HC Deb 09 November 2000 vol 356 cc439-50 12.31 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Will the Leader of the House please give the business for the forthcoming 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 13 NOVEMBER—Opposition Day [20th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on London Underground public private partnership followed by a debate on the millennium dome. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motion on the Energy Act 1976 (Reserve Powers) Order 2000.

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill.

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER—Supplemental motion—relating to the Transport Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Transport Bill

THURSDAY 16 NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Insolvency Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 17 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on embryology on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Motions relating to Westminster Hall and Thursday sittings.

THURSDAY 23 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on European affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mrs. Browning

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement. She will be aware from the just-completed Treasury questions that many hon. Members are very anxious to have much more information on certain aspects of the pre-Budget statement made yesterday by the Chancellor, particularly in relation to ultra-low sulphur petrol. Will she ask, please, whether a Treasury Minister—preferably the Chancellor—could find time for a proper statement and debate on that specific aspect of the statement?

Last night, in television interviews with Treasury Ministers, it was very clear that the Government were ill-prepared to answer questions on the availability of ultra-low sulphur petrol, and on whether the new discounts will be treated in the same way as current ones—particularly the 1 p discount that is being retained by the oil companies. There has also been a discount on ultra-low sulphur diesel which has not been passed on to hauliers. The question being asked in Treasury questions today was: what precise arrangements are there to ensure that the discounts will benefit consumers and hauliers? Were those arrangements discussed in September at No. 10 Downing street when the Prime Minister met the oil companies? It is a very important matter that merits more of the House's time, so that Opposition Members can question Treasury Ministers on it.

On 26 October, I asked the right hon. Lady whether we could expect the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on the conclusion of the Biarritz summit. She said that she expected that there would be a statement. However, the summit was held on 13 and 14 October, but a statement has not yet been timetabled. It is very important that the House should discuss the summit, not least because—as we have learned in the media—key discussions were held on the charter of fundamental rights, which will feature in the Nice treaty, among other things. We feel that it is incumbent on the Prime Minister not to break the habit of reporting to the House on summits. I hope that the right hon. Lady will convey urgently to the Prime Minister the fact that the House deserves a statement.

The right hon. Lady has just announced to the House that on Friday 17 November there will be a debate on embryology. I assume that it will include the Government's response to the Donaldson report. I hope that she will identify for us how the proposals in that report—if the Government accept them—will be put into legislation. I understand that there would need to be an amendment to the Embryology Act 1990, presumably in secondary legislation. The right hon. Lady will be aware of the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate, and right hon. and hon. Members—not just those who serve on the relevant Committee—will want to be assured that they will have the right to vote on the matter, particularly in respect of the findings of the Donaldson committee.

Mrs. Beckett

First, the hon. Lady asked for information about the availability of ultra-low sulphur fuel in the aftermath of the pre-Budget report. Off the cuff, I would have thought that it was a matter for Ministers at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rather than for Treasury Ministers, as we are talking here about the availability of supplies rather than the price that is charged for them, but no doubt there will be a variety of forums in which the issues can be explored. The hon. Lady will not have forgotten that what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced yesterday are proposals for consultation. She asked about aspects of the proposals that no doubt will be explored in that consultation.

If I understood her correctly, the hon. Lady asked the Treasury to account for whether or not oil companies pass on any reductions in the price which might flow from the Chancellor's decisions. That is certainly a very interesting question. I am not entirely sure that anybody has ever said that the Government or the Treasury can take responsibility for that. We can all make our views known and heard, but the public should clearly be aware that if potential price cuts resulting from Government decisions are not passed on, they should direct their strictures to others than the Government.

The hon. Lady then, quite correctly, referred to our previous exchange on the Biarritz discussions. I am glad that she did so because she has reminded me that on this matter I definitely owe the House an apology. She asked me to confirm that the Prime Minister would maintain the previous pattern of statements on these matters, and of course he will, as he always has. The hon. Lady will know that the pattern is to make a statement after formal Councils. There has never been a pattern for the present Prime Minister or any other coming to the House to make a statement after an informal Council, such as the one at Biarritz. I owe the hon. Lady and the House an apology, as when she asked about the Biarritz Council it had gone out of my mind that it was an informal discussion and the formal Council will take place at Nice. So the proper reporting conventions will indeed be observed, but they do not apply to the discussions at Biarritz.

The hon. Lady then asked about the Government's response to the Donaldson report. Again, I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to make the issue entirely clear, particularly because she asked me for an assurance that hon. Members would be able to discuss the important issue of embryology and have an opportunity to vote on any proposals that are made. Let me at once stress to the hon. Lady and to the House that we envisage that debate as a preliminary stage in those discussions. There is no suggestion that the Government will put forward their response during the debate on Friday 17 November. We regard these as profound and serious matters which should be thoroughly aired, not least in the House, without a commitment being made or framework being set. Of course, when orders might be made and the content of those orders is for discussion and can be looked at in the long term. The Government fully recognise that there is a need for a thorough, on-going debate and examination of these delicate issues, and we see the forthcoming debate as the opening discussion and nowhere near its closing stages.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate to consider the hidden costs of road transport, such as the cost of treating children with asthma, the cost of improving flood defences and the cost to local authorities and the Government of helping flood victims, such as my constituents at Stockbridge last week and others throughout the country?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. She will know that a report was published recently by Transport 2000, I think, or some such body, drawing attention to the full costs of road use and the need to be as environmentally sound as we can. She will also have noted the various measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday, such as those to encourage the provision of new and more environmentally effective road haulage, which were all designed to lead to the same end. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on these matters in the near future, but I suspect that she may find an opportunity to raise them in the debates that will undoubtedly flow from the proposals advanced by my right hon. Friend yesterday.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Will the Leader of the House investigate urgently and report back to the House next week on the extent of the pre-briefing by the Chancellor's staff before his pre-Budget statement yesterday? It appears that certain journalists had details of what was to be announced 72 hours ahead of the statement, whereas the Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokesmen saw the details only seven minutes before it was delivered. That is a reflection on the relative importance that the Government attach to the House and to the media.

Will the Leader of the House please listen carefully to the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) on the real confusion about the so-called "green fuels"? This has all the aspect of a quick idea that has not been properly thought through. If it is to be an important part of Government policy, surely we should have some more details.

May I suggest a couple of candidates for the two empty spaces in our diary for the week after next, on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 November? I wonder whether the Leader of the House has seen the article in The Times today by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), headed "How many more jobs must be lost while we stay out of the euro?", in which he says Ten years ago Geoffrey Howe stood in the House of Commons and issued a stark warning that those who feared Europe and economic and monetary union would lead Britain into isolation and "scrambling to join the club later, after the rules have been set and after the power has been distributed by others to our disadvantage. That would be the worst possible outcome. May I suggest a debate on five sectors of British industry that have been badly affected: manufacturing; export industries; the holiday industry—devastated this summer by the discrepancy between the value of the pound and the euro; the fishing industry; and farming, which has been the worst affected of all?

Finally, do the Government believe that the electoral system in the United States is preferable to our own?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman asked me to investigate and report back, but it is not entirely clear to me whether he has seen a specific report suggesting pre-briefing, or whether he is merely drawing on some of the material that appeared in the press. It is certainly within my memory, and I am sure within his, that for many years, under the previous Government, there was a series of what some would call leaks and what we regarded as trailers—balloons sent up to test the reaction and see whether the policies were popular or unpopular. That has been, I fear, a characteristic of these discussions.

The hon. Gentleman will also know that many journalists make all kinds of prognostications and, even when they turn out to be completely wrong, they are never willing to admit that any of it was guesswork. They always assure us that it was based on the soundest information. During my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's statement, I observed, and I saw many of my hon. Friends observing, how much of it was different from, and additional to, what had been pre-reported. That came through very clearly.

On green fuels, I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), that these are proposals for consultation. This is the pre-Budget report, and when we come to the Budget itself, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will report back to the House the outcome of that consultation. I am sure that all the issues about the use of more environmentally friendly petrol will be explored in the consultation period.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's reference to our lack of detailed announcements for provisional business. He called them empty spaces, but he will know as well as I that, at this stage in the Session, such a description is pretty inaccurate. We confidently expect that any spaces will be filled with material returning from another place.

The Gentleman is right to identify the interest in the remarks by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), and in the case that he makes. I am not sure whether the article makes clear how little the decision about whether to advocate entry into the euro was anticipated by the previous Government, but the hon. Gentleman may recall that they confidently asserted that the euro would not be launched—certainly not in January 1999. As a result, even the most basic preparations had not been made, which was certainly to Britain's disadvantage. However, the hon. Gentleman will have noted that there is to be a debate on European affairs on 23 November. I feel confident that he, or someone else, will manage to raise the matter then.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me to comment on the outcome of the American election, whatever it might be. I do not wish to intrude on private grief, but the situation was summed up admirably by the present President, who said that the people had spoken, but that it would take a while to determine what they had said.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the mis-selling of endowment mortgages by the financial services industry? I declare an interest in that I have one of those mortgages, but Members of Parliament are more fortunate than many of our constituents who cannot afford to increase payments. Those people are the victims of a real rip-off by an industry that was largely unregulated by the previous Government. Should we not have time to debate the matter?

Mrs. Beckett

I, and I am sure many other hon. Members, have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. I can assure her that she is not alone in having taken advice that she now wishes she had not taken.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Did you?

Mrs. Beckett


My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) is also right to say that Members of Parliament are perhaps placed more fortunately than many other people when it comes to dealing with the consequences of taking such advice. Although time is at such a premium during this part of the year that I fear I cannot undertake to find space for a debate on the matter in the near future, I recommend to my hon. Friend the vastly increased opportunities for such a debate that the Government have provided in Westminster Hall.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

In our debate on 13 July on strengthening Parliament, the Prime Minister promised a free vote on the report from the Select Committee on Liaison entitled "Shifting the Balance". That report is the welcome subject of today's debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, but can the right hon. Lady promise that there will be an opportunity to have substantive votes on specific resolutions?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have always said that any votes on House matters are always free votes. He will also know—because, as shadow Leader of the House, he raised the matter often at business questions—that the motion on which such a report is debated is always left in the balance. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but that is not how we will discuss the matter today.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate as soon as possible on Mr. Justice Coleman's report published yesterday into the reopened inquiry into the sinking of the MV Derbyshire? The report exonerated those who died from any blame, but it also contained some worrying findings about safety standards at sea. In the 20 years since the Derbyshire went down, bulk carriers of a similar design have continued to sink at regular intervals. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could facilitate an urgent debate on how safety standards can be raised and lives saved in the future.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter, on which she has long campaigned. All those who have campaigned will feel that the report offers some vindication and justification for their efforts. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a specific debate on the matter. My hon. Friend may find that opportunities may arise to discuss safety matters in general, although I appreciate that she may consider maritime safety to be a special subject in itself. May I therefore recommend Westminster Hall to her, too?

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

In the light of what the Leader of the House has said, can we have an early debate on the mis-selling of Government policy? She has told us today that the Chancellor's statement yesterday about low-sulphur fuel being available at every garage from the Budget next year is contingent upon the machinations of the Deputy Prime Minister, consultation and so on. Yet yesterday, the Chancellor said: When the excise duty cut is introduced at Budget time, motorists using any petrol station in Britain should be able to benefit from the duty cut.—[Official Report, 8 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 322.] Clearly, the Chancellor was misleading the House if—

Mr. Speaker

Order. No one was misleading the House. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark.

Mr. Chope

I was going on to say that I am sure that the Chancellor was not misleading the House, which is why I should like the Leader of the House to explain the difference between what the Chancellor said yesterday and what she has told us today.

Mrs. Beckett

I did not say that the measure was contingent on the work of the Deputy Prime Minister. I said that the proposals will be subject to consultation and that the background to them is the express view of the oil companies as to what can be provided. The hon. Gentleman will know that the AA's policy director said yesterday that the key question was whether the oil industry would deliver on the timetable and to the price suggested by the Chancellor.

On whether we should debate the mis-selling of policies, that is always an attractive proposition. Given that the hon. Gentleman has just been reminded of the mis-selling of endowment policies under the previous Government and given the scandal of the mis-selling of personal pensions that hangs round their necks, I am surprised that he even suggested such a thing.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

Could we have an early debate on how far countries that are signatories to the Hague convention on child abduction are implementing its provisions? I say that with reference to my constituent, Caroline Taylor, who has been separated from her son Stidi for more than a year now, despite verdicts of the Greek court. Although Greece is a signatory to the convention, it is not ensuring that the provisions of the convention are complied with. That has to end.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that everyone in the House understands and sympathises with my hon. Friend's concern about the case of Caroline Taylor, which he has pursued. I sometimes think that these are the worst cases that come before Members of Parliament, because we all understand the difficulty with regard to the child involved and how vulnerable children are to exploitation in these circumstances. I understand his concern that the Greek courts have taken some decisions on the matter, but that it remains unresolved. He will know that my noble Friend Baroness Scotland raised the subject with the Greek Minister of Justice when she met him over the summer. I know that the child abduction unit has been involved and has done what it can to help. I believe that there is a further hearing in the very near future. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a specific debate on the matter, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to look for opportunities to raise it in this House.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will recall that I have been pressing on different occasions for a meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee in Northern Ireland, according to the Standing Orders of this House. This has been thwarted time and again by one party, which finds it difficult to attend even when the Committee is held here. Can the commitment that the Grand Committee would be held from time to time in Northern Ireland be now met, because four years have passed without it having been met?

Mrs. Beckett

I entirely understand the seriousness with which the hon. Gentleman raises the matter. I will draw his views to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who I know will give them serious consideration.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Can we have a debate on rape and the way in which the law is working—particularly in the light of the fact that a number of men have been released from prison because the women they were supposed to have raped have changed their evidence and gone back to the police to tell the truth? Has not a huge injustice been perpetrated against some men, and should not Parliament debate the matter?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend has, quite correctly, identified a matter of great concern. There is continual debate to and fro about how best to handle those issues. We want to ensure that people are willing to come forward when they have a serious accusation and also that people who have been unjustly accused can be helped. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the very near future. However, it is Home Office questions on Monday, and my hon. Friend might have the opportunity to raise the matter then.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

May I remind the Leader of the House of my private Member's Bill, which sought to extend fuel rebates for community bus services, and which the Government blocked? Since then, however, the Government have included the proposal in their 10-year plan. Will the right hon. Lady arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to come to the House and tell us exactly when he intends to implement this? A lot of people would welcome such a scheme, but are still waiting for the details to be announced.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot, I fear, provide a special slot for the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with that specific subject. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that we hope to have the urban and rural White Papers in the not-too-distant future, and he may well find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

As the Parliament of a country in which a young woman was recently dragged through the courts for using cannabis medicinally, a chief constable has said that he would not arrest a person for using cannabis recreationally and heroin deaths are the highest in Europe, should we not debate urgently the self-admiring report by the drugs tsar, which is filled with vacuous irrationality?

Mrs. Beckett

Policy on this area is raised and discussed continually. Indeed, one reason for providing the opportunity for extra scrutiny in Westminster Hall is to allow some of the issues about the work of individuals and non-departmental public bodies to be scrutinised. All I can do is draw my hon. Friend's attention to that opportunity, which I know he will make use of.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

At 10.45 this morning, the Vote Office received copies of the National Audit Office report into the operation and financial management of the millennium dome. Now that we have had the opportunity to study the report, it is clear that the information that the Prime Minister gave the House yesterday, suggesting that all decisions had been taken by the previous Administration, is wholly false, and that the key decisions on the content and management of the dome and on transport for the dome were all taken following a review of the dome by the Government in 1997—in May, once they had taken office. It is also abundantly plain from the report that the go-ahead for the dome was given by the Prime Minister himself.

As all that is so, and as, to date, no Minister has offered to come before the House to make a statement on the report, and as no Minister has yet been honourable enough to offer a resignation, could the Leader of the House say when we will be able to debate that report in full, and can it please be before the House is prorogued?

Mrs. Beckett

First, the hon. Gentleman may have had the opportunity to study the report, but I do not suppose that the rest of the House has. Secondly, I am afraid that what he said about the Prime Minister's statements yesterday is entirely wrong. The hon. Gentleman cannot possibly have been listening to what the Prime Minister said—although, to be fair, there was a lot of noise, as there tends to be at Prime Minister's Question Time, so I shall be charitable and assume that he did not actually hear what the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister was specific and clear. On more than one occasion he said that he was at no point attempting to suggest that the full responsibility for all the events that led to the building of the dome rested with the Conservative party. He was very clear that he had expressed regret, that he had said on behalf of this Government that we recognise that errors were made and that we are perfectly willing to acknowledge that and say it to the public. However, we are not prepared to take all the blame for a project that began three or four years before the Conservative party left office.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the visit to Rome last weekend by many Members from both sides of the House to take part in the worldwide parliamentary assembly to mark the jubilee holy year? More than 1,500 parliamentarians in more than 90 delegations attended, and several important issues were discussed, including international initiatives to cancel the foreign debt of some of the world's poorest countries. It was widely recognised that Britain has played a leading role in those initiatives.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for International Development to come to the House to receive congratulations on the work that has already been done and to report on further initiatives, particularly to bring more international pressure to bear on the International Monetary Fund and the World bank?

Mrs. Beckett

I know that the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development has a good record of campaigning on that matter. There is an encouraging attitude to third-world debt and its importance and to the Government's attempts to have others join us in taking the steps that we believe are necessary to help to alleviate some of the worst poverty in the world. I cannot undertake to find time on the Floor of the House for a special debate on that, although I recommend Westminster Hall to my hon. Friend, but he will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be answering oral questions before the end of the month, and he may find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Pursuant to the right hon. Lady's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) concerning substantive motions on the Liaison Committee report, does she think it reasonable for the House to regard her report as a paraphrase of her earlier quotation from President Clinton: "The Leader has spoken. It will take some time before we can work out what she has said."?

Mrs. Beckett

I shall be extraordinarily surprised if it turns out that anybody in the House is in any doubt as to what I said.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

In view of the extremely important conference on climate change in The Hague, which will begin next week, will the Government publish their climate change strategy before entering into negotiations at The Hague on the precise mechanisms by which the Kyoto protocol will be implemented? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Deputy Prime Minister will, on his return from The Hague, make a statement to the House about the decisions reached there, as well as a statement on the climate change strategy?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly cannot tell my hon. Friend at the moment precisely what are our plans for publishing such information, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who I know will take them very seriously.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

The Leader of the House will recall that, on Tuesday 7 November, the Parliamentary Secretary said of the so-called "modernisation" proposals that they should not be at the expense of proper examination of legislation.—[Official Report, 7 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 272.] I very much welcome that.

Will the right hon. Lady therefore give an absolute undertaking that, in the next few days and weeks, when business from another place comes here with many—in some cases several hundred—amendments attached, the House will be given enough time to, in the Parliamentary Secretary's words, examine the legislation properly? Will she further assure the House that there will be no question whatever of the Government seeking artificially to truncate or limit proper debate and scrutiny of their many amendments to legislation coming from another place?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, I do recall my hon. Friend's words, and the right hon. Gentleman will know that the whole tenor and tone of that debate related to the processes that we shall use in the new Session. He will know also that the Government consider the issues that return to the House and what time can be provided for them. However, he knows that no matter how much time the Government provide, we cannot ensure that the House uses it to best effect.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Next week, on 17 November, 150 jobs are due to be lost at Biwater at Clay Cross in my constituency. The plant will then be closed at the beginning of December, when another 550 jobs will be lost. Could we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about whether he will refer the matter to the Competition Commission under the powers that he has under the Fair Trading Act 1973? I assure the Leader of the House that my right hon. Friend is not short of information on which he can base that judgment.

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware that my hon. Friend has raised the issue with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reply as soon as he can.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we have an early debate on support for teachers who are under attack from their pupils? Given the worrying increase in the incidence of such attacks, does not the right hon. Lady agree that it is imperative that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment comes speedily to the House and introduces new guidelines on the legitimate use of physical restraint in such circumstances? Does she also agree that those guidelines should reflect the common-sense instincts of the majority of the British people, not the politically correct fetishes of the liberal establishment?

Mrs. Beckett

It was my understanding that fresh guidelines had recently been issued. The hon. Gentleman will know that his concern for the safety of teachers is shared throughout the House, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Previously, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given an assurance that there will be a full debate on the Phillips report on the BSE tragedy. Can she tell the House when that debate is likely to take place? Will she look into the possibility of incorporating in that debate an assessment of the report, just out, of the Leicestershire team that investigated the Queniborough cluster? The team included the CJD surveillance unit at Edinburgh, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Dr. Philip Monk, the team leader.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that there would be a debate on the Phillips report, but that he wanted to give Members of Parliament and those outside enough time fully to absorb the recommendations of that very substantial report and give the matter careful thought before returning to the House. I know that my hon. Friend has on several occasions voiced the interests of his constituents, especially those at Queniborough, and I have no doubt that the results of the work there will form part of the background to the debate, but I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

With reference to Monday's debate on London Underground and the Government's proposed public-private partnership for it, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister comes to answer that debate, so that he has the opportunity to justify the extraordinarily abusive personal remarks that he made about Mr. Kiley, the former boss of the New York metro who has come to advise the mayor on how the tube might be improved; and so that he can justify his disgraceful withholding from the Greater London Assembly of the necessary financial information on which it can evolve a strategy for the improvement of London's underground system?

Mrs. Beckett

I can certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. As for who is to handle the debate to which he refers, I do not have that information before me.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I am sure that many hon. Members share the concerns felt by fisheries communities in Whitby and Scarborough and along the North sea coast about the meeting with marine scientists that is taking place in Europe today. Will my right hon. Friend say whether there will be an early opportunity to consider not only the environmental impact of the failure of the cod fishery in the North sea, but the socio-economic impact on communities such as Whitby, which has been in decline since 1960, but is faced with an even steeper decline in its local economy if cuts are made?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend takes his responsibilities to his constituents extremely seriously and is strongly interested in their concerns. He will know the importance of balancing the environmental consequences and the economic impact of any action. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future. He, too, might want to look into the opportunities offered by Westminster Hall, but he will be aware that Agriculture questions take place next Tuesday.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Thank you, Madam—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I will never be called by you again.

May we have an early debate on yesterday's pre-Budget statement, given that yesterday's package of fuel price reductions is larger than that which any political party has proposed? Any return to the disruption of food and fuel supplies would run the risk of provoking a significant public backlash. May we therefore have an early opportunity for all political parties—including, I hope, the Conservative party—to make clear their unequivocal opposition to any further disruption?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have already said that there will undoubtedly be many occasions, as further details emerge on the issues on which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is consulting, during debates and question times when these matters can be explored. I understand my hon. Friend's suggestion. There is a great temptation to arrange a special debate so that Opposition Members can make it plain that they accept that my right hon. Friend has gone further than they intended and that they would be unlikely to be able to support any further action. However, I suspect, given past precedent, they will attempt to find a way of wriggling out of that.