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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 24 May----Motion for the spring Adjournment.

Remaining stages of the National Maritime Museum Bill [Lords], the Civil Aviation (Air Navigation Charges) Bill [Lords] and the Atomic Energy Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order. Tuesday 23 May ----Opposition day (11th allotted day). Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The necessary regeneration of the inner cities".

Motions relating to community charges and rating and valuation regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Wednesday 24 May----Remaining stages of the Dock Work Bill. Motion to take note of EC document on gaseous emissions. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Thursday 25 May----Remaining stages of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Friday 26 May----Adjournment motions.

[Debate on Tuesday 23 May : Community Charges (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No. 438) ; Valuation and Community Charge Tribunals (Transfer of Jurisdiction) Regulations (SI 1989 No. 440) ; Valuation and Community Charge Tribunals Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No. 439) ; Valuation for Rating (Plant and Machinery) Regulations (SI 1989 No. 441) ; Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) Order 1989 (SI 1989 No. 442) ; Personal Community Charge (Students) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No. 443).

Wednesday 24 May : Relevant European Community Document, Un-numbered : Small cars : gaseous emissions. Relevant report of European Legislation Committee : HC 15-xxii (1988-89) para 2.]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I must protest at the Government's intention to rush and push a number of regulations on the poll tax in the ludicrously short time of an hour and a half on Tuesday. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could pass on to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment a reminder that he has ended up in court in the past as a result of rushing through a considerable number of regulations--[ Hon. Members-- : "Costs!"] If that gumboil, the Minister for Local Government, want to intervene, I remind him that he had no statutory authority to issue the leaflet that he is talking about.

Following the publication of the report of the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House, when can we expect to debate that report in the House and to get on with endorsing it and putting the experiment into operation?

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Will the Leader of the House tell us when we are likely to have the long-promised debate on the Government's proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

When, too, are we likely to have the long-promised debate on care in the community and the publication of the Government's response to the Griffiths report, which was published more than 14 months ago? In view of the remarkable events around the world, from the middle east to China, when are we likely to have either a general debate on foreign affairs or one targeted on a specific part of the globe?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has asked me five questions about the business of next week. I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants a longer debate on the community charge regulations. I thought that the Opposition might have had enough of that subject for the moment. However, I am happy to have discussions through the usual channels to see whether it is possible to reach some arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on televising the House, which was published yesterday. I am hoping to arrange a debate very soon after Whitsun so that the House can decide whether it wishes to go ahead with the experiment. The report was from a large Select Committee of the House, representing points of view from all parties, and apart from one member it was unanimous in its recommendations, especially those dealing with the rules of coverage.

As I have said on a number of occasions, the best time for a debate on top- up loans for students will be once the discussions between ny right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the financial institutions are concluded. Those discussions are making good progress and I shall, of course, keep the hon. Gentleman's request well in mind.

I recognise that there is much interest in the Griffiths and Wagner reports. We are working on our proposals, which we shall bring forward in the near future. There will be no undue delay, but it is essential that we reach the right answers in that important area. The time for any further debate is when we have announced our proposals. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of a foreign affairs debate is important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) recently raised that matter with me. I am aware, therefore, of the general interest in all parts of the House. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that at this time in the Session, demands on time on the Floor of the House are heavy, but I shall look for a suitable opportunity when time permits.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House knows that I am always reluctant to curtail business questions, but today we have a statement following business questions, a privilege motion and then a debate in which there is enormous interest from hon. Members wishing to participate. I shall, therefore, have to limit business questions and stop at four o'clock. Many hon. Members will be called provided that they ask brief questions.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Although for many years there has been a majority in the House in favour of abortion law reform, it has always been frustrated by a

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minority. Has my right hon. Friend anything to say about giving time for the House to discuss that position, which is not understood and, indeed, is resented by the public?

Will he give time for a discussion on the proposal of the Select Committee on Procedure? Is it not high time that that matter was resolved?

Mr. Wakeham : I know that my right hon. Friend is deeply concerned about the matter and that he has consistently sought to exert pressure in that respect. My hon. Friend knows well that there are two considerations. He has, among others, made suggestions about what the Government might do about it, and we have said that we would look at those suggestions. We recognise that it would be a substantial change from previous practice, but we said that we would consider it.

On the question of the proposals for private Members' time and the changes recommended by the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, I am studying that report and I hope to find an opportunity for the House to deal with the matter in the not too distant future.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's explanation about pressures on time, but could he please try to find time to debate health warnings on tobacco products, irrespective of decisions made in Europe? Does he agree that it is extremely serious that, in the past two years, cigarette smoking, particularly among women, has increased, bearing in mind the attendant consequence of lung cancer? Therefore, I beg the Leader of the House to find time time to debate this serious issue.

Mr. Wakeham : We had a debate not long ago on some aspects of this subject, but I recognise its importance. I cannot promise a debate on it in the near future, but I recognise its importance and I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : In considering the litany of subjects put forward by the Opposition for which Opposition days are available, will my right hon. Friend consider giving time to reports of Select Committees and, in particular, the report of the Environment Select Committee on ancient monuments and historic buildings, which has suddenly assumed topical importance? Will he also consider a debate on the report on toxic waste, which has been reinforced by a report in the other place and about which there is a great deal of public concern at the moment?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind me that there are a number of Select Committee reports. He has mentioned the report of one such Committee, of which he was the distinguished Chairman. He asks me to consider those for debate and I wish that I could be more hopeful about finding time for such a debate in the near future. My hon. Friend has, however, raised an important subject, and I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : In view of the widespread concern about the arts and the heritage, as evidenced by the current public concern about the Rose theatre site and the Roman baths in the City of London, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to an early debate or an annual arts debate so that we can discuss such matters and ensure that such sites are preserved for future generations?

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Mr. Wakeham : It is certainly right that from time to time we should have debates on the arts and related subjects. At the moment, I do not see time for such a debate but I will bear the request in mind.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate before the end of June when the Lord Chancellor makes up his mind on the Green Papers? There have now been two debates in the other place. Surely it would seem slightly strange if the Lord Chancellor gave his reasons without this House ever having said a word on the subject.

Mr. Wakeham : I know that the hon. Gentleman would like a debate on that subject and I wish that I could find time for it. We had a partial debate on the subject late at night, which was not satisfactory. The consultation period closed on 2 May and there have been about 2,000 responses. The Lord Chancellor is, of course, awaiting the response of the senior judiciary, for whom a limited extension to 30 May was granted for exceptional reasons. I wish that I could find time for a debate, but I do not believe that I shall be able to do so in the immediate future.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : The Leader of the House will be aware of the savage cuts that are currently planned in agricultural research. In particular, he may be aware of the concern in my area regarding the future of Rosewarne. I have heard news today that Ministers are still refusing to accept any reasonable package to save that centre. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider trying to find time for the House to debate that important issue before the final decisions are taken?

Mr. Wakeham : I think that the hon. Gentleman's question shows a slightly unbalanced assessment of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is seeking to achieve in the changes to the way in which support for research is funded from public funds. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman will have an opportu-nity next Thursday to question my right hon. Friend on this subject. I recognise that a debate would be more satisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman might try his luck in getting an Adjournment debate as it seems a suitable subject for one.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, after making inquiries of the Library, I find that the social charter document that was issued in press release form yesterday will not be available to hon. Members or even to the Government for seven days because it has not yet been translated and facilities are not available to translate it? Does my right hon. Friend regard that as a disgraceful way of carrying on? When the document is available, could we not find some way to debate the matter as soon as possible and to dispose of it in that way?

Mr. Wakeham : I am not in a position to comment on the first part of my hon. Friend's question, but I recognise the concern that he expresses and I shall look into the matter. I recognise also that many hon. Members would like to take part in a debate on that subject. I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future, but it seems to me that my hon. Friend, with his ingenuity, may manage to introduce the subject into today's debate if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The Leader of the House obviously knows about the report on televising Parliament. There has been a lot of scathing press criticism about the fact that it will be severely restricted. Apparently, only the head and shoulders of hon. Members will be shown on the television screen. Will there be exceptions, in certain circumstances? For instance, could we have a "three" shot of the SDP? If the Leader of the SDP crosses the Floor of the House, will the cameras be allowed to follow him? And what about the member of the mujaheddin, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? Will he be shown when the Prime Minister is answering Questions on the Common Market?

Mr. Wakeham : I think that the hon. Gentleman should read the report over the weekend study it in detail and decide his tactics accordingly. Perhaps I may give him some rough guidance. If he stays in order, he will be on television. If he is out of order, he will probably not be on television.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) a short while ago, but may I point out that those courses of action were outlined to us in February and no noticeable progress seems to have been made. When does my right hon. Friend expect to be able to respond to us one way or the other?

Mr. Wakeham : I think that my hon. Friend needs to be fair. If the Government decide to do something in their legislative programme, there is a proper time for announcing it. That time is not now--and it is not next week, either. The matter will be announced at the proper time. As for the private Member's Bill procedure and the report from the Select Committee on Procedure, my hon. Friend knows that the original report that it submitted, which we did not debate in the House, went back to the Select Committee. The Committee had a second look at it and came up with suggestions which I believe are better than the original ones. I hope to bring them before the House before too long. However, I do not believe that it would be right to change the rules in the middle of the Session. Even if the House were to approve the rules, I should have thought that the rule changes would most conveniently be brought into operation at the beginning of the next Session.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 847 on the illegal ivory trade and the African elephant?

[That this House welcomes the report of the Environmental Investigation Agency into the plight of the African elephant ; deplores the illegal killing of 70,000 elephants per year to boost the ivory trade, 80 per cent. of which is illegal ; welcomes the decision of the Government of Tanzania to apply to have the African elephant registered as an endangered species under the 1973 Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ; calls on Her Majesty's Government to support this application and resolutely to prevent illegal ivory trade through Hong Kong.]

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is obscene that these wonderful creatures should be slaughtered in such numbers to provide jewellery, ivory carvings and piano keys? Will he ask his Cabinet colleagues to ban the

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import of all worked and raw ivory? If he will not do that, may we please have an early debate on the trade in endangered species and on animal conservation generally? I have asked the Leader of the House for such a debate.

Mr. Wakeham : And I recognise the hon. Gentleman's knowledge and concern about these issues. One of his hon. Friends asked me a question about this last week and I arranged for a Foreign Office Minister to write to him. A long letter was sent setting out a number of the issues and objectives that the Government are seeking to achieve. The best thing that I can do is to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to receive a copy of that letter, which I shall do. The Government fully understand and share the concern about the plight of the African elephant. We shall consider carefully any proposal to ban trade in African ivory in the light of the scientific evidence available and in consultation with our European partners. Hong Kong is also a party to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora and prohibits the import of ivory in all its forms, except from an approved source and subject to the issue of a licence by the Hong Kong Government. However, I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : So as to avoid continually getting out of step with the European Community, should we not have machinery whereby we co-operate with Members of the European Parliament in the British interest? When will my right hon. Friend forward proposals to that effect?

Mr. Wakeham : I think that proposals of that kind are for the House rather than for me. I recognise that there is some dissatisfaction, which I share, about the way in which European matters are dealt with in the House, Through discussion with the Scrutiny Committee and the Procedure Committee, to which I gave evidence yesterday, I am actively seeking to find ways to improve the situation. I should welcome co-operation with Members of the European Parliament in any way that is acceptable to the House, but I am not sure whether a formal arrangement would be the best way forward.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : As the electoral registration figures for 1989 are at last available in the Library by constituency, and show an alarming decline in certain constituencies, can we have a debate about the state of the electoral register and the impact of the poll tax upon it to test the legality of the poll tax legislation and whether it is in conflict with the 1275 Statute of Westminster and the Representation of the People Act 1983?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman has some responsibilities in this matter, If he continues to refer to the community charge as a poll tax, it is not surprising that some people will be misled, I should have thought that some of his friends in Greenwich might also have something to answer for.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : Given the choice of subject for the first debate in this week's supply day, can my right hon. Friend throw any light on the reason why next Tuesday the House will not have the opportunity to discuss the costs to Greenwich ratepayers of lying on the rates and squandering money on party political propaganda?

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Mr. Wakeham : I have not seen the motion that the Opposition intend to table, or the amendment that the Government might table to that motion. Whether my hon. Friend's point would be in order is not a matter for me. It is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend had better wait and see what the motion says.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : The Leader of the House will remember that I have asked on a number of occasions for a debate in Government time on the issues arising from the publication of "The Satanic Verses". As Moslems from all over Britain and from overseas will be meeting in London a week on Saturday to protest about the book, and as I doubt whether the Government will arrange a debate for next week, does not the Leader of the House think it timely for the Prime Minister to urge Mr. Salman Rushdie to instruct his publishers worldwide to stop further or new printing of the book so that the offence which has been caused and recognised throughout the House will cease?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not know whether that arises on the business for next week, and I very much doubt whether the hon. Gentleman's solution is right. Some of the disgraceful statements which have come out of Iran have caused a great deal of concern throughout the world and should be condemned by all civilised people.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : Is my right hon. Friend, like me, amazed at the apathy and ignorance of most Members of Parliament about the work of the Council of Europe? I repeat again that we have a social charter, also in document. The transfrontier television satellite broadcasting formula has just been accepted by 12 nations. Today in London a debate on drugs has been promoted by the Council of Europe. The House seems totally unaware that there is a world outside this place. Is it not time for a debate on the work of the other institutions in Europe apart from the European Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham : Whatever the level of ignorance in these matters, I can tell my hon. Friend that his timely and occasional reminders to the House of the importance of the western European treaties and arrangements are helpful. Ignorance is being lessened day by day. I wish that I could promise an early debate, but I am afraid that I cannot.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Will the Leader of the House give us a little rough guidance about his thoughts on television? What did he mean by referring to whether the House

"wishes to go ahead with the experiment"?

Does he think that there is an option not to go ahead because he has so sanitised the proposals? Should we not go ahead--warts, Bexley, Bolsover and all?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman should perhaps have a discussion with his hon. Friends about that. The House passed a motion authorising the setting up of a Select Committee to draw up plans for an experiment. The report will come before the House for debate and the House will decide whether it wants to go ahead with the experiment that we recommend. If the hon. Gentleman reads the report from cover to cover--I know that he takes these matters very seriously--he will see that with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet,

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North (Mr. Gale), who had some very interesting views which did not find much support in Committee, the Committee was unanimous in believing that the rules of coverage should be fairly tight, at least to start with. We believe that the rules are not very dissimilar from the unwritten rules in the House of Lords, but think that it was right to set out rules of coverage. It is an experiment. If the House goes ahead with it, we shall see whether we have got it right or whether there should be any changes.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : As the debates on association football have rightly been postponed, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on rugby union football? That would give the Government an opportunity to explain to the House why, when the England XV last Saturday went to Romania--a country whose regime is vilified in all parts of the House--there were no protests. Yet when a few individuals might receive invitations to go to South Africa three junior Ministers sent off blackmail threats and letters to the respective rugby unions about the dire consequences which could occur. Are we a free country or are we not?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not know that I go along with my hon. Friend. At the moment I am concerning myself mostly with Association football and with the Bill which is in another place. I hope that that Bill will make progress in the not too distant future and will come to this House. That is enough for me to be going on with.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 850 about opting-out proposals for four Bradford hospitals, including two important hospitals, Bradford Royal infirmary and St. Luke's?

[That this House condemns the proposal for the opting-out of Bradford Royal Infirmary, St. Luke's, Lynfield Mount and Woodlands hospitals drawn up under the sponsorship of unelected bureaucrats Mark Baker and Eduard Kane ; believes that these hospitals provide highly important services and that these two bureaucrats, in proposing and endorsing these proposals, are betraying the trust placed in senior administrators by consultants, general practitioners, patients and people who work in the interest of the National Health Service ; further believes they are behaving like puppets of the Tory Government ; notes that no ballot has been held amongst either consultants, doctors, patients or National Health Service staff of any category nor amongst the taxpayers who finance the National Health Service ; and roundly condemns the anti-democratic and harmful nature of these proposals.]

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that no ballot was held among doctors, consultants, patients, nurses, porters or anyone else working in the National Health Service? The opting-out proposals were masterminded by two self-seeking, unelected bureaucrats. May we have a debate on that sort of thing, because if a ballot had been held on this issue there would have been a mighty defeat for any proposal worked out among any section of the National Health Service for any group of patients?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is not usually a man who gets rattled, but he seems to be rattled about the support for the Government's proposals for self-governing hospitals. Such hospitals will give patients more choice and produce a better quality service. Staff and local

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communities will have an opportunity to express their views on individual proposals before any formal applications are made. In the meantime, the Government greatly welcome the indication of support from all over the country.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : Many of us are receiving letters from constituents in support of the RSPCA scheme for a dog registration system. Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on this matter, if not next week, then as soon as possible, so that we can have a full discussion on a subject that is of interest to people outside?

Mr. Wakeham : I appreciate the concern and I have written a number of letters on the subject, but I do not see an early opportunity for a debate in the House. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : My business question is urgent and it relates to every hon. Member. I want to know when we are to have the debate on Members' pensions, because for one thing the widows are getting a raw deal. A report in the press says that the Government are seriously considering cutting their contribution by 50 per cent. That ain't on--we shall make sure of that. And we want a debate during the day, not one hidden away in the early hours of the morning.

Mr. Wakeham : It is nice to see a young man thinking about his pension. This is an important subject and the hon. Gentleman asked me about a debate. Over the next week or so, I propose to meet the trustees of the pension fund to discuss various matters of concern and then decide how best to have a debate. We shall arrange a debate as soon as we can after that.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental principle of a nuclear deterrent is to deter, which is based on the courage and determination of a future Prime Minister to use the nuclear weapon if necessary and the courage and determination to say so in advance? Can we have a debate on nuclear issues so that the confusion in the country about the Opposition's policy can be shown?

Mr. Wakeham : I have already said that I hope to be able to arrange for a debate on the Army in the not too distant future. I think that that will give my hon. Friend the opportunity to make his points. Several Hon. Members rose --

Adjournment Debates

Mr. Speaker : I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Friday, 26 May up to eight Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.

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Roads (White Paper)

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Statement. Mr. Channon.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I do not take points of order until after statements, but is it in connection with papers not available for this statement?

Mr. Robert Hughes : I am sorry to press a point of order at this stage. May I explain? The letter board is swamped with letters from the Department of Transport to every hon. Member from England, which I assume contain previews of the statement about to be made by the Secretary of State for Transport. We have all asked in the past for advance information, and that might be what the letters contain. My point of order is this. Written question 221 to the Secretary of State for Scotland is a planted question which is clearly intended to be a parallel statement to that being made today. No provisions are being made to inform Scottish Members of what is happening. In the interests of fairness, the Department of Transport should not abuse its position in this way. At the same time, the Secretary of State should not denigrate Scottish Members. If no statement about Scotland is to be made in this House, we should be treated properly and in the same way.

Mr. Speaker : I have no knowledge of letters on the letter board, but all hon. Members should be treated equally in the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : No. I am going to call the Minister to proceed. 4.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to announce the Government's plans to improve the motorway and trunk road network.

The sustained and unprecedented economic growth of recent years has stimulated the demand for transport to levels which are well above all forecasts.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : This is gagging the House.

Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman cannot contain himself, I shall, with the greatest reluctance, ask him to leave.

Mr. Faulds : This is gagging the House. I will withdraw.

Mr. Channon : We must maintain the economy's progress. We must also get business moving so that we are ready to seize the major opportunities presented by 1992 and the opening of the Channel tunnel in 1993.

The Government are determined to see the railways play their part. British Rail, assisted by record levels of investment, is carrying many more passengers. Rail freight can expect to benefit substantially from the Channel tunnel.

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Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A large number of Conservative Members have documents relating to this debate -- [Interruption.] Furthermore, it is said in a letter given to hon. Members of this House that copies of the White Paper would be available. When I went to the Vote Office, it was not available. Why have Conservative Members had details which were not given to Labour Members?

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