HC Deb 16 October 2003 vol 411 cc259-72 12.30 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I ask the part-time Leader of the House to give us next week's business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 20 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Courts Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 21 OCTOBER—Second reading of the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 22 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "The Need for a Judicial Inquiry on Iraq" on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 23 OCTOBER—A debate on Defence Procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 24 OCTOBER—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 27 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [20th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

The House will wish to know that the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference will meet on Monday 20 October at 5pm. Further meetings are scheduled for Monday 10 November and Monday 1 December. Members will also wish to know that at the time of next week's business statement I shall publish the calendar for the next Session.

I thought it would assist the House if I outlined the Government's intentions in relation to Lord Hutton's report. When the Government receive the report, we shall publish it to Parliament, and ministerial statements will be made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. The Government will also ensure that both Houses have an opportunity to debate the report once Members have considered its content.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House, but can he tell us why his prediction of business stops rather mysteriously on Monday week? Is the Government's business now in such complete chaos that the part-time Leader of the House cannot even look that far ahead? Perhaps he will give us an explanation. If he is able to give us the calendar for next year, why can he not give us the calendar for the week after next?

Has the part-time Leader of the House any plan to change his title to "part-time gaffer"? I say that because a recent headline stated "Hain fails to deliver anti-US speech". I would expect the part-time Leader of the House to want to grant himself a debate in the House, enabling him either to deliver the speeches that he failed to deliver or to tell us why he failed to deliver them. We do not really know his views on the United States, as was reported in the press. Perhaps he could tell us—although that would pre-empt the debate for which I am asking.

Who drafts the right hon. Gentleman's speeches? Does he read them before he releases them? Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office block them? We need to know. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The right hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues are not even interested in what he has to say, and I do not blame them.

Yesterday the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) asked the Prime Minister whether he would share with the House his views on what kinds of qualities he will be looking for in those who he wishes to see appointed —to the House of Lords, that is. I thought that a very good, very fair and rather penetrating question, and so I think did the hon. Lady.

We were rewarded with what I consider to be one of the most revelatory things that the Prime Minister has said in a long time, which will return to haunt him. He replied: So far as Labour Members are concerned, my preference … would be for ones who would actually support the Government."—[Official Report, 15 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 107.]

If that is not Tony's cronies, I do not know what is. The Prime Minister is saying that he would want to appoint to the House of Lords people who would support the Government. That carries forward to an extent that the Prime Minister may come to regret the debate on House of Lords reform. Therefore, I ask the gaffer: can he please give us an urgent debate on the House of Lords, opened by the Prime Minister, so that we can explore further what is in the Prime Minister's mind in terms of him wanting to appoint Labour cronies and stooges to the House of Lords?

Mr. Hain

Well, that was very enjoyable. May I first respond to the right hon. Gentleman's points on the additional information about business after Monday week? It is actually to help him and other right hon. and hon. Members that an advance day is given. Two weeks is not normally announced. Sometimes it is, but it is not an iron rule.

The right hon. Gentleman talks of chaos. They know all about chaos on the Conservative Benches. During the past couple of days I have been wandering around the corridors of the Commons doing my business as Leader of the House. Indeed, I had a very pleasant meeting with the right hon. Gentleman the other day as part of that business. I see little huddles of Conservative Members in need of counselling. Whenever I appear anywhere near them, their tones become hushed and they give me furtive looks. I think that there is a case for a psychological counsellor for hon. Members because there is serious chaos on the Conservative Benches.

I see from The Times that the ever loyal right hon. Gentleman has been overheard in the Tea Room loudly complaining that he resented being told when to get up to cheer the leader's speech last week. Perhaps he can confirm whether he has had a career development interview with the Whips—indeed, he would not dare—or whether he is one of those condemned by his leader in an interview in The Spectator as being one of the irreconcilable malcontents, the acolytes of former leadership contenders and their friends and allies in the media. It would be very welcome if he confirmed that.

On the question of the United States of America, the media spin that is around is absolutely amazing. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know my views on the relationship between Britain and the United States or indeed between the European Union and the United States, they are well recorded and I am happy to repeat them now. I believe that it is vital that Europe has a positive partnership with the United States and with the Administration in Washington. It is crucial for the stability of the world. Indeed, it is one of the reasons why I have been completely behind the Prime Minister's recent policies in respect of Iraq and in respect of the alliance with the United States on a number of issues confronting us, including world terrorism. That is my view. It has been my view consistently and the right hon. Gentleman should listen to what I say instead of following the media spin.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Lords appointments. Does he not realise that the Labour party has only 28 per cent. of the vote in the House of Lords? Does he really think that that is fair when we have won two landslide majorities? We have fewer than one in three of the votes in the House of Lords. Eighty-nine of the 92 hereditary peers are Conservatives. Therefore, it is important that we address the question of getting a much more representative House of Lords. In that way, the two Chambers can work together in a much more constructive fashion for the future of the people.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Will my right hon. Friend provide time on an early occasion for a debate in the House on the Israeli plan to build a wall, which will split Bethlehem, prevent access to holy shrines sacred to the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions, hinder access to the Church of the Nativity and ruin tourism and agriculture in Bethlehem? This matter needs urgent consideration, and 1 should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would arrange a debate on it.

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend. The wall is very ill-judged and is completely contrary to international opinion. It will not promote the very reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis that would give the state of Israel the security that it needs and desperately craves, after attacks from suicide bombers; nor will it give the Palestinians their own independent state. Working together in symmetry and synergy is the objective, and the wall that divides them is very ill-advised. We will consider whether we can find time for an early debate, although I should point out that the Foreign Secretary has been ready to make statements to, and make himself accountable to, the House on middle east policy.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

My colleagues and I entirely endorse the point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). On the question of the Lords, was not the Prime Minister's statement completely contrary to Government Front Benchers' claim that the steps intended will take away from No. 10 direct involvement in future membership of the House of Lords? This claim to greater independence for so-called "democratic appointment" is clearly nonsense, and I hope that the Leader of the House will stick to his own view that the only way to make that place more representative and democratic is to have a strong element of elected membership.

We, too, are disappointed that we are not being given details of the business for the week beyond next. As we understand it, one of the various motions for debate will relate to the payment of Chairs of Select Committees, and I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that that is his intention. Will he also confirm that we will be permitted a wide-ranging debate that will look at the context of that proposal? It is surely important that we think very carefully about career paths other than just Select Committees. For example, there are not many enthusiastic recruits for the Chairman's Panel, and if the purpose is to provide incentives, surely the Chairman's Panel is just as important as Select Committees. Indeed, I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) agrees that the same point applies to membership of the House of Commons Commission. Also, will there be a limit on the term for Select Committee Chairmen? The strong recommendation was made that a deal should be struck, whereby if new patronage is given to Whips on both sides to nominate Select Committee Chairmen, they should be allowed to do so for a limited period only.

Should we not also look at the value for money that the taxpayer is getting for existing salaries paid to Members of this House who are not Ministers? For example, in the current year, the Conservative Chief Whip is receiving an additional £37,055, presumably to give him the extra expertise to undertake the career development interviews of which we are all aware. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members are listening carefully. In addition to his salary, the leader of the Conservative party is getting £65,482 per year, which is very doubtful in terms of value for money. His office—this may be particularly relevant—is getting £548,101 for its running, plus £83,784 for travel.

It so happens that the leader of the Conservative party is visiting my constituency today, so there is nothing personal in this. Indeed, I am delighted that he is there: after one of his predecessors visited North Cornwall, my majority went up from just under 2,000 to just under 14,000. So I hope that the current Conservative leader is having a very happy day with my constituents, but on a serious point, in the context of the burden on the taxpayer that the Conservatives are always going on about, and their opposition to the state funding of political parties, this is nonsense and complete hypocrisy. May we have a general debate on this issue?

Mr. Hain

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman in that, after the night of the long knives for Liberal Democrat Front Benchers—in which everybody else was reshuffled to the right—he, at least, has stayed true to his principles and kept his job? That is very good news for all of us.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I voted for a 100 per cent. elected House of Lords, and for other options that would still retain a significant elected membership. Unfortunately, there was no consensus in the House of Commons for any of those elected options.

Let me deal with the point on which the hon. Gentleman seeks to make mischief. The Prime Minister's comments should be viewed in the context of the Labour party's commitment in the manifesto on which it won the last election. Accordingly, non-party members in the House of Lords should be appointed by an independent commission—and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, so that there could be no question of cronies.

As to the Senior Salaries Review Board report on the payment of Chairmen of Select Committees and other Committees, I intend to have a debate as early as possible so that consideration can be given to that matter. I also welcome the report published yesterday by the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee. It is an excellent report that will provide us with a way through, and I am sure that the whole House will want to thank him for it. It is an important matter. The hon. Gentleman made valid points about parallel career paths and rewarding Members for taking on positions of seniority and responsibility, and we should view the debate in that context. I shall also lay before the House several other motions in respect of those issues.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the salary paid to the Tory Chief Whip. Let me come to his defence, because he has been very busy recently. If there were provision to claim overtime, I guess that he would have claimed it, so the hon. Gentleman should not knock him too hard. My heart is with the Opposition Chief Whip and all my energy is behind him. He should keep the Leader of the Conservative party in his position because he is doing a great job for the Labour party—and, indeed, for the Liberal Democrats. I am obviously in a charitable mood this afternoon.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the salary of the Leader of the Opposition. As he knows, the current position has existed for a long time. The hon. Gentleman's party aspires to be the main Opposition party, so is he telling me that his party would turn the salary down?

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Government Members are well aware of the huge improvements in education that have taken place since 1997. Nevertheless, the redistribution formula now in operation has caused some serious difficulties. Surveys this week have highlighted the number of job losses in areas such as mine in Leicestershire. Last week, there was a conference in Lutterworth of the F40 group, which is still seeking significant reforms of the education finance formula. When the most recent figures on the guaranteed formulas that will increase school funding are made available later in 2003, can we have a full-scale parliamentary debate, which would enable us to examine the implications of the improvements planned by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills?

Mr. Hain

I am aware of the difficulties in my hon. Friend's constituency of North-West Leicestershire. As he implied, the difficulties there and elsewhere are being dealt with by the Secretary of State—and, indeed, by the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want anyone to forget that, despite those difficulties, we have seen record investment in our schools. The House should be reminded that record investment in schools and education has taken place right across the country and I am sure that the difficulties can be resolved.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to an important article which appears today in a journal of repute and is written by one of Britain's best-informed journalists, Trevor Kavanagh? He says: Tony Blair is preparing for a dramatic U-turn over a referendum on the new EU Constitution, it emerged last night. That is extremely good news. Can the Leader of the House arrange a statement or a debate next week so that the Prime Minister can explain the good news that he is now embracing Conservative policy?

Mr. Hain

No, I cannot. The Prime Minister confirmed what he has consistently told the House and what appeared in The Times on 13 October—that he categorically rules out holding a referendum on the EU constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because of the status of constitutional treaties ever since, under a Labour Government, we had a referendum to confirm our membership of the EU. If we decide that joining the euro is in Britain's economic interests, we shall, again under a Labour Government, have another referendum. Constitutional treaties are best negotiated by the sovereign source of authority in this country—the House of Commons and Parliament at large. Every constitutional treaty during the past 30 or so years of our membership of the EU has been dealt with in that way. As for the remarks attributed to Sir Stephen Wall—the European policy adviser to the Prime Minister—in the article, I am advised that they do not reflect his views in any shape or form. The position remains the one that the Prime Minister has set out on many occasions, including to this House.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the publication of the findings of the farm-scale trials today indicates that two genetically modified crops and their treatments were found to be harmful to wildlife and that the third looks good only because it is compared with a conventional crop treated with a chemical that is likely soon to be banned? Given that that follows a science review that was inconclusive, a cost-benefit report that found no economic case and the wholly hostile public debate on the matter, is it not time that the issue of the commercialisation of GM crops is debated in this Chamber? Will he use his best offices to see that this is done as soon as possible?

Mr. Hain

I acknowledge the expert interest and attention that my hon. Friend has given to this issue, which is welcome. She referred to the publication of the farm-scale evaluations and the achievement that that presents. It is the biggest ecological study ever undertaken of the effect of any farming practice and the Government should be commended for having such an independent study. We need some time to consider the matter, but I will certainly consider seriously her request for such a debate.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

Will the Leader of the House consider seriously allocating time to a debate on the Government's policies on transport? He will have seen the excellent report produced by the Transport Committee this week, which pointed out that overcrowding, especially in the London commuter area, is seriously damaging commuters' health. The companies in question are also underestimating, in the statistics they publish, the true extent of overcrowding, which we have long suspected. The regulator is in discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport about allocating a further £1.5 billion to railway maintenance, and we also need to know more about that.

Mr. Hain

I am aware of the Committee's report and it needs to be studied carefully. Nobody is in any doubt that improvements are needed in our transport system. The difference between what the Labour Government are doing and what was done under the Conservatives is that whereas they cut support for railways, buses and public transport in general, so that we inherited a dreadful legacy—as everybody knows—of a bodged rail privatisation programme, we are investing £180 billion in a 10-year plan to improve our transport system. Some 1,500 new trains have come into service since we were elected and rail passenger journeys have risen by 20 per cent. since 1997. We are seeing increasing use of our rail services, but the quality of life for rail travellers needs to be improved, as any of us who have used the underground or main line rail services know.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will there be an opportunity to discuss in the House the proposed state identity card scheme? If the Cabinet discusses the matter, I hope that the House will also be able to do so. Any such debate should be before the Queen's Speech, just in case any such proposal were included in it. I would have no difficulty in collecting many more than 25 signatures from the parliamentary party opposing any such scheme.

Mr. Hain

There are strong feelings on both sides about this issue and it is a matter that the Government are considering and debating. The issues are complex—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What is your view?

Mr. Hain

If the hon. Gentleman gives me a moment, I shall tell him. Virtually all of us carry ID of some kind around with us. The development of driving licences and passports points in the direction of an identity card, and any such scheme should be considered in that context, including the issue of biometric data. As to whether it should be compulsory and how it should be funded, the Home Secretary and the Cabinet are considering those issues and will continue to do so. If there is an opportunity to consult the House on the matter, we will of course do so.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his kind remarks about my Committee's latest report. When will we have a date for the pre-Budget statement? It is normally in early November, but it is not even on the horizon at the moment. Why has it been delayed? When we have the statement, may we then have a debate in Government time on the economy?

Mr. Hain

I am discussing with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the timing of the pre-Budget statement. Of course, the Queen's Speech is late this year and the statement needs to be sequenced around that. As soon as I am in a position to give the right hon. Gentleman and the House notice of the statement, I shall do so.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the excellent legislation that the House recently passed to restrict the sale and use of fireworks. At a meeting in Tinsley in my constituency the other night, more than 100 people complained about the continuing misuse of fireworks, especially the large airbombs, which are little more than dangerous explosives. Will my right hon. Friend therefore ensure that the regulations to implement the legislation are introduced to the House as quickly as possible before—as Superintendent Brennan said to me the other night—someone is killed? We need to ban the sale and use of such fireworks as soon as we can.

Mr. Hain

I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention and I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is made aware of it. As he knows, the Fireworks Act 2003 has now been enacted, but the regulations need to be introduced. I have experience of the concerns of many of my constituents about the problem. Some of the modern fireworks are extremely powerful and noisy, and they can frighten people. We need to get a grip on the problem.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

In the debate next week on the independent judicial inquiry into the causes of war with Iraq, will the Prime Minister open for the Government? If we take, for example, the charges by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), a former Leader of the House, that the Prime Minister was aware, at the point of going to war, that Iraq did not present an immediate strategic threat, only the Prime Minister can tell us whether that is true. If the Prime Minister is not prepared to submit himself to an independent judicial inquiry, surely he has an obligation to submit himself to parliamentary scrutiny, so we can find out whether he is telling the truth.

Mr. Hain

The Prime Minister has submitted himself to parliamentary scrutiny and been accountable to this House, including to the right hon. Gentleman, more consistently than any Prime Minister on any previous issue of military intervention abroad. That point is simply nonsense. As for the future, the Hutton inquiry is deliberating at the moment and will report in due course. I have also just announced that we will have a statement immediately following its publication and I would have thought that that would be the proper opportunity. In respect of what my predecessor said in his book, the Prime Minister has categorically refuted that version and the right hon. Gentleman should respect that.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

May I press the case for a statement on GM crop trial results that have been published today and for an opportunity for the House to debate and vote on the question of commercialisation of GM crops? Given that of the three trials two were disadvantageous to the case for GM crops and the other, on maize, was invalidated because of its dependence on a carcinogenic herbicide, and given that the public do not want to eat GM crops, the farmers do not want to grow them and supermarkets do not want to sell them, is not it time that Parliament had the opportunity to take the side of those who are campaigning for safe food supply rather than the corporations who seek to take ownership of the food chain?

Mr. Hain

As I said a moment ago, it is important that the Government and the House have a chance to study the findings of this thorough investigation. I am very sympathetic to the idea of a debate on the matter, about which there is much concern, both inside the House and outside it. A debate at some point in the future will be much more informed as a result of this investigation.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Leader of the House use his prerogative to arrange a debate on taxation in which he can take part? The Government have been busy plundering the pockets of the people for the past six and a half years, but the input of higher taxation has not been matched by the output of improved public services. Would not such a debate allow us to discover whether the Leader of the House still believes that higher taxes are the answer, or whether he now understands, after six and a half years, that without real reform in the method of delivering public services the Government will continue to betray the patients, parents and passengers of this country, as they have done consistently?

Mr. Hain

I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's questions about taxation in a moment, but he mentioned patients. His party's policy is to rob the NHS of £2 billion and to allow patients with the ability to top up the cost of operations to steal money from the NHS. Nurses, doctors and consultants would be sacked in the process, and the money would be diverted into private hospitals. That is a very dangerous policy for this country's patients. The Government put an extra 1 p on national insurance contributions—the increment applied right up the income scale, and was not cut off at the normal level—to raise £8 billion for investment in the NHS, education and the public services generally. The Opposition are committed to cutting investment by 20 per cent. We have introduced a fair tax system. If there is an opportunity to discuss our tax policies—in an Opposition day debate, or in a debate that we might call for that purpose—we will defend our low, 10p, starting-rate tax for the very lowest taxpayers. We will also defend the way in which we have brought down the basic rate of tax, and the way in which we have introduced an even fairer tax system through tax credits. That compares with the unfair tax system and the continuous rises imposed by the previous Tory Government.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Given the continuing concern about obesity and poor diet among young children, and the predominance of fat and sugar in their diets, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on school meals provision and the role that it plays in promoting good health and healthy eating among young people? Does he accept that serving cheap and poor-quality food to young children may appear to save money, but it has long-term high costs in terms of poor health and educational attainment? Does he agree that the House should have the chance to debate the matter, so that we can have a proper, joined-up policy on this issue?

Mr. Hain

I hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter, and remind my hon. Friend that she can apply for a debate on it. I agree that the matter of school diets and the food that youngsters eat in general is very important. We are what we eat. We are as healthy—or unhealthy—as the food that we take in. It is important to address this matter. My hon. Friend's intervention, and the Government's approach, will help that to happen.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the parlous state of the diary farming industry? Many farmers are finding it almost impossible to carry on their businesses because of the unsustainably low price of milk. The only people to benefit are the owners of the large supermarkets. Farmers in my constituency believe that the Government do not care and that Parliament has lost interest: will the right hon. Gentleman prove them wrong?

Mr. Hain

The idea that the Government do not care about farming or rural areas is defied by the facts. We have invested much more support for rural communities than any previous Government. However, in respect of the hon. Gentleman's specific request, I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will my right hon. Friend look into the question of the transfer of housing stock by some local authorities? Perhaps he can give me an off-the-cuff answer today. If an authority decides, as a matter of principle, to retain its council houses rather than sell them off, surely it should not be penalised financially?

Mr. Haim

I am with my hon. Friend in spirit on this matter, as I always am. One of the difficult problems inherited by this Government was the relatively small amount of social housing as a result of the policies pursued by the previous Conservative Government. We have endorsed the important right of people to buy their council houses, but my hon. Friend raises an important point, and I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is made aware of it.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

My constituent Mr. Peach faxed me this morning to say that police last night apparently visited the Bull's Head pub in Mobberley. They were not looking for drugs or guns, but wanted to inform patrons that it would in future be illegal to hold traditional music sessions there. Can we have an urgent debate or statement next week on the implementation of the new music licensing regime? When the new licensing legislation was being considered, Ministers assured the House that there would not be absurd and excessive regulation in its implementation, but there are worrying signs that the absurdities that we feared are taking place. If that is happening, we need a debate to stop it going any further.

Mr. Hain

The Government are not in favour of absurd regulations on this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that the issue was carefully and thoroughly debated in Standing Committee. However, I shall certainly refer the episode that he describes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I have no reason to doubt that the facts are as he described, so it is obviously a matter for concern.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) asked about fireworks abuse and said that the Fireworks Act 2003 needs to be implemented. That might take a while, but the Department of Trade and Industry can still stress that the existing law allows the police, environmental health and trading standards officers, and bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to act. Those official organisations should not argue that they must wait for the new legislation to be implemented before they can do anything. They should be proactive and co-ordinate their activities. We are waiting for a statement on the matter from the Department, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be useful if it were to make an earlier statement to the effect that that is how those bodies ought to act?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and convincing point, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I know that she is as concerned as any hon. Member about how the problem has escalated.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

May we have an urgent debate on the euro to clear up confusion about an incident reported by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the former Leader of the House, in his memoirs? An extract from those memoirs carried by The Sunday Times stated that the Prime Minister laughed and said: 'Even the Treasury officials can't find out what's going on over the economic assessment, never mind us here at No. 10". Can the Leader of the House clear up the confusion?

Mr. Hain

There is no confusion. The conclusion of the economic assessment was announced on 9 June. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House burdened by 20 studies of the matter in the end. Along with other Cabinet Ministers, I had to read them all. It was the most thorough economic assessment of the euro ever undertaken by this or any other Government. I do not understand how it can be claimed that there was confusion over the matter. The process was completely transparent, very detailed and very thorough.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

The Government still intend to publish the White Paper on airport capacity before Christmas, but some malevolent forces are suggesting that there might not be adequate time for debate. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the House will be informed of the Government's proposals first and before all others, and that there will be adequate time for debate and for questioning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on the proposals?

Mr. Hain

First, I acknowledge that my hon. Friend has a direct constituency interest in this matter in respect of Heathrow. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will want to inform the House about these important matters first, and that he will want to be questioned by and accountable to the House on this important matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to express his constituents' views in those discussions.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)

My right hon. Friend may be aware of early-day motion 1731. [That this House congratulates the Scottish Sunday Herald in exposing the so-called dead peasants insurance scheme where employers can take out life insurance for their employees without their knowledge or consent and then cash in this policy when the employee dies; and calls on the Government to introduce effective legislation to outlaw this dishonest practice.] I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he will use his extensive influence with the appropriate Minister to carry out an inquiry into the extent of that bad practice and, if necessary, implement effective legislation that will protect British workers from it.

Mr. Hain

Obviously, my hon. Friend has raised an issue that deserves consideration and I will certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry considers it.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

On the new 118 directory inquiries, has my right hon. Friend, like me, had occasion to use one of those so-called services only to be told that he can be put through to the number without being informed that there is a charge for that part of the service? Is that not a complete rip-off? Is it not an example of public service where the choice is not necessarily better for the consumer? The only winners in this case seem to be rip-off telecommunications companies, advertising agencies and, perhaps, if he wins his case, David Bedford the superannuated long distance runner.

Mr. Hain

Obviously, that matter has excited a great deal of concern in my hon. Friend and others. We will need to look into it.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Further to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), Stroud district council is engaged in a ballot on large-scale voluntary transfers, which I oppose. Despite the huge sums of money that are being put in by those who are encouraging the sell-off, the group in charge—it is not a Labour group, I am pleased to say—has passed a protocol whereby all councillors are banned from putting out any information. Those councillors who do not agree have made their views known and the Audit Commission has been brought in to decide whether they are meeting the terms of the protocol. That is an abuse of the role of the Audit Commission. Will my right hon. Friend talk to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to look at the way in which the ballots are taking place and, more particularly, into how the Audit Commission, which should have no role in this, is being used? Will he comment on that?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend has raised some serious matters. Having visited his constituency a few years ago with him, I know of his concern and also that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). There is an opportunity to table questions to the Deputy Prime Minister today. Perhaps he might avail himself of that opportunity.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1751 in my name and 10 hon. Friends'? [That this House calls on the Government to bring the Royal Mail management into talks with the Communication Workers Union on the issue of London Weighting.] It concerns the refusal of the Royal Mail management to come to the negotiating table to negotiate with the Communication Workers Union in the dispute over London weighting, which has led to the present strike. I was on the picket line in Hornchurch and Rainham this morning. May we have a debate or at least a statement on the dispute? That would enable the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to tell us from the Dispatch Box why she has not as yet ordered the senior management of Royal Mail to go to the negotiating table and why she continues to allow senior managers to provoke the CWU and engage in a campaign that I think is aimed at eventually breaking the union, which represents employees who earn as little as £13,000 a year?

Mr. Hain

The Government do not want to see the union broken, if that is the objective of anyone concerned. It is important that post office workers— Royal Mail workers in particular—are properly represented and have a right to put their case, especially given the high living costs in London. I am sure that he will agree that the end result of the dispute must be a negotiated settlement—a fair settlement, but one that can be financed. We must continue to work for that.

David Cairns (Greenock and lnverclyde)

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the reported remarks of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who yesterday called on Moslems to use brains as well as brawn to fight Jews who "rule the world". He is alleged to have said, The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy … They are already beginning to make mistakes. And they will make more mistakes. There may be windows of opportunity for us now and in the future. We must seize these opportunities". Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those remarks as dangerous nonsense? Does it not highlight the need for an urgent debate on the rise in global anti-Semitism. The last time that we witnessed a rise on this scale it had disastrous consequences.

Mr. Hain

Like my hon. Friend I cannot understand how that statement came to be made. We should all focus on getting greater understanding and reconciliation between all faiths, especially between Jews and Moslems who live side by side in the middle east. Their future is in coming together as a community rather than being divided. Such statements do not help.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

The Leader of the House will know that today in the north of England there are two significant local council by-elections in which candidates with explicitly racist platforms are standing for election. Interestingly, the Conservative party cannot even field a candidate in one of those elections—it is a shame that more Conservative Back Benchers are not here to hear that news. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that whatever the outcome of those by-elections this is an issue that can no longer be swept under the carpet. This House should be debating vigorously the reasons for the reappearance of political parties with neo-Nazi and fascist views. We should be looking at the social and economic conditions that give rise to that phenomenon in certain parts of the country. Will he find time for a debate on that matter in the near future?

Mr. Hain

I will certainly consider the opportunity for such a debate. As one of the founders of the Anti Nazi League in 1977, when that problem was last rampant, I share his sentiments exactly. It is crucial that we confront the racists and the Nazis wherever they appear, and that, when they stand candidates in elections, political parties campaign against them to expose their racism and neo-Nazism. Otherwise, there is a great danger of divisions being opened up and of spreading prejudice and racism.