HC Deb 02 July 1998 vol 315 cc521-33 3.32 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

May I wish the right hon. Lady a very happy birthday, and ask if she will give us the business for next week?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

Very calmly said. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 6 JULY—Estimates Day (1st allotted day).

There will be a debate on further education, followed by a debate on the Government's proposals for a freedom of information Act. Details will be given in the Official Report.

The Question will be put on the relevant estimates at 10 pm.

TUESDAY 7 JULY—Opposition Day (16th allotted day).

There will be a debate on the release of information to Select Committees on an Opposition motion.

Motion relating to the Social Security Amendment (Lone Parents) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 8 JuLY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Competition Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 9 JULY—Debate on the national health service on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 10 JULY—Proceedings on the Landmines Bill.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

MONDAY 13 JULY—Opposition Day (17th allotted day).

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 14 JULY—Estimates Day (2nd allotted day).

There will be a debate on the UK beef industry, followed by a debate on the structure and funding of university research. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

WEDNESDAY 15 JULY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the School Standards and Framework Bill.

THURSDAY 16 JULY—Debate on the economy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 17 JULY—Debate on NATO enlargement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 8 July there will be a debate on the 1999 preliminary draft budget in European Standing Committee B.

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

[Monday 6 July:

Estimates Day [1st allotted day]—Class IX, vote 1: Department for Education and Employment: programmes and central services in so far as it relates to further education. Relevant reports: the Sixth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1997–98, on Further Education (HC 264—I); the Department for Education and Employment's Departmental Report: The Government's Expenditure Plans 1998–99 (Cm 3910).

Class CVII, vote 1: Cabinet Office: Office of Public Service in so far as it relates to the Government's proposals for a freedom of information Act. Relevant reports: the Third Report from the Select Committee on Public Administration, Session 1997–98, on Your Right to Know: The Government's Proposals for a Freedom of Information Act (HC 398); the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Public Administration, Session 1997–98, on Ministerial Accountability and Parliamentary Questions (HC 820).

Tuesday 14 July 1998:

Estimates Day [2nd allotted day]—Class IV, votes 1 and 2: Intervention Board executive agency and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in so far as they relate to the UK beef industry. Relevant reports: the Third Report from the Agriculture Committee, Session 1997–98, on the UK Beef Industry (HC 474); the Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1997–98, on the Present Crisis in the Welsh Livestock Industry (HC 447).

Class V, vote 2: Department of Trade and Industry: Science in so far as it relates to the structure and funding of university research. Relevant report: the First Report of the Science and Technology Committee on the Implications of the Dearing Report for the Structure and Funding of University Research (HC 303).

Wednesday 8 July:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: (i) SEC(98)800 and (ii) COM(98)300, 1999 Preliminary Draft Budget. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (i) HC 155-xxx (1997–98) and (ii) HC 155-xxxii (1997–98).

Sir Patrick Cormack

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving us the business for the next two weeks. We appreciate that. I thank her particularly for responding to the Leader of the Opposition's offer and providing Friday 10 July for consideration of the Landmines Bill. I reiterate that she will have the Opposition's co-operation on that measure. I thank her also for providing time to debate the Social Security Amendment (Lone Parents) Regulations on Tuesday next and for at last providing the debate that we requested on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation enlargement.

I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the matter that the Opposition have chosen to debate on Tuesday next week and, in particular, to paragraph 6 of the second special report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which states: The Committee considers that it is wrong in principle for the Executive to seek unilaterally to impose prior conditions on the release of information properly sought by a Select Committee in pursuit of the responsibilities given to it by the House. The views of the House are sought at an early date. Is the right hon. Lady aware that our motion on Tuesday will reflect those words and that the Opposition will allow a free vote, treating this issue—as it should be treated— as a House of Commons matter? Will the right hon. Lady respond in like spirit and ensure that, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has requested publicly, a free vote is held in the House on that matter?

Is the right hon. Lady in a position to tell us when we can expect statements on the strategic defence review, the comprehensive spending review and the integrated transport White Paper? Much concern is being caused in relation to the latter issue, and I would argue, with great respect, that the Deputy Prime Minister's kite flying is no substitute for a statement on integrated transport policy. Is the right hon. Lady aware that rumours are circulating that the Government's proposals for the North sea oil tax regime will be announced by means of a written reply to a written question? Can she assure me that that is not the case and that there will be a statement about that matter on the Floor of the House?

The right hon. Lady has circulated—as she properly should—her proposals for possible reform of the hours of the House, which she will put before the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. I understand, Madam Speaker, that you have made your views known about the matter. Will the right hon. Lady seek your permission to make those views known to all hon. Members—not just those who serve on the Select Committee—so that there may be full consultation and people may know exactly what you think, as well as what the Leader of the House is proposing?

Is the Leader of the House yet in a position to say—I ask on behalf of the staff of the House who serve us so well and so selflessly—whether we shall sit in August?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, with which I shall deal in turn.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Landmines Bill. I am pleased that we have received sufficient co-operation to make progress on that legislation. There have been discussions through the usual channels with all parties in the House and I hope that we shall continue to make progress. We said all along that we were keen to move on that matter as soon as possible. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House suggested various non-sitting days on which we might consider the measure, and I am glad that we have agreed to use Friday 10 July.

I am pleased also that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that we have been able to meet the requests for debate on the Social Security Amendment (Lone Parents) Regulations. I said some time ago that we were likely to debate NATO enlargement in July.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the words that might appear in the Opposition's motion on Tuesday. I cannot possibly comment on that motion until I have seen it; although I am responsible for many things, I am, fortunately, not responsible for whipping arrangements. No one would discuss whipping arrangements before knowing what any particular motion said, although I might want to amend the Opposition's motion.

The hon. Gentleman asked about dates for various statements that may be made in the near future. I do not normally give dates of statements in advance, but there has been great speculation about certain important statements. I can confirm that some dates are pencilled in provisionally—the strategic defence review for Wednesday 8 July and the comprehensive spending review for the week after—although events sometimes mean that we have to alter the dates that we have in mind. The integrated transport White Paper is expected later this month, and I anticipate a statement being made to the House. I have not considered North sea oil tax revenues, so I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman on that point; at the moment, I do not have provisional plans for a statement on that before me.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the memorandum that has been submitted to the Modernisation Committee. The Committee is in the early stages of drawing up ideas on potential changes to the parliamentary calendar and, as a whole, is anxious that all hon. Members should make their views known. We are taking steps to ensure that people are aware of that opportunity. I should be more than happy to make sure, with Madam Speaker's permission, that her views were available, and that is something that we can pursue.

Everyone is anxious to know when the recess will be, and, had I been able to announce the precise dates today, I should have been pleased. The most that I can say is that it is clear that the House will not rise before the end of July.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

May we have an early debate on how insider dealing investigations are dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry? May I say that, for a fact, Sir Nicholas Lloyd, has never been interviewed by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors in connection with the 1994 investigation concerning insider dealing in Anglia Television shares? Do we not need an early debate on that matter, because Sir Nicholas Lloyd has been held out publicly as the source of the tip to a certain well-known individual who traded in shares in January 1994 and made £77,000? We need an explanation.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising issues of that kind at various Question Times. I am afraid that I cannot promise him the debate that he wants in Government time, but perhaps he will be fortunate and obtain an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I hope that, if I add my felicitations on her birthday, the right hon. Lady will be even more co-operative than she has been on private Members' Bills. In the light of what she said last Thursday, is there any way to assist non-controversial private Members' Bill with all-party support not only to complete their passage through this House, but, if they are amended in the House of Lords, to complete their passage in the spillover section when they come back?

Will there be room in the next couple of weeks, or soon thereafter, for a comprehensive debate on arms sales? There is a general view that the Foreign Secretary's views on the Scott report are not fully reflected in the report on strategic export controls published yesterday. It is a timid report, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will have an opportunity to examine it.

Before next Thursday's debate on the national health service, will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to correct the no doubt unfortunate and unintentional, but considerable, mistake that he made in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) yesterday? The Leader of the House will recall that my hon. Friend asked what the Prime Minister would do about the severe deterioration in the recruitment position of doctors, and the Prime Minister said: medical students are exempt from the new provisions on student finance."—[Official Report, 1 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 355.] That is simply untrue and I am sure that the Prime Minister will want an early opportunity to put the record straight. Under the new regime, medical, veterinary and dental students will have to pay extensive sums to support their studies in the first three years. An absurd anomaly is that in Scotland they will have to do so for the fourth year as well. Will the Leader of the House give an absolute undertaking that the Prime Minister will correct the record before next Thursday's debate?

Mrs. Taylor

I will check the hon. Gentleman's last point and get in touch with him about it.

On the two substantive points that the hon. Gentleman raised on private Members' Bills, I hope that some of the Bills before the House tomorrow will make progress. Many people think that they are important measures that command widespread support. As I pointed out last week, the House itself decides at the beginning of each Session how much time to give private Members' Bills, but some interesting suggestions have been made about how we could deal with private Members' Bills that need only a vote rather than further debate. The Modernisation Committee will look at that matter in due course. I am open-minded about what we might be able to do and will watch what happens to individual Bills.

I think that the hon. Gentleman was somewhat churlish in saying that no progress had been made on arms sales. The White Paper published yesterday is for consultation, and it takes us further forward. We are willing to listen to further suggestions on how the position might be improved. At the moment, there is clearly no time for a debate on that matter, but views are being sought and will be taken into account.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the speculation in the press in recent days about the possible collaboration between the Labour Government and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the possibility that he will get a job in a future Cabinet? The other daft idea being carted around is that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will be the next Speaker. May we have an early statement to put an end to all those rumours? While we are at it, will my right hon. Friend tell the others in the Cabinet that they should bury the report from Lord Jenkins about changing to proportional representation and tell him to stick to what he has always done—rushing about trying to find a posh table at a restaurant?

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure that I can find time next week for the specific debate that my hon. Friend requests, interesting though it might be, especially to those of us who have been in the House for many years.

On my hon. Friend's specific point, I am not aware that there is any credibility in many of the stories that appear in the press. I am sure that you intend to be in your place for some time yet, Madam Speaker, so any speculation on that front is pretty worthless.

On jobs in Cabinet, I promise to bring my hon. Friend's recommendations to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Given the pressure on legislative time revealed by the Landmines Bill, which I welcome, can the Government ensure that Ministers are available to take their business when it occurs so that we avoid the surrealist farce that we had last night of Labour Back Benchers filibustering on the Finance (No. 2) Bill while the Government allegedly retrieved the next relevant Minister from the highlands?

Mrs. Taylor

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is under some misapprehension. Two days for the Finance Bill was the time that we agreed to give, following discussions through the usual channels. If anyone was absent, it was Opposition Members.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 651?

[That this House believes that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should undertake an urgent review of the standard of motorway driving with a particular view to the need for all newly qualified drivers to undertake some form of motorway tuition and that urgent action should be taken to address the problems that exist and to secure a higher standard of proficiency of motorway driving and to help reduce the present motorway accident level.]

I pay tribute to my constituent, Anne Ravenhill, who, for some years, has vigorously campaigned for motorway driving tuition. The early-day motion has 104 signatures. Anyone who drives on motorways will recognise that this issue is of concern. Does my right hon. Friend see any opportunity of discussing these issues at an early date?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is an experienced Member of the House, and he knows ways of finding time in debates to raise issues that he wants to pursue. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is undertaking a comprehensive examination of driver training issues. My hon. Friend has made points about safety on motorways and about measures that need not penalise newly qualified drivers. That is an important issue, but he will understand that I cannot find time for a debate on it. With his ingenuity, I am sure that he can find other ways of raising this matter.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does the right hon. Lady join me in condemning the arson attacks on Roman Catholic chapels in Northern Ireland last night? Such actions are attacks not just on places of worship, but on communities, and they are to be deployed in any community that stands for civil and religious liberty.

Is the right hon. Lady able to tell us when the Northern Ireland constitution Bill will be introduced? Yesterday, we launched the assembly. It is like starting a marathon race without telling people where they are going.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sure that the whole House wants to be associated with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the arson attacks. Such behaviour unites everyone in the House, and, like him, we want to place our views on record.

Discussions are still taking place on the Northern Ireland constitution Bill, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer. He knows that we take Northern Ireland legislation extremely seriously. We have moved quickly to present such legislation when it has been necessary. Much work is being carried out at present, and discussions will continue through the usual channels. As soon as I can give the House information, I shall do so.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about tomorrow's Bills. Is it not a perversion of democracy that 74 Bills will come before Parliament tomorrow? The day has become known as the slaughter of the innocents, because many would-be King Herods can destroy those Bills by shouting a single word. It is wrong for the will of the House to be ignored. One of those Bills received a majority vote of 411, but it is unlikely to get through the system and become law. Bill No. 13 on the Order Paper seeks to tackle by far the worst case of drug misuse in this country, which is the over-prescription of neuroleptic drugs to the elderly in residential homes. We should have a debate on the system that allows Bills that have majority support not to get through Parliament and to be damaged or destroyed by malign or malicious individual Members.

Mrs. Taylor

We had a short debate on that subject last week. Points made in that debate will help the Modernisation Committee when it turns its mind to this subject.

Mr. Wilkinson

I thank the Leader of the House for letting us know that the statement on the strategic defence review will be made on Wednesday of next week. Does that not highlight the fact that, this year, we have had only one debate on one of the three services, the Royal Air Force? It is remiss of the Government not to have given more time to the armed forces. Will she guarantee that, before we rise for the summer recess—preferably in the next two weeks—we will have a two-day debate on the armed forces? If The Times is to be believed, they are likely to lose £1 billion of their budget, which will affect the career prospects of many service men.

Mrs. Taylor

I have said that it is likely, although not absolutely fixed, that that statement will be made on Wednesday.

On the hon. Gentleman's other point, we have had one defence debate—we discuss subjects for debate through the usual channels. I hope that we shall be able to have significant defence debates later in the Session, but I think that, as in other years, the bulk of that time may have to be in the spillover.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will the Leader of the House please consider the position of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the disclosure of information to Select Committees? The Opposition's zeal to criticise the Government is a grave matter for those of us who want to promote a bipartisan approach in Select Committee considerations. I urge her to lead discussions with other Government managers, and perhaps the Opposition, to establish whether the current impasse can be overcome.

Members of Select Committees should be able to approach matters without private interests or partial affections, so that they can seek the truth and fulfil their duty to oversee Government Departments. That is extremely important in relation to next Tuesday's debate—we must recognise that, if such an approach is to endure, it must be reflected in the vote on Tuesday evening. The debate needs to be treated as a so-called House of Commons matter, so that individual Members of Parliament can vote on the motion without fear or favour and without fear of intimidation by party Whips.

Mrs. Taylor

I think that my hon. Friend will have heard what I said to the deputy shadow Leader of the House, to which I do not have anything to add.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

May we have an early debate or statement to clarify the relationship between Health Ministers and local health authorities in the decision-making process? I ask that in the light of the astonishing events in Salford and Trafford on Tuesday, when the Secretary of State for Health intervened, using a legal directive procedure—it has been used only once before in the history of the national health service—to require the local health authority to withdraw a properly conducted public consultation exercise merely so that he could avoid adverse publicity when he visited Trafford general hospital on Sunday.

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health felt that there had been insufficient discussion with the neighbouring authorities before Salford and Trafford health authority issued its consultation document on 1 June. He believed that any proposed changes to children's services should be considered in the context of the establishment of health action zones rather than in isolation. He has a responsibility to take a position on such matters, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should regard that as astonishing. I am also surprised at the implication of what he said—he seemed to imply that he wanted those beds to be lost and that ward to be shut.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Following on from what the Leader of the House said about next Tuesday's debate, will she find time to have an early debate on parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive? Many unpleasant comments are being made about the Leader of the Opposition, but, as someone who suffered from acute sinusitis as a boy, I wish him well—it is one of the most painful conditions that anyone can have. The lack of an effective Opposition gives rise to a fundamental problem, but is it not related to the fact that no fewer than 19 of the appointments that the right hon. Gentleman has made to the shadow Front-Bench team have lucrative outside interests? The most recent announcement is that the shadow President of the Board of Trade is taking money from Murray Financial, a financial firm dedicated to destroying building societies and mutual assurance companies. Is not the real problem that, until we have an effective Opposition, the Executive will not receive the scrutiny that it needs?

Mrs. Taylor

I said earlier that I was not responsible for whipping; thankfully, I am not responsible for the Opposition either.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is the Leader of the House aware that another important upcoming anniversary is the 10th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster? Some of us have spent the afternoon in the precincts of the House watching a film by one of the survivors, Ed Punchard, which will be broadcast next week.

May I make a request, which I know will be supported by the hon. Members who represent Aberdeen, the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and many others, for a debate on the full ramifications of the disaster, to examine whether we got to the bottom of the causes of the incident and how the Cullen changes have been working over the past 10 years?

In particular, we could discuss how the Government's proposals on corporate criminality are progressing—I believe that there is widespread support for such legislative change. As the Leader of the House will understand, many of us were extremely concerned when, in a civil action earlier this year, responsibility and blame were placed on two dead people who had no chance of representing themselves. The issue of corporate liability has never been fully explored.

Will the Leader of the House take my comments on board? Does she accept that only if we have such a debate will we discharge our responsibility not just to those who died on Piper Alpha, but to the many thousands who still work in the North sea?

Mrs. Taylor

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, which is echoed by my hon. Friends. I did not know about the film that is to be shown next week, but of course I remember the incident, as many others will.

I will take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments. I cannot guarantee him the debate that he wants in the next few weeks, but I assure him that I will draw what he has said to the attention of all Ministers who are concerned with the matter.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

My right hon. Friend may have read reports over the past two weeks of the near-gridlock of air traffic over Heathrow airport as a result of chronic weaknesses in the air traffic control system. Heathrow is in my constituency, and I am extremely anxious for the safety of my constituents. The Government have acted promptly in launching an investigation. Will my right hon. Friend liaise with her colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, so that when the report of the investigation is completed, it is brought to the House promptly and an important issue of public safety can be debated?

Mrs. Taylor

I will certainly discuss the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

The Leader of the House did not announce time for a debate in the next two weeks on the fight against bovine tuberculosis. As she will know, an important report—the Krebbs report—is being considered by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. May I ask her, in all seriousness, to talk to the Minister of State about the possibility of finding time for a debate on the report and on bovine tuberculosis? Many farms in the south-west are disrupted by the disease, and many people in the west midlands and Cheshire are fearful of its spread. It is important that the House should have a chance to debate the implementation of the Krebbs report before the die is finally cast.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is present, and has heard the right hon. Gentleman's comments. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are considering how best to implement the recommendations made by Professor Krebbs last December. A good deal of work is going into the issue, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State has received many representations from Members whose constituents are extremely worried about the problem.

We are not in a position to make an announcement yet, but all contributions received during the consultation period have been considered carefully. Announcements will be made, but all the views of hon. Members will be taken into account first.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that, before we were committed to going into Bosnia, there was a general indication that it would be for a limited time? In answer to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), my right hon. Friend said that a debate on the strategic defence review would take place later in the Session; presumably, she has November in mind. May we have some reflection on giving an undertaking to the House—I do not ask my right hon. Friend to give it now—that, should there be military commitment in Kosovo or in the Gulf, the House of Commons will be recalled, whatever stage the recess has reached, before any decisions are put into cement?

Mrs. Taylor

I believe that I made the position clear last week, although it may have been two weeks ago. I said that I could not give an absolute undertaking that statements would be made in the House before any decision to deploy troops. However, I also said—and I can confirm—that, operational circumstances permitting, we would seek to keep the House of Commons informed first.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Equal Opportunities Commission presented its annual report to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on 15 June. One of its key proposals is to replace the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations 1983 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which set up the commission, with an all-encompassing sex equality law. The report is called "Making Equality Work—the challenge for government". Will there be time in the coming weeks to debate the report and for the Government to say how they intend to respond to the challenge that it presents?

Mrs. Taylor

Important though that report is, I cannot find time for such a debate in the next few weeks. It is an interesting suggestion, and one which members of the Modernisation Committee might bear in mind as typical of the requests that we get for debates that would be non-partisan and useful to the House. The Committee is considering how we could find more time for such debates.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I fully support the request made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) referred to the second special report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. My right hon. Friend can see at a glance that there were sharp divisions on it, as there were on the first report. I fully expect the Foreign Secretary to make an early statement following the publication of the Legg report, and I would also demand that he initiate a debate on Legg.

The Foreign Secretary should bear in mind the advice given in the ministerial code. Paragraph 28.j on page 12 states: Every effort should be made to avoid leaving significant announcements to the last day before a Recess. That is what the other outfit used to do. I do not want the Government to follow that Conservative tradition. I fully expect the Foreign Secretary to come before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a member, to answer questions on the Legg findings. It is better for a Select Committee to cross-examine Ministers and officials than for us to attempt to do so in a debate.

Mrs. Taylor

On my hon. Friend's first point, I think that the whole House agrees with the concern that was expressed about Piper Alpha.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the Select Committee was sharply split on both reports. Other such matters may emerge in the debate on Tuesday, although we have not yet seen the motion. My hon. Friend asked for an early statement and a debate on Legg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary may well want to make a statement once the report is published. The inquiry is independent, and it is within the power of Sir Thomas Legg himself to determine the time scale, but I know that he understands the urgency of the matter, and I hope that we will not have to wait too long.

My hon. Friend will know that the most recent letter from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the Chairman of the Select Committee made an offer to appear before it; he is still awaiting a reply.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the concerns in the British fishing industry, especially in relation to regulation. Will she find time for a debate in the near future, if not next week, so that hon. Members of all parties can express the fact that the industry is concerned not only by the regulation imposed by Europe, and indeed the disparity of enforcement, but by the fact that Her Majesty's Government are now unilaterally imposing further restrictions? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would then have the opportunity, which he probably would not welcome, to explain what he is doing about it.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sure that Ministers would like many debates, but they are as much constrained as anyone else. There simply is not time in the immediate future for all the debates that we would like. I can only advise the hon. Gentleman to apply for an Adjournment debate.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

The highest priority for debate in the House is given to fiscal matters. However, the Government regard sustainable development as a high priority, too, and have set up the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which published its second report today. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to just one of the report's many recommendations, which is that there should be a major debate on sustainable development on a Government motion relating to the Committee's annual report? I hope that that recommendation will be taken seriously.

Mrs. Taylor

I will certainly take that recommendation seriously. Clearly it will not be possible to provide time for a debate before the summer recess. I cannot say whether there will be time during the spillover period, but, if there is not, I can bear the subject in mind for debate in future parliamentary years. We attach great importance to that subject and will consider how to take into account the wishes of the Select Committee.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the expenditure policies of North Lanarkshire council? That would give the House a chance to consider the specific and worrying case of a lollipop man who was paid at a rate equivalent to £17,500 a year for working 10 hours a week. Given the right hon. Lady's prodigious reading of the daily newspapers, does she recall that that fortunate individual told The Daily Telegraph on 4 June that he could not believe his luck? He was able to do up his flat, take his wife and kids on holiday and buy a new car as a result of the outrageous profligacy of that Labour council. Will the right hon. Lady enable the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House in the near future to defend or to condemn that typical record of an old Labour council?

Mrs. Taylor

I am surprised to learn that the main interest of the constituents of Buckingham is the activities of North Lanarkshire council. The hon. Gentleman knows that this Government, unlike the previous one, have acted quickly. We will not tolerate any failure or inefficiency in local government. It is a bit rich for a former adviser to Jonathan Aitken to raise matters of that kind.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Will the right hon. Lady take account of serious concern on both sides of the House and among our constituents about the congestion of parliamentary business? Many matters will not be debated and considered, including private Members' business, Law Commission reports and Select Committee reports. There are also many Adjournment debates: I understand that Madam Speaker received requests for more than 50 such debates next Wednesday. Will the right hon. Lady put to the Modernisation Committee the urgent need to find other channels for conducting our business so that the work of the House is not impeded by the time constraints that beset us?

Mrs. Taylor

Demand for debates cannot always be met. That is the case in every parliamentary year. The hon. Gentleman mentions some areas in which there is particular pressure, and he knows that the Modernisation Committee has said that it will consider private Members' Bills in future. He is right to say that more could perhaps be done. We should use our imagination to come up with new ideas on how to resolve some of the problems, although I do not think that we will ever be able to satisfy every hon. Member, given the time available.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not wish to prolong our debate, but is there not an old-fashioned code of conduct in the House? Before Members of Parliament attack particular councils, they should at least find out the facts. The intervention of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) relates not to my constituency, but to those of parliamentary neighbours. It is high time that the House was a bit more restrained in throwing around accusations under privilege against people who cannot defend themselves, when there is another side to the story. Would you care to reflect on the old code of conduct which was accepted as a convention, whereby Members of Parliament were careful before attacking councils and other elected bodies?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman's words are extremely wise. He has used them before, and on numerous occasions I have reminded the House that with our great privileges also come responsibilities. Before we launch into attacks on other people, we must get our facts absolutely right.

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