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Column 485it--he took more than an hour but put nobody to sleep. Indeed, it was an extremely well put together shadow Budget, and very much better than anything that I have ever heard today's occupants of the Opposition Front Bench outline.
At least the hon. Gentleman is consistent. He knows what the Labour party is for, and has always advocated taxing the rich as he describes. We have discovered and experienced that, if we tax those rich, we drive them abroad and damage British industry. We have also found that the proportion of total taxation now paid by higher earners has increased as a result of getting rid of the high levels of penal taxation that satisfy the politics of the hon. Gentleman and for which he still yearns.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): May I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that one of the less well publicised aspects of his first Budget statement was the fact that the breakdown between pension increase and VAT was to be made clearer in the pension book? Despite Tuesday's vote, will he confirm that, in future, people will know from their pension book how much of the component of what they get is represented by VAT compensation?
Mr. Clarke: Because of the changes that are being made, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is considering that matter. It is clearly a matter for him and I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's representations are passed on to him this afternoon.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Chancellor's flippant remarks about old-age pensioners and fires come ill from somebody who will never have to go cold in the winter. Given the money that he is looking for, which he has admitted is only 10 per cent. of the standard error on the public sector borrowing requirement, is it not an issue only because of his extraordinary behaviour over the past few days? Has he not replaced one anti-Scottish tax of VAT on fuel with two anti-Scottish taxes on petrol and whisky? Why should the people of Scotland pay for the Chancellor's incompetence and the Prime Minister's petulance?
Mr. Clarke: I, personally, gain from the vote cast on Tuesday, as my heating bills will be reduced now that the higher rate of VAT will not be put on fuel. A pensioner in a small property with low bills loses as a result of Tuesday's vote, because the compensation would have exceeded the value added tax. There is no point in my arguing the case again. It was not accepted, and I accept the judgment of the House.
The hon. Gentleman must face up to the consequences of his actions. I regret the effect on rural motorists in Scotland, but it might have been less if the hon. Gentleman could do his arithmetic and work out the consequences of the votes he casts when he comes here.
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): I warmly welcome the increase in tax on tobacco, which I urged on Monday in my speech in the Budget debate, on the grounds that it would tend to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer and other appalling diseases, and deter with more force the number of young people starting to smoke. Has
Column 486my right hon. and learned Friend noticed the deafening silence from Opposition Members who claim to care about health? How does he expect them to vote on that?
Mr. Clarke: It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. I know my hon. Friend's fierce commitment to the cause of reducing smoking, and increasing taxation on it to help that cause. He and those right hon. and hon. Members who agree with him will, I am sure, be pleased that their campaign has been reinforced by my being obliged to go back and take more money from tobacco in addition to the significant increase, in excess of inflation, that I had already imposed.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Is there not a real problem that an increasingly uneven playing field is now developing between Britain and the rest of the European Union in taxation of tobacco and spirits? Is it not clear that what the Chancellor has done today, in spite of the problems, is to invite more job losses in the United Kingdom in both those industries? Is it not about time that British Chancellors went to Community economic summits and demanded harmonisation of the duties throughout the Community, so that at least there was a level playing field for production?
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) indicated assent .
I used the phrase "approximation of duty". I believe that the policy on taxation is a policy for the nation states, so I actually agree with the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, but obviously it is for those nation states to consider the consequences across their borders. I think that it is right for the member states of the European Union to seek to achieve greater approximation of duty, so that smuggling and artificial movement of trade is reduced, and that we will endeavour to do. There will be talks on that next year.
The difficulty is that Britain--like Ireland and Denmark--has always traditionally imposed high levels of tax on alcohol, compared with continental countries, which have a broader base for VAT. We have considerable zero rating of VAT, and we therefore do not obtain as much VAT as other countries do: and traditionally, for I think about 200 years, we have always raised far more revenue from alcohol and tobacco. We are entitled to make our choice; it is our national pattern of taxation and it always will be, but we do have to look to our trading interests, as do the other countries, and a closer approximation of duties is very much overdue.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on sticking to the objectives of a Budget that, overall, was a very good Budget indeed? Can he rest assured that I will meet my responsibilities to the Scotch Whisky Association, just as I expect every Opposition Member to do, especially the Scottish
Column 487Members? Can I say to my right hon. and learned Friend, having exposed the windfall tax as a windbag tax, that he can be assured of my support in the Lobby?
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on the consistency and fairness of his position, and the way in which he puts it today. When disparaging the Labour party, I made disparaging remarks about one or two of those hon. Members who voted against my opinion on Tuesday. Last year, my hon. Friend came to visit me and told me what he thought about VAT on fuel. This year, he came and told me what he thought about VAT on fuel. He told me that he would not vote for it. His reasons were connected with VAT on fuel, and his constituents in Ayr. My disparaging remarks were made about one or two of his hon. Friends who told me one thing and then did another, and found themselves in alliance with the opportunists sitting on the other side of the House.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I am grateful to the Chancellor. Will he confirm that, as his demeanour today suggests, he is disappointed that he was unable to raise the cost of fuel for pensioners, the poor and the disabled?
Mr. Clarke: The compensation package that we produced for the poor, disabled and pensioners meant that that section of the population was the least affected by the tax changes that we were making. The House is full of men and women who personally benefit from the vote on Tuesday to a much greater extent than the average pensioner.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most people in this country will regard the proposals as sensible, fair and just? Does he also accept that now, only two political parties in this country have a commitment to a carbon energy tax--the Labour party and the Liberal party? Can he confirm that there is indeed a crisis in this country--in the ranks of the Opposition, who cannot produce a properly costed Budget?
Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to point out the commitments to a carbon energy tax. The Liberals are certainly committed to that tax--the Labour party sometimes is and sometimes is not. As my hon. Friend says, it would have a dramatic effect on fuel bills in this country. It would have a crippling effect on the cost of business and industry, which would damage our competitive position at a time when we are trading so well and coming out of the recession.
Mr. Clarke: I have explained repeatedly that the hon. Gentleman did not vote to the particular advantage of the poor, the elderly and invalids on Tuesday. He voted because his right hon. and hon. Friends could not think of any other point to make about this year's Budget and returned, in a misleading way, to previous debates.
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, despite what has been said by the nationalists, my constituents will welcome his retention of the significant upgrading of cold
Column 488weather payments and the home energy efficiency scheme, as well as the significant increase in the age allowance, which is well in excess of inflation? Most of all, they will be pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend has not been deflected from his overall policy of going for strong, sustainable growth--something that the Opposition parties cannot understand and are trying to destroy.
Mr. Clarke: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. This Government invented the system of cold weather payments and keep improving it--we have raised the payments to £8.50, which will benefit many Scottish people if we have a freezing spell this winter. In the course of the debate, I kept dramatically raising the amount of money available for the home energy efficiency scheme. That scheme improves the comfort of its beneficiaries--it dramatically reduces their fuel bills. It is an effective way of improving energy efficiency. We have directed ourselves to the causes that my hon. Friend has identified, together with the main causes that must dominate this country at present--reducing unemployment, increasing prosperity and ensuring that we have a strong and thriving economy in this country.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): Does the Chancellor accept that he and his hon. Friends have this afternoon been behaving like demented Corgis--voting to give away Korean cook books for Christmas? Does he also agree that, when it comes to cooking the books, his statement about the raiding of the contingency reserve to close 25 per cent. of the finance gap that has arisen is most unorthodox in terms of fiscal propriety? Does he not agree that that reserve is not meant to cover shortfalls in revenue? Will he explain how 25 per cent. of that gap remains unallocated and unexplained as of this afternoon?
Mr. Clarke: As I have said, that gap will be dealt with by cuts in public expenditure provision over and above those that we would otherwise have made in the relevant years--the second and third years of the survey. I mentioned in passing how we would account for that provision to underline our commitment to it. At this stage, it will be based on the lines of the provision that I have made for the future contingency reserve. It will come out of programmes and public spending control when we have carried out a proper public expenditure survey for years two and three of the present survey years. Several hon. Members rose --
Monday 12 December----Second Reading of the Health Authorities Bill.
Motion on the First Special Report from the Committee of Privileges.
Tuesday 13 December----Until 10 o'clock, motions relating to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement of 8 December.
Wednesday 14 December----Until 7 o'clock, motions on rating and valuation orders and regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report .
Debate on the common fisheries policy on a Government motion. Thursday 15 December----Estimates Day (1st allotted day).There will be a debate on administration and miscellaneous services in so far as they relate to the Department of Social Security's responsibilities for the Child Support Agency and the operation of the Child Support Act, followed by a debate on the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner and Health Service Commissioners, in so far as it relates to the powers, work and jurisdiction of the ombudsman. At 10 o'clock the House will be asked to agree the civil and defence votes on account and the outstanding winter supplementary estimates. There will then be proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
Friday 16 December----Debate on the national lottery on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Monday 19 December----Motion for the Christmas Adjournment. Motions on parliamentary procedures.
The House will also wish to know that the following European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:
Tuesday 13 December: European Standing Committee A, European Community Document No. 4195/94 relating to food hygiene for milk and milk products.
European Standing Committee B, European Community Document No. 9101/94 relating to generalised schemes of preferences.
Wednesday 14 December: European Standing Committee A, Unnumbered memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on28 November 1994 relating to reform of the agri-monetary system.
European Standing Committee B, European Community Document No. 8077/94 relating to action against drugs; and EC document No. 8929/94 relating to prevention of drug dependence.
[Tuesday 13 December :
European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Community document: 4195/94 relating to food hygiene for milk and milk products. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 48-vii (1993-94) and HC 70-i (1994-95).
Column 490European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community document: 9101/94 relating to Tariff Preference for Developing Countries. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report HC 70- i (1994-95). Wednesday 14 December:
European Standing Committee A--European Community Document; unnumbered, Agri-Monetary Reform. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report HC 70- i (1994-95).
European Standing Committee B--European Community Documents: 8077/94 and 8929/94 Action to Combat Drugs. Relevant European Document HC 48-xxvi (1993 -94) .
Floor of the House--Motions on rating and valuation orders and regulations. The documents are as follows:
The Non-domestic Rating (Chargeable Amounts) Regulations; The British Gas Plc (Rateable Values) Order; The Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values) Order; The Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order; The Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Order; The Railways (Rateable Values) Order; and The British Waterways Board and Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) Revocation Order.]
And now, the bit they all want--or perhaps I should say, the bit the House wants. The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Wednesday 21 December until Tuesday 10 January.
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): I thank the Leader of the House for that statement, and I welcome the fact that we shall at last have a chance to debate the Jopling proposals. I hope that we shall be able to make good progress, with the Leader of the House giving us as much notice as possible of future business on all occasions, even if that business is provisional.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, although we all welcome knowing the dates of the recess, it is his party, not ours, which is anxious for it to start as soon as possible.
With regard to the Committee of Selection, which met yesterday, the Leader of the House will be aware that the Committee was unsure as to how it should act now that we have a minority Government. Hence the Committee recommended that the whole issue of appointments to Standing Committees be referred to the Floor of the House. I wonder when the right hon. Gentleman intends to ensure that there is a debate on that matter on the Floor of the House, because we are obviously anxious to have it resolved; we believe that we have a strong case for parity on those Committees, given that the Government have lost their majority.
The Leader of the House will be aware that in July 1993 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food published a consultative document proposing the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, and that the responses to that document were overwhelmingly hostile. As the former Agriculture Minister promised a response by Easter this year, and as it has still not been forthcoming, when may we expect the Minister of Agriculture,
Column 491Fisheries and Food to remove that threat to agricultural workers and their families? It should have been removed by Easter; will it be removed by Christmas?
Mr. Newton: I am afraid that I am not at the moment able to give the hon. Lady a precise date and time for resolving the uncertainty to which she has just referred, but I shall bring the fact that she has just raised it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The hon. Lady asked about the Committee of Selection. We are all aware of what emerged from the Committee yesterday, and she will understand that the timing of any debate is a matter for discussion through the usual channels. I do not think that I can hold out expectation of it being before Christmas, but I am sure that discussions can resolve a satisfactory time. The hon. Lady's first question was rather routine, and I shall take it principally as welcoming the procedure motions arising from our negotiations on the Jopling report. Of course, I continue to take notice of the desire of the hon. Lady and others for further notification about business.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a broad welcome in the House for the fact that at last the recommendations of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House will be brought to fruition? Will he be kind enough to lay before us the changes in Standing Orders, whatever they are, as soon as possible, so that we may have a good chance to read them? Does he intend the new arrangements to operate when we return from the Christmas recess?
Mr. Newton: Essentially, the answer to the latter part of my right hon. Friend's question is yes. In answer to his earlier question, I can tell him that I shall do everything that I can to make sure that the detailed resolutions are laid at the earliest practicable moment, so that there will be a proper opportunity to consider them. In view of the contacts that I have maintained with my right hon. Friend over what is now more than months, it goes almost without saying that I greatly value his appreciation of the fact that we are now able to make a move on this front.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Does the Leader of the House accept that if the Jopling proposals were extant and we had their benefit, he would today have been able to give us the last two days' business before Christmas rather than keeping us all on tenterhooks? There is a clear feeling in all parts of the House that the more notice we get on important debates, the better. If there are substantial and fundamental changes to the rules of engagement in Bosnia, will the Government undertake to make not just a statement on such important and serious matters, but provision for a short debate if that is necessary? While I am on this matter, what about Hong Kong?
Mr. Newton: Perhaps for the moment I may confine my remarks to Bosnia. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement yesterday. That responded to representations that I had received from various quarters about the desirability of such a statement. I think that I can claim some credibility because of my repeated assurances to the
Column 492House about making arrangements for appropriate statements or debates as and when the need for them is clear.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton): Does my right hon. Friend realise that this is the ninth time that I have risen to press him on Jopling? I am delighted to congratulate him on being able to give a favourable response this time. Can he confirm that the motions will be amendable? As this matter of procedure is fairly wide, will he try to limit the amendments so that they relate only to the Jopling report and not to other aspects of procedure because, of course, to do so would be to go much wider?
Mr. Newton: Although those are ultimately matters for the Chair, I expect the motions to be amendable. However, I shall not presume on the judgment of the Chair about the scope and scale of amendments. As Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my right hon. Friend will understand that. I appreciate his warm welcome for what I said, and say to him in return that it feels like many more than nine times.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Department of Transport to send a Minister to the Dispatch Box to explain what has happened today to our rolling stock industry? That industry is virtually bankrupt and is now faced with the award of a major contract for London Underground trains to a firm that will give most of the work to France and Spain and very little work, which will be of an assembly type, to the west midlands. That is not only a disgrace but typical of what happens. No one can imagine the French Government awarding such a major contract for their transport system to any foreign supplier.
Mr. Newton: I am, of course, aware--and had I not been, I would have been made aware by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who has pressed so hard for new rolling stock for the Northern line--of the fact that a decision has been announced today. I have not had an opportunity to study the detail of that decision but, inevitably--and quite properly within the rules--London Underground will have had to have regard to the value for money of the various tenders that came in. I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that, while I understand entirely why she raised the issue and why the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and others may wish to raise it, I cannot add to that.
I acknowledge that all hon. Members representing Derbyshire and the surrounding area have quite rightly worked very hard for the award of the contract, which they wished to go to Derby, including my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight).
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Will my right hon. Friend arrange an urgent debate on the appalling mismanagement of the Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled Essex council, which is denying care in the community to frail and elderly people in that county? Does he recognise that the debate is urgent, given the shocking discovery that at the same time as the council is denying care to my constituents, it is sitting on more than £24 million, and that figure is growing with every profit? Surely the House should have an opportunity to debate the callous behaviour of councillors in Essex.
Column 493he raises that point. In noting his remarks, I would make the point that, for all local authorities, the support funding for social services, including community care responsibilities, has gone up by 15 per cent. this year on last and, over four years, from just over £3.5 billion to nearly £6.5 billion.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On Thursday's business, would the Leader of the House consider asking the Prime Minister whether he would answer the detailed Question 5 on Lockerbie at the end of questions, so that he can give the proper answer that he would wish, in view of the sensitivities of the relatives and to be fair to the noble Lord Parkinson, who, in good faith gave undertakings to the relatives that there would be a public inquiry, and to be fair to the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), who, as Secretary of State for Transport, made a statement to journalists at the Garrick club for which he was later dismissed-- possibly unfairly because of its complexity? Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister whether he would consider answering that at the end of questions, for the sake of coherence?
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate on health next week, so that hon. Members can examine properly the argument advanced on both sides of the House that increasing taxation on cigarettes improves health in Britain when that is not proven, bearing in mind the fact that cigarettes imported from Germany and France replace British cigarettes that would otherwise be smoked, not to mention smuggling, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor mentioned this afternoon? The fact that 204 jobs at Gallaher Tobacco in my constituency have been lost this week to cigarette makers from overseas should properly be discussed in the House.
Mr. Newton: I understand why my hon. Friend raises that point. Perhaps he will have the good fortune to catch the Chair's eye next Tuesday if he wishes to pursue it. I should acknowledge, however, that it is clear that price has played a part in reducing cigarette consumption and that the reduction in cigarette consumption has had beneficial health effects.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Social Security for a debate or statement on the thousands of women who are living on reduced incomes because they are denied invalidity benefit while the Government challenge a European Court decision that they should be entitled to it? It is outrageous and we are now told that it will be another 18 months at least before the matter is resolved. Millions of pounds are being denied to women living in reduced circumstances. If the Leader of the House has a word with the Secretary of State for Social Security, will he tell him that it really is not good enough consistently to refuse to estimate how much money is
Column 494being withheld from those women? It is not good enough that the Secretary of State refuses to answer parliamentary questions on the matter.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): In view of what my right hon. Friend has just said to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), is he aware of the concern of hon. Members representing Derbyshire about today's announcement from the Department of Transport? Would it be possible to have a statement next week? Will the Secretary of State, perhaps at that stage, draw to the House's attention early-day motion 71 in which a number of Labour Members demanded that the contract went to GEC?
[ That this House welcomes the bid from GEC Alsthom for a 20-year service provision package, including new rolling stock, for London Underground's Northern Line and the job security which the award of this tender would bring to its factories in Birmingham and the North West; calls upon London Underground to make its tender decision strictly on the quality of the product and value for money; and commends the bid to London Underground on these criteria. ]
Mr. Newton: I certainly take note of my hon. Friend's last point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will answer questions on Monday 19 December. Lastly, I acknowledge the efforts that my hon. Friend has made as a Member representing Derbyshire, in the interests of his constituents and those nearby.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Would it be possible to have a debate in the very near future--next week, if possible--on the duties and responsibilities of Members of Parliament, bearing in mind how the standing of the House has improved considerably since the vote on Tuesday, because people have realised that there are Members of Parliament who vote according to what they believe to be in the national interest and according to their conscience, and who are not willing to be stamped on and bullied by Whips? If the Leader of the House has seen some of the letters that appeared in the national press yesterday and today, he will know full well that I am absolutely correct in saying that the authority of the House has gone up and that that is far more important than any proposed change over Jopling.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman may possibly care to reflect on those remarks when he starts to get the complaints that we heard so vociferously from the Opposition in relation to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor said this afternoon.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Notwithstanding the welcome collapse of the iron curtain, will the Leader of the House admit that it is a matter of grave concern if ever it is discovered that a British subject has been in the pay of a foreign security service? Will he consider, therefore, having an urgent debate on national security and perhaps the remit of the Nolan committee, given that Mr. Richard Gott, who still writes for The Guardian , has been accused this week by The Spectator of having been in the pay of the KGB for a number of
Column 495years, despite which treason, he and his paper have continued to attack the supposed corruption of the British establishment?
Mr. Newton: While I have seen the front cover of The Spectator , I have not had the opportunity to read the story to which my hon. Friend refers. In view of what he said, he will understand that my proper course this afternoon is simply to take note of what he says.
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan): Will the Leader of the House allocate some time to discuss the escalation of violent crime and the use of firearms in Scotland? One of the reasons why I ask this question is that the Secretary of State for Scotland gave a very misleading reply yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), by telling him that such incidents represented only two incidents per 1,000 crimes, when in the past decade there were about 17,000 crimes--5,000 in the past three years--with 4,000 people injured and 60 people killed. It is a serious problem for the people of Scotland. Nearly all those incidents happen in deprived areas in Scotland. Will the Leader of the House raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Scotland?
Mr. Newton: I am not in a position to engage in a statistical dispute of the type that the hon. Gentleman describes without notice. I will, of course, bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I know no one more determined to seek to tackle the problems of crime in Scotland, on which he has a Bill in this very Session of Parliament, than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): May we have a debate next week on British exports, during which we can congratulate British industry on its exceptional performance of late? Perhaps we could also consider the effect of the Government's announcement on reducing the rates of export credit guarantees, which has put Britain's exporters in a far better position than their competitors.
Mr. Newton: Much as I would like to arrange such a debate because I acknowledge what my hon. Friend said, I cannot readily envisage finding the time before the Christmas recess. I might be more encouraged even to seek to do so if I thought that there was the slightest chance that those well- deserved tributes to British industry would be paid by the Opposition Front Bench.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I believe that the order relating to the local government reorganisation of Cleveland was tabled today and will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. Does the Lord President of the Council recall his statement of 16 June that it would clearly be inappropriate to proceed while the judicial review was taking place? I invite him to repeat that assurance to the House today.
Mr. Newton: Clearly, we would not have laid the order as the hon. Gentleman described had we felt that it was any longer inappropriate to do so. He will know that there has been an extensive amount of legal action on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would say that there must come a stage when it is appropriate to proceed.
Column 496these days? The Labour party is attacking the monarchy and suggests that if it were ever elected, it would spend the first year of government getting through legislation to introduce unequal representation. Those of us representing English constituencies would not be able to discuss matters relating to health, education, welfare and so forth in England and Wales, yet Members representing Scotland and Wales would be able discuss those matters here, in the same Parliament, as they relate to English residents. Unequal representation is a sinister idea and it is contrary to democracy wherever it is practised. May we have a debate to investigate that matter? Perhaps the hon. Member who represents West Lothian--the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)--who has just left the Chamber, might like to take part.
Mr. Newton: That would certainly be the case and, indeed, that question--previously called the West Lothian question--has never even remotely been answered, to the embarrassment of many Opposition Members. In future, we shall have to describe it as the Linlithgow question, but it remains the same.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): The Commons was absent for 13 weeks in the summer and for two weeks when Parliament prorogued. We shall be away for another three weeks over Christmas and the new year. Furthermore, this afternoon's business has collapsed and we have five and a half hours to discuss a bridge in Wales. Important though that might be, we could have discussed other matters later. Why then has a junior Transport Minister offered me a private Member's Bill to introduce, instead of a measure of my choice, because there is not enough time for it to be debated in Parliament? Should not we alter our arrangements so that we can get through our business correctly and properly?
Mr. Newton: I am sure that any hon. Friend who approached the hon. Gentleman was merely trying to be helpful. On the first part of his question, we have had such exchanges many times before and, judging by representations made to me about sitting hours and all the rest, the hon. Gentleman's views are simply unrepresentative--for example, he had only to listen to the welcome given this afternoon to the proposed debate on what are known as the Jopling proposals.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Further to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), may I press my right hon. Friend for a debate on the monumental mismanagement by Liberal and Labour-controlled Essex county council, which has lost £8.5 million from its community and child care budgets, with reserves rising from £25 million today to a predicted £28 million at the end of the financial year? Surely the council should be using those reserves to protect the vulnerable elderly people and children in my constituency and in Brentwood and Ongar.
Mr. Newton: I would certainly tell my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that the matter that they pointed out raises some very real questions. While I cannot promise a debate before the Christmas recess, I shall certainly bear it in mind.