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6.46 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I am pleased to be able to speak in what I consider a very important debate.

I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) will not think me churlish when I say that many people feel that their campaigning was what led to the remission of VAT on adult education. Admittedly, the hon. Gentleman did not say that the campaigning of the Labour party alone had produced that result. The all-party Committee dealing with adult education, which I chair, has campaigned hard and I also pay tribute to the good work of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, its director Alan Tucket and others associated with it.

Mr. Andrew Smith : I did praise the campaign mounted by people up and down the country. I meant that to include the all-party group, whose contribution I acknowledge ; I also mentioned NIACE.

Mr. Greenway : In that case, there is no difference between us. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Although I taught in schools for 23 years, for 12 of those years I also lectured in adult education, in which I have a great interest. I believe that I am almost the longest-serving member of the council of the Open university ; I constantly examine distance learning on a university basis, and that includes adult education. The organisation is very interested in this important order and we are glad that it is to be introduced as early as 1 August.

The hon. Member for Oxford, East concentrated on the teaching of English as a foreign language, which is indeed an important subject. Every night, 1 billion people throughout the world sit down and study English as a foreign language. If there were more resources, that figure could rise to 5 billion. The demand is almost insatiable. Arising from that demand and flowing from that work is the enormous flow to this country of people who wish to learn English. They come to language schools, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and that brings money into the country. It brings employment. It is most valuable. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that some of those institutions are an unashamed and disgraceful rip off to those who come to this country honestly and pay their money for a course in English language and English literature and do not get a fair deal. I feel sure that the exemption in the order will--perhaps fortuitously, but it will--lead to regulation of that situation, which is greatly needed.

There is no reason why language schools should not pay for the accreditation and inspections which have been referred to and which are urgently required. Some, of course, are quite marvellous, but some do not do an honourable and honest job.

There needs to be a thorough inspection system across the country. I have no doubt that it could be self financing ; language schools charge enough in their fees. The hon. Gentleman might well agree, because he said that they might well have to resort to law if they thought that they were not getting a fair deal. If they thought about doing that, and some of them certainly would, it would not be just a few hundred pounds ; legal action might mean hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some would be prepared to contemplate that, because their interest in holding their position is so strong. I ask my right hon. Friend to address himself to that important point.

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I hope that we shall hear from my right hon. Friend tonight, or in the near future, that there will be a system to ensure that the schools that teach English as a foreign language do an honourable and thorough job, in which the progress of those who come to learn English as a foreign language can be properly measured, as all learning and teaching can and must be. That is what testing is for. Part of the national debate on education at present is about just that. If that means that, to measure progress, those schools have to make some initial assessment of those who come into them--I am not saying that they might refuse people on substandard qualifications--so be it. At least they would be seen to be doing an honest job. Young people and people of mature age come here and are keen and set to learn English as a foreign language, and our culture. They do not get a fair deal, and go back to their country feeling that they have been ripped off. That area of our public and academic life discredits our country more than it should. It is shameful and must cease. That can be achieved through the order, and I hope and believe that it will be.

Vocational courses in adult education to enhance careers were mentioned by my right hon. Friend. He spoke of non-vocational qualifications. I warmly welcome the emphasis on the vocational and adult education that we currently have, but do not want to see adult education revert exclusively to the vocational. It is because it has had such high value over many years in non-vocational terms that we must encourage it. I believe that the relaxation of VAT will help that.

My right hon. Friend spoke of the value of flower arranging and pointed out that such courses can lead to people becoming florists, or working in that area. And so it can, and does. But many people want to learn to arrange flowers nicely for its own sake and for the sheer beauty of seeing beautifully arranged flowers. That is so valid.

Not so many years ago, in an educational establishment with which I was associated, a Lord Chief Justice of this land was following a course in basket making. He was never absent or late. I presume that he rushed from his court to be there. He loved it and needed it. A man or woman with a highly concentrated job gets so much out of such non-vocational courses, which are highly creative and highly valuable. If anything, there is a slight slippage in that area at present with all the pressure for vocational adult education. I see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education, who is doing such an excellent job, is here. He addressed the launch of the adult learners' week a few days ago, with great aplomb and to the thrill of all present, with his interest and knowledge of the area. I want to encourage him and pay tribute to him for what he is doing.

Similarly, physical education, including dance, is valuable to all. Is it covered by the measure ? Let us be sure. Swimming is valuable to people of all ages. Perhaps they are people who just qualify in terms of age for adult education. Perhaps they are people of 90 who are going off to learn to swim. That is happening, as it should and must. Are they covered by the order ? Does my right hon. Friend accept the enormous value in such courses being covered ? I speak for all those involved in adult education. I do not like to lose the term "night school", which is part of it.

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People continue to talk of night school. Let us import that into the term "adult education". All those people will welcome the Government's proposals to clarify exemption from VAT on adult education, including voluntary bodies such as the Women's Institute, and the simplification of the situation in local education authorities where, as we have heard, the Treasury is said to be forgoing £10 million in revenue. It is money well spent. It will all come back, as I will show. It is particularly welcome at a time when many local authority adult services are under financial pressure. There are strong feelings that the imposition of VAT would represent a tax on learning. It is especially welcome that the Government propose not only to restate the principle that where LEAs subsidise courses they are non-business activities and, therefore, outside the scope of VAT, but to extend the exemption to LEA classes that do not attract subsidy. It is important that this be said. It will be particularly helpful for LEA adult services contracting with the Further Education Funding Council to provide schedule 2 courses--this might be part of the answer to the hon. Gentleman--which lead to qualifications and contribute to the national targets. It is important to note the value of all forms of adult education. There is widespread agreement that adults as well as young people need to be encouraged to gain skills and qualifications. The lifetime learning targets are recognised to be necessary for our economic well-being, though they do not look like being achieved unless they receive added impetus in some areas.

However, many adults use adult education for a variety of purposes. For example, they may wish to pursue an interest or to re-establish contact with the outside world after an illness or a bereavement. In such cases, adult education is important and precious. They may wish to keep up with a child's enthusiasm or to keep fit in retirement. If these inexpensive services are cut, there is a danger that additional costs may fall on doctors' surgeries--I say that advisedly--or on local social services. Such cuts could also lead to the loss of the crucial sense of dignity without which people cannot live happy and integrated lives.

The Government recognised all these factors when they preserved the local education authorities' duty to secure the adequate provision of general adult education under the Education (Schools) Act 1992. That was very welcome, but there is no doubt that a number of authorities, in London and elsewhere, have been struggling to maintain their budgets. It is not easy for them--we all know that.

The National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education believes that there is a need for "adequacy" to be defined to make clear LEAs' statutory duties. In that context, the first Government consultative paper on VAT and adult education, which omitted any mention of LEAs, aroused anxiety among professionals and students. A number of members of the all-party parliamentary group on adult education wrote to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General to express their concern. They did not want the Government to be seen to be taxing learning when we are all trying to stimulate learning among adults. In my role as chairman of that all-party parliamentary group, I especially welcome the proposed measure and congratulate the Government on it.

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7.1 pm

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : I, too, welcome the measures that we are discussing. I shall not detain the House by rehearsing the arguments again, because they have been excellently dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith). I certainly could not speak with the eloquence of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) about basket making and flower arranging, my knowledge of which could not possibly compete with his. I wish to draw the Paymaster General's attention to another way in which value added tax is being paid out of the education budget. The relevant proposal does not go far enough. Had the Paymaster General considered it more fully, he would have realised that he should have brought other matters before the House tonight. I want him to share with us his thoughts on some of the issues to which I refer briefly. The Paymaster General will be aware of the fact that, despite the proposals, grant-maintained schools are still liable for VAT on the services that they buy in, unlike local education authority schools, which are exempt and can claim back the VAT that they may be charged. Grant- maintained schools have to pay VAT on building and maintenance, perhaps on computers and even on legal services. The Department for Education recognises that there is an additional burden on grant-maintained schools. It does so through the special purposes grant VAT which is set at 2.5 per cent. of the annual maintenance grant that is paid to those schools. It is a considerable sum. On 29 October last year, a reply to my written question revealed that the grant-maintained school in my constituency--one of the very few in the south-west--received £40,700 in 1993-94 towards its liability for VAT. At the moment, there are about 960

grant-maintained schools. Let us do some simple arithmetic. If there were 1,000 grant-maintained schools each receiving £1 million in grant-- that is a low figure because most secondary schools receive considerably more than that but let us take it as a notional sum--it would cost £1,000 million, so the special purposes grant for VAT would be in the region of £25 million. Of course, that figure does not include their liability for VAT on fuel which, I estimate, comes to at least another £7 million a year at the rate of 8 per cent. and would be about £15 million to £16 million a year when the rate increased to 17.5 per cent.

The Paymaster General might be interested to know that I have worked out a little prognosis for him of what is perhaps an unlikely scenario, but it is one that has been wished on us by the team at the Department for Education. In that scenario, more and more schools opt for grant-maintained status instead of being run by local education authorities. If all 24,000 schools across the country became grant maintained--I recall Conservative Members saying that that was their ultimate desire--the total VAT bill, for all services, including VAT on fuel at the higher rate, would be in the region of £585 million a year. Where is that money going to come from ?

It is disturbing that there is no accurate information available. Also in October last year, I asked how much fuel grant-maintained schools were using, so that I could calculate how much VAT they were paying. I was told :

"This information is available only at disproportionate cost." More learned heads tell me that that is a polite way of saying that the Department does not know. I also asked

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about the total VAT bill paid by grant- maintained schools. I wonder whether that information is held by the Treasury. However, I asked the Department for Education and was told :

"This information is not collected centrally."--[ Official Report , 25 October 1993 ; Vol. 230, c. 448 .]

That is another way of saying that the Department does not know. If we do not know how much fuel grant-maintained schools are using, and therefore how much VAT they are liable to pay, how can we accurately assess how much grant will be required in future ? Is an open cheque to be made available to those schools ?

My chief concern is that the imposition of VAT on grant-maintained schools must be a considerable burden on the education budget. I should like the Paymaster General to tell us whether the Government are giving the Department for Education sufficient funds to pass on directly to grant- maintained schools. I have scrutinised the budgets carefully and I have asked questions, but I cannot get an answer. If we are ultimately expecting all £585 million to be spent on VAT, the Paymaster General should provide an answer. The £25 million which is being spent at the moment would buy an enormous number of books. It would buy more than 2 million books at £10 each, and £585 million would buy nearly 58 million books at £10 each. I suggest that he consider that proposition for a moment.

Other budgets are having to take account of VAT on educational services. The Department for Education is spending in the region of £93 million a year on the assisted places scheme. In other words, it is buying in education at private and independent schools on behalf of the taxpayer. I will not exercise the arguments for and against that practice because it is inappropriate to do so in this debate. But I point out to the Paymaster General that, in most cases, private and independent schools will be liable to pay value added tax on many of their services.

If we work on the notional 2.5 per cent. figure that the Department for Education has come up with for grant-maintained schools, we must assume that 2.5 per cent. of the £93 million is being used to pay VAT. Can we, therefore, assume that, in this case, more than £2 million from the budget for the assisted places scheme is being ploughed back directly into the Treasury and is not buying any extra education, not helping a single child, buying a single book or adding to children's knowledge in any way ?

I also direct the Paymaster General's attention to the Ministry of Defence. In the last financial year, it paid out more than £130 million through the services boarding scheme. That involved buying education from private independent schools, most of whom are liable to pay VAT. Therefore, we assume that about £3 million to £4 million is being spent from the Ministry of Defence budget which goes through the education system and back to the Treasury as VAT. That is not an inconsiderable sum.

I ask the Paymaster General to address the other side of the equation. We have heard tonight about the very sensible measures to exempt from VAT those services sold by educational establishments. But what will the Paymaster General do about the VAT that education establishments are having to pay from their finite budgets ? If he does not give us a satisfactory answer tonight, we can only assume that the Government have found a very clever way of cutting the defence or education budgets by charging VAT, in a circular route, on the education services that the departments buy.

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7.11 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye) : I am interested to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) in the debate. Last year, when I served with him on the Standing Committee considering the education legislation, his concern for

grant-maintained schools was not precisely the one he expressed tonight.

I want to return to the terms of the order and, particularly, to welcome the exemption that has been extended to English language schools. I do so for two reasons. First, I have a constituency interest. Like many south coast towns, Hastings has a very large English as a foreign language schools sector. In fact, many people maintain that if it were not for these schools, our economy would be in an even worse state than it is at the moment. My second, broader reason is a concern about high standards in that sector.

English as a foreign language was originally a great British idea. It has since been exported throughout the world and now every country whose people speak English in one form or another--we have to recognise the barrier of the common language--is competing very hard in the marketplace. We need to ensure that, as far as possible, British schools remain competitive with others throughout the world. That means that they must be able to offer rates that are competitive with schools in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and, probably very soon, South Africa.

Therefore, we gratefully recognise that we are not disadvantaging the private sector in competition with colleges and charities in allowing recognised schools exemption from value added tax. I feel a certain disquiet about the impact of the order because, in essence, it uses the taxation system to improve standards. There are perhaps better ways of achieving that than using the taxation system. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that there is a need to ensure that in this competitive world we offer only the highest possible standards of teaching and pastoral care. In the past, schools have been used as visa factories. There is the well-known example, which has gone into mythology, of the school in London which had 5,000 names on its books but only one classroom.

The Oxford Language Forum recently discovered students living five to a room. As I travel through my constituency and to towns along the south coast, my constituents and other members of the public draw to my attention the abuses perpetrated by such schools over the years. They must be rooted out. We have to ensure that we offer high standards to students who come to study in this country.

The accusation is often made that British Council recognition is just for posh, expensive schools. Those who are involved in the sector and have British Council recognition will confirm that some schools that are members of the Association of Recognised English Language Schools charge students £50 per week for 15 hours tuition in large classes. Those schools can also charge up to £1,000 per week for a one-to-one, total immersion course designed more for business men and those who need to learn the English language very quickly. This shows the range of courses offered by the recognised schools and colleges with ARELS membership.

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In my constituency, a typical school charges £171.63 for 15 hours instruction per week, including accommodation. It charges £945 per month for full-time tuition--25 hours a week--including accommodation. That gives us some idea of the range of fees charged by schools which are already recognised by the British Council. It is not an exclusive regime. If schools wish to compete internationally and know that they have high educational standards, recognition by the British Council is probably the best way to go. That is one of the reasons why the taxation system will improve standards and, I hope, root out some of the schools with poor standards that are a disgrace to the industry. I am grateful that the order will reassure not only constituents who have expressed concerns to me about the non-recognised sector, but people from other countries who wish to study here or to send their children to this country to receive English language tuition of a high standard. The English language is our major export and we must ensure that it is taught to the best possible standard. I have great pleasure in supporting the order.

7.17 pm

Sir John Cope : I am grateful for the welcome that all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have given to the main part of the order-- although obviously they raised individual points. The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked about the coverage of non-vocational courses. The hon. Member for Oxford, East talked about cake decorating and other such courses. Those courses will be exempt from value added tax so long as they are provided by an eligible body. I believe that the courses that he had in mind are provided by such bodies.

The hon. Gentleman also criticised the order for dealing with both the nature of the institution and the nature of the supply. He is quite right : usually VAT depends on the nature of the supply. But sometimes it depends on the type of institution--or, for that matter, the type of goods-- involved in the transaction. There are all sorts of special arrangements in the calculation of VAT. I have only to mention cars, for example, and the hon. Gentleman--who knows a good deal about the subject--will know what I mean. VAT takes into account the type of supply as well as the type of body providing a service or buying and selling goods.

In defence of the order, I must say that we are sorting out to a considerable extent the mixture between the nature of the institution and the nature of the supply being made. It was all much more mixed up before, under the old order ; clarifying it is a large part of what we have done in the new order.

The hon. Member for Oxford, East asked about the timing of the order. As the House knows, it does not apply solely to institutions teaching English as a foreign language, but I realise that for some of those, the date of 1 August may be considered inappropriate, although it has been welcomed by others. However, the beginning of the academic year, to which the vast bulk of the order applies--or even before the beginning of it--is an appropriate time for its provisions to take effect.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the relationship between the order--and its predecessor--and the European Community agreements that govern some of our activities in connection with VAT. He asked whether

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universities might be able to recover some of the VAT that they had paid in the past. Although the hon. Gentleman represents such a distinguished university city, I have to disappoint him. Apart from anything else, the apparent contradiction concerning the EC agreements has not been firmly established. In any case, if any refund were due, the university would not benefit. It would have to be refunded under the unjust enrichment rules, and would go to the students who had paid it. Such retrospection would be extremely difficult for the university to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman asked several other questions, one of which concerned note (1)(f)(ii), which refers to charities or youth clubs ploughing back any profits made into their activities. Yes, that means that any surplus should be ploughed back, not necessarily into the specific courses that gave rise to the surplus, but into such activities as would otherwise qualify as an exempt supply within this group.

The main interest in the debate has centred on the teaching of English as a foreign language. I do not agree that it would have been right to put the order on hold. As I said in my opening remarks, it is right to go ahead with it, but I am prepared to consider carefully the representations that have been made in the past few days. I am not complaining about the fact that the Association of British Language Schools did not respond to the consultation before Christmas or in the first couple of months of this year. It is a new body, which has not existed much longer than the consultation document. It is a self-inspecting body, which was set up last autumn. I am certainly prepared to consider the representations made by that body, as well as by hon. Members and others.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North and for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) drew attention to some of the difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said that some of the institutions were a rip-off, and spoke eloquently about the problems that they have caused. My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye described some institutions as "visa factories". Those are all reasons for exercising caution in extending the tax relief. That is why we acted as we did, and why we drafted the order in its present form. We shall consider the arguments advanced both in the debate and by the various bodies that have been mentioned.

Mr. Andrew Smith : I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want either what he has said or the way in which the order is couched to give the impression that simply because a language school does not enjoy British Council accreditation--under the existing scheme some are not eligible--it is more likely to be a cowboy operator. I agree that cowboy operators would not fall within the present British Council accreditation scheme, but the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that for many reputable schools that do a good job, the requirement for British Council accreditation gives rise to problems. Consultation needs to take place on that matter.

Sir John Cope : Absolutely. I am undertaking to consult on that. I do not wish, and I am sure that my hon. Friends

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do not wish, to tar with the same brush any institution that does not happen to have British Council recognition at present. In any case, British Council recognition, including the way in which it is awarded, is and will remain one of the matters that we discuss with the British Council.

If I may say so, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) opened the debate beyond the order when he referred to grant-maintained schools, and so on. In a way, he was drawing attention to the difference between exemptions from VAT and a zero-rate for VAT. If an institution is registered for VAT, but the supplies that it makes are zero rated, it can collect back the input tax--the VAT that it has had to pay. But if the supplies that an institution makes are exempt, it cannot reclaim the input tax. Here we are talking about exemptions, not about zero-rating.

The position of local authorities is governed by section 20 of the Value Added Tax Act 1983. The VAT that they pay is refunded. The equivalent of that is the grant to which the hon. Member for Devonport referred in connection with grant-maintained schools. He was looking forward, if that is the appropriate word, to the possibility that all schools may one day be grant-maintained. Mr. Jamieson indicated dissent .

Sir John Cope : I did not mean that the hon. Gentleman was looking forward to that day in the sense of welcoming it, but he did say that all schools might be grant-maintained. That, of course, would free up the money now used for section 20 grants, which would balance to a considerable degree, if not perfectly, the grant that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I cannot answer off the cuff the detailed questions about the various figures, but I shall read in Hansard what the hon. Gentleman said, and write to him. The question does not arise out of the order.

Mr. Jamieson : Will the Paymaster General put my mind, and the minds of other hon. Members, at rest ? The Department for Education currently makes substantial sums available through the special purposes grant to grant-maintained schools for VAT purposes. My worry is that that money is coming from the Department's budget, and that it should and could be spent on education in other ways. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether that money is being provided over and above any other funding that the Department would receive, so that it can pay the grant-maintained schools ?

Sir John Cope : I think that the hon. Gentleman would prefer an accurate answer to an answer off the cuff. Although the question does not arise out of the order, I shall include an answer to it in the letter that I promised to write to him about the other matters that he raised.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have welcomed the order. Question put and agreed to.


That the Value Added Tax (Education) Order 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 1188), a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th April, be approved.

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Business of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Speaker shall

(1) at the sitting on Monday 23rd May, notwithstanding the Order [13th May] and the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Questions on the Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary MacGregor relating to the draft Railways Pension Scheme Order 1994 and the draft Railway Pensions (Protection and Designation of Schemes) Order 1994 not later than one and a half hours after the first of them has been made ;

(2) at the sitting on Tuesday 24th May

(a) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Third Reading of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill not later than three hours after their commencement ; and

(b) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question on the Motion in the name of Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew relating to the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1994 not later than three hours after it has been made ; and (3) at the sitting on Wednesday 25th May, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question on the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Gummer relating to the draft Council Tax Limitation (Sheffield City Council) (Maximum Amount) Order 1994 not later than one and a half hours after it has been made :

and the above business may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.--[ Mr. MacKay. ]

7.39 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I have some questions about the motion and some brief comments on it. Next Monday, we shall be discussing the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which is liable to take considerable time as there is great concern among Opposition Members about its implications. We also have to consider two orders. Under the motion, we shall have an hour and a half on the draft Railways Pension Scheme Order 1994. That order is a matter of great concern, but it is liable to be dealt with in the early hours. I am a former railway clerk and my pension may be one of those being discussed, although it has long since disappeared into other provisions. I know that there is a great deal of interest and concern in the House about what is happening to railway pensions. There is great concern among of a number of my constituents, many of whom worked in railway workshops and other places.

Much more serious than that is the business for Tuesday, which includes provision for a three-hour Third Reading on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. If that is a three-hour debate, it is an advance, to some extent, on time given recently for such debates in the House. The Coal Industry Bill had a very short Third Reading debate. Indeed, on some other quite important matters, we have not bothered about Third Readings at all and have moved straight from Report to a final decision. We should have separate and proper debates in the House on Third Reading, so that, after Report, there could be a reprinting of the Bill at that stage, especially if there have been serious alterations on Report. We would then be in a position to have a fully fledged debate on Third Reading. What is the position on local government for England and Wales ? At least for Scotland, we are able to discuss such matters, but in England and Wales we are faced with a series of orders, which, like other orders, are unamendable and are on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Indeed, we do not know when the tabling of such orders will end.

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Even more seriously, Tuesday's business allows three hours for the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1994. I know that that is an annual provision and that those three hours will allow the comments that have always been made to be made again, but it covers a developing situation. I do not know what has developed today, but an answer to the points put forward by Sinn Fein and the IRA through Sinn Fein that required clarification of the Downing street declaration has been mentioned today. Such answers seem to be relevant to the approach that hon. Members will have to the order.

We may have an opportunity, subject to the decisions of the Chair, to discuss subjects slightly wider than those contained in the order, although the order itself is wide enough to facilitate quite full discussion about such matters. I am not quite sure what has occurred over the Government's intention to provide an answer to Sinn Fein. A question of mine appears on tomorrow's Order Paper and that should be an opportunity, if no other answer is given, for one to be provided. Wednesday's business moves to the spring Adjournment motion and, according to the motion before us, a debate on the draft Council Tax Limitation (Sheffield City Council) (Maximum Amount) Order 1994. Six hon. Members represent Sheffield. Two are former leaders of the council and one is a former leader of the opposition on the council. Given that that order is liable to relate to areas surrounding Sheffield, such as north-east Derbyshire, which I represent, although it looks easy to deal with, it may require the provision of more time.

With regard to the final day before the recess, Thursday 26 May, would the Leader of the House explain the situation liable to occur at 11 o'clock, when the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. The hon. Gentleman's comments are straying to the next motion.

Mr. Barnes : Sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I inadvertently strayed on to motion No. 5. As I wish to raise some points on that motion, it might be appropriate for me to try to catch your eye then.

7.36 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : The hon. Gentleman has legitimately raised a number of questions about the motion and I shall respond. However, perhaps I ought to preface my brief remarks by saying that, of course, the motions have been tabled following

discussion--obviously I do not want to enter into those in any detail as it would be improper to do so--through the usual channels. I do not know whether this will influence the hon. Gentleman, but the motions reflect some of the knock-on effects, if I may put it like that, of our efforts, acknowledged by his Chief Whip and by the shadow Leader of the House, to be as helpful as possible in accommodating the wishes of the Opposition, which included

Mr. Barnes rose

Mr. Newton : May I finish the sentence as it has specific relevance to the railway motions ? Those orders were originally announced on Monday or Tuesday for debate

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today. At the request of the official Opposition, they were moved from today to Monday, on the understanding that we would expect to have them governed by a motion of the sort before us.

Mr. Barnes : I recognise that there has been a careful response to the wishes of the Opposition, which has taken matters into account, that we have a different timetable for this week from that which would otherwise have taken place. It is just that I am not part of the usual channels and the avenue through which I may air points, without raising great objections to the channels being used, is on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Newton : I totally understand that and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not have taken my remarks amiss. I was delicately trying to imply two things. First, that the basic background to the motion is the efforts that the Government have made this week to be helpful to the Opposition. Secondly, it is not easy for me to go much further than that without entering into details about discussions through the usual channels, which would not be either proper or helpful.

In many ways, the same applies to the other parts of the motion, although the hon. Gentleman did make a specific point on the railway order. The only other comment that I can sensibly make is in relation to the Northern Ireland business on Tuesday. Of course, it is not for me to say what would or would not be in order on such an occasion, as I said to Madam Speaker when a similar question was asked during business questions this afternoon. However, it certainly seems that there would be possibilities for the hon. Gentleman to raise points about his concerns on that occasion, subject to the guidance of the Chair. However, I can tell him that, in response to his implicit question--I know that his question will be answered tomorrow--I believe that the Government's response to the Sinn Fein questions was published at 6 o'clock, when copies were placed in the Library of the House and made available to hon. Members through the Vote Office. Question put and agreed to.

Sittings of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed,


(1) this House do meet on Thursday 26th May at half-past Nine o'clock ;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 17 (Time for taking questions), no Questions shall be taken, provided that at Eleven o'clock the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in her opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members ; and

(3) at Three o'clock the Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question, provided that this House shall not adjourn until the Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts agreed upon by both Houses.--[ Mr. MacKay. ]

7.38 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I shall now make my points to the correct motion. The motion seems to be more important than the one that I covered previously, although there were matters that needed prodding. The second part of the motion says :

Column 1020

"the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in her opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business," statements,"

I presume that that day will be divided into a series of 45-minute Adjournment debates. It is normally the case that an Adjournment debate starts at 11 am or just before. That time is also the normal time for points of order to be raised and for a statement, if required, to take place. I know that it is unlikely that we shall have statements and points of order running one after the other, but someone could be unfortunate in terms of his or her Adjournment debate. I declare an interest because I, among many others, have put in my name for such a debate. If there are statements or points of order, will time be equitably chopped off other Adjournment debates ?

It is unlikely that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will complete its remaining stages. I raised the point in business questions and referred to the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) at the end of April. I felt that if the House had expressed a view, the Leader of the House should take that view seriously and should make arrangements so that there was an opportunity to discuss the Bill. If the Bill does not complete its remaining stages by 26 May, there will be an end of any feasible opportunity to pursue it.

I was unhappy with the response from the Leader of the House. He said that the House had only expressed an opinion. I believe that the opinion of the House of Commons, which was expressed not glibly--it was not a matter of only two or three people being around and someone not noticing the procedures--but clearly and firmly, with strong feelings involved, should be taken on board.

The Government seem to be maintaining their opinion that the principles of the Bill are okay, but the details create many difficulties. Some of us do not believe that. We should be given the opportunity to go through the Bill properly and the Government would then have to vote against it and face the flak. The opinion of the House is that we should like the Bill to be given the opportunity to complete its remaining stages. I hope that even at this late stage--there is still time for further statements by the Leader of the House--that opportunity will be given to us.

7.42 pm

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