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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : 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. Tony Newton) : Yes, Madam Speaker. The business for nexweek will be as follows :

Monday 28 March----Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Tuesday 29 March----Motion on the Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) order.

Motion from the Committee of Selection on the Membership of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Wednesday 30 March----Opposition Day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate described as "Pension transfers and the need for direct regulation of the private pensions sector", on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 31 March----Debates on the Adjournment.

It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that the business for the first week back after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows :

Tuesday 12 April----Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Wednesday 13 April----Conclusion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Thursday 14 April----Opposition Day (9th allotted day).

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, of which the subject is to be announced.

Friday 15 April----Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 30 March to consider European Community document No. 6703/88 relating to equal pay and the supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the burden of proof in the area of equal pay and equal treatment for women and men. [Wednesday 30 March :

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community document : 6703/88, Burden of Proof (Equal opportunities). Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports : HC 43-xxxiv (1987-88), HC 15-iv (1988-89), HC 15-xxv (1988-89), HC 79-i (1992-93) and HC 48-v (1993-94).]

Mrs. Beckett : I thank the Leader of the House for that statement, and in particular for giving us some indication of what he has in mind for the week after the recess.

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about the new timetable that he seems to have announced for the privatisation of British Rail ? Is the Lord President aware that, at Asea Brown Boveri in Derby, 700 job losses were announced today, not because the company is uncompetitive or because we do not need new rolling stock, but because, as a direct result of the continued shambles of rail privatisation, there are no orders for which to compete ? We would like an early statement from the Secretary of State on what is happening in that regard. Will the Lord President also find time for a debate on the increase in prescription charges ? He may recall that this year they amount to yet another tax on the sick, as they have gone up by five or six times the rate of inflation. In

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those circumstances, is not the least that we can expect that the Secretary of State for Health comes to the House to account for such a huge increase ?

Finally, as the Attorney-General is now giving statements to the press about his evidence to the Scott inquiry, will the Lord President press him to reconsider his refusal to make a statement to the House ?

Mr. Newton : It seems to me that, at a time when the

Attorney-General is, or can only recently have finished, giving evidence today--I understand that he is expected to give further evidence tomorrow to the inquiry--the last of the right hon. Lady's questions is wholly inappropriate.

On the right hon. Lady's first question, I cannot make an immediate promise about statements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but I am sure that the whole House would wish to express its regret at redundancies, whether they are in Derbyshire or in any other part of the United Kingdom. I will of course bring her comments to my right hon. Friend's attention.

I cannot promise a debate on prescription charges. No doubt there will be opportunities to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I must say that I find it difficult to understand what point the right hon. Lady would make, given that she would effectively be seeking to deny the national health service money that could be spent on patient treatment, new hospitals and the like, at a time when she is constantly calling for more.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Will my right hon. Friend provide time in the near future for the House to discuss the system of law-making in the European Community ? Is he aware that there is widespread support for the Government's patriotic and constitutional attitude to voting in the Community, and rising concern about another matter ? In 1992, the Community passed 1,526 regulations and 122 directives ; in each case, there was no proper examination of that ill-considered and intrusive flood of foreign legislation.

Mr. Newton : I have three comments to make. First, we have well- established arrangements in the House for scrutiny of much of this material --although, given what he has said, I acknowledge that my hon. Friend probably does not think them sufficiently satisfactory. Secondly, the Government's increasingly successful emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity should reduce that flow, and perhaps even reverse it in some respects. Thirdly, my hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about the Community's mechanisms generally in response to a question at Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : The notice of our business after Easter is extremely welcome. I am especially pleased that the Leader of the House has found time to allow three days for the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. He will be aware, however, that crucial issues are involved in that Report stage--some of them subject to a free vote, on a non-party line basis. What steps is he taking to make the order of consideration of clauses available to the House as soon as possible, so that hon. Members can make their dispositions accordingly ?

Mr. Newton : Part of that question is really for you, Madam Speaker. There is, however, an established order of

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discussion in the ordinary course of events : Government new clauses come first, followed by other new clauses, and so on. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with that procedure, but my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be glad to give him any help we can.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. One sometimes feels in this job that there are more brickbats than plaudits.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to let us have a debate on the magnifying, exponential curve of regulations that arrive not just from Europe but from this country, and their utter absurdity and impropriety if we believe in a free society ?

Mr. Newton : In addition to what I said a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) about European matters, let me draw the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) to the major effort being led by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, under the general heading of deregulation. Given that a Bill on the subject is currently being considered, there will certainly be opportunities for discussion in due course.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May we have a statement at senior level--not just from junior Scottish Office Ministers--about what has happened in Strathclyde ? Will the Leader of the House take it from me, with my particular political history, that the matter raises very serious problems for the Union between England and Scotland, exceeding those simply connected with water ? If it is seen that no notice is taken of the issue, and it is dismissed from--if I may say so--a rather haughty position, there will be real and lasting trouble in Scotland.

Mr. Newton : Let me make two points. First, the Local Government (Etc.) (Scotland) Bill is still in Committee, and the hon. Gentleman is a member of that Committee ; secondly, the hon. Gentleman has had a statement --or, at least, a comment--within the past quarter of an hour from a very senior figure indeed.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that we debate foreign affairs far too rarely in this House ? Could not Tuesday's business be changed ? Instead of debating what he has announced, could we have a debate on the Balkans ?

Mr. Newton : I recognise and respect my hon. Friend's reasons for pressing me again on the matter, but there are a quite of number of people to whom it is important that we should proceed with the establishment of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that right hon. and hon. Members are being told that tomorrow the Government will be laying an amendment to the Service Pensions Order that will affect war pensions and war widows' pensions ? Is he further aware that it is the Government's intention, as stated by the Minister responsible for war pensions in another place, to make the order effective on Monday next week--28 March--leaving only two non-parliamentary days, Saturday and Sunday, in between ? Would that not be grossly contemptuous of this House ?

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Mr. Newton : I do not believe that my right hon. Friend would behave in a way that was grossly contemptuous of the House. I understand that he is following established procedures for amending war pension provisions, but I shall bring the right hon. Gentleman's comments to his attention.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that businesses in Kent are under great threat both from the flood of foreign apples and other fruit, which is damaging Kent's fruit industry, and from the licensed trade's difficulties with differential tariffs on drink ? Will he allow a discussion of those matters in the House, as they are of great concern to the people of Kent ?

Mr. Newton : I take note of my hon. Friend's comments. As a Member of Parliament representing the county across the Thames, I can say that apple growers in Essex might also express some concern. I cannot immediately promise a debate, but there will be an opportunity to comment on agricultural matters at least during the rest of today's proceedings.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on transport so that we could incorporate a discussion on early-day motion 939, on the takeover of Yorkshire Rider by Badgerline ?

[ That this House notes the proposed £38 million buy-out of Yorkshire Rider bus company by Badgerline ; further notes that Yorkshire Rider is 49 per cent. owned by the employees who have not been consulted in the deal ; is concerned at the paucity of the offer bearing in mind Yorkshire Rider's £86 million turnover and £10 million of assets ; recognises that the success of Yorkshire Rider in maintaining a viable network in West Yorkshire is because of sacrifices over a number of years by the workforce including pay cuts ; is concerned at reports of profits on the deal for directors of up to £3.8 million each ; and calls on the Secretary of State for Transport and the President of the Board of Trade to intervene to protect the interests of the travelling public in West Yorkshire. ] On the face of it, that takeover has been brought about because the directors received very generous contributions for agreeing to the takeover. It places in jeopardy the public services built up by Yorkshire Rider, which is 49 per cent. owned by the workers who provide the Yorkshire Rider service but who have not been consulted on that takeover. Surely we could debate the involvement of the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Transport in the matter, which could seriously jeopardise transport in west Yorkshire.

Mr. Newton : I understand that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade may be required to make a decision on that takeover under his merger control powers, in the light of advice from the Director General of Fair Trading. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that, under those circumstances, it would not be appropriate at present for me or the President of the Board of Trade to comment.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade cannot come into effect until more than 100 Parliaments ratify the treaty ? Although the House will not be one of those 100 or more, for reasons of which my right hon. Friend will be aware,

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does he not agree that we should none the less have the opportunity to debate some of the implications of the Uruguay round, particularly in view of the reservations and doubts expressed by certain industries in this country ?

Mr. Newton : I take note of my hon. Friend's request, although I cannot immediately give an undertaking of a debate at a particular time.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about his role in the planning of the imminent visit to the United Kingdom by the President of the Republic of Ireland ? The Secretary of State describes it as a private visit, but Mrs. Robinson will be carrying out public engagements and, in particular, will be entering my constituency as if she were the President of it and the rest of Northern Ireland. She will be acting in a manner that is discourteous to Her Majesty the Queen, and as if the constitutional claim in the Irish constitution were a reality. That has been connived at by the Secretary of State and organised by persons who draw their income from the British taxpayer. I wonder what will be done about such disloyal conduct.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman would not expect me readily to accept the sort of language that he has used, even though it might have been in order. I shall simply bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Can my right hon. Friend find time during the next two parliamentary weeks to debate early-day motion 910, entitled. "Lady Thatcher's visit to Chile", tabled by 44 left- wing Labour Members of Parliament ? It is full of historical falsehoods and vile and malign sentiments towards the Government and people of Chile, which is a good friend and ally.

[ That this House is appalled that in her visit to Chile Lady Thatcher is meeting representatives of the former military junta, including a reported meeting with General Pinochet ; recalls that the junta led to the death or disappearance of over 50,000 people and that one million were forced into exile ; and further recalls that the Government of Lady Thatcher supplied arms to Chile and used their military support for the Falklands war and that it endorsed the ruinous monetarist economic strategy that destroyed Chile's public services and impoverished millions. ]

When considering that motion, will my right hon. Friend take note of the two amendments that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) tabled to try to set the record straight, not least about the Falklands war and other related matters ?

Mr. Newton : As always, I shall take note of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. Lady Thatcher's visit to Chile was a private visit, and we enjoy excellent relations with that country.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department at some time next week to make a statement to the House on the fire service ? Is he aware that much concern has been expressed by communities and by

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industry about the limitations imposed on local fire authorities when carrying out their obligations and responsibilities for proper and adequate fire cover ?

Mr. Newton : The House may be seeing a fair amount of my right hon. and learned Friend during the next few days, because of the business that I have announced, although I accept that we will not be debating the fire service. However, I shall bring that question to his attention.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Following the point made by hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), can we use the impasse over 23/27 to start a very important debate in Europe about how Europe is governed, in particular ; how we can constrain and redirect the powers of the Commission ; how we can ensure subsidiarity so that laws that should be made by national Parliaments are made by national Parliaments ; how we can ensure a system of legislative certainty so that we know, when we pass laws in this House, that they will not be overwhelmed by European institutions ; and how we can deal with the democratic deficit in Europe, for example, this terrible system at the moment

Madam Speaker : Order. This is not the occasion for a debate on European matters. I am sure that the Leader of the House has got the gist of the question. Am I right ?

Mr. Marlow : Can I just finish ?

Madam Speaker : No. I am in a position to ask the Leader of the House to answer one question only. He can therefore choose which of those questions he wishes to answer.

Mr. Newton. If I might answer two questions, Madam Speaker, but the first would be yours. Yes, I had got the gist of my hon. Friend's questions. As to his message, I refer him to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Since the Attorney-General had time yesterday to give interviews to the BBC and ITN before giving evidence to the Scott inquiry today, why did the Leader of the House not ensure that any such statements were made in the House, where we could question him ? We well understand, however, that the Attorney-General does not want to be made the fall guy by the Cabinet for all the lying to Parliament and the rest that the Scott inquiry is looking into.

Mr. Newton. Since the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends appear to be running in and out of the inquiry giving a running commentary on the proceedings in a way that I find distasteful and deplorable, I am not sure that I want to respond to his direct comments.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Can we have a debate on the interests of manufacturing industry, which is now in recovery but is distinguished from other forms of commercial activity by its capital- intensive nature ? If we were to have a debate, could we discuss the one measure that would change the fortunes of small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses--the abolition of capital gains tax ?

Mr. Newton. As they say, that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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As it happens, he will be here to answer questions during the first week back after the Easter recess, and I shall warn him of what is coming.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) rose

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : You're in, sailor.

Mr. Faulds : No thanks to you ; you are never off your feet. I am sorry, Madam Speaker.

When will the right hon. Gentleman afford the House the opportunity to debate the massive misjudgments of policy of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Governor of Hong Kong about the future relations between Hong Kong and China in the next two or three years, and the appalling effects these misunderstandings on the part of the Government will have on our relations with that immensely important country, China ?

Mr. Newton : I have already said that the Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions next Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman might care to put that question to him then--but I must make it clear that I do not accept his description of the efforts that the British Government are making to ensure the continuation and advance of democratic institutions in Hong Kong.

Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester) : My right hon. Friend always has the interests of the whole House at heart, so I assume that to keep himself well briefed he has read the current issue of Tribune . May I refer him to an excellent article by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who suggests an ideal subject for debate on the Opposition day that is not yet full ? The article is about economic policy and the Labour party's policy, and the hon. Gentleman simply says, "What is Labour going to do ? Nobody knows." May I recommend that as a subject ? At least the debate would be short.

Mr. Newton : I am duly grateful to my hon. Friend. I noticed that not a flicker passed across the face of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), but I hope that at least she has noted the suggestion.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : May I ask the Leader of the House to listen to the growing calls from both sides of the House for increased scrutiny of EC legislation ? We do not have adequate scrutiny of matters such as the green paper on social policy, parental leave, part-time workers and now equal pay. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision to debate all that in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House, where issues of such great importance should properly be debated ?

Mr. Newton : Of course I always consider representations, but I would not want to build up too many hopes in the hon. Lady's mind. When she talks about scrutiny of European documents, she might be on a stronger wicket if there was any evidence that the leader of her party read the documents that he signed.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) : Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for an important debate to show that council tax payers are much better off under Conservative than under Labour or Liberal councils ? May we debate in particular Castle Point council's latest performance ? That Conservative council has cut its council tax by 23 per cent., and at the same time tremendously increased services.

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Mr. Newton : I would happily provide time for such a debate were I not somewhat fearful that it might excite demands for debates on all the other highly successful and economical Conservative councils all over the country.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate about the employment practices of multinational corporations such as SmithKline, which take over British companies such as Beecham and sell off part of their products ? Without consultation, SmithKline has shut the factory at St. Helens, which has been there for 100 years, and thrown 600 workers on to the dole queues. Surely the House should debate such issues, especially when the company concerned increased its profits by 12 per cent. last year to £1.22 billion.

Mr. Newton : Perhaps I could draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) pointed out, an Opposition day is, as it were, vacant at the moment. It has been striking that, ever since unemployment started to fall, the Opposition have shied away from discussing matters relating to employment.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : May I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange an early debate to examine the workings of the Race Relations Act 1976 ? That would give us an opportunity to understand how, with apparent legality, the London borough of Greenwich can place an advertisement in the press for a black social worker, and to contrast that with the howls of indignation that would come from the Opposition if a Conservative borough council advertised for a white social worker.

Mr. Newton : Probably thanks to the good offices of my hon. Friend, I have the advertisement here. There is something extraordinary about an advertisement that ends by saying that the council is operating an equal opportunities policy, yet is headed with a request for a black social worker. I should have thought that the relevant commission might wish to examine that.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), may we have a debate on early-day motion 927, which deals with Strathclyde's water referendum in which more than 1.2 million people participated, more than 97 per cent. of whom voted against the Government's proposals to transfer Scotland's water from elected local authorities to non-elected quangos ?

[ That this House congratulates Strathclyde Regional Council for holding a referendum on the future of water and sewerage services which was carried out by the Independent Electoral Reform Ballot Services Ltd. and which asked only the simple question Do you agree with the Government's proposal for the future of water and sewerage services-Yes or No ?' ; notes that 1,720,940 ballot papers were issued, 1,230,328 were returned, a rate of participation of 71.5 per cent., of whom an overwhelming 1,194,667 or 97.2 per cent. voted No' and only a meagre 33,956 or 2.8 per cent. voted Yes' ; considers this to have been a fair and democratic ballot ; and therefore calls upon the Government to scrap its plans to put appointed quangos in charge of Scotland's water and sewerage services. ]

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Will the Government listen for once to the voice of the people and ensure that Scotland's water remains the property of the people, accountable to the people, through the elected representatives of the people ?

Mr. Newton : Taking that as a straightforward request for a debate and ignoring the surrounding rhetoric, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Local Government Etc. (Scotland) Bill, which deals with such matters, is currently in Committee, and will in due course return to be debated on the Floor of the House ; so he will get his debate.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Will my right hon. Friend give urgent attention to the need for a debate on sex education in schools ? Is he aware of the grave concern felt by parents about the stories that have just emerged about explicit material being foisted on 10 and 11-year- olds ? Does he agree that the House should be debating the fact that children's teaching should emphasise morals and family values ?

Mr. Newton : I think that many other hon. Members will share the concern recently expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. Clearly, he will be giving further consideration to the matter raised by my hon. Friend in light of the findings of the investigation currently being carried out by the local education authority in the area.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : As the Home Office seems to be in a condition of shambolic siege over its handling of the hunger strike at Campsfield detention centre--with the refusal to allow me to visit the centre today now being described as "a mistake" and the refusal of Ministers to meet hon. Members to discuss the hunger strikes being denied altogether--will the Leader of the House persuade the Home Secretary to make a full statement about the hunger strikes on Monday, bearing in mind the fact that there is to be a demonstration outside the centre on Saturday, calling for it to be closed ?

Mr. Newton : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has yet had the opportunity to study the very long and full letter sent to him today by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. If he has, I am sure he will accept that the description he gave is not a faithful account of what happened. The hon. Gentleman will know that the problem has been that the situation at Campsfield is rather difficult, with the detainees still refusing food. The officials who would have been involved in the hon. Gentleman's visit are heavily engaged in that situation, and my hon. Friend's judgment was simply that the visit should be postponed until next week.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : May I first congratulate the Leader of the House on arranging debates on housing, which have allowed Conservative Members to draw attention to the number of vacant houses and flats in public ownership, which could be better used by those who live in overcrowded conditions ?

Will he, however, arrange for a debate on the Palace of Westminster and the number of its rooms and offices in public ownership which are under- utilised or not used at all ? May I draw his attention to five such rooms in Dean's Yard, which have been locked since Christmas and from

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which hon. Members have been banned by the Serjeant at Arms, who said that any hon. Member using them would be accused of squatting ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend has written to me to draw the matter to my attention, and I am making further inquiries.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : May we please have an early debate on the reported bizarre and wholly unacceptable suggestion that German troops should take part in the VE day parade ? Is he aware that ex- service men such as myself and, I think, most of the British people, especially those who would like and are seeking reconciliation, would regard that as the worst possible way of achieving that reconciliation because it would stir up controversy and ill will where none was intended, and cause gross offence ?

Mr. Newton : There seems to have been some misunderstanding about these matters in recent days, but I hope that things have now been made clear in a way that the hon. and learned Gentleman has found satisfactory.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week, or after the recess, on Post Office practices- -particularly on the failure to consult communities such as that in Greenford before closing the facility that allowed people to collect their undelivered mail ? Is he aware that, if the facility is closed, people will have to travel two miles to collect their mail, regardless of their age ? That is a disgrace. The House should consider the unsatisfactory way in which the Post Office is operating in certain circumstances.

Mr. Newton : It is clear that my hon. Friend has already raised the matter with the Post Office. I am sure that the Post Office will look carefully at what he has said, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade sees what he has said as well.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the targets that she intends to put in place for the early treatment of cancer patients throughout the national health service ? No targets are being set, and there is no information about why the NHS in its new trust form is not complying with the guidelines of the Council of Oncologists. After the debate last week, will the Leader of the House insist that some answers are given by Her Majesty's Government ?

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