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Business of the House

3.32 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): Will the Leader of the House provide information on forthcoming business?

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

Monday 20 March----Second Reading of the Child Support Bill. Tuesday 21 March----Debate on a motion to take note of European Community Document No. 5097/95 relating to the common agricultural policy price proposals for 1995 -96 and related measures.

Wednesday 22 March----Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Progress on remaining stages of the Jobseekers Bill.

Thursday 23 March----Until about 7 o'clock, conclusion of remaining stages of the Jobseekers Bill.

Debate on the civil service on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 24 March----Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 22 March to consider European Community Document No. 11287/93 relating to external frontiers. [Tuesday 21 March:

Agricultural Price Proposals 1995-96--European Community Document No. 5097/95; relevant European Legislation Committee report HC 70-x (1994-95).

Wednesday 22 March:

European Standing Committee B--European Community Document No. 11287/93, External Frontiers; relevant European Legislation Committee report HC 48- xxix (1993-94).]

In the following week beginning Monday 27 March, I expect on the Monday to take progress on remaining stages of the Disability Discrimination Bill, which would continue to a conclusion on Tuesday 28 March. I am not yet in a position to give details for Wednesday 29 March and Thursday 30 March, but I anticipate taking Government business on the Thursday until about 7 o'clock, with a debate on the motion for the Adjournment thereafter.

Mrs. Taylor: I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Before moving on to next week's business, may I ask the Leader of the House to join me in congratulating you, Madam Speaker, on an event that is to take place this Saturday in Birmingham--your inauguration as chancellor of the Open university?

On next week's business, can the Leader of the House explain why, given so much pre-publicity by Ministers about National Science Week next week, we are not holding a debate in the House of Commons on science policy?

Secondly, given the two important defeats in the House of Lords suffered by the Government this week on pension rights of divorced women and remarried war widows, will the Leader of the House give us an

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assurance that the Government will not seek to overturn those two significant steps when the Bill returns to the House for its remaining stages?

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether we are likely in the near future to have a debate on dentistry in the national health service, in view of the 800,000 patients, 3,000 of whom are in my area, who have had national health service dental care withdrawn? Finally, in view of the comments made--not in a book--by the former Conservative party treasurer, Lord McAlpine, that the Prime Minister has

"stuffed up the Conservative Party"

and that

"Opposition might cleanse the Tories",

an opinion that Lord McAlpine claims is shared by Tory Members of Parliament, can we have a debate on the consequences for Britain of a lame duck Government, probably a stuffed lame duck Government, who have certainly lost their authority in their own party, in the House and in the country?

Mr. Newton: Rather unusually for the hon. Lady, as she usually manages to ask slightly more sensible questions, her last one sounded as if she was practising as a scriptwriter in a rather second-rate television comedy show. [Interruption.] I am probably exaggerating the quality of the show.

Perhaps I might take the other questions in the order in which they were asked. First, I need hardly say that I do indeed join the hon. Lady in the congratulations that she extended to you, Madam Speaker. Indeed, I should have thought of that myself, and I am very happy to join in now.

On National Science Week, the hon. Lady will be aware that we recently had a debate about science, although I accept that there is pressure for another, and I shall bear that in mind. Ministers generally, and I hope all Members of Parliament, will be anxious to support the aims of National Science Week, which was very successful last year. I believe that it will be even more successful this year, and I shall seek further opportunities for debate in due course. On the House of Lords decisions, the hon. Lady will be aware that, as is usual in dealing with decisions in another place, the Government will wish to consider carefully the implications of the decisions that have been made.

On dentists, the hon. Lady might have registered the fact that in England today nearly 21 million adults and more than 6 million children are registered with NHS dentists, and that there has been a net increase in the number of adult patients registered with NHS dentists. Indeed, since June 1992, the figure is equivalent to one extra patient every four minutes.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North): Will my right hon. Friend, if not next week, as soon as possible afterwards, offer an assurance of a very early debate on the first special report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which was published on 7 March

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1995? That is a matter of grave concern to the House, and is delaying the important activities of the Select Committee.

Mr. Newton: I shall certainly bear that point in mind, and it might also be appropriate to have further discussions in the usual channels about the way in which to respond to that report.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): If the Leader of the House is not prepared to hold a debate on the NHS in relation to the lack of NHS treatment from NHS dentists, will he carefully consider the proposals that are afoot to consider restructuring out-of-hours consultancy visiting fees for doctors? Is he aware that, if the current proposals were put into effect, they would act as a perverse disincentive to rural GPs to have any night visits for their patients? It is a serious matter, which needs urgent attention in the House.

Mr. Newton: In view of the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put his point, I shall draw his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): Is it not rather insulting to the Select Committee on European Legislation that the Leader of the House has announced that the uniform visa for the European Community will be considered by European Standing Committee B, when that Select Committee specifically said that it should be considered on the Floor of the House?

Can my right hon. Friend further explain what is the point of debating the common agricultural policy on Tuesday, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has just issued a table in the other place showing that the average cost per person of the CAP is £4 a week, while the Foreign Secretary told us in a letter the other day that it was £6.50 a week and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told us just two weeks ago that it was £7 a week? Would it not be better to scrap the CAP debate until we can find out the right figure and instead debate the uniform visa format, consideration of which on the Floor of the House was judged vital by the Select Committee?

Mr. Newton: I thought that the misunderstanding about the common visa--it is not the principal point of the document to which I referred-- which my hon. Friend raised last week, had been cleared up. I noted that he had generously tabled an early-day motion thanking my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for placing a scrutiny reserve on the discussion that took place in Brussels last week. It is a matter of interest, but I think that a debate in the Standing Committee of the kind that I have confirmed today is the appropriate way forward.

As for the CAP and in the light of what my hon. Friend has said, it seems entirely sensible to have a debate on it, which might help to clarify any confusion that exists in my hon. Friend's mind or that of anyone else on that matter. There is no confusion about what is in common between my hon. Friend and the entire Government: the desire to make the CAP more efficient and effective and to continue the process of reform.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): May we have a debate soon on the need to decentralise power

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throughout the United Kingdom, especially in view of the report in today's edition of The Herald on Government-funded research? That report found that in England there is a clear majority in favour of regional elected assemblies; that there is an even bigger majority in Wales in favour of a Welsh Assembly; and that the overwhelming majority of Scots are in favour of a Scottish Parliament. Why are the Government stubbornly refusing to respond to the wishes of the people on that matter?

Mr. Newton: If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is a majority in every part of the country in favour of regional assemblies, he needs to do some more research. Whatever that research might show, we all know that the only reason for the Labour party's proposal for regional assemblies is that it is the only way in which it can make sense of its proposal for devolution in various places. Moreover, the net result of such assemblies would not be an increase in local democracy, as is often claimed; rather those bodies would suck up power from existing local responsibility.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate soon on the levels of council tax in north-west Kent? Conservative-controlled Dartford borough council has brought down the council tax, but Liberal-Labour-controlled Kent county council has increased it. That means that all my constituents will have to pay more council tax because of the financial

irresponsibility of the Lib-Lab-controlled Kent county council.

Mr. Newton: I should certainly wish to consider the possibility of providing further opportunities for debate on local government and related matters for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I suspect that similar points could be made about Labour and Liberal-controlled areas in many other parts of the country.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 721?

[ That this House welcomes the fact that the Foreign Affairs Committee is carrying out an investigation into nuclear proliferation; and calls upon the Government to hold a debate on the subject before the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference takes place in mid-April .]

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the conference on the renewal of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is vital? Does he also accept that concern has been expressed about how Government policy in recent years on Trident and THORP has fitted in with that treaty? We should have the opportunity to debate nuclear non-proliferation before the conference begins in April.

Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman will perhaps understand if I can make no immediate promise of a debate on that matter. The Government are co- operating with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is holding an investigation into some of the matters raised. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the Committee earlier this year, we firmly believe that indefinite and unconditional extension of the non-proliferation treaty would be in the best security interests of all.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West): Will my right hon. Friend offer a debate on conservation of fish

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stocks in the world's oceans? There is some urgency on that because we know that the Spanish fleets have devastated the fishing grounds of Namibia, have finished off the stocks off the coast of west Africa and are now moving into the waters off Newfoundland. We have no true guarantees of what they may do in the Irish sea. Wherever they go, they perpetrate an ecological disaster and leave desolation behind them. Should not the House come to a view on the changes that are required in international law to address that problem?

Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend will be aware of the exchanges with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food earlier this week and of the efforts that are being made by the Government to contribute to sensible negotiation to find a sensible solution to the dispute between Canada and the European Union. It is clear that that solution must be based on regard for conservation and must be effectively enforced.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Would not it be a good idea to have a debate on what is happening to the Motorail and sleeper services in the north of Scotland? As I interpret the Prime Minister's response to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) a few minutes ago, he seemed to give an assurance that those services would still be running while formal consultations were taking place.

That is exactly the assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland refused to give at the most recent Scottish questions, despite the fact that a Scottish Office Minister had previously given that assurance to the Scottish Grand Committee. Does not the Leader of the House appreciate that the uncertainty in itself is deeply damaging, particularly to the tourist industry in Scotland? May we have a debate and a decision, and may we have that assurance repeated now?

Mr. Newton: I am obviously not in a position to add greatly to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. I think he had it in mind that, while decisions at the moment are matters for the commercial judgment of British Rail, steps will be taken to ensure that the equipment and infrastructure--for example, the rolling stock--are maintained in place.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on job creation in Derbyshire, especially in the light of yesterday's excellent news that unemployment in the county has dropped by 4,000 over the past year, which is a drop of more than 9 per cent.? Such a debate is important in the light of today's even better news that Toyota is to build a second factory in the county, which will employ another 1,000 people.

Mr. Newton: Again, I shall bear that request for a debate in mind because it has many attractions. I am quite sure that every hon. Member will welcome the further decision by Toyota. It is reaffirmation of the company's confidence in the economy of this country and, dare I say it, it is further confirmation that Britain, for reasons not

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unconnected with the social chapter that Labour wants to impose upon us, is far and away the most attractive place for people to come to do business.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): As the Government are pushing forward the Disability Discrimination Bill on 27 and 28 March, should not the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill at least have an opportunity to make some progress in Committee so that the House may have an opportunity to decide between the principles contained in those two measures? I hope that the Minister does not find my question too unsophisticated, which is what he said last week.

Mr. Newton: I certainly do not wish as a weekly routine to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is unsophisticated, if only because it would be untrue. As I said last week, I have no plans to change the normal arrangements for dealing with private Members' Bills. However, I have plans for making sure that the important Government Disability Discrimination Bill makes progress.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): May we have an early Government statement on the state of Anglo-American relations, particularly following President Clinton's decision to allow Sinn Fein to raise funds in the United States? Does my right hon. Friend agree that most people in this country found the sight of Bianca Jagger and other celebrities hobnobbing with Gerry Adams at a fund-raising dinner in the United States yesterday, which took place precisely because of that decision, absolutely disgusting? Does he also agree that people in America who want to know more about what is going on in Northern Ireland would do well to listen to the group from Families Against Intimidation and Terror, which has gone to Washington to protest against Mr. Adams? They should listen particularly to Thomas Clarke, whose son Malachy hanged himself in December after being beaten up by a Sinn Fein-IRA terror gang.

Mr. Newton: Plainly, many hon. Members, including myself, well understand why my hon. Friend makes those points. I hope that he, in turn, will understand that I commented on the matter during Prime Minister's questions on Tuesday, and that I would not wish to add to those remarks.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton): Will the Leader of the House give credit to the BBC for showing the film last night on euthanasia in Holland? That programme was done in a sensitive manner. I know that he might not have seen it himself, but did it not raise many serious issues that are at least worthy of a debate? Will he arrange for that?

Mr. Newton: Not having seen the film, I am not in a position to comment directly. As it happens, however, I saw a discussion of the film later at night on the BBC. That discussion was responsible and balanced, and it clearly showed some of the difficulties in the proposals that are sometimes urged upon us.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on early-day motion 763?

[ That this House notes the honourable Member for Leicester West, as Chairman of the Employment Select Committee, is interviewing leading industrialists and

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businessmen on their remuneration packages whilst at the same time offering these people his services on how to improve their public speaking and presentational skills; further notes that other services offered by the honourable Member for Leicester West include advice on making people redundant and serving on the Remuneration Committee of Ladbroke plc which awarded the Chairman of that company a salary of £583,000 per annum--£108,000 per annum more than the Chairman of British Gas plc--and in addition awarded five directors of the company 1.3 million share options worth £2.3 million; believes that these activities represent a conflict of interest with his current position as Chairman of the Employment Select Committee; and calls on him to resign immediately. ]

Thus the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment would have an opportunity to defend himself properly.

Mr. Newton: The Employment Select Committee has just made a number of recommendations on a matter that may not be directly related to the issue that leads to my hon. Friend's question, but that could be appropriate for a debate. Short of that, I cannot give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he seeks, but I have read reports in newspapers that the Committee may give further consideration to the matter.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the future of the railway rolling stock industry in view of the announcement made at 3 o'clock this afternoon in Berlin that Asea Brown Boveri Ltd., one of Britain's two main rail manufacturers, is to merge with the German company Daimler-Benz? Is he aware that the financial markets suggest that, in the long term, that may bring work into British factories because of lower labour costs and high productivity in this country, but that, in the short term, an order from Britain for more Networker trains for London commuters is vital to keep the York works open? Unless such an order is made in the next few weeks, the York works will close, and the enormous multi-million-pound opportunities for exporting the railway body shells that are built in York to Germany and other parts of Europe will be lost for ever.

Mr. Newton: There are two points there. On the latter one, of course I recognise the urgency of ABB's position. We have been over this ground before, so the hon. Gentleman will know that it is a matter for British Rail, but I understand that it intends to issue tenders within the next couple of weeks. I am not so sure that the thrust of the first part of his question will be as welcome among Labour Members as it is among Conservative Members, but I agree with it.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): Will my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to make a statement in the House next week on the Official Secrets Act? Is he aware that, in the 1989 discussions, it was acknowledged that all former members of the secret intelligence service should not write books based on their experiences? Since that occasion, two officers--Brian Crozier and Desmond Bristow--have done so, and next week a BBC journalist is publishing a book that includes direct quotations from no fewer than 27 officers, without any reference to the Ministry of

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Defence D-notice committee. Does not that drive a coach and horses through the Act, as many of us at that time predicted would happen? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement by the Home Secretary next week?

Mr. Newton: I cannot undertake to arrange a statement, but I can undertake to bring my hon. Friend's concerns to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 735 on the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill?

[ That this House notes the overwhelming support for the abolition of cruelty to wild mammals shown by honourable Members on 3rd March when the Second Reading of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill was agreed to by 253 votes to 0 and calls on the Government to ensure that Parliamentary time is given to ensure the Bill passes all its stages; further notes that supporters of cruelty to wild mammals were too embarrassed to show their lack of support and abstained; and believes that the unanimous vote for the Second Reading of the Bill should be reflected in the composition of the Standing Committee. ] That Bill received its Second Reading on 3 March by 253 votes to zero. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Bill will go into Committee and will he take this opportunity, or arrange for an early opportunity, to explain what is going on? When Bills leave the Chamber after being given an overwhelming Second Reading, we expect them to turn up in Committee so that hon. Members can continue the consideration. What is going on?

Mr. Newton: It is not for me to determine the proceedings of the Standing Committee that considers private Members' Bills. It has been working away on a number of Bills in the order in which they were given a Second Reading by the House. That is entirely reasonable and sensible.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): As one of the longest-serving members of the council of the Open university, may I associate myself with the warm remarks about your installation on Saturday as our chancellor, Madam Speaker?

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on the disgraceful pressure from Ealing council to spend planning gain money from the Tesco development of the Hoover site miles away from Perivale in Southall? That matter should be brought before the House. The people of Perivale are more than annoyed--they will not have it.

Mr. Newton: It occurs to me almost weekly that were my hon. Friend to apply for an Adjournment debate on Ealing and were successful, he would have enough material to occupy an hour and a half on his own.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Did the Leader of the House hear the long, courteous and considered response that the Prime Minister gave to my careful question at Question Time? In the circumstances, could we have a statement from the Law Officers, particularly the Crown

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Office in Scotland, producing what the Prime Minister called "concrete" evidence that these Libyans had anything to do with the Lockerbie bombing?

The Prime Minister challenges us to produce concrete evidence. That is very difficult, and we do not think that the Crown Office is in any better position. Is it not time that those Law Officers made a statement in some sort of democratic forum about the basis of their evidence?

Mr. Newton: As always, because of the seriousness with which the hon. Gentleman puts his question, I shall reflect on what he has just asked. As far as I am aware, he did not give me notice of the follow-up to the question that he asked the Prime Minister, so I shall not attempt to answer him off the cuff.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): Could we not have a debate on dentistry? The nation's teeth have never been in better condition. It is not a pleasant subject to discuss, there is no need for it and it is ridiculous of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to suggest taking up the time of the House with it.

Mr. Newton: I was left mildly puzzled by the time my hon. Friend had finished his question. I thought that he began by asking for a debate and then demolished the suggestion halfway through.

Mr. Jessel: I said, could we not have a debate?

Mr. Newton: Oh. At any rate, whatever my hon. Friend intended, I agreed with the general thrust of what he was saying.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton): The Leader of the House will be well aware of reports in the newspapers about £5 million payouts for fat cats who are being made redundant from the Treasury. Will he find time to debate that matter? I am sure that many people in my constituency of Nuneaton who are on short-term and part-time contracts find that sum of money extremely offensive.

Mr. Newton: I am sure that my right hon. Friends will note the hon. Gentleman's point. The terms are those approved by Parliament in 1987 and, more recently, under the civil service compensation scheme, which was laid before Parliament last December.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his decision to discuss in European Standing Committee B on Wednesday the crucial issue of the control of the European Union's external frontiers? Will he do so not only in view of the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) relating to the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, but because it is a matter of widespread public concern? It aroused the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who wrote to my right hon. Friend yesterday alongside seven authentic Conservative colleagues, including myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East.

Will my right hon. Friend also give due recognition to the fact that at the European Council meeting, the Home Secretary himself put a scrutiny reserve on that aspect of policy? Does he accept that, at the very least, the public

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deserve a debate on the Floor of the House? The matter should not be brushed under the parliamentary carpet by a quiet sitting upstairs in Committee.

Mr. Newton: The very fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary last week put a scrutiny reserve on the issue in the way of which my hon. Friend is aware is a sign that the Government are in no way dismissing the importance of the matter. It was based on a misunderstanding, and the document that is being discussed goes considerably wider than the narrow point that the scrutiny reserve touched on last week. I do not think that, even with the best will in the world, I can add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor).

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will the Leader of the House assure us that when the special Committee that he chairs reaches a decision on the allegations that two hon. Members took money for questions, it will be debated and determined by the whole House? To help that along, will he arrange for a debate on early-day motion 3? [ That this House believes that the amounts of money received from all interests, at present required to be registered in the Register of Members' Interests, should be declared. ]

The early-day motion seeks to ensure that the Register of Members' Interests lists not only the firms and trade unions in which hon. Members have an interest, but the sums received.

Mr. Newton: I think that the House, and certainly you, Madam Speaker, would regard it as inappropriate for me to discuss at the Dispatch Box the affairs of the Privileges Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, or what might follow its report, so I will not. On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it would be inappropriate for there to be a debate on the matter at this time, especially in advance of any recommendations that the Nolan committee might make.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): May I support a call for a debate on the idea of English regional government? Many of us would welcome the opportunity to express the opposition of people in the English regions to the idea of being saddled with an expensive extra layer of government simply because a few Scottish Members want to saddle the people of Scotland with a talking shop in Edinburgh. It would give me an opportunity to express the views of the people of Kent who would not like their affairs to be run by a bloated bureaucracy in faraway Reading. More important, would it not give the Opposition the opportunity to tell us which services would be run by the English regions and which would be ripped from local government?

Mr. Newton: My first step might be to put my hon. Friend in touch with the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who questioned me earlier, put them together in a room and watch the fun.

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East): Has the Leader of the House seen reports of the remarks made this morning by Mr. Charles Gallagher, the president of the House Builders Federation, expressing his regret at what he sees as the Government's abandonment of home ownership as one of their key values? He referred not only to the tax changes that were mentioned some minutes ago

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by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) but to the remarks made recently by the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, which apparently distanced the Government from their goal of increased home ownership. May we have a debate next week on home ownership so that we can establish what the Government's aspirations are and assess whether, as Mr. Gallagher suggests, home owners and aspiring home owners would be better off under Labour policies?

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