HC Deb 25 May 2000 vol 350 cc1109-22 12.31 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the Deputy Leader of the House give us the business for the week after the Whitsun recess?

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

The business for the week after the Whitsun recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 5 JUNE—Supplemental Allocation of Time Motion followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

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

WEDNESDAY 7 JUNE—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 8 JUNE—Opposition Day [13th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

FRIDAY 9 JUNE—Private Members' Bills.

I regret that I am not in the position to give full details of the business for the following week, but the provisional business is as follows:

MONDAY 12 JUNE—Debate on European Affairs.

FRIDAY 16 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 14 June there will be a debate on European Document No: 6230/00: the White Paper on Environmental Liability, in European Standing Committee A.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 14 June 2000:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community Document: 6230/00, White Paper on Environmental Liability. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 23-xiii (1999–2000).]

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for the business for the week after the Whitsun recess, and for a hint of the business for the following week.

The Deputy Leader of the House has announced a guillotine motion on the Lords amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Bill. How long does he plan to allow for debate on those amendments? He will be aware that 1,450 amendments to that Bill have been passed, that it has been rewritten since Second Reading in this place, and that 238 amendments were tabled on Report in the upper House. He will also be aware that the Opposition have assisted the Government by agreeing to carry the Bill over from the previous Session, and I hope that that generosity will not be met with a less than generous timetable. One day is simply too ambitious if the amendments are to be properly scrutinised.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that the debate on European affairs on Monday 12 June will be the usual pre-summit debate, not a substitute for a proper whole day's debate focused on the intergovernmental conference White Paper, for which I have been pressing for some time?

The hon. Gentleman also announced a debate on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill on 6 June. The next few days are likely to be crucial for Northern Ireland. Will it be in order during the debate on that Bill to discuss the outcome of the Unionist vote and the consequences for Northern Ireland? If not, the House may well want a proper debate on Northern Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman has two or three days blank in our second week back, might we pencil in the much delayed debate on the Wakeham report and a debate on foreign affairs, which has not been held for some time?

Finally, there is widespread concern on both sides of the House about the dome, which I hope the Government will recognise by finding time for us to debate it.

Mr. Tipping

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's comments, and for his help with the Financial Services and Markets Bill. As he says, there has been a great deal of co-operation on that; there has also been a great deal of debate. I am keen to keep the consensus going, and there will be further discussions through the usual channels about the allocation of time motion.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the debate on European affairs. The details are not yet firm, but I imagine that IGC issues and concerns could be raised—as, of course, could other matters.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, the situation in Northern Ireland is critical and fast-moving, and I do not think that we should prejudge it. If circumstances change there may well be a case for a statement to the House, but I think it entirely possible that a number of wide-ranging issues could be raised in a Second Reading debate, as long as they remained within the scope of such a debate.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Wakeham report. As he said, there is space for a debate on that in the second week. I remind him that we had a date pencilled in, but changed it for the convenience of the House.

I have not lost sight of the need for a debate. There has been change in the House of Lords; we have delivered on that, and we are determined to deliver on the Wakeham report. We are determined to build consensus, and to move to a second phase. Consensus between the political parties would help.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about foreign affairs. There is a possibility of a debate at a later stage.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will visit the dome during the Whitsun recess. If he does, he will join the two and a half million people who have already been there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is that all?"] The dome is the most popular attraction in the United Kingdom, and I think that those who have been to "do the dome" will want to do it again.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

As my hon. Friend will know, many Labour Members are proud of our ethical foreign policy, and think it essential for Governments to maintain a clear and moral stance on many foreign policy issues. Will my hon. Friend therefore tell our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that it is essential for Britain not to be seen to support countries in which show trials take place? I am thinking of the 13 Jews who are being tried in Iran.

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has been interested in these matters for many years. I knew of the concerns that she has raised, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is also aware of them. I will pass her comments on to him.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I reiterate my weekly plea for an early debate on reform of the House of Lords? We delayed effective reform of the other place throughout the last century; I hope that it will not take the whole of this century for Governments to get off the fence and give us a firm statement of their intentions for full reform.

I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister is holding a rail summit today. Can the Minister give an undertaking that, as soon as we return after the Whitsun recess, a full statement will be made about the important issues that are apparently being discussed—issues that were alluded to in the "Today" programme today? That might enable various former Secretaries of State—including the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)—to apologise both to the travelling public and to shareholders for the disasters that they caused.

Mr. Tipping

After a hundred years of struggle there has been reform of the House of Lords, and the current Government have brought it about. We intend to go further. We have published the Wakeham report, and have considered it. We support it in principle, and we shall have an opportunity to discuss it here. Let me simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we shall go forward on further reform.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a statement on the rail summit. I am afraid I cannot give him the commitment that he seeks, but I can give him another commitment. In July, we will make a statement on the 10-year strategy for transport that will do away with the fragmentation to which he referred, and will bring extra and much needed investment to the railways.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The usual.

Mr. Tipping

There is some secrecy about this matter, but I have to tell my hon. Friend and the House that I have nothing to report.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Will the hon. Gentleman pass on to the Leader of the House my appreciation of her characteristic courtesy in sending me a copy of the Government's response to the Liaison Committee's report? However, did the Government deliberately intend that response to make them appear, in the Prime Minister's definition, arch-apostles of conservatism?

Mr. Tipping

I will of course pass on the right hon. Gentleman's comments. We need to remember that the Liaison Committee's report was published just a week ago. I understand that the Committee has just met and issued a press release, which has been drawn to my attention. It is a far-reaching matter with consequences for the House.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

And for the Government.

Mr. Tipping

Yes—and for the Government. I have no doubt that there will be opportunities for further debate.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Given the concerns expressed by Richard Butler, the former head of the arms inspectorate in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein may be rebuilding his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and be within months of having a nuclear capability, I ask my hon. Friend for an urgent debate on Iraq. Those matters are of concern, particularly as the United Nations resolution, which the UK was prominent in pushing through the UN last December, has still not been accepted by the Iraqis.

Mr. Tipping

I understand my hon. Friend's obvious concern and real interest in that important issue. A number of hon. Members have taken the opportunity recently to initiate foreign affairs debates in Westminster Hall, and that may be a possibility. I will convey my hon. Friend's comments to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Will the Government provide time for an early debate on the park homes working party report, which is of great significance to large numbers of constituents? It has been some two years in the preparation and is well worth a debate.

Mr. Tipping

I share the hon. Gentleman's real interest, and had some input myself into the park homes working party. There is a need to amend the legislation. The report has only recently been published and it needs to be considered carefully. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that we can make real progress with that issue.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I shall initiate a debate in Westminster Hall on 6 June on compensation for former prisoners of war of the Japanese. Would it be possible for the Ministry of Defence to hurry its decision? In view of the intense brutality and outright killings involving prisoners of war, those who managed to survive—including at least three of my constituents—deserve some recognition and compensation for all the terrible things that occurred to them. I hope that when my debate takes place, a fresh and positive approach will be taken by the Government.

Mr. Tipping

The Prime Minister and Defence Ministers met leaders of the Royal British Legion and undertook to look at the matter. That undertaking has also been given to the House. I hope that some progress will be made in my hon. Friend's debate on 6 June.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understand the points made earlier by the Deputy Leader of the House, but in the light of reported press comments from America, will the House be free in its own place to debate and decide on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, or will there be a USA veto?

Mr. Tipping

I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that, as is often the case, press reports of discussions between the Prime Minister and President Clinton are a complete fabrication.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate on Government measures to assist young unemployed people? That would be particularly welcome in my constituency because it would provide the opportunity to draw attention to the start of a foyer scheme to provide housing and training for young people—who not only need a roof over their head but assistance with finding a job.

Mr. Tipping

The new deal has offered a very real deal to young people both in Doncaster and throughout the country. The example of the foyer movement shows that joined-up government can not only work in Westminster, but be delivered on the ground in the middle of an important coal field.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Will the hon. Gentleman find time for the House to discuss the Government's apparent renewal of plans to introduce regional assemblies to England? May I make it clear yet again to him and to his colleagues that in the constituency of Cheadle, and, in my experience, throughout the north-west, there is no demand whatever for yet another pointless tier of government?

Mr. Tipping

Some regional development agencies have made real progress. The issue of assemblies will, I think, appear in the next Labour manifesto—and I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman does not have much chance of contributing to that debate.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I draw the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House to early-day motion 782:

[That this House is alarmed to discover that up to 100,000 hectares of this year's maize crop in Europe may be subject to GM contamination; is concerned that this is on a larger scale than the recently admitted GM contamination of oilseed rape; believes it is grossly dishonest of the European seed industry and EU officials to respond by demanding a reversal of current European zero contamination rules rather than tackling the central issue of genetic pollution; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to follow Sweden and France in destroying GM-contaminated seeds and crops, to arrange compensation for farmers, to hold seed suppliers fully liable for contamination under the polluter pays principle, and to halt seed imports which lack comprehensive verification as being GM-free.]

Has my hon. Friend also seen the letter from the European Seed Association that was referred to by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at Question Time. Will it be possible for the House to have either a statement or a debate that clarifies the United Kingdom position on proposals to change the current European position, which is that there should be zero GM contamination? The European Seed Association suggests that 1 per cent. should be allowed. May I also ask him to convey to the Minister the degree of alarm that that causes Members, and society? The reassurance that there is just a little bit of genetic contamination is no more comforting than the idea of being a little bit pregnant.

Mr. Tipping

I have seen early-day motion 782. As my hon, Friend rightly says, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has seen it, too. Our policies on safety and science are drawn. We have looked at the claims of the European Seed Association. If any evidence is forthcoming, we will act on it and report to the House.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

The Minister is well known as a consensual sort of chap. Today, he again took refuge in that idea in replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) about the debate on reform of the Lords. The Minister is looking for consensus on the matter before it can proceed. Can he help the House, and, indeed, my right hon. Friend, by defining consensus in that context?

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman is—I am sure that he will not mind me saying—not a consensual politician. Indeed, I sometimes think that it is difficult for his own Front-Bench team to agree with anything that he says, but the Wakeham report defines a way forward. It is the best show in town. It is the vehicle to go forward. I know that he does not agree. I understand that he takes the view that if there is an elected upper House, it will have the same rights as the House of Commons. I do not agree. I do not believe that that is the mood of the House.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

Did my hon. Friend have the opportunity on Monday to read The Guardian and the article in it headlined, "Firework safety law was wrecked by pro-hunt plot"? If so, did he note in particular the comments of John Woodhead, who has long service in the firework industry? He said: If this bill had become law it would certainly help ministers now to deal with any regulation changes that might be necessary after the disastrous fireworks warehouse explosion in Holland. Will my hon. Friend make time available for the House to debate that important issue? Does he share my concern at the actions of some Opposition Members, which appear to put the interests of those who kill foxes for fun before sensible measures such as the Fireworks Bill, which would have kept from harm children, human beings and animals?

Mr. Tipping

I have seen the report in The Guardian. I am also well aware of the tremendous interest that my hon. Friend has taken in the matter over a number of years, and of the support that she has received right across the spectrum, from those who are concerned with safety issues to those who manufacture and work with fireworks. It seems that the measure did fall, and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) said that the measure did not go forward as a punishment for letting Back Benchers play around with hunting. That seems to me an example of the legitimate but silly games that give the House a very bad name.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that the absence of a debate on London in the next two weeks' business does not mean that the Government believe that the establishment of a Greater London Authority precludes our debating London issues, particularly those that are the responsibility not of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) or of the London Assembly, but of Ministers? Can he reassure us that we are not precluded from debating issues such as the dome—on which £89 million of public money has recently been spent—and the priority that the Government accord to it, and Harefield hospital, in west London, which is due to close, thanks to the Government's parsimony?

Mr. Tipping

Of course London remains a seriously important issue for the House, just as transport, social security policy and the relief of poverty are issues for the House. The dome, too, is a matter for the House. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Government took powers to change the lottery legislation so that money could be spent not only on a dome in Greenwich, but throughout the country. Many projects in London and right across the country are benefiting from that. He also asked about lottery money being used for health. He will remember that this Government—unlike the previous Government—legislated to make it possible to put money into health.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

My hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 742, which states:

[That this House considers that sufficient parliamentary time has been allocated to the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill; and calls upon the promoters of the Bill to withdraw this Bill in its current form and to resubmit proposals for a genuine democratic reform of the City of London Corporation.]

My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Bill is the first extension of the business vote since 1832, and is a straightforward attack on democratic accountability. Although the vote on the Bill is unwhipped, as it is a private Bill, I have noticed that, in the past, our helpful friends from the Government Whips Office are always on hand to guide hon. Friends into the pro-Bill Lobby. Have we not wasted enough time on that disgraceful Bill, and is it not about time that the promoters withdrew it or the Government decided not to allocate any more time to it?

Mr. Tipping

I know that my hon. Friend has taken a real interest in that matter, and has spoken at great length about it. However, withdrawal of the Bill is a matter for its promoters. I should also like to reinforce a point that the Leader of the House made not long ago: the Bill is unwhipped business; it is a matter of private business. I should also say that the Whips have not caused me to stray any which way on that particular Bill.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who is now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, once said that the dome would be absolutely dramatic and fantastic. When he said that, none of us realised that he was referring to the grotesque squandering of £538 million of lottery money—which, as every one of us knows, could have been spent on better lottery projects in our own constituencies. As the issue has developed such a head of steam, both within and outside the House, how can the Minister come here and say that he cannot give us a debate on this national scandal in the next week's business?

Mr. Tipping

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been to the dome—

Mr. Paterson

I have.

Mr. Tipping

—but 80 per cent. of those who go to it come out saying that they have enjoyed the experience—which is dramatic and fantastic. The fact is that 6 million people will visit the dome—twice the number who will visit Alton Towers in the same period. Alton Towers is dramatic and fantastic; so is the dome.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

It is more than a year since Back Benchers had the opportunity to discuss the activities of Ofsted. A few weeks ago, four of Her Majesty's inspectors entered one of the largest comprehensive schools in the country—it is in my constituency—and, after an inspection spanning only eight school periods, placed the school on special measures. My discussions with the Department for Education and Employment have revealed that only the House can hold Ofsted to account. Therefore, will my hon. Friend consider setting aside some time for us to discuss Ofsted's activities, which, as I said, have not been discussed for more than a year?

Mr. Tipping

I may not be in a position to offer a debate in the House, but the issue warrants discussion. I hope that my hon. Friend will apply for a debate in Westminster Hall. There are some serious issues to consider, including how we improve public services. Many of us believe that they can be improved by praise, reward and good example. That message has been passed to Ofsted.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

May we have an urgent statement from the Government, preferably as soon as we return from the Whitsun recess, on Labour's policy of closing the remaining grammar schools? On Tuesday of this week, Education Ministers in the Standing Committee considering the Learning and Skills Bill claimed that it was the Government's policy that parents should decide. None the less, a letter that has come into my possession from the Labour leader of Trafford borough council, signed also by the education spokesman, and citing one David Blunkett in support, calls on all members of the Labour party—it begins "Dear Labour party member"—to campaign by stuffing envelopes, delivering letters, canvassing door to door, telephone canvassing and collecting signatures at the school gate. It is now certain that the Labour party is getting involved in a campaign to destroy some of the best schools in the country, despite what Ministers pretend in the House. That is not acceptable. It is time that the Government came clean.

Mr. Tipping

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman takes such an interest in the fortunes of the Labour group in Trafford, who trounced his party at the May elections. Labour remained in control of Trafford. The Government's policy is clear: it is a matter of choice for parents.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I reiterate the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) about the activities of Ofsted. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to this week's Ofsted report on three local authorities that are deemed to be underachieving, one of which—Rochdale—is adjacent to my constituency. Last year, Bury local education authority was praised by Ofsted as one of the leading authorities in the country.

Rather than contracting out to external consultants the responsibility for the management of education in underachieving authorities, would it not be logical to use the expertise that already exists in the public sector, particularly if adjacent local authorities are performing remarkably well? Does my hon. Friend agree that that raises important constitutional issues relating to the fragmentation of the responsibilities of local education authorities? Will he find time in the near future for a debate on the future role of local education authorities?

Mr. Tipping

The canvas for a useful and wide-ranging debate in Westminster Hall has been set. It is important to look at the roles of Ofsted and of local education authorities. A great many local authorities do valuable and important work. We ought to promote the standard of the best and bring the others up to it. What is important is what works. If the private sector can contribute, it should have a role.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

Head teachers have confirmed that many schools in my constituency and throughout the country greatly value the ethos and the culture, the identity and the pride in their school uniforms. When will there be time for a debate on the Floor of the House about the cost of implementing the Human Rights Act 1998, which derives from Europe and is coming into force in this country in October? It is causing great concern among head teachers about what they have to do to review their rules as a matter of urgency. It could have a serious and potentially damaging effect on the culture that they have so successfully created in good schools.

Mr. Tipping

I was not aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman raised, which is a serious one. I understand that the Human Rights Act will not have the effect that he spells out, but in view of his concerns, I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

In answering the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), will the Minister draw to the attention of the Foreign Secretary an article that appeared in the Teheran Times on 12 April which stated that the holocaust was a zionist conspiracy aimed at defrauding the west? Does he consider that this House ought to have time to consider the advisability of this country cementing its relations with Iran at a time when anti-zionism and anti-semitism are being fomented, and when a show trial of 13 Jews—who are facing a possible death penalty—is being pursued?

Mr. Tipping

I must confess that I have not had the opportunity to read the Teheran Times, but I will procure a copy and make sure that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the opportunity to look at it. I reassure my hon. Friend that in January, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary pressed those matters extremely hard. I know from discussions this morning that they intend to pursue the issue further.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the Minister give our best wishes to the Leader of the House, who, even as we speak, may be winding her way on a caravanning holiday for the recess? Will the Minister confirm that he will make Government time available for a debate in the House on road safety? Will he express his concern about the poor record in North Yorkshire in terms of deaths and injuries—165 per 100,000 population—about which I feel most strongly? Most of the traffic involved emanates from, and is destined for, areas outside North Yorkshire. At the start of the Bank Holiday weekend, will he promise to make time for such a debate?

Mr. Tipping

I say gently to the hon. Lady that the Leader of the House is diligent—almost religious—in her attendance at this House, and takes these matters seriously. For personal reasons, she cannot be here today, and she regrets that. The hon. Lady has made an important point about taking care when we go on holiday, and there is a responsibility on all of us as individuals. There is a view that we ought to spend more on road safety than on the development of new roads and new transport structures. I think that that is a lively issue, and one that will continue to be debated across the House.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate on a small but important issue—the availability of hearing aids in the national health service? I am delighted that today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has announced a £4 million pilot to provide new digital hearing aids to the deaf and hard of hearing, and I am proud that the Royal Shrewsbury hospital is one of those pilots.

Mr. Tipping

The extra 35 per cent. real-terms money for the national health service will give people—particularly those with a hearing impediment—new opportunities. I agree with my hon. Friend that there ought to be more choice of equipment for people with a disability.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

May I draw the attention of the deputy Leader of the House to the report issued by his boss in response to the Liaison Committee's report entitled "Shifting the Balance"? The response might well have been entitled, "Not on your Nellie". Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is urgent that we have a debate on this matter? There cannot be much difficulty, bearing in mind that the response of the Leader of the House suggests that the Government see no backlog of Select Committee reports coming to this House for debate. There are serious issues here about holding the Executive to account, and, frankly, many of us believe that the document does not provide an adequate response from the Government.

Mr. Tipping

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the Government's response. "Shifting the Balance" is an important report and has consequences across the House and for the Government. The Liaison Committee met this morning to discuss the response, and there will be further opportunities in due course to take the matter further. On Select Committee reports, the measures that we have taken so far—in which the hon. Gentleman has been involved—allow for three times the number of Select Committee reports to be discussed. A lot has been achieved, but much remains to be done.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate on the issue of financial support for pensioners, so that we can have an open and honest debate to compare the differences between this Government, who are committed to reducing pensioner poverty, and the Opposition, who plan to offer a small amount with one hand and take much more with the other? The Opposition's plans would turn the clock back for many of the more than 16,000 pensioners in Lincoln, especially the poorest among them.

Mr. Tipping

I am tempted to promise a debate on pension issues. It is clear that the only part of the pension policy that has just been announced by the Opposition that has any resonance with the pensioners is the removal both of free television licences for the over-75s and of the winter fuel allowance of £150. I would also be keen to discuss pension mis-selling, because we have never had a real apology for that. Part of that debate could also address the issue of concessionary eye tests for pensioners, which the Opposition removed, but which we are restoring. That is lively and fruitful ground for debate, and I will bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Can we have an urgent statement on the Government's reorganisation of NHS cleft lip and palate units? Rumours have been going around for several months. The Poole unit is threatened with closure, and we now hear rumours about a centre at Bristol or Oxford. The issue is of great concern to parents and we need some guidance on it.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman is making the point that uncertainty is difficult to live with. People can sometimes live with bad news better than with uncertainty. It is important to hear such concerns, and I shall ensure that Health Ministers are made aware of them.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

May I further encourage my hon. Friend to arrange a debate on early-day motion 1:

[That this House welcomes the Government's decision to raise income support for pensioners annually in line with average earnings, but regrets the widening gap between the basic pension and income support; notes the Treasury's estimate that by April 2002 the National Insurance Fund's balance will be £8.43 billion above the minimum recommended by the Government Actuary; and urges that part of that surplus should be used to restore the link between the basic pension and average earnings for the remaining years of this Parliament, thus ensuring that all pensioners share in the nation's increasing prosperity and preventing a further increase in the number receiving income support.]

That would give us a chance to expose the hollow opportunism of the Conservatives in trying fraudulently to gain support from pensioners by repackaging existing allowances and taking money from single parents. We could also draw attention to the fact that a major increase in pensions is now affordable, because the national insurance fund contains, above its contingency sum, some £8.8 billion this year, and will have £10.5 billion unallocated next year. We could promise pensioners future increases that are fair and based on genuine increases in inflation. Could we not make a start by linking the level of the basic pension with increases in the wages of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has campaigned on that issue for many years, not just with early-day motion 1. He will now that he was successful in persuading the Government to adopt a take-up campaign for the minimum income guarantee, and I know that he will continue to campaign for a link between pensions and earnings. We have made a start with the minimum income guarantee, and it is clear from exchanges in the Chamber today that the debate will continue.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

Will the Minister give us an early debate on Government codes of practice? The Government recently conducted a consultation on double taxation relief, but unfortunately they consulted on a proposal that was the opposite of what they then did without consultation. I consulted the Cabinet Secretary, who told me that the judge of whether the Government have obeyed their codes of practice is the Government. The Government, not surprisingly, have adjudged that they did obey the code in that case. In the light of that situation, may we have a debate on how we should enforce Government codes of practice in future?

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman makes his point in a charming way. He is a member of the Standing Committee considering the Finance Bill, where I understand that he has been making that point very strongly.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the facts to emerge from the Rover saga is that British banks will not support British industry or jobs? Will he find time for a debate on how we can change the UK banking system so that it supports jobs and industry?

Mr. Tipping

I cannot promise time for a debate on that subject, but one of the matters that has come up today is the role of regional development agencies. I know that the RDA in my hon. Friend's constituency is working hard to ensure that funds are available for the long-term development of companies with a prosperous future in the north-west.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

In evidence given to the Select Committee on Education and Employment earlier this week by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, it emerged that the Government are prepared for secondary school class sizes to increase as a result of the abolition of the assisted places scheme. Today is the final day of the Standing Committee on the Learning and Skills Bill, and proceedings have been thrown into disarray by the tabling of a slew of amendments concerning city academies.

It is obvious that the Government do not understand how to involve the dynamism and innovation of the private sector in raising standards in our schools. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House on the role of the private sector in our education system? The Government have much to learn from what the previous Conservative Government achieved in improving standards in schools by positively involving the private sector. City academies, and what is happening in Surrey county council and elsewhere, are examples of that.

Mr. Tipping

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that debate, but I can promise that the Government will achieve our targets. Places will be provided for all three and four-year-olds who want them, and we are achieving our targets in infant schools and junior schools. Much has been achieved, although work remains to be done in secondary schools. The Government are achieving our target of raising standards for all children, right across the country.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have tabled an amendment to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill to ban hunting with dogs, and that it is attracting awesome levels of support? I anticipate that the Bill will come back on Report in the week beginning 12 June. Are the Government addressing the possibility of introducing a multi-option Bill, along the lines of the 1994 Bill on Sunday trading? If the Government introduce that alternative, I would be minded not to press my amendment to a vote; if they do not, I might just have to press it.

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has pursued this issue over many years. I have a feeling that he is trying to hunt me down as his prey. I shall not negotiate with him over the Dispatch Box, but I will say that I shall not anticipate when the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill will return on Report, nor when the Burns inquiry report will be published. That report will be received and published shortly, and the Government will then make their position absolutely clear. We are confident that an overwhelming majority of hon. Members in the House of Commons support a ban on fox hunting.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on ministerial responsibility? Given the saga of delay, incompetence and profligacy that has characterised the millennium dome, would not such a debate afford hon. Members the chance to explain that, now that Mr. Stephen Bayley, Miss Jenny Page and Mr. Bob Ayling have carried the can and been booted out, it is time that Ministers accepted responsibility for the dome? Would not such a debate give the House the opportunity to tell the Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport and for Northern Ireland that they should do the decent thing, either through the tried-and-tested method of a glass of whisky and a revolver, or by submitting their letters of resignation without delay to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Tipping

I think that the hon. Gentleman should himself do the decent thing, and acknowledge that the dome was planned by the previous Government, and that Cabinet Ministers from that Government were involved in the plan. He should then come clean, and remind the House that he advised Cabinet Ministers in the previous Government.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Is my hon. Friend aware that a miracle happened this week, in that Conservative Front Benchers produced a report that was costed, reasonable and worth serious consideration? As an increase in motorcycle use would reduce some of the pressure on our transport infrastructure, will my hon. Friend draw the report to the attention of the Minister for Transport, as well as reminding him that in our integrated transport policy we tried to give motorcycles an important role? Will my hon. Friend do that in the very near future, so that the political kudos that Conservative Members might otherwise obtain will not be long in the tooth?

Mr. Tipping

I always rejoice when miracles are announced, particularly when sinners repent and manage to get their sums right. I think that what my hon. Friend is asking me to do is to ensure that Conservative Members have a chance to get on their bikes and off to a well-deserved holiday. I will bear his comments in mind.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Am I right to be charitable and to think it a mere coincidence that the Government's contentious waste strategy is to be published today, just before the recess? As the Minister will be aware, many mining and quarrying areas in the east midlands are particularly susceptible to the attentions of landfill operators. We must drive down the amount of waste in landfill sites and increase the amount that is recycled, so that communities such as Boothorpe and Breedon in North-West Leicestershire are not so damaged by what is likely to happen to them. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that there will be a statement on this strategy shortly after the recess, so that there can be a full debate on these important matters?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend raised the matter in the House last week, and, miraculously, the report was published at 11 o'clock this morning.

Mr. Taylor

Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Mr. Tipping

I hope that my hon. Friend will get a copy. The report was announced, properly, in a parliamentary answer. The target in the report is to drive down landfill by 85 per cent., to 1998 levels. That is a big step forward, and it could be a win-win situation for all of us if we behave properly. If we recycle and use compost, we will lift the landscape and reduce public taxation. I am very keen to have a debate on that subject.

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