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Mr. Newton: I had not been aware of that report or proposal, but I am now. I am sure that my righthon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is aware of them both, and I must point out that he is due to answer questions here next Monday.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): The Leader of the House is probably aware that next week is half-term holiday throughout most of the country, and that on Monday, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), speaking on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, revealed to the House that the Commission has no plans to introduce any kind of child care facility in this building for the children of Members or of staff, other than the £6-a-day allowance for private nursery places to which some staff are entitled.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it might be an idea at least to consider the problems of many people who have young children yet who also want to be in the House, and so need some child care facility? Just before the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, might not this building catch up with the times by introducing a practice that is fairly normal in

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large institutions, and providing a workplace child care facility, so that all people, whether Members or people employed here, could participate equally in the proceedings in this building?

Madam Speaker: Do I understand that thehon. Gentleman seeks a debate on such matters--or simply an opinion?

Mr. Corbyn: Of course, Madam Speaker, it would be helpful if the children could come and take part in the debate. They might bring some sense of reality to our proceedings, which is clearly missing, judging by what is happening today.

Madam Speaker: I am simply reminding the House that this is an occasion on which we ask for debates.

Mr. Newton: You may also think it right to remind the House, Madam Speaker, that such matters are for the House of Commons Commission, of which you are the Chairman, and for which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed speaks.

Mr. Corbyn: You are the Leader of the House.

Mr. Newton: And I am a member of the Commission--and I have played a part in bringing about the improvement in provision to which thehon. Gentleman referred, by introducing the arrangements he mentioned. I shall ensure that the Chairman of the Commission has her attention drawn to his remarks.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): Gratified though I am to have a walk-on part in the Scott report, may I ask for a debate next week about the streets of London? I realise that the Leader of the House rarely walks the streets of London, surrounded as he is by his fawning civil servants, but if he were to do so, he might see that they are being turned into patchwork quilts by being constantly dug up by deregulated operators, especially the cable companies, who leave them in the

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most appalling state. That is the sort of thing that really gets up the noses of the people I represent in the east end of London, and I should like the opportunity of a debate, so that I can tell the right hon. Gentleman in far more detail exactly what is going on.

Mr. Newton: I mildly observe that I do occasionally walk the streets of London, usually when accompanying my wife on a shopping expedition. [Hon. Members: "Sexist."] I do not think that there is anything sexist in that. It is an entirely proper thing for a husband to do--and probably a wise one as well. [Interruption.] This is going to cause trouble when the news gets back home.

Various efforts have been made in recent years to achieve better co-ordination when streets have to be dug up, but I accept that the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have not yet reached perfection, and I shall draw his remarks to the attention of those concerned.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): May I impress upon the Leader of the House the urgent need for an early debate both on the whole of Senator Mitchell's report and on the infamous decision and action of the IRA in returning to bombing innocent citizens? May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Senator Mitchell and his esteemed colleagues argued that there was a need for meaningful negotiations, which they hoped would lead to comprehensive change in Northern Ireland? Surely that laudable objective could be helped in a realistic way if all-party talks, to include Sinn Fein, were to take place in the near future.

Mr. Newton: I accept unequivocally that thehon. Gentleman's request for a debate is serious. I think that he will also recognise, as will the occupants of both Front Benches and the spokesmen for the minority parties, that no one would want to do anything, whether in the House or elsewhere, that did not seem clearly to contribute to the prospects of the peace that we all want to see. In that context, I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said and bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

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Points of Order

5.34 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall the answer that I received from a Minister of the Crown on the granting of a pass by a Minister to a commercial lobbyist. You will also know that last week you twice ruled that you are not in a position to intervene. Who will sort out the problem? A Minister of the Crown provides a pass to a commercial lobbyist, whom he registers as a researcher but who does no research for that Minister. There is an issue--

Madam Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can inform the hon. Gentleman. I think that he is looking at a register that is not current. The Minister of the Crown concerned ceased to employ the gentleman in question in the middle of 1995, and he has not had a pass since that time. I have correspondence on the subject. If the hon. Gentleman would like to come to my office, I shall show it to him, so that he can see all the dates.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I, too, have seen the documentation, Madam Speaker. The pass application was signed on 1 May, yet the person concerned was appointed as a Minister three months earlier. It cannot be possible for a Minister of the Crown to sign a pass for a commercial lobbyist who does not work for him. Something is wrong in the system. I am simply suggesting that something should be done.

Madam Speaker: It is perfectly correct for a Minister of the Crown to employ whom he wishes. That was done perfectly properly. Since last year, the Minister has not employed that person, and he does not have a pass to enter the House. I have records giving me that evidence, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to come to my office, I shall make them available to him.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you uphold, some may say embody, the dignity of the House, do you share my concern about an article that appeared in The Guardian yesterday about the "Mark Thomas Comedy Product", a new Channel 4 programme in which Members of Parliament will be interviewed dressed in the costumes of various animals, especially teddy bears? I am sure that we are grateful to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes), who declined to be interviewed dressed as a male organ--although some of us might think that most appropriate. Do you not feel, Madam Speaker, that that detracts somewhat from the dignity of this place? Clearly some Members of Parliament will do anything for publicity, and I feel that their attention should be drawn to the matter.

Madam Speaker: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that many Members of the House will do a great deal to get publicity. I make no mention of names--just follow my eyes. We must now move on to more serious matters.

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Orders of the Day


[Relevant document: The draft of the BBC's new Charter for the continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation.]

5.37 pm

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley): I beg to move,

The BBC is a central part of our national life. Virtually all of us watch its television channels and listen to its radio services. None of us is indifferent to it. It is a unique repository of talent and expertise.

The BBC has remained dedicated to its core tradition of public service broadcasting, true to Lord Reith's original vision of 70 years ago. It still serves to inform, to educate and to entertain. It is a benchmark against which other broadcasters are measured. Michael Grade said that it is the BBC that

Since the present charter and agreement were debated, we have seen rapid change in the world of broadcasting, with cable, satellite and Channel 4, and Channel 5 will soon arrive. Three independent national radio stations have been introduced, as have a new BBC national radio station and nearly 200 independent local radio stations.

I pay tribute to the BBC's determination to stay at the forefront of technology. Over the years, it has adapted in line with changing circumstances and technological advance. Recently, it has played an important part in promoting digital broadcasting, and it introduced digital audio broadcasting last September. We shall discuss that when the Broadcasting Bill has completed its progress in another place.

Internationally, the BBC helps to define the United Kingdom's image and reputation. It was on the BBC that President Gorbachev relied for accurate and impartial news when he was under house arrest. It has the highest reputation as a broadcaster and programme maker at home and overseas.

Today's debate on a new charter and agreement marks the culmination of a three-year process of rigorous consultation and debate. The Government published their consultation paper on the future of the BBC in 1992. I pay warm tribute to my predecessors in office.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) for the original consultation paper, in response to which many thousands of people let us know their views and concerns. I pay tribute to the National Heritage Select Committee, which made a valuable contribution through its 1993 report. The Government and the new Secretary of State responded to that in our White Paper, "The Future of the BBC", for which I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), in 1994. A year ago, with another Secretary of State, the House debated the issues arising from the White Paper.

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Perhaps it is a tribute to the BBC and to the concern that hon. Members feel for it that, for all the many issues on which views may change with successive Secretaries of State, there seems to have been great unanimity of view on this subject.

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