon. Lady will be aware of the long-standing and continued hostility of the Spanish Government towards Gibraltar, and of the way in which the Government steadfastly refused to accept amendments to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 to give Gibraltarians the right to vote in the recent European elections. She is, perhaps, not aware that her Government are now stalling on the issue of a banking passport to Gibraltar, which will, of course, seriously affect the colony's economy. Will she, therefore, grant the House the early opportunity of a debate on Gibraltar so that we can discuss all those matters and more besides, which are published in the excellent report of the Foreign Affairs Committee?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the near future. I am aware of the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report, and I know that the report is being studied carefully and there will be a Government response in due course. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that Foreign Office questions will be tabled on Tuesday, and he might seek to get the matter on to the Order Paper by that means.