The business for next week will be as follows.
TUESDAY 4 APRIL—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Motion relating to the infant formula and follow-on formula regulations.
WEDNESDAY 5 APRIL—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, in connection with which I remind the House that the first three hours, from 10 am until 1 pm, will be under the heading of "Matters to be Considered before the Forthcoming Adjournment" and will be comparable to the previous recess Adjournment three-hour debates.
Remaining stages of the Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill.
WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Remaining stages of the Agricultural Tenancies Bill [Lords].
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.
THURSDAY 20 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Criminal Appeal Bill.
FRIDAY 21 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for that information, and especially for the information about the week after Easter. I ask him to bear in mind the requests for an Opposition Supply day in the following week, so that Members on the Opposition Benches may draw attention to issues that they consider especially important.
As the Leader of the House has given information to the press recently with regard to the Government's long-term plans in another Queen's Speech, will the Leader of the House tell us today why the Government have not yet found time to introduce legislation to ratify the chemical weapons convention? May I make him an offer? The Opposition will co-operate fully in the speedy passage of such legislation, perhaps even taking all stages in one day. Could we make progress on that immediately after Easter?
In view of the widespread public concern about the recurring crises in the health service, particularly today's alarming reports that, since the new quango was put in charge of blood transfusion services, blood stocks have been reduced, operations are being cancelled and doctors are fearful of what would happen in the event of a major disaster, should we not be debating the issue before the recess so that our constituents can find out the true extent of the problem?
Finally, on a matter that must be of concern to hon. Members of both sides of the House, will the Leader of the House seek to resolve the questions, which were not clarified today at Question Time, surrounding the activities of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in respect of defence contracts in the middle east? Will the Leader of the House ensure that an immediate, specific and independent inquiry is set up to look at the new allegations to ensure that Parliament has the chance to learn and assess the full facts surrounding the case?
On the latter point, the hon. Lady is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has issued two full statements setting out the position clearly. He has added to that in exchanges today, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also referred to the matter in the past few minutes. I do not intend to add to what they have said.
On the national health service and the position in respect of blood, I understand that the National Blood Authority is coping with increased demand—up 4 per cent. last year—by increased donations—up 5 per cent. last year—and considerably better co-ordination between centres. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise other points in that respect, I draw her attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is due to be answering questions on the first day back after the recess.
I said in response to a question from one of the hon. Lady's hon. Friends a week or two ago that the Government are firmly committed to making progress on the chemical weapons convention. The hon. Lady has made a generous offer this afternoon, which I shall certainly consider carefully.
May we have a debate next week on a subject on which the House has not reached a decision: whether hon. Members should have in their rooms television sets showing what is happening on the Floor of the House? While that may be convenient for those writing constituency mail while watching what is happening on the Floor of the House, it may deplete the numbers attending in the Chamber. Until the public can see both the Floor of the House and hon. Members sitting in their rooms watching it, such a move may have a bad affect.
I understand my right hon. Friend's point, but I must make two points in reply. First, at many times of the day—for reasons that hon. Members understand and, no doubt, from time to time seek to explain to those outside—there is a relatively limited number of hon. Members in the Chamber participating in debates. There is nothing new about that. Secondly—and I say this with all due respect to my right hon. Friend, who is well versed in the ways and procedures of the House and its Committees—the proposal to provide the clean feed in the way that it is being done to offices throughout the Palace of Westminster and its associated buildings, was put to and agreed by the House.
We understand that announcements on the future of the health service in London are to be made very soon by the Secretary of State for Health. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether there will definitely be a statement about that next week? If not, can he give us a guarantee that there will at least be an announcement by way of a statement in the House, if not next week, after the Easter recess?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific date at the moment. However, I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will seek to make announcements at the earliest appropriate moment and I am sure that she will give careful consideration to representations about how that should be done.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have promised to introduce legislation on aircraft noise at a suitable time. Is he aware that there is deepening anxiety in mid-Warwickshire about night aircraft noise that is generated at the small Coventry airport? In view of that fact, does he think that it would be a good idea to have a general debate in the House about aircraft noise as a precursor to introducing that legislation?
I am not sure about having a general debate on aircraft noise. However, I will undertake to bring my hon. Friend's concern to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I make the point that there was an Adjournment Debate about those matters not long ago which was introduced by an hon. Member whose constituency—like that of my hon. Friend—is in the vicinity of Coventry airport.
Will the Leader of the House arrange to have an early and extremely urgent debate on the fate of Nicholas Ingram, a British citizen who was born in Cambridge in my constituency and who is currently awaiting execution by electric chair in the United States? The execution date is set for 6 April and the Georgia board of parole has said that it will listen with utmost gravity to any appeal that is made by the United Kingdom Government.
The whole House will understand and respect the reasons why the hon. Lady has raised the matter with regard to one of her constituents. I hope that she, in turn, will understand that at this stage it is appropriate for me to undertake to bring her comments to the attention of my right hon. Friends.
May I remind my right hon. Friend of the courteous and conciliatory way in which, on 11 January, he dealt with the unfortunate rift between the nine Euro-sceptics and the remainder of his party. He assured the House that on all occasions the nine would receive the full rights and privileges that were necessary for them to represent their constituents properly in this place.
In view of the grossly discourteous way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to receive his former colleagues, and the fact that we are still not even receiving the all-party Whip, will my right hon. Friend assure us and the House that every attempt will be made to ensure that we are able to represent our constituents properly?
I have three points to make. First, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his references to the tone of my remarks during the debate to which he alluded. Secondly, on his point about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend did not intend his actions to be interpreted in the way that my hon. Friend has interpreted them. However, it is clearly a matter for individual Ministers to consider requests for meetings and to make their own decisions about whether such meetings are appropriate in relation to particular matters at particular times. Thirdly, I will undertake to look into my hon. Friend's point about the all-party Whip.
May we have a debate on parliamentary accountability and the accountability of Ministers, particularly in the light of Ministers' statements about their treatment by the BBC, which we now believe has more power than we in Parliament have? Many of us are deeply concerned that the questions that we ask of Ministers are not being answered and that there has been a clear deterioration in the standard of replies, certainly over the 15 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. I believe that a huge accountability crisis is developing, and the only means of solving it rests in the hands of the Government.
From my dealings in these matters—and I have had a fair number of questions from the hon. Gentleman, as have many other Ministers in recent weeks—I have certainly not participated in any design to reduce the quality or the extent of information given in response to proper and reasonable questions. I note the hon. Gentleman's concern and will reflect on it as may be appropriate, but I would make the point that in recent years there has been a huge increase in the volume of questions which has itself imposed certain strains on the administrative machine.
Will my right hon. Friend offer any encouragement to those of us who believe that it is probably time for a debate and legislation on the matter dealt with by the Latham report, which has wide support within the industry and cross-party support in the Chamber?
I noticed some weeks ago that Building magazine made some friendly references to some sympathetic remarks that I had made in that respect and interpreted me as undertaking to advance the prospects of the legislation. That may have gone a little beyond what I said, but I certainly listened sympathetically to my hon. Friend's representation.
While the Leader of the House is considering next week's business, will he bear it in mind that on the day when thousands of health workers are campaigning against the Government's policy, particularly towards their pay, the Financial Times and Today newspapers have released details that the package available to Sir Duncan Nichol when he left the health service last year was approaching £200,000—equivalent to the salaries of 20 nurses for a whole year? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on this important matter?
My right hon. Friend may be unaware that in a Committee Room in another place, an organisation called the Maranatha Fellowship launched a booklet called, "What on Earth are We Doing to our Children?". It is a serious and moderate catalogue of the most appalling degradation and shame which is afflicting children in Britain and throughout the world. It convinced many of the people in that room that Parliament, as the centre of the country's legislature, is failing in its duty to children world wide. Will he provide time for a debate on the matter?
I made some reference to that at business questions last week or the week before, referring to proceedings in an another place. I cannot add to that, but I certainly acknowledge on behalf of the Government the seriousness of the problem and the importance of taking proper and practical steps to help deal with it.
Can the Leader of the House offer us an early debate on the regulation of the water industry, given the revelations this week that the water companies have negotiated with their regulator a high level of investment, but are actually committing a lower level of investment, the difference being used effectively to prop up their share prices in the meantime? I imagine that all right hon. and Members within the Thames Water area will have received the same letter as I received from the chairman of Thames Water about the programme for the next five years and confirming that that was their intention. It said:
When the work is completed … we will decide and make public how we intend to pass any savings on to customers and shareholders.
Does that not expose a massive hole in the current regulatory framework for the water industry, and may we urgently debate the issues that it raises?
I shall look with care at the hon. Gentleman's comments, but the industry's spending plans in respect of infrastructure renewal investment have been in the public domain since privatisation. I remind him that the water industry has been investing some £3 billion a year since privatisation, compared with the Government who he would have supported had he been here at the time, who cut capital spending on sewage treatment by some 45 per cent.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on law and order, with an emphasis on the security of our towns and their streets and car parks? That would give me—and the Members who represent the 110 other areas into which the Government have put money for those grants—an opportunity to thank him first hand for the £23,000 grant that was given towards the closed circuit television camera system in Chesham. It would also give us an opportunity to point out that our actions speak louder than words and that it is the Conservative Government who are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, not the Labour party.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the worsening NHS dental crisis in many areas and of the fact that the Government have been considering their response for many months now to the consultations that they have had on the matter. Can he find time for a statement to be made in the House before Easter, because of the worries that it is causing to so many people?
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is actively considering that matter at the moment. I cannot make a commitment this afternoon that the matter will be brought to a conclusion before the Easter recess, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman's hopes in that respect.
I am considering the possibilities of having such a debate. Whether it will be possible in the second half of the month after the Easter recess, I cannot yet be sure, but I am considering it carefully.
Why cannot we have a statement next week about the plight of nurses' pay? Members of Parliament from Scotland, England and Wales all get the same pay and the same increase on the same day. If it can apply to Members of Parliament, why cannot nurses get a flat rate increase in line with inflation without having to scramble for it?
The short answer to that is the one that has already been given several times during Prime Minister's questions by my right hon. Friend: the move to local pay was set out in the nurses and midwives' own independent pay review body and the Government accepted its recommendations in full. As I understand it, the position of the Opposition must now be either that they would end the review body or that they would refuse to accept its recommendations.
Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early opportunity for the House to debate early-day motion 533, which is about the cadet forces, and air cadets in particular and the good work that is done in the inner cities in the development of young people? Could it be combined with the long-overdue debate on the Royal Air Force?
[That this House congratulates the Government on its policy of supporting the Air Cadets and the cadet organisations of the Army and Royal Navy; notes that in these difficult times where there is a worldwide problem with youth, drugs and crime, that the volunteer officers and civilian instructors of the cadet forces by leadership and example coupled with demanding and challenging training programmes contribute massively towards the personal discipline and development of the nation's young people; and further notes how vital and important this task is in inner city areas.]
I will of course look for an opportunity to provide time for the debate on the Royal Air Force, when that is practicable. It would provide an opportunity to make the important points that my hon. Friend has made. I pay tribute to the air cadets, who give young people an opportunity to take part in many pursuits that help to develop, among other things, good citizenship. Indeed, I have an excellent air cadet force in my constituency with which I have a number of connections. The good work is not confined to cities.
If the Leader of the House has received his water bill for next year, he will be aware that, for 93 per cent. of domestic householders, the price increase next year will be above the price review cap that was imposed by the regulator less than 10 months ago. It is becoming clearer by the day that the price and charging regulation in that industry is totally discredited from both the industry and the consumer's point of view. Will he find time for a debate either before or after Easter on the issue of the regulation of the water and waste water industry?
I understand that charges for "measured" customers are rising by less than prices generally, owing to a reduction in standing charges, and that as a result of rebalanced tariffs, bills for metered customers are much fairer than they were, giving a proper incentive to customers who want to economise on water. It is manifest from what the hon. Lady said that she does not like that, but she might at least have acknowledged that it is a factor.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the success of yesterday's "Britain in the World" conference? Does he agree that it is time that we debated the questions raised by the Prime Minister? In particular, would that not give us an opportunity to allay some of the false fears raised by Britain's not joining a single European currency? The deputy chairman of Nikko Europe plc, for instance, said that many Japanese investors would prefer us not to join a single currency, so that we can remain flexible and competitive.
Of course I shall give careful consideration to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, and draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am more than happy to join my hon. Friend—who is my near neighbour in Essex—in congratulating my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to the strong Opposition view that before the House rises for the Easter recess a statement should be made about nurses' pay? As one who has experienced the dedicated work of nurses at first hand, I consider it shameful that the Government are treating them in such a way. That is one of the reasons for the widespread support for nurses: people are aware of the stressful work that they undertake with such dedication. Nurses certainly should not be treated as the Government are treating them.
Notwithstanding the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, all hon. Members on both sides of the House—even those of us who are sometimes the subject of rather aggressive remarks from him—will wish to welcome him back to the House following the treatment to which he has referred, which has manifestly not reduced his vigour.
As for the rest of what the hon. Gentleman said, I do not think it reasonable to describe as shameful—or anything remotely approaching that—circumstances in which an independent review body has been established, and has made recommendations that have been fully accepted.
Next week or during the week of our return, may we have yet another debate on education? I found yesterday's debate very illuminating: British people watching it could observe not only the progress that has been made in schools throughout the country as a result of Conservative policy, but the vacuum—punctuated by occasional cries of "me too"—that passes for Labour policy. The 60,000 children in Kent who attend grant-maintained schools, and their parents, would like to know what Labour's policy is on those excellent schools.
I understand that yesterday's debate provided considerable illumination of what was happening in a number of places, but none whatever of Labour's policy on the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred. He will keep at it; I will keep at it; we will keep at it; but I have little expectation that the clarification that he wants will be forthcoming.
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission's important report on the proposed acquisition of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. by British Aerospace or GEC is due to be published during the Easter recess. Given the report's importance not only to the future of jobs in my constituency but to the future size and shape of the defence industry as a whole, will the Leader of the House make a commitment today to ensure that a Minister makes a statement to the House in the week following the recess so that the matter can be debated fully?
The appropriate time at which to consider how to deal with such a report is when it is delivered to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, which I understand has not yet happened. Of course I shall draw those representations to my right hon. Friend's attention; but, as it happens, he is answering questions next Wednesday, when the hon. Gentleman may have a chance to put them to him directly.
Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement before the Easter recess on the Government's proposals to enlarge the M25? The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the speculation in the newspapers that a Cabinet committee has taken a decision. As most of the road affected is in my constituency, I am sure that he will understand why I want the full facts in the public domain as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend may understand why I should not join in that speculation, not least because I am a member of the committee to which reference has apparently been made. I am sure that, should he have anything to announce on the matter, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will seek to do so as quickly as possible and with due regard to the House's wishes.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the Government's failure to generate the feel-good factor? Following the announcement by Northern Foods that it will close a factory in my constituency, with the loss of 320 jobs, will he arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to come the House next week and explain to my constituents why they should feel good about losing their jobs as a direct result of Government policy?
Changes take place in many industries. I would feel happier about giving the hon. Gentleman a more positive response were he to pay tribute to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and of many other Ministers, which, in recent years, have resulted in a steady flow to the country, not least to its northern part, of massive new investments in industry.
Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging for a debate on local government spending? Has he read a report in today's Daily Express drawing attention to Labour-controlled York district council, which invited an army of graffiti artists into its town centre and equipped them with aerosol cans at a cost of £1,000? The graffiti artists went out of control and the police had to be called in. Council tax payers now face a £40,000 bill to clear up the mess. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if that is an example of the new Labour party, we should stick with the Conservatives?
I have not seen that story, but my hon. Friend's account is of something that appears quite astonishing. I hope that it will be considered not only by the local authority, but perhaps, if appropriate, by the district auditor.
May I press the Leader of the House on the question from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who apparently implied that Northern Ireland Members may be receiving the same pay in here, but who left Northern Ireland nurses out of his question? If the Government accept the 3 per cent. increase, will an inquest be held into trusts that do not provide the extra 2 per cent. that the Government have been recommending, bearing in mind the fact that the pay of trust managers has increased significantly and that the nurses do the work?
The hon. Gentleman's question, which I am sure was put with the best will in the world, implies some misunderstanding. The review body report contained the proposal for the move to local pay. I understand that a survey published only today by the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts shows that the majority of trusts that have made their intentions known are offering nursing staff a pay rise of about 3 per cent.
My right hon. Friend has been successful in arranging debates on the planning system, notably the recent debate on the Select Committee on the Environment report on out-of-town shopping. Will he consider arranging a further debate on a specific subject—population experts' rather debatable assumptions about demographic growth and new housing need in the south and south-west? Those assumptions are causing great concern not only in Somerset, where 50,000 new houses are threatened in the next decade or so, but in many other constituencies where people do not want to see more slabs of the countryside concreted over?
I am sure that those views are widely shared, but, whatever dispute there may be about the statistics, there are pressures from increased population in some cases and from an increased number of families, due to various causes, in others. I cannot promise a debate, but my hon. Friend has already informally indicated to me—I hope that he will not mind my saying so—that he intends to engage in his usual practice of taking part in next Wednesday morning's debate. Should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker, and be able to do so, I will try to make sure that I have the briefing to give him an answer.
Twenty minutes ago, the Leader of the House complained to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about the strain of questions. I confess that 155 of them are mine. They are all on the same subject—Lockerbie. As the Leader of the House knows, during Monday's business he has an ideal opportunity to announce the establishment of a Select Committee. If he cannot do that, could he go for a walk at the weekend in the Essex sunshine, in some beautiful spot in his county, and contemplate the conundrum of how on earth the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office are going to be made responsible to Parliament?
I did not intend any remarks that I made to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to be particularly a complaint, merely an observation that there has been a huge increase in the number of parliamentary questions, which has created difficulties for the House authorities as well, as you are aware, Madam Speaker. It was certainly not intended as a compliant, let alone a criticism of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).
I have no doubt that every effort will be made to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions as best may be. He has already had an Adjournment debate, which was replied to by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary himself. I have written to the hon. Member for Linlithgow further following my reflection on his earlier remarks. I hope that he does not intend to imply any discourtesy. There is nothing much that I can add to that from the Dispatch Box this afternoon.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on planning so that I can convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the extreme frustration of the traders of Tewkesbury? They delivered a coffin to the Department of the Environment this afternoon to demonstrate that their town centre will die if he grants planning permission for a huge factory outlet outside the town.
My hon. Friend will understand that, in the circumstances, I can only draw those representations to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My hon. Friend will know that those matters have been the subject of general debate on an estimates day in the past few weeks.
Will the Leader of the House prevail upon the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement to the House on the proposed introduction of the Meat Hygiene Service? I know that he deposited a statement in the Library yesterday arising out of what he called a "Final Industry Forum" on Monday this week. Since then, there has been a mass revolt among the members of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers who say that they were not properly represented at that forum. To date, 160 out of 400 have expressed their dissent and by the end of this week I expect dissenters to be in a majority. There really is a crisis in the fresh meat industry and the Minister should come to the House to answer questions on that matter.
May we have a debate next week on polling, in particular so that we can evaluate the MORI poll in The Times last Friday which reported that research had shown that 62 per cent. of electors believe that any Labour Government would increase taxation drastically and that they further believe that the Labour party in national or local government always raises taxes, despite all the huffing and puffing that we heard in recent months?
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 928?
[That this House congratulates Linda McKenzie and Julie Rawnsley of the Allerton Outreach Team on their remarkable success in obtaining jobs for local people and in assessing their training needs; notes that since 6th February the team has placed 51 of the area's 500 unemployed people into paid work and 25 into training; further notes every unemployed person now costs the state £9,000 a year on average in benefits and lost tax payments; is dismayed that the Allerton Outreach Team, which has brought jobs and hope to a most deprived local community now embarking upon a long-term regeneration scheme, will be forced to close within weeks unless modest permanent funding is arranged; and urges the Secretary of State for the Environment to take the necessary action to safeguard the most important work being undertaken by the Allerton Outreach Team.]
Will he arrange a debate on unemployment, which would allow me to urge Ministers to visit the Allerton Outreach team in my constituency and discuss with Linda McKenzie how she has been so successful in getting more than 50 people into full-time paid work in only seven weeks and another 25 into full-time training? It would be very helpful for Ministers. It would—one hopes—enable them to do the same for many other people throughout the country and to abandon their grudging and piecemeal policy towards funding that very important and successful project.
I have two points. I am not sure that the Opposition Front-Bench team would welcome a debate on unemployment since the one thing that they appear to wish never to mention is the considerable and continuing fall in unemployment in this country. On the specific point relating to the Allerton Outreach team, I am pleased that Bradford training and enterprise council has agreed to part fund a continuation of the work on the estate next year. It is now, as I understand it, for Bradford council to consider meeting any shortfall. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may care to make his representations in that direction.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a discussion of devolution along the lines suggested by the Labour party? No doubt devolution would mean extra costs for all taxpayers. What really concerns me is that the dedicated group of nurses, about which we have heard so much today, as well as teachers, policemen and others, would have to pay 3p in the pound more tax just because they lived in Scotland than would members of that dedicated group of workers who lived south of the border.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is also urging that we have a debate. I am increasingly tempted to arrange a debate, or possibly even to offer an Opposition day, provided that the hon. Lady undertakes to make it a day in which we are told the details of Opposition policy on devolution and regional government, education and taxation. I bet that she will not want it.
The Leader of the House may be aware of the recent legal opinion sought by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the International Fund for Animal Welfare on the transportation of veal calves. It seems that with the new legal advice it is quite possible for the Government to ban that barbaric trade from this country to other parts of Europe. Will he ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement so that this matter may be cleared up quickly?
My right hon. Friend is studying carefully the legal document issued by the RSPCA, to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred, which argues along the lines that he has described. Of course it needs to be considered alongside the other legal advice which my right hon. Friend has received.
Following on from my right hon. Friend's comments about the unwillingness of the Opposition to debate economic policy, is he aware that out of 12 Opposition day debates so far this year, not one has related to the management of the economy? Will my right hon. Friend give the Opposition Front-Bench team an opportunity to overcome that shyness and explain how they would control public expenditure, deal with taxation and achieve high levels of growth, falling unemployment and low inflation? May I warn him, however, that in view of the feeble performance by the Opposition Front-Bench team in Treasury questions today, such a debate would not take very long?
I will of course look for such an opportunity in response to my hon. Friend's blandishments. I must make the observation, however, that providing an opportunity and ensuring that it is taken are two very different things.
Will an early opportunity be provided to discuss a promise made five years ago by the then Home Secretary that the imprisonment of unconvicted 15 and 16-year-olds would be discontinued? It is essential to have that debate now, as three years ago 57 youngsters were in custody and today 220 are in custody. What has happened to that promise?
Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday, while announcing plans for a private prison in Nottinghamshire, the Home Secretary bragged and boasted that there were no longer any cases of three prisoners to a cell? Is he also aware that, on the same day, instructions were sent out from area managers to prison governors which effectively told them not only to return to putting three people in a cell, but that there was a need to put prisoners in television and recreation rooms and in workshops? Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate about the developing crisis in Her Majesty's prisons?
It is certainly Government policy to ensure that the prison service has the resources to provide accommodation for those whom the courts send to prison. That is why there has been a substantial increase in the number of places provided. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Will it fall to the Leader of the House, in his own right, to make a statement on conflict of interests? As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, at present the issue is the role of defence procurement Ministers. Would it be helpful if we had a clear statement of principles so that when the facts of a matter were not in dispute, the necessary action would follow?
I am not entirely clear precisely what the hon. Gentleman is referring to—unless this is a further attempt to raise questions about my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. However, the rules concerning people holding ministerial office at the time are all clearly set out in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers", which under the present Government is published and available for the first time.
Clearly that is another attempt to reopen the same subject. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to suggest that those matters have not been properly investigated he should make it available and not make allegations by innuendo across the Floor of the House.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a serious debate on the invasion of northern Iraq by Turkey, and the danger of an explosion in that whole area, with attacks on the Kurdish people not only by Iraq but by Turkey, and attacks by Iran on the Kurdish people within its frontiers? Such a serious debate would cover Britain's military involvement in the area through supplying intelligence information to the Turkish armed forces, and British arms sales to Turkey, Iran and Iraq in the past?
Has the Leader of the House seen the report in The Guardian today, headlined:
Mandarins censor damning report on County Hall sale"?
It would appear that the National Audit Office report is being censored by the Department of the Environment under its Permanent Secretary, Andrew Turnbull, who wants to take out the parts that show clearly that civil servants did not give Ministers the full evidence about the competing bids by the Shirayama hotel group and the London School of Economics. When the report is published next week, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made in the House so that we can find out whether civil servants stitched up Ministers or whether Ministers stitched us up?
I understand that the report will be published next week, which means that it would be wrong for me to join in speculation about what it may say—even if, indeed, I were yet aware of its contents. However, talk of censorship is absolute nonsense. It is established procedure for NAO reports to be discussed and agreed with departmental officials. It is important to ensure that there is an accurate account of the facts for the Public Accounts Committee, and that is really what we are talking about.
Now that European Commissioner Neil Kinnock has announced that there is no European obstacle to banning the use of bull bars on vehicles, a safety measure desired by Members on both sides of the House, and now that it has been made clear by traffic laboratories all over Europe that bull bars cause 35 extra fatalities every year, and 350 additional serious accidents in this country, should we not debate that matter now to make sure that the accidents that are otherwise certain to take place will not happen? The Transport Research Laboratory has told us that if a child is hit by a vehicle with bull bars, even if it is travelling at only 12 mph, that child will almost certainly die.
Instead of disappearing for another fortnight, should the House not use part of that time to deal with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? It could do so in a Committee of the whole House so that the Bill would no longer be blocked in the Committee queue. The remaining stages could then be dealt with. There is still a considerable distance between the Disability Discrimination Bill, which has been through the House, and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which is so widely supported in the House and outside, by organisations including the British Medical Association.
As I have told the hon. Gentleman on at least three or four occasions in recent weeks and I have to repeat today. I have no plans to change the normal arrangements for dealing with private Member's Bills. As for the rest, I simply note with pleasure that the Disability Discrimination Bill completed its Report stage and received its Third Reading in the House two nights ago. That is good news for disabled people. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will have seen the reports that Tenovus, one of the best-known cancer research charities, which has its headquarters in Cardiff, has had to close its scratch card operations, which brought in half its £3 million annual income, which all went to fund its three cancer research centres? It has done so because of the competition from the national lottery scratch card game with top prizes ten times greater than the charity is able to offer. Does he agree that the national lottery's all-embracing expansion is getting to the stage at which it is almost like a Spanish trawler taking the whoppers and the tiddlers alike. Does he agree that we should consider the side-effects of the expansion of the national lottery in a debate on its effects on medical research and cancer research in particular?
I should make several points, albeit briefly. Obviously, I understand why the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter. Equally, everyone will share his regret at the decision of Tenovus to end its lottery. I understand that Camelot, the operators of the national lottery clearly say that there is no question that retailers were asked to stop selling tickets for other lotteries. The national lottery is raising large sums of money for many important purposes.