HC Deb 18 May 2000 vol 350 cc457-72 12.31 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the Leader of the House give 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 22 MAY—Consideration of a timetable motion relating to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill [Lords] and Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill followed by their remaining stages.

Consideration of a timetable motion relating to the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill and Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Bill followed by their remaining stages.

TUESDAY 23 MAY—Second Reading of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill [Lords].

Second Reading of the Limited Liability Partnership Bill [Lords].

Motion relating to insurance for Members, including defrayment of the cost of defending defamation actions.

Motion relating to legal expenses incurred by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire.

WEDNESDAY 24 MAY—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The Government's Failure to Tackle Crime" followed by a debate on transport spending. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Proceedings on the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidated measure.

THURSDAY 25 MAY—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Electronic Communications Bill.

Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment debate.

The provisional business for the week after the Whitsun recess will include:

MONDAY 5 JUNE—Consideration of any Lords Amendments which may be received to the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

TUESDAY 6 JUNE—Second Reading of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill.

FRIDAY 9 JUNE—Private Members' Bills

I should like to take the opportunity to inform the House of business to be taken in Westminster Hall for when the House is sitting during June.

THURSDAY 1 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

THURSDAY 8 JUNE—Debate on the fourth report from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, from the session 1998–99, on Gibraltar.

THURSDAY 15 JUNE—Debate on the role of the voluntary sector in our national life—recognising and promoting volunteering.

THURSDAY 22 JUNE—Debate on the first report from the Education and Employment Select Committee, from the session 1999–2000, on school meals.

THURSDAY 29 JUNE—Debate on the second report from the International Development Select Committee, from the session 1999–2000, on the future of sanctions.

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business for the week following the Whitsun recess.

This week, the House received a further statement on Sierra Leone, but I must repeat the request that several of us made last week for a full day's debate on Sierra Leone in Government time. Our troops are doing a magnificent job in difficult circumstances and have been exposed to that situation for some time. The commitment is likely to last for many weeks and the position remains highly volatile. Will the Leader of the House review the disappointing response that she gave last week and give serious consideration to a full day's debate on Sierra Leone?

Separate from that request, are we not due for a foreign affairs debate to address some of the many problems in the world, such as those in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka?

This weekend is a critical one for the Northern Ireland peace process. Might we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Monday, if there are important developments over the weekend?

The right hon. Lady has just announced guillotine motions on no fewer than four Government Bills. Is that not a serious overreaction to the detailed discussion yesterday on the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill? Is not the underlying problem the sheer volume of legislation that the Government are trying to push through the House of Commons?

We now have a Government response to the report of the Select Committee on Liaison, "Shifting the Balance". Does that not unlock the opportunity to have a debate on that important report?

Finally, the Leader of the House would be surprised if I did not ask for debates, first, on reform of the House of Lords and, secondly, on the intergovernmental conference.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the superb job that our troops are doing in Sierra Leone. Of course I shall continue to bear in mind his request for a full day's debate on that matter, but I remind him, first, that there will be a debate on Sierra Leone in Westminster Hall next week; and, secondly, that, although there has recently been a steady stream of Opposition days, which is correct and proper, the Opposition have not chosen to debate what he describes as an important subject. I do not often say this to the right hon. Gentleman, but he will recognise that it is open to the Opposition to provide time for such a debate, if they believe that one is required. None the less, I shall pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and continue to bear in mind his request for a general debate on foreign affairs.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, kept the House informed of developments in Northern Ireland. I note the right hon. Gentleman's request that, if there are important developments, the House should continue to be informed and I shall draw that to my right hon. Friend's attention.

The right hon. Gentleman then asked for debates on Lords reform and the intergovernmental conference, and I have those issues in mind as ones that the House wants to debate. However, before that, he asked about the guillotine motions that I have announced, calling them an overreaction. As I am sure that he is aware, the two matters are not unrelated. The House is taking a great deal of time discussing legislation that is not contentious and that would not normally require much time in the House. Furthermore, there is a pattern whereby Bills go through Second Reading and Committee quite swiftly, and no amendments are tabled in Committee—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

That is the trouble.

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman might say that, but might I draw to his attention what I consider to be a rather worrying phenomenon? No amendments were tabled in Committee to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which is an important and worthwhile measure to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons; yet he and others tabled no fewer than 33 amendments, four new clauses and a new schedule for debate on the Floor of the House. A similar pattern can be seen in respect of the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill: the Bill was uncontentious and supported by Opposition Members, and the Standing Committee sat only once; yet no fewer than seven new clauses, 31 amendments and two new schedules were tabled to take up debating time on the Floor of the House. Any place of work can be brought grinding to a halt by people working to rule; then, measures have to be taken.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I support the call of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for an early debate on the intergovernmental conference. There are important issues for the House to discuss and it is imperative that we have a debate soon.

In that context, may we also have a debate on the developing European security and defence identity within the European Union? I am sure that many hon. Members would like to express their views on that matter before the Government decide what attitude to adopt toward any treaty changes that might be consequential on that development.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point, both about the IGC debate and about other issues, such as defence identity in the European Union. I recognise the perfectly legitimate demand on all sides of the House for discussion of these important matters. That is why the Government are endeavouring to prevent business that should be discussed properly, but not at undue length, from taking excessive time.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I repeat my weekly request that the Government come off the fence on the reform of the House of Lords. It is now a fortnight since we were scheduled to have that debate. Might the gap in the Government's programme on Wednesday 7 June and Thursday 8 June, be filled with this important and urgent issue?

May we have an early opportunity to discuss transparency and open government? Is the right hon. Lady aware of the great concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House, including her own, concern that has been expressed this morning, about the fact that the important news about contamination and seed purity was given last night in a short, inadequate and potentially misleading written answer? Now that the Minister of Agriculture is to make a full statement in the House and be cross-examined, may I ask her to look at the overall question of the way in which information is given to the House? Does she really think that it is adequate to have written answers on such issues, followed by contradictory press statements and interviews on the "Today" programme?

Has the right hon. Lady followed up with her colleagues the important statement by Madam Speaker, after talks with Sir Richard Wilson, on giving information to the House? Finally, does the right hon. Lady recognise that many people outside the House believe that this is all too reminiscent of the former Government and the way in which they handled the issues of genetically modified seeds and contaminated animal feed, under pressure from me and my colleagues? We never received good answers from them. Can we expect better answers from this Administration?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I am aware of the anxiety for a debate. Indeed, I share that anxiety. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I have made it plain that the Government do not intend to make their own pre-emptive announcement—if I may put it like that—in response to the royal commission, but wish first to hear the views of the House, and I am anxious to hear them. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that pressure of business has made that difficult, particularly with much time being taken on the Floor in the way to which I have already alluded.

With regard to transparency and open government, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in this Parliament, as of 11 April, the date of the latest figures that I have, we had made 219 statements; on average, under this Government, a statement has been made every two sitting days. The hon. Gentleman will also know that Madam Speaker has made it quite plain that a written parliamentary answer is a perfectly legitimate way of giving information, and, as he mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is about to make a statement.

I have indeed followed up Madam Speaker's remarks. The hon. Gentleman may know that, because I believe that the letter leaked.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are carrying out a review of the vaccine damage payment scheme 1979. Can she make time available for an early debate on this important issue, so that the scheme's inadequacy can be fully debated?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he has long campaigned on this issue. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor in the near future. Perhaps I could recommend to him the offices of Westminster Hall.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

In the light of early-day motion 678 [That this House takes note of the recent undertaking of the honourable Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey 'on behalf of my party that we will seek to deal with any matter in our party that other people are concerned about'; accordingly calls upon him and his party leadership to investigate and repudiate the unethical, misleading and on occasions deliberately untruthful campaigning tactics of Liberal Democrat candidates in the Manchester, Gorton constituency in the current local elections; condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for putting about the deliberately untruthful scare story about 'Labour's proposals to force benefits claimants to be paid through their bank accounts' when the Prime Minister has made absolutely clear that all benefits claimants will continue to have the right to collect their benefits from their local post office, to collect their benefits weekly if they so wish and to collect their benefits in cash; further condemns them for seeking to deceive local people about their vote in the Council against the proposal for a new high school on the Spurley Hey site, a proposal supported by both the governors and the staff of the current school and endorsed by the Secretary of State; points out to the people of Gorton that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, there would be an empty, derelict site at Spurley Hey; and is tired of the Liberal Democrat policy of seeking to mislead voters into supporting them either by telling outright lies or else by pretending that they are responsible for the achievements of others.],

early-day motion 679

[That this House condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for seeking to deceive the people of Gorton about the Liberal Democrats' role in the Friends of Gorton Park organisation, which the Liberal Democrats seek to imply they have some responsibility for, when the excellent work of the voluntary officers and members is in an organisation whose formation was suggested by Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton, and of which that Right honourable Member is President; further condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for seeking to deceive local people about the Liberal Democrats' non-existent role in the Gorton Monastery Charitable Trust; notes that the Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton sponsored a promotional reception for the trust at the House, that that same Right honourable Member the week before Easter had a meeting at the House with Dr Eric Anderson, Chairman of the National Heritage Lottery Trust, and that in the week after Easter the Lottery offered the Gorton Monastery Trust a £2.7 million grant together with development money and that the Chairman of the trust, Mrs. Elaine Griffiths, in that week wrote to the Right honourable Member offering 'thanks for all you are doing to help us, it is very much appreciated'; and questions why the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Rusholme ward gives his address in his election propaganda as 20 Lowestoft Street, M14, which is inside the ward, when his name is not on the election register for that address but for 263 Barlow Road, Manchester 19, which is in a different ward.],

and early-day motion 680

[That this House expresses its contempt for the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for pretending that they have been active in the campaign against North-West Water's disgraceful plan to build a business park called Waterside Park, when the Liberal Democrats have been almost invisible in a campaign which has been organised jointly by the Labour Party and Fairfield Golf and Sailing Club, as a result of which 40,000 signatures were gathered for a petition which helped to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to order a public inquiry into this pestilential project when the main opposition at the inquiry was organised by the party and the club and when the Liberal Democrats were scarcely to be seen at the inquiry; points out that there need never have been a privatised North West Water if the Liberals in the House had not voted in support of the former Right honourable Member for Finchley to bring down the previous Labour government; and further condemns the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Rusholme ward for seeking to deceive local people into believing that he has played an active part in the Friends of Platt Fields organisation when he only started attending this organisation's meetings a short while ago and scarcely ever opens his mouth at the meetings, and when the excellent work of the officers and members of Friends of Platt Fields is in an organisation which was suggested by the Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton, and of which that Right honourable Member is President.],

can the Leader of the House ensure a debate to enable us to talk about the co-operation between those on the Liberal Benches and the Government?

Mrs. Beckett

I have had my attention drawn to the wording of those motions. They are not a matter for me, but we are all aware that the electioneering tactics adopted by the Liberal Democrat party sometimes cause concern in the ranks of other parties.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will my right hon. Friend consider an early full day's debate on the Government's response to the Liaison Committee report, particularly bearing in mind that the Government have rejected the Committee's substantive recommendations? That underscores the need for a debate in order that we may express the collective will of the House and prevail upon the Government to change their mind so that the changes can be enacted before the next General Election. In particular, there are the extremely important questions of the appointment of Chairmen of Select Committees; the Committees' membership, and how members are selected; the timetable for setting them up after the General Election; and their ability to scrutinise and ratify public appointments.

May I tell the Leader of the House something that I was saving for my memoirs? It is ingrained upon my memory. During the Sierra Leone inquiry, a Government Whip—a lovely gentleman—came up to me and said, without a note of sarcasm, but with genuine incredulity, "Mackinlay, I just cannot understand you. We put you on the principal Committee of the House of Commons and you insist on asking all these questions." He concluded, "Why don't you just enjoy it?"

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government's response has just been published, only about an hour ago. Although I understand his anxiety for a debate to be held, it is a little early for the House to have had an opportunity to digest the response. I agree that the matter is important, and I very much hope that the House will carefully examine and weigh both the report of the Liaison Committee and the Government's response.

I share the view, which I know that my hon. Friend holds, that the Liaison Committee's report has enormous implications for all hon. Members, and those implications are perhaps not as straightforward and simple as they may at first sight appear. I hope that hon. Members will not rush to judgment, but will look carefully at what is recommended and what that means for the operations of the House, and weigh the Government's response. I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

If it is true that the remarks of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the euro on Tuesday were not cleared with the Treasury, and if that means that Northern Ireland will get an independent economic policy even before the resumption of devolution, is it possible for that to be announced first to the House, rather than to an engineering conference in Northern Ireland?

Mrs. Beckett

As I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, if he has studied the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that they were completely in line with everything that the Government have been saying on the matter. He will know that the policy has not changed, as the Prime Minister made plain at the Confederation of British Industry dinner.

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West)

My right hon. Friend may have noticed written question No. 3 on the Order Paper today, which is due to be answered today, and which concerns the Home Secretary's decision on Mike Tyson's application for a visitor's visa. In view of the considerable public interest in that decision, can my right hon. Friend say whether she has had an indication from the Home Secretary of when he will give his decision and whether he will make a statement in the House on the matter?

Mrs. Beckett

As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he hopes to make a decision reasonably soon on the application that has been received. I cannot tell her how soon that will be or whether my right hon. Friend will consider it right to make an oral statement to the House, but my hon. Friend knows that the Home Secretary is meticulous in keeping the House informed.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Next week it is Scottish questions again, when we have 25 minutes nominally for the Secretary of State and five minutes for the Advocate-General. The last five minutes usually consist of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Dr. Clark) saying that she cannot answer the questions asked because all her dealings and advice are confidential. Would it not be better and waste less of hon. Members' time if the two sessions were combined in one session of 30 minutes? If there were any questions for the Advocate-General, they could be answered along with the other questions to the Scotland Office team.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the organisation of the Question Time. It is an issue for the House as a whole, and I am not sure how widely shared is his view that it would be better to roll the two Question Times into one. When next the Question Time schedule is re-organised, I shall bear his remarks in mind.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the rumoured takeover bid for Hyder, the water company for Wales, and the electricity company for south Wales? The rumoured bidder wants to break up the company, and that is likely to involve the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in Wales. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the regulators look at the suppliers of water and electricity in Wales, in the best interests of consumers in Wales, the company and the 9,000 people who are employed by Hyder?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate in the House, although, again, I recommend Westminster Hall.

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety for the interests of the consumers to take priority. As she will know, that is the thrust of the changes in the utilities regulations that the Government are introducing in the Utilities Bill. Although the rhetoric of the Conservative party suggested that the utilities would have to put the consumer first, that was not actually what the legislation said.

I understand the reason for my hon. Friend's anxiety, but I fear that I cannot find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House. However, Westminster Hall is available.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

May we have a debate on the politicisation of the civil service? That would enable us to draw attention to the scores of extra political advisers who have been appointed under the present Government, to point out that virtually all the departmental press officers have been replaced by those who will produce a line that is closer to that approved by Mr. Campbell, and to draw attention to the fact—freely admitted by the Prime Minister yesterday—that the civil service is now providing killer packs for the Prime Minister to use at Question Time.

Mrs. Beckett

I can only tell the hon. Gentleman this. He has been a Member of Parliament for quite a long time. If he nurtures the illusion that the civil service did not supply facts to previous Prime Ministers, right or wrong—which was part of the concern that he expressed—or that there were no special advisers, I can only say that I do not know where he has been.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks about departmental press officers are absurd. There are hundreds of press officers in Whitehall, just as there are hundreds of civil servants in Whitehall. While I bow to no one in my admiration for the work and skill of those who are employed by the Government as special advisers, the notion that they could run the Civil Service is ridiculous.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that some forthcoming legislation will be timetabled. Has not the time come for programming and timetabling of all legislation? That would enable the House to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As she knows, the programming of legislation, or legislative discussion, has been recommended to the House repeatedly, and has some distinguished authors on the Opposition Benches. From time to time, we have made successful use of programme motions, giving Opposition Members, including Back Benchers, an opportunity to steer the use of the time available. Many Members—I am one—believe that that is to the advantage of members of all parties.

My hon. Friend will know that that view is not shared by everyone. She will also know that if time is used on the Floor of the House in the way it has been used recently, that will raise questions of the kind that she has asked.

Mr. Forth

The right hon. Lady is silent yet again on the subject of House of Lords reform. How can she justify the fact that week after week has passed without the House of Commons being given an opportunity to discuss the matter? Can she give any indication at all to a waiting and anxious nation of where or when the matter will proceed and be resolved—or will we be left with the suspicion that the Government have no intention whatever of resolving the issue?

Mrs. Beckett

That question comes rather rich from the right hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, during the debate on the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, one of his hon. Friends said: I need to know why the House is debating this Bill in the middle of the afternoon when there are so many other matters for which we are told there is no legislative time.—[Official Report, 17 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 369.]. It is not just legislative time; it is time for worthwhile debate.

I entirely share the view that a debate about House of Lords reform would be worth while, enabling Opposition Members to explain how they have proceeded, in one swift movement, from resisting any reform whatever, to wanting a Chamber that will be a rival to this one. I know that the right hon. Gentleman holds that view.

Some Opposition Front Benchers shake their heads. They should be aware that the right hon. Gentleman has now made publicly clear his belief that we should set up an elected Chamber that should be a rival to this Chamber. That is an important issue, which the House should discuss—but, while we are taking up time on the Floor of the House with matters that do not need to take up so much time, there is no time available to discuss matters of that kind.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

As the Government can carry over legislation, will my right hon. Friend announce at an early date that certain measures will be carried over, which will ensure better scrutiny and assist the Government timetable? May I make another helpful suggestion? As well as debating the Wakeham report, we should debate the Jenkins report, which would perhaps provide the Government with an opportunity to say that, having looked more closely at how proportional representation works, we shall take no more part in it and ditch it in the wastepaper basket?

Mrs. Beckett

At present, I am unable to make proposals for Bills to be carried over. My hon. Friend will know that such matters have to be discussed and agreed across the House, but I am aware that he proposed the idea to the Modernisation Committee and that it is one of many proposals that he has made that are designed to help the House handle its legislative business more effectively. On the Jenkins report, he will recall that we have debated that matter, but I shall, of course, bear his request in mind.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Government are considering future uses of the dome. Can we have an urgent debate on exactly what the dome will be used for, before the closure of the tacky exhibition that is on in the dome—I guess in the next two or three weeks? Is she aware that there are now only two finalists for those who will run the dome? Is it not a disgrace that one of them is Mr. Robert Bourne, who—surprise, surprise—gave £66,000 to the Labour party over the past two years: another crony?

Mrs. Beckett

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the dome, but he will know that many of those who have visited it, including many thousands of children, have taken much pleasure and enjoyment from it. He makes a remark about the process of selection. He should know that that decision-making process was initiated by the millennium commissioners. They made recommendations to the ministerial group at a meeting chaired by Lord Dalkeith, so there is clearly an independent element, as there rightly should be, in that process.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Although the Government are to be congratulated on the substantial sums of new money that they have given to pensioners in innovative ways, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the widespread anger at the 75p a week increase in pensions. The word that is almost universally linked with that increase is "insult". Is she aware that pensioners—many of whom visited the House yesterday to make this point—have contributed to the pension scheme all their working lives and that they would like to be paid their pensions as an entitlement, not given what they regard as handouts?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the concern, and the irritation, felt by many pensioners. I also understand my hon. Friend's point. I know that many pensioners resent the way in which the heating allowance is paid, but that does mean that it is tax free. Similar sums made available through the weekly payment would not be tax free, so there are arguments for and against the mechanisms that the Government have used. However, it is clear that this Government have cut VAT on fuel and have provided substantial extra resources for pensioners in the Budget and will continue to do so.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 732?

[That this House notes with concern the growing number of reported cases of inappropriate use of not for resuscitation (NFR) orders; believes that there is a gap between guidelines and practice which leaves patients and family members uninvolved in the decision to mark a patient's records 'NFR'; notes that research reported in the British Medical Journal found that two out of three patients with NFRs were not involved in the decision and that patients with NFRs were 30 times more likely to die; and calls on the Government to take urgent action to stamp out this immoral practice and issue clear instructions to the NHS on the use of not for resuscitation orders.] It highlights the growing number of cases of inappropriate use of not-for-resuscitation orders in the NHS. Two out of three patients are not even consulted when those orders are put on their records. It is 30 times more likely that those with an order on their medical records will die during the course of their treatment in the NHS. Given that Age Concern reported only yesterday that almost three quarters of GPs believe that there is an age-based rationing of health care in the NHS, can the Secretary of State for Health make a statement on what the Government are doing to stamp out the immoral and unacceptable practice of using such orders without consulting?

Mrs. Beckett

The Government have made it plain that there should be clear guidelines on resuscitation policy, in hospitals or anywhere else in the health service. The Government are committed to ensuring the development of best practice throughout the NHS. We are aware of the anxiety that is being expressed and will continue to try to deal with it.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

I express my profound thanks to the Leader of the House for her announcement about timetabling several Bills. I also thank her for making it clear while at least one of the usual suspects from the Opposition Benches was present that a more appropriate way of using parliamentary procedure would be to raise specific issues in Committee instead of on the Floor of the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of all parties for the public to retain confidence in the House and that the goings-on this week were guaranteed to convince the general public that the House was not relevant to them? Does she also agree that silly debating games have no place in what should be the prime legislative Chamber of this country?

Mrs. Beckett

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks. Perhaps she knows that there has already been public and press comment on the folly of trying to impede the passage of, for example, Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, which deals with illegal trading that has implications for food safety, public order and several other important issues. The public would want the House to address those issues properly. There is no question of not discussing matters, but it must happen in the right way at a time that the House provides for such discussion. We should not exploit the opportunities of the House to delay business.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

The Leader of the House will no doubt be as concerned as me about the letter to the Prime Minister from head teachers in Durham, which complains that schools there are falling to pieces. The state of schools is so bad that it adversely affects the quality of teaching and learning. The Government have given barely a quarter of the money that is needed to repair those schools. Will the Leader of the House provide for a statement that reconciles the comments of those who are at the sharp end, and do the job of educating children, with the increasingly unconvincing bluster and hyperbole of the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Beckett

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked me that. I was the Minister responsible for schools in the last Labour Government. We left the Conservative party a backlog of repairs and construction that needed to be tackled—most of it was inherited from the early 1970s, when the Conservative party was in power—of some £100 million when our capital budget was of the order of £10 million. I was seriously worried about that, but recognised with relief that, thanks to the changes that that Labour Government had made, North sea oil would provide substantial resources, which would make it possible to shorten the time scale necessary to tackle that backlog. The money was not used in that way. It was the equivalent in today's terms of £35 million every day for a solid 17 years. Yet when we came to power, we found a backlog of £3 billion to £4 billion. The hon. Gentleman should look to those on the Opposition Benches for the explanation of the poor state of schools.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

Reports recently published by the royal commission on environmental pollution and the United Kingdom Round Table on Sustainable Development referred to the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent. in the years ahead. Given Conservative Members' minimal understanding of the issues of climate change, as shown by some of their fatuous questions at Treasury questions, and the Government's publication of our climate change programme, which is perceived as a model for other western countries, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for a full debate on the Government's climate change programme and the problems posed by climate change beyond 2010?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern. I know that he has long taken a great and expert interest in those matters. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future because there is substantial pressure, although the Government's legislative programme is perfectly in line with those of previous Governments, as the statistics in the Liaison Committee report demonstrate. Nevertheless, I fear that, at this moment in the handling of the programme, I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future, but I will bear his request in mind.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on the ministerial code of conduct as it relates to trade unions? I remind her that paragraph 113 says: care must be taken to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest… Ministers…should receive no remuneration from a union. Can she arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make the statement, so that he can explain why he does not think that his flat in Clapham, at a beneficial rate from the RMT—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—is in breach of the ministerial code?

Mrs. Beckett

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has not read the report to which he has alluded.

Mr. Robathan

I have.

Mrs. Beckett

If he has, I am astonished that he asked that question because he will be well aware that the Committee's report points out that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister lives in accommodation where the rent is set by an independent rent officer. The evidence is clear that he was not treated any differently or any more favourably than anyone else and that there is no complaint to answer.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

As a reader of The Guardian for over 30 years, I have total confidence in the accuracy and insight of that esteemed organ. Today's paper tells us that the Government are likely to postpone the publication of their waste strategy, which was due to be published last month. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a major debate on the issues that are raised by a delayed waste strategy? Throughout the UK, 160 communities face the problems of incineration plants. In constituencies such as mine, thousands of acres are at risk from landfill operators. We must do more. We must waste less. We must recycle more. We need a guideline from the Government. Can we have a debate?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and I saw the report to which he alludes. Sadly, I fear that even The Guardian is not always totally accurate. I understand the underlying concern behind his question on discussions about waste management. The Government recognise its importance. We continue to consult. No doubt the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will come forward with proposals in due course. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time on the Floor of the House for a debate soon, but, again, my hon. Friend might bear in mind Westminster Hall.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

During Treasury questions this morning, it became apparent that many Ministers were rather confused about the performance of the Government's new deal. After two years and the spending of £1.5 billion, can we have a debate in Government time that would allow Ministers to come up to speed on some of the facts of the matter, notably that youth unemployment has fallen more slowly since the introduction of the new deal; that 60 per cent. of entrants to the new deal go straight back on to benefits; that, of those who do go into work, 50 per cent.—according to the Government—would have got jobs anyway; and that 40 per cent. of those who go into work are out of work again within three months? It is not an impressive record for 1.5 billion worth of public money.

Mrs. Beckett

All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is rather depressing to see how desperate the Conservative party is to claim that the new deal is unsuccessful. It is the most substantial programme to assist people out of unemployment and into work that any Government have put in place. It is a success.

Mr. Brady

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I find it hard to believe that Conservative Members do not share my experience when I visit places and organisations. People come up and voluntarily tell me how excellent the new deal is, how much they have benefited from it and how they are grateful for something that has transformed their lives. If they do not say it to Tory Members, perhaps it is because they think that they would not listen.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

Having terrorised my right hon. Friend in recent weeks about compensation for distant-water trawler men, I shall give her a week off because I understand from Ministers that the issue is moving forward, but may I ask her to find time for an urgent debate on standards in public life, following the revelations on the "Today" programme today by the Tory Member of the European Parliament Robert Goodwill that he buys air tickets from Leeds-Bradford to Brussels at a cost of £160 and then claims £500 back? Does that not show that real sleaze is alive and well in the Tory party?

Mrs. Beckett

I did hear those remarks this morning. My hon. Friend will know that there has long been concern in the House, and in our party, that the rules that apply within the European Parliament should be tightened. Those discussions are continuing, and they will be supported from the Labour Benches. Unfortunately, however, we do not have responsibility for the matter. I certainly have no responsibility for the actions of Members of the European Parliament.

Although I understand my hon. Friend's concern about standards in public life—which certainly we share, on both sides of the House—it is important that we tackle problems and abuses when they arise, and that we ensure that we ourselves handle with care all of those discussions. My concern is that not only the European Parliament, but political life as a whole could be brought into disrepute if we continue to mishandle these matters.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I shall try to call the remaining Members who are standing, but I tell the House that I have had to limit Back Benchers' speeches in the main debate to 15 minutes. I am therefore asking the hon. Members who are standing—who, as I know very well, are regular attenders of business questions—to put their questions briskly to the Leader of the House. I have a statement, and we have a good deal of business today. I do not want any rambling, long statements or comments. I want direct questions to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

In the light of the Leader of the House's response to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor), may I tell her that, in my constituency, there is an application to deposit toxic waste in a deep rock-salt mine? May I ask her to make time urgently—now—for a waste strategy debate on the Floor of the House before the Minosus application is determined? It is causing real fear to the residents in Moulton, Davenham and North Winsford in my constituency.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses and any hon. Member who would wish to have such issues aired. May I remind him, however, that the Government have provided twice as much time as used to exist for the airing of such issues, in Westminster Hall?

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will the right hon. Lady eschew the siren voices of Labour Members who are strangers to the legislative process? Will she acknowledge that the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill passed its Second Reading and Committee stages in a matter of minutes, and that it was proper that it should be subjected to proper scrutiny—especially given that those who support the Bill claimed that it was vital for the control of the Mafia? Substantial progress on the Bill was being made yesterday. Will she recruit a small team of Labour Members who are prepared to work after midnight on the legislative process?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has picked a particularly bad example. Not only has the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill had examination, but this is the second time that such a Bill has been considered by the House. The same legislation—as a private Member's Bill, which, incidentally, was promoted by a Conservative Member—was blocked in the previous Parliament. The notion that it has not had scrutiny does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Given the abject failure today of Treasury Ministers to give direct answers to questions on the Government's policy on scrapping the pound and joining the euro, will the Leader of the House find Government time both for a statement from the Chancellor on the Government's official policy, and a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on what the policy really is? If neither of them is available, perhaps the Minister with responsibility for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), could come forward and say what the policy is. In so doing, perhaps he could explain his strange comment—in a letter to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—that, "We know who you Euro-sceptics are, and we are coming to get you in your constituencies." That was from a Labour Minister to a Labour Member.

Mrs. Beckett

I am advised that that is not what the letter said. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I fear that I cannot find time for yet more statements to remind the House that the Government's policy on the euro remains what it was when it was announced by the Chancellor and that it has not changed.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

I deplore the statement on the timetable motions. I was here at 10 o'clock last night, when the debate was arbitrarily cut off by the Government Whip moving the Adjournment. Instead of going for timetable motions, will the Leader of the House consider suspending the 10 o'clock rule so that we can use the hours after 10 o'clock to hold the Executive to account, because that is what the taxpayer sends us here to do?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, taxpayers send Members here to make good and sensible use of their time and to scrutinise legislation properly. We are not sent us here to waste the time of the House and taxpayers' money.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Last week, I spoke to a business man from Preston who employs almost 500 people. He said that the weakness of the euro makes it difficult for him to compete with all the cheaper imports coming in. In the light of the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that there are three positions on the euro—his position, that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that of the Secretary of State for Northern IrelandȔwill the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the single currency so that we can at least clarify which one of those three speaks for Her Majesty's Government?

Mrs. Beckett

I notice that it has finally dawned on the Conservatives that if they keep talking about a strong pound, they might be acknowledging that there is a strong economy, so they have started talking about a weak euro instead. I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman must have spotted that the Prime Minister said yesterday that the three positions on the euro were the Conservative position, the Liberal Democrat position and the Government's position, which has not changed.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to the pertinent inquiries from my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Chancellor's failure this morning to defend or disown the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, may we have an urgent full-day debate on the Government's policy on the euro? Would that not show that bogus economic tests, contradictory ministerial statements, perplexing front organisations, misleading Government advertising and diversionary attacks on alleged xenophobes are all part of the concealment technique designed to hide the Government's bid to hand over the running of the British economy to the European Central bank, which we do not elect, cannot remove and would find it illegal to seek to persuade of the British point of view?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot find time for a debate that we have already had so often in the House. I remind the hon. Gentleman that any decision on the issue would be made by the British people, not by the Government.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)


Madam Speaker

I did not see the hon. Lady in the Chamber during the statement. Was she in to hear the Leader of the House's statement?

Mrs. Fyfe

No, I am sorry, but I was unable to be in earlier.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that we have a long-standing convention that it is a courtesy to the Minister concerned to hear the statement before asking questions about it. I am sure that she will forgive me for not calling her on this occasion.