HC Deb 04 March 1999 vol 326 cc1230-44 1.34 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office be good enough to give us the business of the House for next week?

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

The business will be as follows:

MONDAY 8 MARcH—Consideration of a Lords Message which may be received to the Road Traffic (NHS Charges) Bill.

As this is International Women's Day, there will be a debate entitled "Delivering for Women" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Subject to the progress of negotiations, it is proposed that we should debate the Implementation Bodies (Northern Ireland) Order.

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

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

Continuation of the Budget debate.

THURSDAY 11 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 12 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

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

MONDAY 15 MARCH—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

TUESDAY 16 MARCH—Remaining stages of the House of Lords Bill.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (Continuance) Order.

WEDNESDAY 17 MARCH—Until 12.30 pm, debate on the 2nd report from the Environmental Audit Committee on the greening Government initiative, followed by a debate on the 6th report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Tax Credits Bill.

THURSDAY 18 MARCH—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day].

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

At 7 o'clock the House will be asked to agree the spring supplementary estimates, excess votes and defence votes A.

FRIDAY 19 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

The House will wish to know that, on Tuesday 9 March, there will be a debate on end of life vehicles in European Standing Committee C.

On Wednesday 10 March, there will be a debate on transport infrastructure charging in European Standing Committee A.

On Wednesday 17 March, there will be a debate on the welfare of laying hens in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Tuesday 9 March:

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union document: 11034/97, Treatment of End of Life Vehicles; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 34-iv, HC 34-vi and HC 34-ix and HC 34-xi (1998–99). Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 155-vi (1997–98)

Wednesday 10 March 1999:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: 10778/98, Transport Infrastructure Charging. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 155-xxxvii (1997–98).

Wednesday 17 March 1999:

European Standing Committee A—European Union document: 6985/98, Welfare of Laying Hens. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 34-vi (1998/99). Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 155-xxviii (1997‒98).]

Sir Patrick Cormack

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first business questions. I thank him for giving next week's business and the provisional business for the week after. I thank him, and through him the Leader of the House, for conceding that it would have been totally inappropriate to have the remaining stages of the House of Lords Bill just a couple of days after the conclusion of the Committee stage. We are grateful to the Government for that concession.

It is obviously appropriate that, on international women's day, there should be a debate on women, but I am not sure that "Delivering for Women" is the most felicitous title.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are still anxious to have a debate on the White Paper on the House of Lords. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues have rightly insisted that the debate on the Bill should be tightly confined. We need to debate the Government's proposals for the future of the House of Lords. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a debate on that soon?

May we also have a debate in the near future on the euro and the Government's changeover plan? It appears from certain items in the newspapers that the Prime Minister has his own hidden agenda on that. Could we have a debate, and could it be introduced by the Prime Minister?

May we have clarification next week from the hon. Gentleman or the Leader of the House on what is envisaged as the precise role for the Committee of the Regions? As the hon. Gentleman will know, at least one Select Committee Chairman—a Labour Member—has indicated that Select Committees have responsibility for certain subjects that would presumably devolve to such a Committee.

Could the hon. Gentleman give us some idea of when we can expect a debate on the Lawrence inquiry? The Home Secretary indicated that the Leader of the House had promised such a debate.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is great concern about the future of the Good Friday agreement. May we have an assurance that, before the House rises for the Easter recess—in other words, before the first anniversary—there will be an opportunity for a full debate on that agreement?

The hon. Gentleman will doubtless be aware that the Prime Minister has recently made statements casting certain doubt on the precise nature of the ministerial code. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement next week on the ministerial code? In the debate this week on Sierra Leone, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), offered an interpretation of the requirement of Ministers to give accurate and truthful information to Parliament which seems to be totally different from a reasonable interpretation. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office agrees that we need clarification of the matter, and that the only person who can give it is the Prime Minister.

Very soon, the House will also have to debate two other subjects. The first is genetically modified food, about which there is concern across the country. The other is the millennium bug; we have not had our quarterly statement on the millennium bug. Is that because something has got into the works? Will we have it next week?

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

It has been genetically modified.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Perhaps, but we should have had it on 2 March. May we be assured that it will be given at least next week?

Mr. Tipping

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening comment.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points, the first of which was on the House of Lords. I am delighted that we have been able to establish a good relationship in dealing with the matter, and that we have proceeded on it, so far, by agreement. I hope that we shall be able to continue doing so. I am also very conscious of the desire for a debate on the White Paper. As he will know, discussions are taking place on the matter through the usual channels, and I hope that we will soon be able to achieve something.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the national changeover plan and the Prime Minister's intentions on that. The Prime Minister made his position perfectly clear, only last week, in a statement to the Commons. The hon. Gentleman will know that, next Tuesday, we shall start a four-day debate on the Budget. I do not think that it would test hon. Members' ingenuity too much to arrange for the issue to be raised in that debate.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of regionalisation. One matter that draws hon. Members into the Chamber at business questions is the desire to raise issues affecting their locality and region. It is important that we should have opportunities to discuss regional matters, and the Modernisation Committee has considered the issue. I am making arrangements for the memorandum submitted to the Modernisation Committee to be placed in the Library, so that all hon. Members will be able to read the proposals. I suppose that we shall have to make haste rather slowly on the matter.

I agree entirely on the need for a debate on the Lawrence inquiry. The Home Secretary has made his intention on the matter very clear—he would like a debate soon. Although it is important that we should have an opportunity to study the inquiry before we have that debate, the hon. Gentleman may rest assured that there will be such a debate.

The hon. Gentleman asked for clarification of the ministerial code. It would be in everyone's interests if we all knew where we stood on the matter, and the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges is considering the issue. I am certain that the Government will take notice of the Committee's report.

The hon. Gentleman asked about GM food, which is a very lively issue. Agriculture Question Time will be held next Thursday, when I suspect that the issue will arise.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the millennium bug. I promise him that the quarterly statement will arrive in the not-too-distant future, computers permitting.

Mr. Tyler

I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to his new position, and I welcome his positive remarks on the Lawrence inquiry report, which Liberal Democrat Members also are anxious urgently to debate.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to respond also to the question on the Good Friday agreement? There is widespread concern in the House that we should have an opportunity to consider the situation.

Has the hon. Gentleman had any indication of when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expects to make a statement on the progress—or non-progress—of the current talks on the future of the common agricultural policy? This is an intensely important issue for the industry, which is already in a very delicate state. The continued uncertainty is damaging its confidence, even without further delay and indecision. Even if no final deal is reached, I hope that the Minister will come to the House to report on the lack of progress.

I should like a statement next week on the management of the passage through the House of the Greater London Authority Bill. A serious situation is arising, with the Government rewriting huge sections of the Bill in Committee without following the normal conventions of ensuring that all members of the Committee—Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers—have an opportunity to assess the importance of the changes and to write amendments. The problem is so great that I have had a memorandum produced, which I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman. One example arose a few days ago, when the Government substantially rewrote a clause on road user charging. They tabled 11 pages of replacement schedules on 2 March, in the expectation that they could be considered and appropriate amendments could be tabled in just 48 hours or so. That is intolerable, showing that the Government are not managing the Bill with the care and attention that it deserves. It is an arrogant insult to the House not to pay more attention to the needs of Back Benchers and Opposition parties.

Mr. Tipping

I am grateful again for the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the Lawrence inquiry. I am confident that there will be one in the not-too-distant future. The hon. Gentleman asked for a discussion on the Good Friday agreement. I am sorry that I neglected to mention it when responding to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). There is a case for taking stock a year on of what has been achieved—there have been achievements—and looking at the difficulties. I shall bear in mind what both hon. Gentlemen have said.

Like the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I come from a rural area. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has written to every farmer asking for views on the way forward on CAP reform. We have talked about it for a long time. People know that change is inevitable. It is particularly important now, given the state of the industry, that we should be able to give reassurance and have a debate with producers so that they know the way forward. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend hears the hon. Gentleman's points clearly.

I was aware of difficulties with the Greater London Authority Bill; I am conscious of the fact that there have been many amendments. It is a complex Bill. We may have to have further discussions to see whether we can help the Committee with its important work.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

There has been a development in the past few hours at the Security Council in New York. It came too late to influence the private notice question that we had earlier, but it demands a statement from my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would pass that message on. China, in the chair of the Security Council, has declared that the no-fly zones about which the House heard earlier are illegal, and are not endorsed by any United Nations Security Council resolution. That requires a judicial review, because it calls into question the expenditure by the Ministry of Defence in support of the no-fly zones, and the status of pilots who might be involved in an accident or might be shot down while implementing a policy that the Security Council chair has decreed is illegal. It also calls into question the moral and ethical basis for the policy that has resulted in more bombs being dropped since the end of Operation Desert Fox than were dropped during it—a policy that the United Nations Security Council, in whose name it is supposedly being conducted, has declared illegal.

Mr. Tipping

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was here earlier for the private notice question, but some of the points that he made—particularly about the safety of our airmen—were covered fairly extensively at that time. Iraq has been discussed in one way or another on every day this week in the House, and I suspect that hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend, will use opportunities to raise the issue further. I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but I believe that the will of the House is to safeguard the interest of innocent parties in Iraq. That must remain our course, and I have no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue to pursue it with vigour.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the Minister make time for a statement on the EU inspection of abattoirs which, as he will know, is a prerequisite to the lifting of the beef ban? Is he aware that the Prime Minister stated categorically last week: We have of course invited the inspectors"?—[Official Report, 24 February 1999; Vol. 326, c. 386.] It now transpires that the Government had not, and that an urgent invitation was sent out the following day. The House needs to know whether the Prime Minister was merely reckless in his statement to the House, or whether he set out to mislead.

Mr. Tipping

We all share the view that it is important to get the beef ban lifted as quickly as possible, and that abattoirs are inspected. Our current intention is to have the inspection around the end of March. An invitation has been issued—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The matter was raised with the Prime Minister. The important thing is to ensure that we pass the inspection, and that we ensure that beef is once again exported from this country.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When can we have a statement about vibration white finger payments and chronic bronchitis and emphysema payments to miners, retired miners and—in some cases—widows? We know that the Government have about £2 billion ring-fenced for the payments, but the truth is that we are beset by as many as 220 lawyers who have their fingers in the pie and are holding up payments which are badly needed by, in some cases, very aged people. Will he ensure that the appropriate statement is made shortly, so that these important compensation payments can be made and so that a minimal amount of money goes to the lawyers? Rumour has it that they are concentrating on getting as much as 10 to 15 per cent. commission payments from the fund. It is high time that the Government told the lawyers to get on with the job, get it settled and get the payments made.

Mr. Tipping

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign that he has initiated and followed for a decade to ensure that former miners get compensation for vibration white finger and chronic bronchitis and emphysema. We are now nearly there, and a third of a million pounds was agreed in compensation to a small group of miners only last week in respect of VWF. That is the tip of the iceberg. I hear what my hon. Friend says about solicitors and their agents. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry who, as he knows, has taken a personal interest in the matter. He is working vigorously to ensure that money gets into the pockets of disabled mineworkers by the summer.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about the Greater London Authority Bill, may I make it clear that the problem is not so much with amendments, as with the reams of new clauses that effectively involve the rewriting of the Bill? The Committee has been good-natured, but, frankly, that good nature is being curdled by the fact that the Government give no reasons why that procedure has to be followed. The habit of having milestones in the Bill, especially when the amendments or new clauses crop up just before a milestone is reached, does not, in my view, assist the structure of discussion.

Mr. Tipping

I have heard clearly what the right hon. Gentleman has said on the matter. I gave an undertaking to investigate it. I will ensure that my colleagues are aware of the strength of feeling in the Committee and try to ensure that progress towards establishing a Greater London authority runs more smoothly than at present.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Earlier today, I attended the launch of Ecotricity, a new joint venture company set up by the Renewable Energy Company, based in my constituency, and Thames Water. The launch was addressed by my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry, and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), was present. Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of an early debate on the importance of renewable energy and on the way in which it can contribute to the reduction of our carbon dioxide emissions, in line with our commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010?

Mr. Tipping

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this matter. If he looks carefully at the business statement, he will see that, on Wednesday 17 March, there is a debate concerning the Environmental Audit Committee, and it may be possible to raise the subject under that heading. There are a number of arrangements, such as Adjournment debates, whereby he could raise the matter.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Will the Minister be more precise about the timing of the millennium compliance quarterly report? Will it be on Monday and, if not, why not? Nothing could be more urgent, as the day of reckoning for the Government will by then be fewer than 300 days away.

May we have a debate on open government, by which I mean honest government, and, in particular, on the way in which the Prime Minister uses words loosely? Before the general election, he said that there would be no increase in taxes, but it has now been revealed that there will be £40 billion of tax increases.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) said, the Prime Minister said that of course the Government had sent a request for inspectors to the European Union, but it turns out that he was wrong in saying that. Most seriously of all, at the first opportunity that the Government had to put the record straight, when a question was tabled for answer the following Monday, they gave a holding answer. Quite contrary to the spirit of open government, holding answers are being used to cover up the Government's dirty work.

Mr. Tipping

We have been waiting for the millennium for a millennium. There are 300 days to go, as the hon. Gentleman says. I cannot promise a statement on Monday, but, if he is patient and waits a few more days, he will get his statement.

There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss taxation in the Budget debate.

Let me say plainly to the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members that the Prime Minister did not mislead the House. Discussions had been going on for several weeks with European Union partners about inspectors visiting at the end of March. The fax inviting them was not a new development, but merely confirmed the date.

The important thing is to ensure that our abattoirs pass the test and that British beef can again be exported throughout the world.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will my hon. Friend make time for an early debate on the health service? St. David's day on Monday saw the start of the west London NHS Direct scheme, which serves my constituents. That scheme, together with the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of some £780,000 to modernise the accident and emergency unit at Northwick Park hospital, represents probably the best three weeks for Harrow's health service in any of the past 20 years, and is in stark contrast to the 18 months before the general election, when my constituents had to suffer the loss of Mount Vernon A and E unit, closed by the Conservatives, and of Edgware general A and E unit, also closed—appropriately, on 1 April—by the Conservatives.

Mr. Tipping

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate on the matter, even though I know that he has worked hard to bring better health and accident care resources to his area. He mentioned Northwick Park hospital, and I am delighted that substantial new money will be made available to that hospital and to A and E departments all over the country to help them to provide that valuable service better. I am also pleased that NHS Direct is proving to be such a successful service. My hon. Friend may know, but other hon. Members may not, that we have asked Sheffield university to examine the successes and to evaluate NHS Direct. I look forward to seeing the report. The provisional results show that 97 per cent. of callers are satisfied with the results of the new service.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

I am somewhat disappointed by the response that the Minister gave to the questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on the response that the Prime Minister gave me at Question Time last week. It is a fact that Mr. Horst Reichenbach, the Director-General of DG XXIV, the consumer affairs directorate in Brussels, produced the letter from the chief veterinary officer that was received on Thursday in Brussels and said that it was the first invitation that had been sent. There is, therefore, some confusion between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Downing street and the Minister about the facts. Will the Prime Minister come to the House and explain to whom he issued the invitation?

Mr. Tipping

There is no confusion on my part. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, after years of bungling by his colleagues in the Conservative party, and their inaction and inability to discuss the issue with partners in Europe, we are now on the verge of having the ban lifted. Farmers in my area and his will welcome the positive action taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues to make that happen.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we have a debate on the important subject of primary education, so that we can applaud the remarkable achievement by 29 schools in Newport in obtaining the quality mark for basic schools, which represents by far the largest group of schools in any area in England and Wales, and 10 per cent. of the marks awarded throughout the two countries? Is it not important that, in that debate, we emphasise that the award does not recognise a few high-flyers in the school, but means that every pupil in the school is given basic skills in literacy and numeracy? May we have that debate soon so that other areas, less favoured than Newport, can emulate the splendid achievements of Newport council?

Mr. Tipping

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has reminded the House that children are our future and that we need to invest in them, because that is in all our interests. I am pleased that so much has been achieved in Newport, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend the debate that he wants. The Prime Minister, as we speak, is visiting primary schools in Ealing—he may have opportunities to visit Wales at some time—to announce an extra £150 million to ensure the achievement of our pledge that all five, six and seven-year-olds should be taught in classes under 30. That is a substantial extra sum. We are on target to achieve our plans and another manifesto milestone has been reached, not only in Newport, but across the country.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) for an urgent debate on the so-called national changeover plan in relation to the euro? I ask that because, as the matter is, mercifully, to be decided by the people of this country rather than by the Government, and as there is every indication that the people are likely to say no, we need to know more about the Government's plans in the event that we do not join the euro. It is grossly irresponsible for any Government who even pretend that the matter is still at issue not to prepare the country for the important eventuality—I hope it is a certainty—that we do not join the euro.

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point: the choice will be made by the people of this country through a referendum. I welcome that and I am sure that he welcomes that. Let us ensure that we—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Get on with it.

Mr. Tipping

Let us ensure that we do get on with it and that, if the time comes for us to join the euro, we are ready for it. Today, the first meeting takes place of the cross-party group to consider those arrangements. I am sad that there is still an empty space on that group for a Conservative Member.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

Has my hon. Friend read early-day motion 365, which deals with the licensing of medicines for children?

[That this House notes that 25 per cent. of all hospital treatments given to children are either unlicensed for this purpose or are not used in accordance with the instructions on the label; expresses concern that some of those treatments have resulted in death or injury to some of those children; recalls the comments made by the Health Committee in its report, The Specific Health Needs of Children and Young People, 10th February 1997, that 'the current situation in regard to the testing and licensing of medicines for use by children is unacceptable'; further notes that European Union guidance on this issue came into force in September 1997; but expresses concern that the Medicines Control Agency does not hold information on those products which are being developed in accordance with this guidance, and that the MCA does not keep a record of those companies which may be complying with the guidance; notes with interest that from April 1999 in the United States, pharmaceutical companies will be compelled to provide information about the effects of their drugs on children if such a use is likely; and urges the Government to take steps to strengthen the regulatory framework in the UK, and establish a satisfactory system for testing and licensing treatments for use on children.]

Recent research shows that 25 per cent. of treatments are either unlicensed for the purpose or not carried out according to the instructions on the label. Considerable concern has arisen about the possibility of accidents, and a number of cases of injury and death have been reported. In a recent report of the Health Committee, the situation was described as "unacceptable". The issue is extremely important and should be discussed by the House. Will my hon. Friend find time for that discussion in the near future?

Mr. Tipping

I had read the early-day motion, but have now had another opportunity to look at it. I regret that it will not be possible to arrange for the debate requested by my hon. Friend in the foreseeable future, but his early-day motion and the points that he has just made help to raise the profile of that important issue.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. A number of hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. If questions and answers are a little shorter, hopefully all those hon. Members who want to speak will do so.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

I draw the Minister's attention to early-day motion 369.

[That this House supports Age Concern and the Royal College of Nursing in urging the Secretary of State for Health to issue urgent advice to health authorities and local authorities on their respective responsibilities following the judgement in R v North and East Devon Health Authority ex parte Coughlan which asserted that both general and specialist nursing care remain the sole responsibility of health authorities; and further urges the issuing of advice to those individuals who are currently in hospital assessed as needing nursing home care, or who are currently paying for nursing in nursing homes and who may now believe as a result of the judgement that nursing in nursing homes is free.]

It is gaining support from all sides of the House; it calls for the Government to issue urgent guidance to health authorities and local authorities in the wake of the Coughlan case, in which it was found that the national health service cannot shirk its responsibilities to pay for nursing care wherever it is provided. May we have an early debate, in Government time, to consider that matter in the context of the report of the royal commission on the long-term care of the elderly, so that we can end the uncertainty of many thousands of people who face the prospect of selling their homes to pay for their care, when we now know that they might not have to do so?

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman will recall that he spoke in the debate on the statement about the royal commission's report earlier this week. We need a debate and an exchange of ideas over a relatively short time, so that we can make progress on the report of the royal commission. I am aware of the court case to which he refers; he will know that my colleagues in the Department of Health are considering the matter, and I hope that there will soon be progress.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

When my hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) that he would secure a comment from the Attorney-General about the legality of the Iraq situation, he could not have known that the chair of the Security Council—China—has said that the Council believes the action is illegal. That creates a new situation. In light of that, could we have a response from the Attorney-General on Monday?

Mr. Tipping

I have nothing to add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). However, I will ensure that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) are also drawn to the attention of the Attorney-General.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Can the hon. Gentleman afford us a debate, or at least a statement, so that the Government may clarify their position in light of the interview given by the Foreign Office Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), to Le Monde, in which he stated that the Prime Minister had already made up his mind to abolish the pound? Could that debate be sufficiently elastic to allow us to consider the employment consequences of that move?

You may be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Andy Masters in West Bromwich lost his job as a consequence of having displayed a poster issued by The Sun—the same poster that appears on my gatepost. That debate could give us an opportunity to consider our own arrangements in the House. The poster gives a telephone number-0660 100721—that members of the public can ring to register their support for retaining the pound. I dialled that telephone number from the House and found that the House telephone system is configured to prevent hon. Members from making such a call.

Mr. Tipping

Here is another hon. Member who heeds what The Sun says. Perhaps The Sun has some knowledge of the hon. Member, as it is not prepared to listen to what he says. I am aware of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). He speaks from his position as a Back Bencher who represents the constituency of Rotherham.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I refer my hon. Friend to early-day motion 371.

[That this House, observing the current unacceptable deterioration of human rights in China and Tibet, calls on the Government to support a resolution on China at the forthcoming 55th United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.]

It expresses concern about the serious deterioration in the human rights situation in China and Tibet, and refers to the forthcoming 55th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In view of the fact that the Commission will meet in the next few weeks and given that the United States Senate voted recently 96:0 to support a resolution at the Commission meeting condemning those abuses of human rights, will my hon. Friend find time for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House in the next week identifying whether the United Kingdom Government support such a resolution and outlining their policy in this area?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has enough perception to note that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), is sitting on the Front Bench. Discussions are under way with our European partners on this matter, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will liaise with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) in this regard.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Can an early opportunity be found for the Prime Minister to come to the House to clear up the confusion caused by his remarks on various occasions? I refer to the Prime Minister's speech in Bristol a month ago in which he said that it was time to repeal some European directives that imposed costs on business. However, he now says that he has none in mind. I refer also to the Prime Minister's recent speech in which he said that Britain should follow United States labour practices. Those statements do not make any sense when the Government are driving the Employment Relations Bill through the House, which will pile new costs on business.

The director general of the Engineering Employers Federation has commented astutely that the Prime Minister appears to be saying one thing and doing another. Many of us believe that it is not the first time that that has happened. Given the confusion that the Prime Minister is causing in the business community, among trade unionists and for hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that he should be given the chance to come to this place and explain himself.

Mr. Tipping

The Prime Minister comes to the House every week to take questions. He believes in a strong and vigorous business sector. Debate on the Budget will begin next week and continue for four days, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will try to catch the Speaker's eye then.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will my hon. Friend make time for a debate in the near future on Britain's relations with Turkey so that we may discuss the problems of human rights abuses, Turkish incursion into Iraq and the contracts apparently being considered—which have been supported by the Department of Trade and Industry—that involve British construction companies in the damming of the River Tigris? That project would cause considerable problems for people living in the Kurdish part of eastern Turkey.

Mr. Tipping

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is by my side and he has heard the points that my hon. Friend has raised. I remind my hon. Friend that it is not too long to wait until Foreign Office questions, when he may have an opportunity to raise this matter again.

Mr. Bercow

Further to the pertinent inquiry from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), will the hon. Gentleman reconsider and provide for an early statement on the role and responsibilities of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to Ministers, about which confusion is prevalent within Government ranks? The hon. Gentleman told the House a moment ago that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) had spoken in his capacity as a constituency Member of Parliament. Will the hon. Gentleman take account of the crucial fact that the hon. Member for Rotherham is not just any old Parliamentary Private Secretary: he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Can the House be told whether the hon. Member for Rotherham was blurting out the Government's true intentions, and therefore will soon be promoted; or he was misrepresenting the Government's position, in which case he will presumably be either sacked or otherwise disciplined?

Mr. Tipping

I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman describe my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham as "not any old Member of Parliament".

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Tipping

He is not any old PPS, for that matter. He is a man of many talents, some of them eccentric. I have made the position absolutely clear: my hon. Friend speaks for himself as the Member of Parliament for Rotherham.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I draw the attention of the House to the disturbing report that appears in today's edition of The Express newspaper about the background to the massacre in Uganda. New information has come to light since the Foreign Secretary made his statement on Tuesday. The report reveals that a Briton was abducted in the same area six months ago and has not been seen since. It suggests that the Foreign Office told the man's brother and family to say nothing about the incident, and points up the sharp contrast between the Foreign Office's failure to change its advice to travel companies and the actions of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which issued a very tough warning as a result of that incident. This is a very disturbing matter and I believe that time should be found to enable the Foreign Secretary to return to the House and explain why our Foreign Office did nothing, whereas the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a dire warning about what might happen to tourists in that area.

Mr. Tipping

It is important that hon. Members do not believe everything they read in the newspapers—even if it is The Express. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), has written to the newspaper pointing out that its story is wrong in many respects. I shall give two examples of its inaccuracy. The unfortunate person in this very difficult situation was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Foreign Office gave very clear advice not to travel to that area. I also understand that there has been close contact between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the gentleman's family.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

In company with other hon. Members, I was scheduled this afternoon to meet the Minister of Agriculture to draw attention to the impending crisis in the small abattoir sector as a result of the colossal increase in charges that it will face from 1 April. I would like to think that the Leader of the House will recognise that that subject merits debate in the House so that I and other hon. Members who represent constituencies with small abattoirs can make the case for an urgent review of the current proposals. Typical of these cases is the abattoir in my constituency at Bishop's Castle, which will face an almost doubling of its meat inspection charges from 1 April. For every slaughterman, it will have one vet or meat inspector. Those small abattoirs are generally located in rural areas, and I think the House should have an opportunity to debate the effect on the rural economy, on employment in those areas, on animal welfare and on the niche marketing of specialist high-quality products if the abattoirs are forced to close. That is a likely prospect if the charges are introduced on 1 April. I seek the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will grant that urgent debate.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman has made several important points about the needs of rural communities and the countryside—many of which I agree with. He had the opportunity to raise such issues with the Prime Minister only yesterday. He raised the issue of beef on the bone, but could have extended his question to abattoirs. I am sorry that he is not meeting the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon, but I shall ensure that his comments are drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention. It will not be possible to have a statement on the issue, although there will be Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food questions next Thursday, when I expect that the issue may arise.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

Last Wednesday, 2,000 road hauliers gave up a whole day's work to descend on London to stress to the Government that their vindictive policy will cause the loss of up to 50,000 jobs—more than the west midlands would lose if Longbridge were to close. The road hauliers were struck by the lamentable lack of interest among Labour Members of Parliament and the Government. They were astonished the following day, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) raised the issue in Department of Trade and Industry questions, that the Government did not appear to understand that 95 per cent. of British freight goes by road, and that, by penalising this strategic industry, every business in the country is made less competitive. Could we have an emergency debate on this vital strategic industry?

Mr. Tipping

I am aware of the problem; hon. Members on both sides of the House take an interest in the matter. Indeed, I have visited road hauliers in my constituency. There is an issue. Excise duties are high in this country, but certain concessions from which our road hauliers benefit are not available in other European countries.

Mr. Paterson

Not enough.

Mr. Tipping

It may not be enough, but difficult judgments must be made. I imagine that there will be an opportunity, not for a statement and debate on this issue, but to raise it in debates on the Budget, which start on Tuesday.