HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc783-97 12.33 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

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

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Health Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 15 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

WEDNESDAY 16 JUNE—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Conclusion of remaining stages of the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

THURSDAY 17 JUNE—Debate on Kosovo on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on tourism on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week—I emphasise to the House that it is more than usually provisional, because of all the obvious reasons related to Kosovo—will be as follows:

MONDAY 21 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Access to Justice Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 22 JUNE—Second Reading of the Food Standards Bill.

Motion on the Church of England Cathedrals Measure.

Motion on Care of Places of Worship Measure.

WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day] (First Part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Consideration of any Lords amendments that may be received to the Tax Credits Bill.

THURSDAY 24 JUNE—Opposition Day [15th Allotted Day].

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

FRIDAY 25 JUNE—There will be a debate on innovation and enterprise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 16 June there will be a debate on incineration of waste in European Standing Committee A.

[Wednesday 16 June 1999:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union documents: 12756/97, 12791/98, Incineration of Waste. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 155-xiii and HC 155-xxxi(1997–98). Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 34-viii and HC 34-xxi(1998–99).]

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business for the following week. We welcome next week's debate on Kosovo. Will it be opened by the Prime Minister?

Will the right hon. Lady find time soon for a debate on the report of the royal commission on long-term care, published some three months ago? There is concern, expressed in early-day motion 405, that the important issues that it raises should not be ignored.

[That this House congratulates the Government for its commitment to tackling the inequalities and inefficiencies of the present system of funding long-term care for older people; commends the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care for reporting within 14 months after consultation with over 2,000 organisations and experts in the field as well as members of the public; and joins with Age Concern in calling on the Government to produce a clear timetable for introducing long overdue changes to the system in recognition of the fact that older people do not have the time to wait for further debate.]

Likewise, there is a need for a debate on drugs following the first report of Keith Hellawell. Might those two subjects be debated shortly?

Given the real concern that those who served this country in Northern Ireland 30 years ago in the Parachute Regiment might be put needlessly at risk, may we have an opportunity to debate soon the issue of their anonymity in the Bloody Sunday inquiry?

As Britain experiences today its first taste of the closed list and proportional representation, would it not be sensible to have an early debate so that hon. Members can share with the Government their constituents' experience of the voting system and the new method of representation?

Finally, in the interests of all those who work in the House, can the right hon. Lady shed some light on the summer recess? If she cannot tell us the date, can she gives us the week, or, failing that, the month, in which it might commence?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman who will open the debate on Kosovo, but I doubt that it will be the Prime Minister. However, that is still under discussion because of ministerial commitments.

The right hon. Gentleman requested debates on long-term care and on drugs, and I shall bear that in mind. I am conscious that interest in debating those matters has been expressed. Obviously, the report on long-term care was detailed and the Government are giving a great deal of careful thought to its conclusions. As he will appreciate, and as he knows that I have said before, we have lost a lot of time as a result of the Kosovo issue, although I do not think any hon. Member regrets that. It was necessary to find time for proper reporting to the House, but it has made a difference to our finding time for other issues.

With regard to the inquiry in Northern Ireland, I understand that the issue of anonymity, which I accept is important, is today being considered by the courts, so not only do I not want to comment further, but, depending on what the courts say, I doubt whether it is a matter on which we could have a debate. Moreover, those are very much matters for the inquiry; it is for the inquiry to make those decisions.

I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on our constituents' experience of the European elections, although I rather doubt that, faced with a ballot paper on which they were invited to make a free choice on such a vast number of names, they would be as grateful as Conservative Members seem to think that they would be. No doubt, we shall have a great deal of anecdotal comment, but whether we need a debate is another matter.

As for the recess, I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's generosity in the breadth of the indication that he invited me to give. I can certainly tell him that we hope that we might rise in August.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

On this day, will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that some United Kingdom subjects will not be able to exercise their vote in the European elections and, unlike the majority, would really like to do so? I refer to the people of Gibraltar. Because of the widespread cross-party interest and support in the House for Gibraltar, and bearing in mind that my hon. Friends on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs are bringing forward a report in about a week's time, may we have some dedicated time on the Floor of this Chamber, not the new one, to discuss Gibraltar? That is something that we owe those people who are denied the franchise today—something that I regret.

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend takes great interest in those matters and is an enthusiastic advocate for the people of Gibraltar, but I fear that I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for a debate dedicated to their affairs. I am sorry that he rejects the notion of having a debate elsewhere.

Mr. Mackinlay

In addition.

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, but I would simply say to my hon. Friend that there are many worthy matters and we are unlikely ever to find time to debate them on the Floor of the Chamber, which is one reason why the majority of Members of the House decided to provide extra time in another way.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

The Leader of the House may be aware that two of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Adams, were last week on holiday in St. Petes Beach, Florida. They were arrested—

Madam Speaker

Order. I understood that, in asking about business, the hon. Gentleman was speaking on behalf of his party, not on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Willis

With respect, Madam Speaker, I am raising an issue that affects all citizens of this country who visit Florida.

Madam Speaker

Perhaps we can move to that issue. I called the hon. Gentleman at this stage because I had been given his name as the Member speaking on behalf of his party.

Mr. Willis

The party has asked me to raise this issue, and I say to the Leader of the House that my constituents were arrested, strip searched and put in jail on a charge relating to child abuse, although all that they did was leave their hotel room and go to the side of the pool to watch a firework display. Will she please ask the Foreign Secretary to issue guidance to all families who are about to travel to Florida on holiday, to make sure that they are not subjected to the level of abuse to which my constituents were subjected by the authorities in Florida?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate specifically on that matter in the near future, although I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, both for his constituents and about the impact that the problems that they faced would have if they were to be faced by many others. However, there is a debate on tourism on Friday next week and, although it may have been intended to focus on tourism within the United Kingdom, an opportunity might arise to work the matter into the discussion.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

My right hon. Friend will have read the horrifying case reported in the press on Tuesday this week of the 17-month-old girl who was found to have a 1.5 in hypodermic syringe lodged within her kidney; it had been there for nine months. I have made some inquiries, and that incident is in no way unusual: eight people died last year because surgical detritus was left in a wound following an operation and 749 people suffered in the same way without dying. Such incidents are not unusual and this matter is important enough for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to make a statement saying what advice and guidance is given to surgeons to make sure that negligence in operating theatres does not lead to such horrifying consequences.

Mrs. Beckett

I sympathise with those involved in that difficult case, and so will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Government have put extra investment into the health service and we intend to use it to raise standards. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I do not think that I can find time for a debate on the matter, and I am not sure that my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement on it in the near future. However, we are dealing with the remaining stages of the Health Bill on Monday and it is possible that an issue arising in the debate might allow this matter to be discussed.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Before the Leader of the House made her statement today, I received earlier this week letters from UNICEF and Amnesty International telling me that the remaining stages of the Immigration and Asylum Bill would be dealt with next week. Would I be asking too much if I requested that the House be told of such matters before outside organisations, however worthy they may be?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand, and sympathise with, the right hon. Gentleman's view. My understanding is that that is what those organisations expected and that the letter said "probably", although I do not recall receiving a copy myself. He will know that there has been some discussion about the Immigration and Asylum Bill coming before the House at an earlier stage and that further work was needed. I think that those organisations had anticipated that, although the Bill had not reached the House quite as early as had perhaps originally been thought, it would be considered in the near future. I understand and take his point that it is right for the House to know about such matters first, and we try to observe that convention.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Has my right hon. Friend been told whether the Tory Opposition are still calling for an inquiry into the start of the war? I have not heard a word about that over the past few days, and certainly not since last night.

By the time of next week's Kosovo debate, will we have been told whether those in the discredited gang of appeasers outside—people like the Pilgers and the Pinters—have written to apologise for getting it completely wrong?

Mrs. Beckett

I am fairly certain that, if any comment is made that is thought worthy of being reported to the House, it will be reported in the debate to which my hon. Friend refers. As for whether the Opposition are still calling for an inquiry into the start of the war, I can only say that I, like my hon. Friend, have heard no more about that lately. No doubt, whether the call is renewed will depend on how things go.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Should we not, as a matter of urgency, have a debate next week on the percentage of people who voted in today's European elections? If, as seems possible, three quarters of Britain's voters go on strike today, have we not an obligation to review the democratic outrage whereby people are being asked to vote for a party, and to leave it to the party bosses to decide who is elected to the Parliament? If there is a massive strike today, have we not a duty to debate the issue next week?

Mrs. Beckett

If there is a relatively low turnout in the European elections, I doubt—unfortunately—that anyone will be dreadfully surprised. I think that all hon. Members regret the turnouts that we have seen even for general elections—and especially for local and European elections—which I, certainly, would like to be higher than they have been in recent years. Down the years, there has historically not been as high a turnout as most of us would wish.

I am always interested when Opposition Members refer to the notion that party bosses rather than the electorate will have the say on who are the candidates, as if they themselves were chosen by the electorate to be candidates for their parties and their constituencies. As far as I am aware, none of them was.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Is it not time that we had a debate on the Government's 10-year strategy on drugs? In 10 years' time, the drugs tsar will have resigned, the Prime Minister is likely to be Lord Sedgefield—

Mr. Mackinlay

Viscount Sedgefield.

Mr. Flynn

By that time, we shall have seen at least 1,000 avoidable deaths, and, if we follow the current trend and go on repeating our failures, the situation will continue.

There has been a change in the public perception of the debate. Even the Daily Mail, which is the voice of the middle-aged and the middle class, has described the Government's policy as mere window dressing. It has talked of the hypocrisy of that policy as perceived by the public, and has called for a debate on the legalisation of drugs in order to reduce the harm done by them. Why on earth are we stupidly continuing to repeat the tired, failed policies that have killed thousands of our young people, rather than imitating the success of countries that have reduced the amount of drug harm?

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about the issue, and takes every opportunity to advocate his point of view. As I told the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), we are conscious of the need to find time to debate the drugs strategy. I hope that we shall be able to debate it at some point, and that my hon. Friend can make his case again.

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has any wish or aspiration to become Lord Sedgefield, or indeed Viscount Sedgefield. I can only say that, as a loyal member of the Cabinet, I feel confident that I ought to suggest that he should at least be a duke.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I accept that, quite properly, the Leader of the House is reticent about commenting on matters that are before the court today. However, the question of anonymity for former soldiers in the Parachute Regiment is of great concern throughout the country, not just in Aldershot.

The Prime Minister has said that he can do nothing, although he was responsible for setting up the inquiry. May I suggest a solution? If the soldiers are not to be granted anonymity because the court cannot do that, could not the Leader of the House present a one-line Bill to give the security of the law to former soldiers who have served the country so well and put their lives at risk?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses. I understand, too, that he expresses it very much on behalf of his constituents, which is very much what all hon. Members are here to do. I accept that the concern goes wider than his constituency, but I know that, in his constituency, there will be particular worry. I can say only that, while I understand that concern, it is a matter for the inquiry; it is not a matter in which the Government can intervene. From his question, I am not entirely sure whether he is aware—he invited me to bring in legislation—that events have moved on to some degree and that the courts are looking into that matter at this moment.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the impact of the national minimum wage, a measure to which she gave a strong helping hand? Such a debate would allow the House to examine the emerging evidence that more than 400,000 jobs have been created since the national minimum wage was announced last year, including more than 100,000 in typically low-paid sectors. Such a debate would also allow the House to expose the baseless fears that the Conservative party tried to raise on the impact on jobs of the minimum wage, which is proving to be a boost to jobs, not a threat.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Conservative party did allege that—I think that the final figure was that about 2 million or 3 million jobs would be lost if any national minimum wage of any kind at any level were introduced. That was always nonsense.

My hon. Friend is right to say that, alongside the introduction of the national minimum wage, we have seen an increase in the number of jobs and in levels of employment. Although I would not say that we have evidence to link those two, as we pointed out before the election, it is true that, in, for example, parts of the United States and elsewhere, there has been evidence of the existence—and also of an increase in the level—of the national minimum wage and increases in employment at the same time, which again shows how ridiculous Conservative Members' claims were. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the follies of the Opposition in the near future.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I follow the question that was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who has left his place, but do not follow in his footsteps. What progress has the Leader of the House made in securing a debate in Government time on the national drugs strategy, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House and of the argument can have plenty of time to debate the matter? She will, I know, acknowledge that there has not yet been a debate in Government time in the current Parliament, and that the time given at the time of the statement was inadequate for the breadth of the subject.

Mrs. Beckett

However assiduous the Government are in having statements in the House, it does not allow for the full exploration of a subject in the way that debating time does. All I can say is that I will certainly bear the hon. Lady's remarks in mind.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Pursuant to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on appeasers, I say frankly that I shared platforms with John Pilger and Harold Pinter and the apology for which my hon. Friend asks may be forthcoming, but it will be in five years, when the position might be altogether clearer.

In welcoming Thursday's debate, may I say that there are some of us on the Labour Benches—I do not know how many—who would welcome it being opened by the Prime Minister. As my right hon. Friend will remember, when she was the hon. Member for Lincoln, Harold Wilson often intervened in major foreign affairs debates; during the time of Vietnam, he certainly did so.

It is not a matter just of the amour propre or the self-importance of the House of Commons because, had there been a proper parliamentary debate before the bombs were dropped, much more would have been said by some of us about the need to act in concert with the Russians—if the Russians had not been sidelined for a whole fortnight, much agony might have been saved—we would certainly have asked questions about the refusal to use ground troops at an early stage, and we would never have allowed unchallenged the decision to start bombing and to refuse to use ground troops, leaving vulnerable the very people whom we were hoping to help.

Mrs. Beckett

I am well aware that in the past—certainly in the days of our late friend Lord Wilson—Prime Ministers used to take part in a greater variety of debates, as my hon. Friend rightly says. He will recall, as I do, that that tradition was sharply changed by Lady Thatcher. I am sure that I am right in saying that that policy was not much altered, if at all, by her successor and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes to the House more often than his predecessors. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is true, I am afraid, and the statistics clearly bear it out.

I will certainly undertake both to my hon. Friend and to Opposition Members who have raised the matter to draw to the Prime Minister's attention the request that he should open the debate, but hon. Members will be aware that the pressures on him have been extremely heavy of late. It is not clear to me what my right hon. Friend's commitments might be, or whether that would be practical. We keep talking about the Cologne summit as though it were around the corner, but it is not—it has not yet taken place. I have a horrid feeling that that debate might be on the eve of the summit and that it simply may not be possible for the Prime Minister to be here. However, I undertake to draw the request to his attention.

I also take my hon. Friend's point that it is too early to know how events will turn out in the Balkans, although all of us obviously hope that they will improve, and we have taken some strong steps in that direction.

The Prime Minister has made five of the statements on that matter to the House. As to whether, if we had had a debate opened by the Prime Minister at an early stage, events might have gone differently, I fear that I cannot share my hon. Friend's view. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said in the House, there have been intensive discussions with the Yugoslav authorities for a long time. Most of us would contest any suggestion that the Russians were sidelined. They have been very much a part of the discussions throughout, including right back at the beginning. I understand my hon. Friend's view and can assure him that opportunities will continue to be provided for those matters to be aired.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

When will the electronic commerce Bill be published? It was announced with a fanfare of trumpets in the Queen's Speech, but it appears to be part of a policy that is in a certain amount of disarray. Have the Government abandoned any idea of producing such a Bill? Also, will the right hon. Lady tell us what has happened to the appointment of a so-called digital envoy? Two names were passed to No. 10 in March and we still await an announcement on whether such an envoy is to be appointed. There are rumours that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) will be appointed instead. Will the right hon. Lady deal with that matter, too?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date when the Bill is likely to be published, but I hope that it will be in the near future. Nor, indeed, can I give him information about the appointment of a digital envoy, although I will certainly draw his request for information to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Moreover, Trade and Industry questions are next week, so the hon. Gentleman may be able to ask my right hon. Friend directly.

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

Next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday a major United Nations conference is taking place at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre across the road. I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister will address it, along with a number of his ministerial colleagues. The conference is organised by the World Health Organisation and is on health and the environment. A number of issues are to be considered, including a legally binding protocol on water and health, and a charter on transport, environment and health. In view of the importance of that conference, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the business for next week, or arrange for us to have a debate before the end of the month on the outcome of the conference?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly cannot undertake today to do that, although I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks. I accept that it is an important conference and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will make an important contribution to it. I fear, however, that the request for a debate in this House will have to take its place on the list of eminently worthy subjects that we should debate.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I join my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House in asking for a debate at the earliest possible date on long-term care. The matter is of great importance to a growing number of people.

My real question is whether the Leader of the House is prepared to arrange for a debate in Government time on the procedural changes needed in this House as a result of devolution and the other changes that the Government have introduced to the way in which this country is governed. The right hon. Lady will know that I chair the Procedure Committee and that we recently published a report on the procedural consequences of devolution. If the House is to be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, it is important that changes take place here to reflect the changes that the Government have brought about.

Mrs. Beckett

I have taken on board the request for a debate on long-term care. May I gently remind the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members that it was this Government who set up the royal commission? Although he is right to say that this is a problem of great importance, it has been around for nearly 20 years—for most of which time his party was in power. I am sure that he regrets as much as I do the fact that more was not done about long-term care at that time.

On the possibility of a debate in this House on the procedural consequences of devolution, I am aware of the important and serious work being done by the Committee chaired by the hon. Gentleman and I understand his wish to have those issues aired here in the near future. Such is the pressure on time that I cannot readily see my way to finding time for an early debate—and in due course we shall have a little more experience under our belt of how these changes are developing. I have taken on board his request, although I cannot grant it now.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early stage for a debate on the subject of lip reading, given the high degree of cross-party support for my early-day motion 573?

[That this House recognises that more than eight million people are hard of hearing or severely deaf; notes that most of them rely on spoken English for communication with family or friends and for equal access to leisure and social activities, public services, employment and education; further notes that the acquisition of lipreading skills is vital to this end and that this is best facilitated through lipreading classes taught by qualified tutors; believes that such a programme will encourage people with acquired hearing loss to maximise their opportunities to remain active and participating members of society; and calls on the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to require the new local learning partnerships to recognise their role in providing lipreading classes, at no charge to hearing-impaired users, in each locality.]

The provision of lip reading classes across the country is patchy. Provision exists and access is easy in some parts but not in others, and courses are charged for in some parts but not in others. Because lip reading is so important to the older generation as they lose their hearing, it is vital that we have consistent provision and easy access to lip reading classes across the country. Will my right hon. Friend draw this matter to the attention of her right hon. Friends and arrange for an early debate on it?

Mrs. Beckett

I recognise my hon. Friend's great interest in the matter and the importance of lip reading to many people who suffer from hearing deficiencies. It is the Government's wish and intention that those who have responsibility for providing educational opportunities for adults should work together and provide effective services that are accessible to people across the community. My hon. Friend may or may not know that the disability rights task force is considering how its work on rights for people with disabilities can help to support and encourage the provision of such services. We look forward to its recommendations later in the year.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a statement, or an opportunity for a debate, on the national parks? Is she aware of the growing concern about the number of applications which are being submitted to national parks in respect of dormant quarries, and is the Government's view that the national parks have sufficient power to deal with them, even though there are serious questions about their power once appeals are made and about the cost of compensation? This is a matter of growing concern in the national parks—and I know that the right hon. Lady knows the Peak national park very well.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. The national parks are a great treasure for us all. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has held discussions on the matter. I will draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He may have some information for him.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

The centrality of biotechnology to the Government' s science policy is shown by the Government's papers on scientific research. Even in particle physics and astronomy, the presentation of the figures deals more with biological and life sciences than with physics, astronomy or mathematics. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread public disquiet about biological engineering and genetic modification of crops and food? Is not the centrality of biotechnology to the Government's science policy being rapidly eroded, if not evaporating, as a result of public loss of confidence in the strategy? I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend regards as urgent the need for a debate on science policy to dispel some of the myths so that we can consider judiciously the benefits and disbenefits of the technology and get the Government's science policy—perhaps somewhat amended—back on course.

Mrs. Beckett

I recognise my hon. Friend's point. There has been some public disquiet, partly, and understandably, based on experience of some recent problems. That obviously had an impact on discussion and balanced analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various courses of action. I understand my hon. Friend's wish for a debate on science policy and I shall bear it in mind, but I am not sure that I can find time soon for such a debate. He knows that several recent reports have started to put arguments on various sides of the case, so we are not wholly dependent on debate in this House for a wider airing of the issues.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The Immigration and Asylum Bill is of interest to all hon. Members, but Government information officers seem to be freer with information than Ministers are in briefing the House. The "Today" programme this morning carried a detailed explanation of the concessions that the Home Secretary is apparently making to buy off a revolt by Labour Back Benchers. If that is correct—it appears to be because it was such a detailed briefing—would it not be more courteous for the Home Secretary to write to all hon. Members to explain the concessions that he intends to make on Tuesday and why he intends to make them, so that we all have time to consider them? The impression was that the Government Whips would have rung round Back Benchers to brief them over the weekend, while the rest of us would have heard nothing until Tuesday.

Mrs. Beckett

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can be entirely serious in suggesting that information and opportunities for debate have been withheld from the House. The Bill has been to Special Standing Committee precisely to encourage open, informed debate. Any changes that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary may be considering—if he is—are no doubt in response to the many points made by the Committee and those who gave evidence to it. After all, the House exists to scrutinise legislation so that issues can be aired. I am well aware that the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported regarded it as a black mark against Ministers if they listened to anything said by anyone who was not a member of the Government. We do not do things that way.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

May I preface my main question by asking whether the Cologne summit has been reconvened? I understood that the Prime Minister made a statement on Tuesday on its conclusions.

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is likely to seek to make a statement next week on his decision on the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the supply of milk? He has had it for four months and the continued uncertainty is damaging the dairy industry and farmers. On a parliamentary note, my Committee—the Select Committee on Agriculture—is anxious to begin investigating the subject but cannot do so until the Secretary of State reaches a decision.

Mrs. Beckett

May I add to what I said a moment ago to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry)? I remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's answer to a parliamentary question on some of the issues relating to the Asylum and Immigration Bill is in Hansard. I meant to say that, but did not get round to it.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) asked about the Cologne summit. I accept that I should not have used the shorthand and referred to "the" Cologne summit. There is a G8 summit coming up. I rather think that it is also taking place in Cologne, or at least in Germany. That is what I meant. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make that clear.

As for the report on which the hon. Gentleman commented, I am afraid that I do not have information on it. I cannot enlighten him and cannot offer to find time for a discussion on it in the near future, but I undertake to draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

During the recess, the Education and Employment Committee heard devastating evidence from the independent Bank of England on the employment consequences of joining the euro. The Deputy Governor said that it would take hundreds of years to know whether joining was a good idea. The Governor said that it would be an act of faith. When can we have a debate on the real threat to jobs from joining the euro?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the evidence-taking sessions of the Education and Employment Committee. There is no proposal at the present time to join the euro, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is well aware. All the issues must be borne in mind. That is precisely why the Government say that we have to consider the overall impact on Britain's national interest. If we were to have a debate on the matter in the near future—I cannot at present see my way to find time for it—it is just possible that people might get round to noticing that the Conservative party argues simultaneously that the high level of the pound is costing British jobs and that the low level of the euro is costing European jobs. It can argue one way or the other, but it will have some difficulty in continuing to argue both ways.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

Will the Leader of the House make time in the near future for a debate on an important matter relating to the way in which Parliament spends taxpayers' money—namely, the subject matter of early-day motion 709 on allowances for hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies?

[That this House notes the decision of the Scottish Parliament to reduce the allowances of regional Members of the Scottish Parliament on the grounds that they do not have constituency responsibilities; further notes that honourable Members representing Scottish constituencies will also have fewer responsibilities after 1st July 1999; and consequently invites the Senior Salaries Review Board to consider whether it is appropriate for honourable Members representing Scottish constituencies to be paid an allowance similar to that of other honourable Members.]

The right hon. Lady may not as yet be aware that, earlier this week, the Scottish Parliament passed a motion that Members who sit for regional constituencies—those who have been elected on a list—should have a reduced allowance on the grounds that they do not have constituency responsibilities. Given that, after 1 July, Members of this House who sit for Scottish constituencies will have reduced constituency responsibilities because many of those responsibilities will be taken over by MSPs, surely the House ought to have an opportunity to debate whether Scottish Members of this House should continue to receive the same allowance as Members who still have full constituency responsibilities.

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future. I strongly hold the view, as the hon. Lady will know, that there is not, and should not be, such a thing as two different kinds of Member of Parliament. I should be surprised if my hon. Friends who sit for Scottish and Welsh constituencies—of course, they are only hon. Friends; there are no Scottish or Welsh Members on the Conservative Benches—find their work loads reduced. The hon. Lady is asking me to comment on a decision made by the Scottish Parliament, for which I am happy to say that I do not have responsibility.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

This week, we have heard the Prime Minister extol the virtues of both the single market and the single currency. Will the Leader of the House give him the opportunity to come to the House to explain to us and to the people of this country why he has changed his mind? In 1983, he stood on a platform of leaving the European Community. In 1986, with the Labour party, he voted against the Single European Act, which set up the single market. The right hon. Lady may not be aware that, in 1986, when the right hon. Gentleman opposed the European monetary system, the precursor of economic and monetary union, he said: the EMS is essentially a deutschmark bloc. It could be said that we would be putting Herr Pöhl"— the then president of the Bundesbank—

in 11 Downing street."—[Official Report, 29 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 990.] Should we not now know why the Prime Minister not only believes that he was so fundamentally wrong on Europe for all that time, but thinks that people should vote for him today because he is now so miraculously right on it?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly cannot undertake to find time for such a debate. Apart from anything else, it would clearly be a complete waste of time. It does not seem to have struck the hon. Gentleman that, although the Conservative party put through the Single European Act, many Conservative Members seem to regret it. If we are talking about people changing their minds, the Conservatives should look into their own record.

As to why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might have changed his mind since 1983, no doubt he did so for the same reasons that I changed mine. I was an anti-European and a sceptic long before some of those Conservative Members who now make those claims—and with much more assiduity than them. However, I realise that it was the decision of the British people to remain in the European Community and that that decision was reaffirmed in 1983. The balance of advantage and damage of staying in or coming out has long since swung in favour of our membership of the European Union, as it now is. In that case, there is no question but that it is in Britain's interests to work to make the greatest possible success of our membership of the European Union. That is the Government's goal, because we have long since concluded that to leave the EU would be a huge disaster for Britain. However, that seems to be the direction of the Conservative party.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about the importance of the publication of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into Milk Marque. That is crucial to dairy farmers and food processors in my constituency and throughout the country.

My main reason for rising is to welcome the debate on Kosovo. Will it cover not only the important subjects of foreign affairs and defence but the essential responsibilities of the Secretary of State for International Development? Will we consider the humanitarian efforts that have been accomplished during recent months and those that will be undertaken in the future? Will the debate cover the important question of the extent to which the budget of the Department for International Development will be protected to enable the Department to do its job, not only in the Balkans but elsewhere?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot add to what I said earlier about the MMC report. I have undertaken to draw hon. Members' concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I am sure that issues touching on the responsibilities of the Department for International Development are bound to be raised during the debate on Kosovo. That will give an opportunity for hon. Members to put questions such as those which the hon. Gentleman has just asked me.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement next week on any Government proposals which we can debate for a statutory allocation of time off for involvement in future European elections? I am sure that the right hon. Lady will understand that I make that request not because I want to bunk off myself—she knows that I am an assiduous attender of the Chamber—but for a different reason. Although Conservative Members of Parliament found plenty of time to campaign for national self-government and for Britain to be in Europe, but not run by Europe, I am genuinely concerned—on the grounds of the importance of the vitality of our democracy—that Ministers seemed unable to find time to argue for Labour's policy of capitulation within the European Union. Does the right hon. Lady intend to address that point in future?

Mrs. Beckett

I was not quite clear for whom the hon. Gentleman was asking for time off during future European elections. I now understand that it is for the House—for Members of Parliament. If he has been paying attention—as I know that he does during Question Time—he may recall that I have pointed out previously that there is only one precedent for the House not sitting during European elections. That was in 1994, when the Conservative Government were desperate to avoid scrutiny of any kind.

As for Ministers not finding time to campaign, I am afraid that I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman: 250 campaign visits have been undertaken by Ministers since the local elections.

Mr. Bercow


Mrs. Beckett

Indeed, it is a matter of much concern to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends that they did not achieve more publicity. We have come to a conclusion as to why that is so; it is because we have been consistently advocating the same policy throughout the campaign, which the press find very boring, whereas the Conservatives, excitingly, change their policy every day.