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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : Will the Leader of the House be good enough to state the business for the forthcoming week ?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 25 April----Until about Seven o'clock, Private Members' motions.

Motion on the Travellers' Allowances Order.

Motion on the HMSO Trading Fund (Amendment) order

Tuesday 26 April----Second Reading of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill [ Lords ].

Wednesday 27 April----Remaining stages of the Intelligence Services Bill [ Lords ].

Thursday 28 April----Opposition Day (11th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "The National Health Service in London" on an Opposition motion.

Friday 29 April----Private Members' motions.

I am happy to confirm that Monday 2 May will be a bank holiday.

Mrs. Beckett : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I ask him to consider, in the week after the bank holiday, finding Government time for a debate on Bosnia. He will appreciate that it has been some considerable time since that matter has been debated in the House and that a great deal has happened. It is a matter for him and his colleagues, of course, but if the debate were on the Adjournment, it would allow the full range of opinion that exists in the House to be expressed.

Will the Leader of the House also find time to debate early-day motion 1086 on the future of the scientific civil service ? [ That this House condemns the fact that decisions about the future of the scientific civil service, AEA Technology, Warren Springs Laboratory, National Engineering Laboratory, National Physical Laboratory and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist have been announced by answers to written questions : is concerned that debate should be conducted in Government time on these important matters ; and calls for such time to be made available without delay. ] It expresses considerable concern not only about the difficult future facing the scientific civil service and some very valuable research laboratories in the public service but about the way in which the Department of Trade and Industry is misusing the procedures of the House by slipping out important announcements of that kind in written answers, without any opportunity for debate or scrutiny. May I also seek statements, first, on the council tax, because of the information that some 2 million people may have been wrongly rated for council tax and are liable to backdating of any payments that may be due if it is reassessed ; and secondly, on the position with regard to the opting out of schools ? The Leader of the House will know that there is some considerable confusion about whether almost £800,000 of public money has been available for a campaign for opting out, contrary to assurances that the Government gave in the House. He will know also that the

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Secretary of State now seems to be suggesting--or at least hinting--that, as parents and governors are being so unobliging as not to decide to opt out, the Government will make them. I think that that should at least be reported to the House in a statement.

Mr. Newton : I will, of course, consider the various points raised by the right hon. Lady in the latter part of her question, although I am not sure that I entirely accept her description of the position. The right hon. Lady mentioned early-day motion 1086. I am grateful to her for, in effect, confirming that my right hon. Friends have kept the House fully informed by replying to a significant number of written questions describing the process. I note her request for a debate ; more specifically, I assure her that I have taken careful note of her request for a debate on Bosnia, although I cannot make any commitment at this stage.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton) : Will my right hon. Friend take note of early-day motion 1057 ?

[ That this House commends the commitment and dedication of the personnel in the Obscene Publications Branch at New Scotland Yard ; recognises their unique national role and expertise in investigating child pornography and paedophile rings ; notes the ever-growing complexity and volume of computer pornography with which the branch deals ; and calls upon the Home Secretary to ensure that the Commissioner abandons any plan to close the Obscene Publications Branch and that this specialist squad is assured a continuing and strengthened place in the Metropolitan Police on the conclusion of the current restructuring review. ]

The motion, which is tabled in my name, concerns the proposal to disband the obscene publications squad at New Scotland Yard. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the success of that unit, and its commitment to bringing child pornographers and paedophiles to book ? Is he aware of the strength of our belief that the squad should be given more resources and more power within the restructuring process ? The proposal to disband it will be applauded by peddlers of pornography throughout the United Kingdom. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the subject very soon ?

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Newton : There is clearly a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's general comments.

I understand that the Commissioner is reviewing headquarters functions generally, including those of this branch. I assure my hon. Friend that both the Commissioner and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary intend to ensure that any changes help, rather than hinder, the fight against pornography and paedophilia.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Tomorrow's business includes a debate on the Energy Conservation Bill. Will the Leader of the House reconsider the Government's decision to table more than 200 amendments to a Bill to which only five Government amendments were tabled in Committee ? Is there not a danger that the new Government strategy is to ignore Committee stages of private Members' Bills, the better to waste the House's time on Report ? As Leader of the House, should not the right hon. Gentleman be concerned about that ?

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Mr. Newton : I understand that the amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are not Government amendments

Mr. Beith : Fifty of them are in the name of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Newton : Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman referred to a rather larger number. It is open to hon. Members to table such amendments as they think fit, and I do not wish to take that right away from them. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment made some comments from the Dispatch Box yesterday which I heard ; no doubt there will be ample opportunity for a full debate on these matters tomorrow.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that people outside this place find it not only incomprehensible but disgraceful that there has been no debate on Bosnia, given the gravity of the situation there and the fact that we have had so little time to debate it specifically over the past three years ? Will he please consider changing the business next week--even Monday's business ? Could we at least have a three-hour debate after private Members' motions ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend and I had some informal exchanges about the matter earlier. I pay tribute to him again, and hope that he does not mind my mentioning our earlier conversation. I am aware of the strength of his feeling ; he will have heard what I said to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), however, and I cannot add to that at this stage.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Leader of the House aware that a tremendous number of old-age pensioners in every constituency in Britain are complaining about the fact that they cannot obtain fair treatment on the national health service ? Will he call on the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement--either tomorrow or early next week-- including a commitment that there will be fair and equal treatment for everyone from the cradle to the grave, including pensioners, and that instructions along those lines will be issued to every health authority ?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it very clear on a number of occasions that that is indeed our approach to the health service. Let me add that, in connection with one of the cases referred to last week, the Brighton healthcare trust has written to all general practitioners making it clear that there is no policy of discrimination against elderly patients in the provision of the services involved.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I regret, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that no business was announced for the May day bank holiday. Is it not time that we got rid of that nasty little, unwashed, unloved socialist anniversary ?

Mr. Newton : I understand why my hon. Friend asked that question. He will understand why I simply say that I shall be quite happy to have a day off.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) : Will the Leader of the House find Government time next week to debate the crisis in manufacturing industry ? Babcock plc announced today that 400-plus jobs are to be lost-- many at the Renfrew plant in my constituency, which has lost more than 90 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years. I am sure that is just a microcosm of what is

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happening in the rest of the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman find Government time to discuss that crisis next week ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate. Her Majesty's Opposition have some time available next week and could change its use if they wanted. I am aware of the job losses to which the hon. Lady referred and acknowledge that that is unwelcome news. I understand that it is part of restructuring intended to ensure the company's long-term future, and that must ultimately be in the interests of all involved.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss with the Liberal Democrats the newspaper article in which their leader welcomed what he described as the Thatcher revolution which has spread economic power, liberated markets and helped the individual ? Can time be found for a debate to commemorate that, and the highly original thinking that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has been exploring under the banner of what he terms "Power to the People", which he described as spreading political power ? Would not that give us an opportunity to warn the right hon. Gentleman that if he carries through his plan of abandoning our national veto, the only power spread will be the power of the House going to Brussels ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend makes two excellent points and encourages me to consider giving time to the Liberals, to provide an opportunity to discuss those matters on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South) : Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that not only workers but management in manufacturing industry throughout Britain are fed up with the Government turning Nelson's eye to that industry ? Will he reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and find time next week to debate manufacturing industry ? Each time there are massive job losses, we are told that it is restructuring to ensure viability--but they are followed by more job losses.

Mr. Newton : While understanding why the hon. Gentleman asked that question, I cannot add to my reply to the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams). When I consider what has happened in recent times in attracting new manufacturing investment to this country and the way that it is generating new trade and exports, I cannot accept that manufacturing industry has been neglected or is going into further decline, in general terms.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Can my right hon. Friend urgently arrange for a statement next week by a Minister from the Department of the Environment on the approval of Dover harbour board's plans to create new jobs in the port of Dover, which will involve bringing new offices, equipment, supermarkets and shops to Dover, and will be of immense benefit to the town ? Will he give all the support that he can, to make sure that decisions that will benefit Dover are brought forward as fast as possible ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise to bring my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the House for that specific purpose, but I will certainly make sure that he is made aware of my hon. Friend's understandable concern.

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Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in calling for a debate on Bosnia, and the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) in urging the Leader of the House to change Monday's business to facilitate such a debate. As a major diplomatic effort is under way to find a solution to that terrible crisis, surely the House should be given an opportunity to debate what is occurring and the protection given to so-called safe areas, and to give critics of the Government a proper opportunity to set out their alternatives to Government policy. Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently consider that request, with a view to changing Monday's business ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot add to what I have said previously. I have made it clear--this will be the third occasion--that I am listening carefully to the representations that are being made.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the economy, if not next week then the following week ? Although the media say nothing about it, there is a lot of good news and some of us on the Government side would like the opportunity of giving voice to it.

Mr. Newton : That question links with one asked of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about why we have not heard so much about unemployment from the Labour Front Bench recently. The fact is that the increasing flow of good economic news is one of the most striking features of our affairs at present. Of course, I shall look for time when that might be brought to the public's attention more fully.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his earlier answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed (Mr. Beith), because some of the amendments tabled by the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Energy Conservation Bill tomorrow will remove Northern Ireland from the scope of the Bill, which hon. Members on this Bench particularly resent ?

Mr. Newton : I should not have thought that that comment, while it may undoubtedly lead the hon. Gentleman to wish to make some comments in the debate tomorrow, would sensibly change the answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North) : Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on tourism ? Is he aware that tourism is the world's fastest growing industry, one of the world's most intensive labour industries and the United Kingdom's second largest industry ? Is he aware that the last time tourism was debated in the House was one year ago and that on that occasion the Minister responsible promised that he would try to ensure that there was an annual debate ? Will my right hon. Friend assist the Minister to make that promise a reality ?

Mr. Newton : I recall the debate one year ago, which followed persistent pressure on me at the Dispatch Box of the sort that my hon. Friend is renewing. I hope that I may be able to respond in an appropriate way at the appropriate moment.

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Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : Thank you Madam Speaker. Thank you, thank you-- [Interruption.] --and thank you again.

Madam Speaker : It is good to see the hon. Member keeping up appearances.

Mr. Faulds : I am most grateful. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in the House where we can comment on the misguided and damaging conduct of the Governor of Hong Kong, and where we can examine the latest report on China from the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is full of lunacies and which has, unfortunately, been produced by a Committee peopled by ignoramuses ?

Mr. Newton : In the light of the hon. Gentleman's phraseology, counsels of caution lead me to fall short of promising such a debate.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of the weekend reports about the serious water pollution incident in my constituency of Worcester. I think that it also affects the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) and for Gloucester (Mr. French). So far, there has been no statement, question or debate on the subject in the House. My right hon. Friend will be aware that when a similar incident took place in London four years ago, a statement was forthcoming very quickly. May I press him for the earliest possible statement or debate in the House on this most important matter ?

Mr. Newton : Obviously, I will consider what my hon. Friend says and, indeed, look at the precedent to which he refers. More particularly, I will ensure that his comments are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Though a debate on Bosnia is essential, if there is no debate next week, can we have a statement again on the latest position in Bosnia, bearing in mind that Gorazde is under murderous siege ? At least 44 people died yesterday and 137 were wounded. Indeed, the doctor connected with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that people are dying like rats. How much longer can the international community carry on like that when Serbian aggression is at its worst and crimes and atrocities are taking place ? At least we should have a statement again as early as possible.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's Question Time on the efforts that are being made in those matters.

Even if I have not been able to respond immediately to the hon. Gentleman's requests for a debate, I have demonstrated for many months now that I mean what I say when I say that we will arrange for statements to be made when it seems appropriate.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on drugs and criminality, the need for which is evidenced by the difficulties that the police have had in my constituency in successfully uncovering two drug factories ? Will he also use the debate as an opportunity to highlight the activities of the IRA with regard to drugs and to emphasise the weakness of the Opposition's policies on drugs matters ?

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Mr. Newton : May I first extend my sympathy to my hon. Friend ? He is obviously suffering in a similar way to that in which I have suffered in the past week or two. Fortunately, I now seem to be a bit better than he is.

My hon. Friend knows well that the Government attach great importance to preventing drug misuse and to curbing the supply of drugs and the like. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reference to a succesful venture in that field. We also attach importance to any action that can contribute to cutting the flow of funds for terrorism.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the appalling way in which the Tories are running Calderdale council ? Is he aware of the chaos in the social services department where there is a £2 million underspend, and yet elderly people cannot get home helps ? The council is also sacking wardens and threatening to close old people's homes.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also ask the Secretary of State to look at what the Tories are doing with the green belt policy, as they are driving a coach and horses through it ?

Mr. Newton : I will, of course, draw the hon. Lady's questions to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I should perhaps make the point that he was here to answer questions only yesterday.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My right hon. Friend is probably aware of discussions in the City of London shipping circles about the fact that the British merchant navy register is slowly but surely disappearing out of sight through a lack of numbers. There is a suggestion from the Baltic Exchange that there should be a British overseas register, which would possibly capture a lot of the Chinese shipowners who will have nowhere to go after 1997.

Is it possible to have a debate in depth on the future of the British shipping register ? Where do we go from here ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will be well aware that his questions are properly directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. While I shall not seek to pre-empt his role, I will make sure that the points are brought to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May we have a debate next week on the threat to endangered species ? We would then have an opportunity to discuss the threat to the giant land tortoises on Isabella in the Galapagos islands which have been threatened by a terrible fire.

Will the Leader of the House draw to the Prime Minister's attention the reply given to me by his predecessor in March 1985, when I asked her, following a previous fire on the island, whether she would send resources ? She acted admirably and quickly with some very good help. Will the Leader of the House say to the Prime Minister today that he should emulate his predecessor in that respect ?

Mr. Newton : I must admit that I was not aware of he precedent to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's attention is drawn to the proposal.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Would my right hon. Friend care to have a debate next week on

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Northern Ireland security ? I raise that in view of the death yesterday of an RUC policeman in Londonderry, plus two serious injuries by the IRA. Does he agree that it is appropriate for the House to be given an up-to-date assessment by the Government about counter- terrorism and also, importantly, about our relationship with the Republic in that regard ?

Mr. Newton : The House would want me to acknowledge my hon. Friend's question first by extending our sympathy to the relatives of the policeman who was killed yesterday. I would want to say that on behalf of everybody.

As for the rest of my hon. Friend's remarks, I cannot at this moment promise a debate. I draw her attention to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is due to answer questions next Thursday.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on "Taking Stock" so that the Government can attempt to reconcile last year's theory of paying attention to Scottish interests with this year's practice of sending Scottish Water into quangoland ? Does the Leader of the House have any message for the 1 million-plus people in Strathclyde who voted to keep Scottish water under local democratic control ? Why should their votes and their voice be less important than the five English Tories who decided every Division of the 102 in the Standing Committee that considered the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill ?

Mr. Newton : The message that I would give--not least to the hon. Gentleman--is that the Government will seek to maintain the Union and to ensure that matters pertaining to Scotland are discussed in a way appropriate to the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : Will my right hon. Friend think again about a debate on manufacturing industry so that we may have the opportunity at an early stage to discuss matters such as the minimum wage, the Opposition's approval of the social provisions and the fact that manufacturing industry needs to keep its costs low, which the Opposition would never allow it to do ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend raises several very good points. They are perhaps related to some of the questions that I was asked earlier. It is another excellent idea for a debate. I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 963 ?

[ That this House condemns the decision of Leicester Royal Infirmary Trust to increase the rents of new student nurses from £12.25 per week to £32 per week, an increase of 250 per cent. ; notes that existing student nurses are fearful and anxious that the proposed rent increases will be extended to them ; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Health either to continue to subsidise through central Government funds rents for student nurses or to support an increase in the bursary of student nurses from £83.07 per week to pay for the rent increases. ]

It highlights the plight of student nurses at Leicester royal infirmary, who face rent increases of 250 per cent. as a result of unilateral action taken by Leicester royal infirmary trust. Will the Leader of the House join me in

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condemning that decision and arrange an urgent debate so that we can discuss the general principle involved ? If he cannot find time in the immediate future, will he draw the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health as a matter of urgency ?

Mr. Newton : On the latter point about drawing the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend, of course the answer is yes. I understand that the revised charges include electricity, gas and water and compare favourably with the rented housing market and charges to other students, including university students.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : Now that we have completed all stages of the Finance Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate about the taxation policies of the Opposition parties ? May I draw his attention to the council tax in Colchester and the fact that Essex county council and Colchester borough council, both under Lib-Lab control, received substantial extra grants, yet have still increased the council tax ? Does not that show that, whereas we increase taxes only when we have to, the Opposition parties tax at every opportunity ?

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has waited a long time to make debating points. We are not on debating points at this stage. We are asking for a debate next week. Will the Leader of the House do his best to reply to the first part of that question ?

Mr. Newton : I shall merely make the observation that I, too, am an Essex council tax payer.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : Will the Leader of the House please arrange for the Home Secretary to come here urgently next week to make a statement about private security firms ? There is considerable concern at some of the cowboys who are going around. Particularly in my constituency, postcards are being handed out on old people's estates which say, "Put this in your window. We will collect £1 a week and we will then guard you." That is an urgent matter and I should be grateful to the Leader of the House if he would draw it to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Newton : I will draw it to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention, but it is less than an hour since he left the House after answering questions. As it happens, he will be here again next week for the Second Reading of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. It is not for me to say whether that matter would be in order, but there is always scope for ingenuity.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May we have a debate next week on the teaching and learning of history, particularly military history, with a view to evaluating immediate responses to great battles such as Waterloo, Trafalgar

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : And Bannockburn.

Mr. Greenway : Not forgetting Bannockburn. We could evaluate the reaction of people who took part in those battles and their thanksgiving for victories, as well as

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their wish to celebrate them in succeeding generations. We could also consider the part of lay people in military battles--for example, the contribution of Vera Lynn.

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's question echoes some of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) during Prime Minister's Question Time. One thing that we can all agree is that all, or most, of those great events--certainly D-day--entailed a huge effort by the whole population, although they obviously entailed special effort and sacrifice by fighting troops.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : Is the Leader of the House aware of early-day motion 1075 drawing the attention of the House to the recent Home Office publication, "Fear of Crime", which finds that 48 per cent. of all women and 58 per cent. of women over the age of 60 find that fear of crime blights their lives ? [ That this House notes the results of the Home Office's Fear of Crime study published on 19th April showing that 49 per cent. of women and 63 per cent. of women over 60 feel very' or fairly' unsafe when going out at night ; considers this to be an unacceptable state of affairs ; is concerned by the increasing use of television reconstructions of true life crimes portraying violence against women which are broadcast for purposes other than the apprehension of criminals ; and urges the Secretary of State for National Heritage to enter into discussions with television companies to monitor the use of such programmes and to ensure that programme makers are not permitted to exploit and worsen women's fears, understandable in the light of an increase in reported rapes of over 300 per cent. since 1979, of violent crime. ] Would it be possible to have an early debate on the issue, as a growing body of opinion finds that television programmes that attempt to re-create real-life crimes help to feed and foster the fear and perception of crime ?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will shortly be meeting the chairmen of the main broadcasting organisations and the Broadcasting Standards Council to discuss whether all that can be done on that matter is being done.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the International Monetary Fund, during which attention could be drawn to the IMF pronouncement yesterday that Britain is one of the few economic bright spots in the world ? Perhaps a contrast could be drawn between that and the IMF description of the last Labour Government, when the organisation was the last refuge and listening post of bankrupt Labour Chancellors presiding over rampant inflation, rising unemployment and empty balances.

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