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Mr. Key : My hon. Friend is absolutely right ; however, the problem with older cars that cannot be fitted with converters will, self-evidently, run itself into the ground. On the question of smoky diesels, there is already a smoky diesel line. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we properly maintain our cars. If motorists maintained their
Column 12vehicles, both diesel and petrol, to the proper standards recommended by manufacturers, we would not have the current emission problem.
Mr. Key : I have received several representations from hon. Members about the health effects of emissions, including benzene, from fuel. As a result of measures that we have already put in place, we are set to see a marked decline in all vehicle pollutants, including benzene, which will be sustained well into the next decade.
Mr. Miller : I thank the Minister for that reply. Has his Department evaluated the difference between unleaded and super-unleaded fuels and the aromatic hydrocarbons emitted from them ? If not, will he, as a matter of urgency, call on the relevant Government research laboratories to start work on that especially important environmental consideration ?
Mr. Key : I know that that has nothing to do with it, except that it means that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in the matter ; I am not for one moment imputing anything else. Yes, we have taken a great deal of interest in the problem of super-unleaded petrol, which has a higher octane factor than premium unleaded. It accounts for only 6 per cent. of the market, however, and the figure will decrease as more cars become capable of using premium unleaded. I am sure that this is just the first chapter in a long catalogue of matters that we need to address and are addressing through our professional advisers.
28. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, pursuant to his oral answer of 21 February, Official Report , column 13, what progress has been made in the review of NHS trusts.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : I understand that the National Audit Office expects to publish a review of Treasury management of national health service trusts in the autumn.
Mr. Hughes : That was the part of the answer that I could predict. In his reply on 18 April, the right hon. Gentleman told me that the Comptroller and Auditor General would reply to my letter about Guy's hospital "shortly". May I ask him how long is "shortly" and how soon I will get the answer ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I understood that the hon. Gentleman had received a reply. If he has not, I will certainly see that he gets one and I apologise. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the decision on the
Column 13allocation of resources is a matter for the Department for Health. Once the decision has been made, it will be a matter for the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General to study the matter if they see fit to do so.
Sir Peter Hordern : I do not intend to do so. The powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General are matters for Parliament. They are set out in the Exchequer and Audit Department Acts, the National Audit Act 1983, and other legislation.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is it in the interests of Parliament for the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General, an officer of Parliament, to be undermined by a Minister resisting an inquiry by the National Audit Office, as happened in the case of the call that I made for an inquiry into industrial training in the United Kingdom ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am not aware of the circumstances, but I should be very surprised if a Minister had resisted such an inquiry. In any event, I understand that the hon. Gentleman has discussed his allegations with the Comptroller and Auditor General and that the Comptroller and Auditor General has agreed to produce a public report in due course.
31. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what funds have been made available by the Public Accounts Commission to the National Audit Office to investigate the work of the Overseas Development Administration.
Sir Peter Hordern : The Commission approved the National Audit Office's most recent corporate plan in July 1993 and its estimate for 1994- 95 in December. We plan to meet to consider the 1994 corporate plan on 5 July. The voted funds enable the NAO to audit the financial accounts of Government Departments, including the Overseas Development Administration, and also to deliver about 50 major value-for-money outputs to Parliament each year. Selection of topics for investigation is based on a systematic review of expenditure and value for money, including the ODA, but the final decision on whether to proceed with investigation is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, in consultation with the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr. Bayley : It has come to my notice that more than £500,000 from the ODA's budget is being spent on technical co-operation officers working to regulate tax havens in the Caribbean. That is in clear contradiction of the Government's stated policy of providing aid to the poorest people in the poorest countries. Why has not that been picked up by the Comptroller and Auditor General ? Will the Chairman ensure that the Comptroller's attention is directed to that matter to ensure that a proper evaluation
Column 14is made of whether Britain's overseas development technical co-operation programme is, indeed, delivering aid to poor people in poor countries ?
Mr. John Marshall : Will my right hon. Friend suggest that the PAC investigate the huge increase in British exports to Malaysia as a result of the Pergau dam contract and the consequences for British exports of the campaign against that contract that is being run by Opposition Members ?
Sir Peter Hordern : The PAC may wish to continue its inquiries into the Pergau dam, but that is a matter for the Chairman of the PAC and the Comptroller and Auditor General in consultation with each other.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : Bypasses of towns and villages greatly improve road safety, but often need to be accompanied by traffic-calming measures within the towns bypassed. Measures such as road humps and chicanes slow local traffic down and can reduce casualties by up to 70 per cent.
Mr. Paice : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that, when a new bypass is considered, any further road improvements should be anticipated ? Is he aware that, in the village of Landbeach in my constituency, his Department is proposing a second bypass ? It is not wanted by the residents and is a complete mystery to the local transport department, which sees no need for it.
Mr. Key : I had the pleasure of being in my hon. Friend's constituency only last week. Not surprisingly, the issue of the second bypass was raised with me then. I am aware of the questions raised by both the Landbeach and the Stretham bypasses, which, as local bypasses, are both priority 1 schemes. Consultants are now considering options around Landbeach and Stretham and the schemes are likely to become more in the way of on-line improvements than village bypasses. Against that background, and with the lack of local enthusiasm, which has been voiced by my hon. Friend so forthrightly, the consultants may need to consider the problems again.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission if he will make a statement on the results of the Commission's investigations into child care arrangements in Parliament.
Column 15the Administration Committee. Following the decision of that Committee not to issue the report of the survey or to take any further action, the Commission is considering how to proceed.
Mr. Dowd : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how disappointing most hon. Members will find that response ? If he reads today's Order Paper, he will find that several of the questions tabled to him relate to this issue. That shows that there is widespread concern. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if a scheme were to be introduced tomorrow, it would benefit only the grandchildren of the staff in this place who raised this issue many years ago ? If the problems are logistical and physical, will the right hon. Gentleman consider with the Commission the introduction of a child care allowance, perhaps through a voucher system, so that some immediate provision can be made pending the more long-term or permanent provision that is obviously so necessary ?
Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman should direct his disappointment at those of his hon. Friends and others who are members of the Administration Committee, and not at me, as I share a great deal of his disappointment. The provision of vouchers was one of the matters considered in the survey to which I referred. I hope that it will be possible to debate that and other issues, bearing in mind the fact that the Commission does not normally proceed to introduce a new service unless advised to do so by one of its Committees--in this instance, the Administration Committee--or following a debate in the Chamber as a result of which the House asks that the service be introduced.
Mr. Rathbone : May I welcome the Commission's reinvestigation of the subject, which shows that things have come quite a long way since the first child was born to a serving Member of the House, which was when my mother bore my half sister ?
In thinking about child care in the House, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the provision of nursery schooling as well as basic child care facilities ? It seems to me that we have the most marvellous opportunity to provide that essential element of education for young people who happen to be children of Members of Parliament.
Mr. Beith : As far as I know, the hon. Gentleman's personal connections are without parallel in the House. The issue that he has raised goes much wider than that of child care provision from the point of view of the staff of the House, in which the Commission is interested. It will be for the House more widely to consider whether a scheme of child care provision or of vouchers should extend to Members and their staff. It is the involvement of both the House staff and the staff of Members that makes this rather a complicated issue with which to deal.
33. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee what consideration the Finance and Services Committee is giving to the report by the Information Committee on the provision of a Parliamentary data and video network, HC 237.
35. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee what plans the Committee has to make provision for the introduction of an electronic information system for hon. Members and their staff.
Mr. Paul Channon (on behalf of the Finance and Services Committee) : The Committee has already begun to consider the report from the Information Committee on the proposed network and it hopes to complete its consideration shortly.
Mr. Gunnell : Will the right hon. Gentleman say how much has been spent to date on developing the network ? Can he assure me that the House will have an opportunity to debate the report before the recess so that progress can be made and so that hon. Members may have access to the network when they return in October ?
Mr. Channon : The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question concerns a matter that is extremely complicated ; if he will allow me to do so, I will therefore write to him. On the second part of his question, I assure him that the House would have to have a debate before it proceeded to implement the report. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already indicated that he hopes to hold such a debate before the summer recess.
Mr. Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the rest of the country and the world are talking about information super-highways, we in this place are still limping along a muddy footpath ? Such a system could save the House a great deal of money. It could improve the way we do things in the House and would act as a beacon to encourage the rest of the country and the world to use information technology. Can my right hon. Friend give us a better idea when the network will be in place and when a decision will be taken, so that every hon. Member may have an appropriate piece of equipment to link into the network ?
Mr. Channon : I will ensure that the views of my hon. Friend and of the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) are made known to my Committee when it meets tomorrow to discuss the matter. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) would like to take part in the debate when it occurs. If the House decides in principle to proceed with the recommendations of the Information Committee, we shall of course also look at ways of speeding the process up.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission if the Commission will authorise the expenditure necessary for a line of route for disabled persons to be created using the lift next to the Members' entrance ; and what consideration he is giving to the structural consequences of the building and installing of new equipment to facilitate disabled access.
Mr. Beith : I understand that the Accommodation and Works Committee's inquiry into ways of improving access for disabled persons visiting the palace gives full consideration to the structural implications of any proposed modifications. I will arrange for the hon. Gentleman's other comments to be brought to the Committee's attention.
Mr. Dalyell : As with all old, venerable and distinguished buildings, is not there a danger, in making structural alterations to this place, of really harming that which people have come to visit and to see ? Given the understandable and correct demand that disabled people should have access, however, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would take very little imagination to use the lifts from New Palace Yard and, for that matter, from the other end, where Members of the other place have lift access to the main floor ?
Mr. Beith : It is precisely the difficulty of accommodating changes to help the disabled in an historic structure which has meant that it has taken some time and very careful study to bring forward proposals to meet this pressing need. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there are entrances that have lift access at each end of the building. The entrance at the other end of the building is probably more usable from the point of view of the size of the lift than the entrance at this end of the building. However, those considerations are very much in the Committee's mind and I am sure that the Committee will be glad of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
37. Mrs. Bridget Prentice : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission if the Commission will publish the results of the survey on child care in the parliamentary estate.
Mrs. Prentice : Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the parliamentary nursery campaign which, for 25 years, has advocated facilities for children in this place ? Does he also agree that that matter affects not only female staff or female hon. Members but male staff and male hon. Members ? Will the right hon. Gentleman try to ensure that he publishes the results of the survey, which will show quite clearly the huge need to have such facilities in place as soon as possible ?
38. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission what plans the Commission has to make public the information contained in the recent survey on child care in the parliamentary estate.
Mrs. Campbell : Did the right hon. Gentleman read in yesterday's issue of The Independent on Sunday about the case of Julia Rainsbury, a catering assistant in the House who earns £154 a week and has to fork out £60 a week in
Column 18child care expenses ? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not fair that Ms Rainsbury does not receive any subsidy towards her child care costs while all right hon. and hon. Members receive a subsidy in the form of free parking ?
Mr. Beith : My own view is in favour of help with child care costs. I have spoken in the House in favour of tax relief on them, too. Direct child care costs do not attract tax relief at present, but those of a workplace nursery do. Important issues such as that came up in our debates. I thought that members of our staff put their case before the Committee with great dignity.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I am currently engaged in constructive discussions with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). Our aim is to find ways of enabling the House to conduct its business in more sensible ways and with more sensible hours, without unacceptably reducing either the Government's capacity to carry out their programme or the Opposition's flexibility in deploying and pressing their case. It is my hope--I think that I can say "our hope"--that those discussions will enable us to map a way forward before the summer recess.
Mr. Pickthall : I am grateful to the Lord President of the Council for that encouraging reply. Does he agree that at least part of the low esteem in which the House is held by the general public stems from the barmy hours that we keep ? Will he ensure that, in the discussions that he described, despite the recommendation of the Select Committee, he will consider bringing forward sittings into the mornings so that we might have something resembling a normal working day in which we could pursue a full- time single job as we were elected to do ?
Mr. Newton : I do not think that I would wish at this stage to hold out a significant prospect of going beyond the proposals in the report concerning the exchange, as it were, of some Wednesday mornings for some Fridays, but that is clearly one of the subjects of the discussion between the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and myself. As for what the hon. Gentleman called barmy hours, of course I should like to see further progress in avoiding late-night sittings, but I hope that he will not underestimate the extent to which we have already made progress on that front over the past decade or so.
Column 19time in this House could be more effectively spent if debates on the Floor of the House were properly timetabled and if Committee timetables were agreed in advance ? One could then see whether it was feasible to serve on a Committee because one would know when it would finish. Will my right hon. Friend urgently pursue the Select Committee's recommendations and see whether the matter can be brought forward ?
Mr. Newton : I am sure that there will be much sympathy with those thoughts among hon. Members on both sides of the House, although I detected the usual hostile muttering from the Opposition Benches below the Gangway. Of course, the very matters to which my hon. Friend refers are among those being discussed in general terms by myself and the Opposition.
compromise--unanimously supported--that has come forward for many years ? Will he please make as speedy progress as possible ? Did I hear him say that he hopes to have a debate before the summer recess--and if not, why not ?
Mr. Newton : I certainly accept that they are constructive and worthwhile proposals, and they are bringing a constructive and worthwhile response. I do not think that I can go beyond that at the moment. If, as I hope, we are in a position to map a way forward before the summer recess, I would expect to seek an opportunity for debate on that map.
Mrs. Ewing : Will the Lord President recognise that the idea that office hours should pertain in the House will have little impact on hon. Members who live outwith Greater London ? What is essential is a pattern of sittings in the House like that in the European Parliament, which would enable us to balance our parliamentary, constituency and family responsibilities--along with a pattern of decentralisation to Scotland and Wales, of course.
Mr. Newton : Apart from the predictable but somewhat more tendentious last part of that question, I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady's point. We must strike a realistic balance between the different duties of Members of Parliament. I accept that greater certainty about the pattern of business is one of the prizes.
Mr. Newton : The matter has been raised in a number of recent exchanges in the House, including some at business questions. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Procedure Committee decided last week to seek ideas on possible options from myself and from the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). I shall seek to respond--as, no doubt, will they.
Mr. Winnick : Although the Prime Minister may have his reasons for wanting a change, will not Prime Minister's Question Time always be the subject of highly controversial matters ? Without the open way in which we now put questions, hon. Members' questions on given subjects could be passed on to other Departments, placing Back Benchers at a vast disadvantage. The present system may have its faults, but the alternative seems to be worse.
Mr. Newton : In view of the all-too-characteristic aggression with which the hon. Gentleman asked his question, I should say that I understand that the matter was raised in the House not by the Prime Minister but by other hon. Members, who expressed concern about the format. No one is seeking to avoid proper questioning, let alone controversy. The question is whether the present format is best organised to achieve its aims in a satisfactory way.
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