HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc559-70 12.31 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the Leader of the House 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 21 JUNE—Second Reading of the Food Standards Bill.

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

TUESDAY 22 JUNE—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Tax Credits Bill.

Remaining stages of the Access to Justice Bill [Lords].

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 entitled "Proportional Representation" on an Opposition motion—no doubt in favour.

Motion on the Church of England Cathedrals Measure.

Motion on Care of Places of Worship Measure.

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

Until about 4 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Government's Policy for Widows" followed by a debate entitled "Food and Supermarkets". Both debates arise in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

FRIDAY 25 JUNE—Debate on innovation and enterprise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week—at this time of year it tends to be particularly provisional—will be as follows:

MONDAY 28 JUNE—Second Reading of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

TUESDAY 29 JUNE—Opposition Day [16th Allotted Day].

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

WEDNESDAY 30 JUNE—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Disability Rights Commission Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 1 JULY—Debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 2 JULY—There will be a debate on drugs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business for the following week. I welcome the announcement of an early debate on drugs, which I called for last week. That leaves outstanding the debate on the royal commission on long-term care, which I also mentioned last week. It reported three months ago and there is growing concern that the important issues that it raised are being ignored. An early debate would allay those fears. I welcome the third and final debate on the services. I believe that the new structure has been well received.

Might we expect a statement on Monday from the Prime Minister after this weekend's G8 meeting? The Prime Minister has recognised that there is a crisis in Northern Ireland. As we approach the deadline of 30 June the House would welcome a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about recent developments. Might the Leader of the House facilitate that?

Wednesday's debate on proportional representation has been chosen by the Opposition because of widespread concern at the form of last week's elections, but not at the results. Can she tell the House who will answer for the Government? Might it be the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)?

Finally in the interests of all who work in the House, can the Leader of the House shed any further light on the summer recess beyond saying what she said last week—that she hoped it would be in August?

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the debate on drugs. Indeed, we have now dealt with a fair number of the outstanding issues, despite having all the extra debates and statements as a result of Kosovo. I am mindful of the request for a debate on long-term care; however, I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government are giving careful and full consideration to the recommendations before them.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the pattern of debates on defence. I agree with him that that is an improvement—even at this early stage, the House realises that. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday as to the outcome of the G8 summit, which, as I said last week, is indeed in Cologne—to my relief. I will bear in mind the remarks of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire on Northern Ireland; I shall draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

At present, I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman who will open the PR debate, but it is unlikely to be my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). I cannot add anything to what I said last week about the summer recess. However, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on PR, I congratulate him and his hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) on the increase in their responsibilities to bring them further into line with some of mine. I invite them to be pleased that they do not undertake the full range of those responsibilities; they are not yet responsible for the Euro-elections or for the millennium bug.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health if he intends to make a statement about yesterday's press release on the national health service performance indicators? In the figures published yesterday, those from the hospitals and the health authority in Nottingham were absent, although the data had been sent in. The problem may be that, although I know that the data had been sent in, in order to ensure confidentiality in the transmission of electronic data, the hospitals were advised to omit the last three digits of the postcode.

It would be helpful to clarify the terms on which NHS hospitals are expected safely to contribute data for the national collection of performance indicators.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I understand that it is possible that some of the returns from Nottingham arrived a little late. However, the difficulty as to the clarification of terms that he identifies may well have contributed to any problems. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. My hon. Friend is right to point out that to make available information that should be in the public domain is an important new initiative. It is important that we develop it and get it right.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Following on from the concerns expressed about various aspects of the national health service, may I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that we urgently need a statement from the Secretary of State about NHS dentistry? The situation is deteriorating in many parts of the country.

I endorse the request by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for an early statement and debate on the royal commission on long-term care. We appreciate that the Government must consider the matter carefully, but many weeks have passed since the publication of the royal commission's report and there is considerable concern about the matter.

Can the Leader of the House give us any indication of the likely timetable for freedom of information legislation? Again, there is widespread concern among many Members of the House that there seems to be a major deficiency as between the proposals in the White Paper and those currently being made. I hope that there will be an opportunity for the House to debate them sooner rather than later.

Finally, as we are now two years into this Government, will the Leader of the House give us a progress report on the election pledges on gender discrimination? Will she tell the House how many differential impact assessments have been made? Who will make statements on that matter? Is the Leader of the House directly involved in the Cabinet sub-committee on women, and how often does the sub-committee meet?

Mrs. Beckett

I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks about dentistry and about the need for a debate on long-term care—and the remarks made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire on that subject—to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall is aware, some work has been done on improving the standard of NHS dentistry, although we realise that a great deal of work remains to be done to redress the problems that we inherited.

At present, I can give the hon. Gentleman no further information about the timing of the Freedom of Information Bill. However, we look forward eagerly to that debate, as we do not accept that it will reveal any major deficiency; indeed, we believe that many of the criticisms made of the Bill are misplaced.

I do not have to hand the information requested by the hon. Gentleman on gender discrimination and the measurement of differential impacts. However, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Leader of the House of Lords, who has responsibility for the matter.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Will my right hon. and compassionate Friend look at early-day motion 637?

[That this House applauds the decision of Her Majesty's Government to initiate in December 1997 a review of the causal factors related to the alleged Gulf War Syndrome and the physical state of the service personnel and civilians who allegedly suffer its ill effects; applauds the level of concern and degree of logic that led to this decision; expresses the hope that the results of this review will be published in the near future; and calls on the Secretary of State for Defence to apply the same measures of concern and logic to the equally pressing but longer running cause of the British nuclear test veterans.]

Both that early-day motions and early-day motion 659 stand in my name and have gathered considerable support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. They refer to British nuclear test veterans: one calls for a review of veterans' circumstances consequent on their attendance at nuclear tests; the other calls for the institution of a meritorious ribbon. Will my right hon. Friend try to find Government time for a short debate this side of the summer recess, so that the House can form a view that might prompt the inclusion of some sort of sensible suggestion in the Queen's Speech?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously on that issue for many years, and many have paid tribute to his efforts. The Government have made clear our recognition and appreciation of the service given by those veterans and, as my hon. Friend knows, the issue has been considered exhaustively over a number of years. However, I remind my hon. Friend that, although we did say that the arrangement was provisional, we anticipate that there will be a debate on armed forces personnel on 1 July. If he is able to catch Madam Speaker's eye, he will be able to raise such matters on that occasion.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Following the question on hospital league tables, does the right hon. Lady agree that those might require further analysis and refinement? One point is absolutely clear: the crucial importance of keeping to an absolute minimum the time between heart attack and hospital admission. Does she accept that, if the Royal Hospital Haslar in my constituency, with its accident and emergency unit, were to be closed, there is no doubt that lives would be lost on the congested road between Gosport and the remaining hospitals? Does she agree that, because of that and because of the overwhelming need to solve the crisis in the defence medical services, which the closure of that hospital would make worse, we should have a debate on that subject next week?

If, for any reason, the right hon. Lady finds it difficult or impossible to provide a debate next week, will she at least ask her right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Health to respond to the request that I made a month ago for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter with both Departments?

Mrs. Beckett

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. Friends. As he knows, at least one of them has had some heavy operational responsibilities of late. We accept that there are difficulties, which we inherited, in both the health service and the defence medical services. However, the debate on armed forces personnel might give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to raise that issue from the defence angle, which I know he has pursued in the past.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

My right hon. Friend may have read in The Independent today that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to publish this afternoon a report from the respected John Innes Centre on cross-pollination and other contamination of organic crops by genetically modified test crops. MAFF has confirmed to me that the report will be published at 3.30 pm. Has my right hon. Friend received any indication that there will be a statement made in the House? If not, will she make inquiries about, and give consideration to, the possibility of having a debate in the very near future on the possible need to modify the Government guidelines on distances between such crops, and on organic farming and organic food products, for which there is now clear and strong public support?

Mrs. Beckett

I have not seen the story to which my hon. Friend refers—Thursday tends to be a slightly hectic day for me—but I was aware that the John Innes Centre report was to be published shortly, so my hon. Friend might be right. I fear I cannot undertake to find time for an immediate debate on the matter, but I realise that it is one in which hon. Members on both sides are interested, and I have no doubt that they will continue to pursue it.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Will the Leader of the House put urgent pressure on the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House on the NHS clinical advisory committee proposals to reduce the number of cleft lip and palate units from 57 to 15 nationally, which is causing great concern in Poole? In the south-west region, units at Plymouth, Exeter and Poole would be closed, yet the Poole unit is one of the best in the country and it publishes its results. A major petition has been signed by several thousand people and a campaign is being run by that fine Bournemouth newspaper The Daily Echo to keep the unit open. My constituents believe that the matter should be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mrs. Beckett

I will obviously have a busy correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health this week. I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention. The purpose of the clinical advisory unit is to allow decisions to be made after weighing up what is in the best clinical interests of patients. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and that of his constituents—and note his advertisement for his local newspaper.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the mischievous valedictory article by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that appeared in The Guardian, in which he claims as a fact that members of the Labour Cabinet refer to the Prime Minister as "the Liberal"? Why would the right hon. Gentleman say something that we know to be untrue? Now that the leadership baton is about to be passed to the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy)—who is never here—who was reported in yesterday's press as saying that pensions reform is a suitable subject for discussion within the Cabinet joint consultative committee, is it not time to have an early debate on the role, functions and purpose of the joint consultative committee and where all of this is taking us?

Mrs. Beckett

All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I have never heard anyone so describe the Prime Minister—in the Cabinet or outside it. As for the reason behind the remark, perhaps it is because, given the Liberal Democrats' showing in the Euro-elections, the right hon. Member for Yeovil is trying desperately to claim expanded membership for his party from anywhere he can.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will it be possible to have a debate or a statement in the near future about the relationship between the territories around these islands? I have just returned from a British islands and Mediterranean Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference where we discovered that, in this era of joined-up government, there are some gaps in relations between the islands and central Government. It would be useful to explore that matter. In that context, I support the plea by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for a statement about Northern Ireland in the near future because, as I understand it, there are slippages in legislation that should be dealt with by the House.

Mrs. Beckett

I know the Government will be most interested to hear a report of the visit to which the hon. Gentleman refers—particularly if it exposes gaps in our relationships of the kind that he identifies. As for a statement on Northern Ireland, I will certainly add the hon. Gentleman's name to the list of representations to be made to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Did my right hon. Friend see last month's reports of the British Medical Association's comments about genetically modified food, which appeared shortly after the Science and Technology Committee reported on GM food? Although the American giant Monsanto spends millions of pounds every year in an attempt to convince us that GM foods are nice and cuddly and that we can live with them quite happily, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. People are becoming more and more concerned about this issue and debate is increasing in the country. Is not now a good time to hold an urgent full-day debate on GM food?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. He is right to say that there is on-going discussion and debate about this matter. I wish that that discussion and debate were better informed, but it is the task of hon. Members—from whatever side of the argument they come—to inform the debate. I hope that all hon. Members will continue to do that. Particularly at this time of year when time pressures are great, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate in the near future, but I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health—yet another obligation upon him—to come to the House and make a statement about the Government's plan to bring forward the ban on the advertising of tobacco products to December this year? Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the argument, the issue is significant in that it involves censoring the advertising of a legally marketable product. It would also prohibit tobacco companies from communicating with their clients via direct mail. The first that we heard about that was, as usual, in a press release and on the radio this morning. The regulations that are to be laid today are not yet in the Vote Office, so we have no idea whether they will be subject to the negative or affirmative resolution procedure. We have no idea whether regulations will be laid in August, after the consultation period, or whether the House will have any opportunity to debate the matter.

Mrs. Beckett

Discussion of the tobacco advertising ban has been under way for some considerable time. I understand that there are those who have a principled objection to such ban, but the hon. Gentleman will know that a decision has been made that a ban should be imposed across the European Union. My understanding is that there is not necessarily a prohibition on direct mail, but there is a strong attempt to try to hinder tobacco companies in using direct mail specifically to target vulnerable younger customers. I am sorry to hear that the regulations are not available, and I shall take that up with the Department of Health.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the social exclusion unit has just published a report on teenage pregnancy? Will she arrange for an early debate on that report in the House because it is an unpalatable fact that this country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in western Europe? I am sure that she shares my concern that too many young people leave school unaware of the responsibilities and obligations of parenthood. I should seek assurance in such a debate that the report was being acted on swiftly, that young people are being made aware of how hard it is to be a parent, and that we shall achieve a substantial reduction in the number of teenagers who become pregnant.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right in identifying that serious problem, about which hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned. Although I am very cautious about drawing the attention of Adjournment debates to all hon. Members—such debates are for the hon. Members who applied for them—I point out that a one-and-a-half-hour debate on that subject, in the name of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), is scheduled for Wednesday 23 June. That demonstrates that the matter is an all-party concern, and if my hon. Friend is particularly nice to the hon. Lady, she may not mind if he speaks in her debate.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

The Leader of the House will of course be aware that yesterday, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the Prime Minister said: My view is that, in the modern world as we move closer together, there will be a pooling of national sovereignty."—[Official Report, 16 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 391.] He said not that there has been but that there will be, a pooling of national sovereignty, so he obviously envisages further pooling of national sovereignty.

Does the right hon. Lady share my view that the Prime Minister's pronouncement is sufficiently momentous to justify an urgent debate so that we may hear from him what he meant by those words? I hope that the Leader of the House recognises the significance of the Prime Minister's statement and that we deserve to learn a lot more about it very soon, so that we can all make up our minds what on earth he was talking about.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

He went to Brussels and took the money.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, who was indeed himself an MEP, no doubt in times when it was less unpopular in the Conservative party to be at all involved with Europe. However, I am afraid that I do not share his view that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said anything momentous or with an unknown meaning. Our membership of the European Union, or the Common Market as it then was, has involved a pooling of national sovereignty over the years. We have all known that since 1972, and most of those steps were, for good or ill, taken by Conservative Governments. The right hon. Gentleman's view that the idea is astonishing and new is not borne out by the facts.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

Anticipating the right hon. Lady's statement on the millennium bug, which is to follow, and with 198 days to go before it hits us, will she arrange for an early, full debate on that threat to our public services and the private sector and on the consequent disruption to our daily lives?

Mrs. Beckett

I have no plans to stage a debate in the near future, although if, over time, there is a demand for such a debate, I shall take it into account, as I try to take into account all other such demands. I know the hon. Gentleman's keen interest in the subject. May I remind him that we have been making quarterly statements, as I shall do shortly, and that we intend to give a progress update monthly from now on? Unless there is some dramatic new development, the House may find that that meets the demand for information—in fact, it may over-egg it.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

In the next couple of weeks, we understand, the Government will publish their long-awaited and important White Paper on post-16 education and training. In the previous Session, the Government provided in their own time a debate on further education and training. As I recall, the then Minister gave an assurance that he would do everything possible to ensure that each year in Government time there was a formal debate on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend ensure not only that when the White Paper is published, probably within the next two weeks, there will be a Government statement to go with it, but that this important subject will be debated in Government time?

Mrs. Beckett

I will certainly take on board and draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment my hon. Friend's request for a statement on what he rightly says is an important subject. I am glad to know that Ministers at the DfEE are giving away time on the Floor of the House and saying how many formal debates there should be. That is a bad habit that Ministers in several Departments are getting into. I understand of course that Ministers in every Department think that their Department's business is so important that it should dominate the House.

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall bear in mind his request, and that I recognise the importance of his remarks, but the debates for which we can find time on the Floor are an issue for a wider range of responsibilities, including the usual channels.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Health could be encouraged to make a statement on the serious problem of growing waiting lists for heart bypass surgery, as was highlighted in the Daily Mail on Wednesday, particularly in the light of remarks made by Mr. Ben Bridgewater, a consultant thoracic surgeon at Wythenshawe hospital, which serves my constituents, to the effect that some 500 people are dying unnecessarily every year in Britain because of over-long waiting lists for heart bypass surgery, and that the problem is worse now than it was a year ago?

Mrs. Beckett

I shall certainly draw that matter, too, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I will not disguise it from the hon. Gentleman—I hope that I am not doing wrong by saying this, so I stress that, very incorrectly and very unusually, I am giving my personal opinion—that I have long thought it unfortunate that we cannot do more to encourage people to carry donor cards—[Interruption.] Sometimes, as the hon. Gentleman knows, organ donation is involved. I recognise the scale of the problem, as does my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The right hon. Lady has just announced yet another day's debate for the minority parties, despite their extraordinary record in that respect recently. Has she seen early-day motion 713? [That this House expresses its admiration and respect for the Leader of the Opposition who despite a multitude of criticism, poor opinion poll ratings and warnings of electoral disaster had the courage and determination to adopt and fight for a policy designed to prevent further surrenders of sovereignty to the non-democratic institutions of the European Union; and believes that, following the election results on 13th June, with the help of the British people, he will prevent the final surrender over the single currency.] Furthermore, does she think that it might be within her power to persuade the Liberal Democrats to debate that next week, rather than one of the motions that they have chosen? It might help them to focus on their own leadership election.

Mrs. Beckett

The amount of time allotted among the Opposition parties for Opposition-day debates is covered by tried and tested general guidance. The reason the Liberal Democrats get more debates than they may have done in the past is that they did rather better at the last general election, at the expense of the Conservative party.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

May I offer my sympathy to the Leader of the House for the miserable week that she has had? She was forced to lead an election campaign under a system that she does not believe in, sundry spin doctors put about stories that she had disappeared into her caravan during the campaign, and she has since been blamed for the disaster that engulfed the Labour party when the results were announced.

It is clear that the British electorate found the PR system repulsive. It became clear yesterday that the Prime Minister did not understand that. We know that he is a busy man, but could he detain himself for half an hour after Prime Minister's questions next Wednesday to explain his personal position on the question of introducing PR for this Parliament?

Mrs. Beckett

I suppose that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sympathy, although the notion that we took a week's holiday in our caravan, which was entirely misplaced, was not, as far as I am aware, the invention of any spin doctor. If the hon. Gentleman wants my frank opinion, I suspect that it started as a newsroom joke and spread because it was too good a story to resist.

One of the most worrying things about the European elections, which should genuinely trouble all hon. Members, was the low turnout. It was not unpredicted, but it was alarming. The hon. Gentleman says that it is because of the system. It has always been a feature of the European Parliament elections that turn-out is lower than at local elections, and turn-out at the local elections this year was only 29 per cent.; so, again, that is part of the pattern. But it is a source of serious concern to all of us. One thing that we should be doing, and the Government are doing, is giving much thought to how we can make it easier, not more difficult, for people to vote. That could apply across the board.

As to the notion that the low turn-out was due simply to the voting system, given the understandably extensive coverage of the important issue of the war in Kosovo, and a range of other factors of that kind, it is, perhaps, less surprising than it ought to be. I would not myself lay the blame at the door of the system, but I am sure that all those factors will be considered. My right hon. Friend's position on proportional representation is entirely plain.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to the highly pertinent inquiry from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), may we have an early statement from the Prime Minister to clarify whether he intends to lead the campaign by the federasts to abolish Britain's national currency and to hand over the running of our economy permanently to people whom we do not elect and cannot remove?

Given that only today in the Daily Mirror that newspaper's chief political commentator, Mr. Paul Routledge, has described the Prime Minister, following his risible performance yesterday, as a startled deer who limped off the stage, does the right hon. Lady not accept that it is crucial that the Prime Minister, instead of sitting on the fence and playing the role of the chameleon, which he so enjoys, should instead stand up for the principle in which he believes, argue the case to abolish our national currency and be prepared for the fact that, when he does so, this Conservative Opposition will come back at him with arguments and force infinitely greater than anything he can offer?

Mrs. Beckett

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his promotion.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

It has not shut him up.

Mrs. Beckett

No, it has not. I wondered whether it might mean that we would have the pleasure of the hon. Gentleman's company less frequently, or at less length—but apparently not.

With regard to the campaign and the issue of the single currency, the Government are positive that the stance that we have taken is right in Britain's national interest; we shall therefore continue to take it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Leader of the House arrange next week for the Home Secretary to come to the House and make a statement on the progress of the Criminal Cases Review Commission? Is she aware of the growing concern of a number of people about the length of time that the review board is taking in dealing with a number of cases? One particular case that I have in mind, and which the right hon. Lady may know of, is that of Stephen Downing. That has now been with the Criminal Cases Review Commission since its inception; or rather, in the first instance it was with the Home Office, but it was rightly transferred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. I have no objection to that. It was a good move to set up that board. But the fact that it is taking so long to arrive at a decision on the case is causing concern.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman will know that we inherited long delays in many part of the criminal justice system. That is a source of concern to the Government, as it rightly is to the public, and we are trying to take steps to diminish those delays. That applies, too, to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Ministers are aware of and concerned about the delays, and we are considering what can be done to ease the position.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), may I also urge the Leader of the House to try to persuade the Prime Minister to come to the House to explain one or two things about the single currency? Yesterday he told us yet again that we have record employment and alluded to record low inflation and very low interest rates. Will he explain how that legacy of 18 years of Conservative government can be improved on by joining the single currency?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman's memory is a trifle faulty. The legacy of 18 years of Conservative government was interest rates and inflation in double figures and, usually, unemployment well into double figures. On the single currency, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said yesterday or to what I have said today.