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Mrs. Taylor: I think that I made it clear earlier that, when it comes to debating any such issues, there is a great deal of pressure on the House's time. We have discussions and consultations and, of course, I take them all into account. I cannot promise my hon. Friend the debate that she wants.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Two weeks ago at business questions, I asked the Leader of the

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House to look into a situation in which the Foreign Secretary had knowingly or otherwise given an inaccurate response to a question that I had asked him in the Chamber. I took the precaution of tabling a written question. The answer confirmed, in the words of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), that I did not receive an accurate response. About three hours ago, I received a letter from the Leader of the House, which simply says that she is satisfied that the Minister of State's answer accurately set out the position. That was not my point. My concern was that the Foreign Secretary had inaccurately answered my question, not whether his Minister of State has answered it.

I understand that, in 1956, Harold Macmillan described the life of a Foreign Secretary as for ever poised between a cliche and an indiscretion. It is clear that the Foreign Secretary has lost that poise. From his behaviour, it seems that he has also lost all respect for the House of Commons. Will the Leader of the House look again at the facts and ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to put the record straight?

Mrs. Taylor: I have nothing to add to what I said to the hon. Gentleman in my letter.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the tragedy that struck in my constituency on 15 December, when three elderly constituents died in a fire in a private care home. Can we have a debate on fire precautions in private care homes? Such accommodation is not subject to fire inspections because of its size. I consider the event in my constituency a marker for what could happen in many other constituencies. The rules should be changed, and a debate would help us to achieve the changes for which people are asking.

Mrs. Taylor: I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern at the tragedy in his constituency. I cannot promise him a debate on fire precautions in the way that he suggests, but perhaps he would consider applying to you, Madam Speaker, for an Adjournment debate. For my part, I shall certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In view of the widespread interest in foreign affairs, will the Leader of the House grant us an early debate on the subject to allow the Foreign Secretary an opportunity to explain his relations with the Minister responsible for foreign affairs in Cuba? The matter relates to early-day motion 671.

[That this House warmly welcomes the visit of His Holiness the Pope to Cuba; and believes that his spiritual leadership and courageous personal example will be an inspiration to the people of Cuba now as they were to people behind the Iron Curtain during the dark days of the Cold War who similarly suffered too long under state-sponsored atheism and authoritarian Marxist government.]

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The early-day motion was tabled following the visit of His Holiness the Pope to the island and refers to the issues and hopes that the visit raised.

Mrs. Taylor: We cannot have a specific debate on that in the near future, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to Ministers' attention.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Given that the Government's policy to reduce value added tax on fuel is bringing many benefits to everyone across the country--to businesses, charities and pensioners--including 17,000 pensioners in my constituency, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on such benefits, and particularly the gains of reducing VAT on home insulation?

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend raises an important topic, and one that is of benefit to many pensioners in his constituency and in mine, nearby. The fact that we kept our election pledge on VAT on fuel and reversed the Conservative party's trend of increasing it has been of great assistance to many, as are the payments to pensioners that are being made at present.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West): Yesterday, during the Scotland Bill's first day in Committee, many amendments were not discussed. I know that that often happens, but the Scotland Bill is a constitutional Bill of great importance. Is it possible, either through the Business Committee that is considering the matter, or in other ways, for people with more knowledge and skill than I have in such matters to devise a method whereby all amendments are properly considered--either through better timetabling or use of time in the House, or even by having a separate Committee to mop up the amendments that are not discussed? It is very unsatisfactory that some amendments to a major constitutional Bill are never considered.

Mrs. Taylor: I think that the Business Committee has done quite a good job. In fact, most hon. Members have been very happy with the progress that has been made. It is always difficult to satisfy every hon. Member's desire to participate on every occasion, but we have been working quite well so far.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to have a debate on short-term contracts and so on, we should first get it clear in our mind that the Leader of the Opposition is at the head of the list, and that the debate is called "Waiting for Portillo"? Next, the debate should be broad enough to ensure that we deal with Tory explanations for sacking Clive Ponting--that civil servant of yesteryear--and Sarah Tisdall. Let the Tories explain that. They should also explain why they sacked thousands of customs officers--civil servants--which resulted in havoc at all Britain's ports. If we are to have such a debate, let it be broad enough to relate to all those sackings, including, some time ago, that of the secretary agent in the Richmond offices of the Leader of the Opposition.

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Mrs. Taylor: Fortunately, I have no responsibility for the agent at the Leader of the Opposition's offices. From what my hon. Friend says, he would need more than one day for the debate that he envisages. I am glad that he has raised some of those important points, including the one about customs officers and the fact that we have reversed the cuts on which the Conservative party embarked. It is gratifying to notice some very good drug hauls recently, which are partly as a result of having in place extremely diligent customs officers. I do not think that I can find time to debate all the issues that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Can the right hon. Lady arrange an early debate on the flow of information to Members of Parliament? She kindly answered a question in the House a few days ago about the time that it takes to obtain answers from Ministers to hon. Members' letters. She may have seen on the Order Paper that, yesterday, I tabled questions to 19 different Departments asking about their record on replying. She will also see two questions about the contract of employment of Mrs. Bullen.

As the Opposition--and, I suspect, Labour Members too--are having great difficulty in getting answers in a timely manner, will the right hon. Lady ensure that that happens? If we do not have a debate, will she at least use her best offices to ensure that she looks after the rights of the House ahead of the embarrassment of the Government?

Mrs. Taylor: The Government have a responsibility to answer questions in as short a time scale as possible, but hon. Members also have a responsibility to bear in mind the cost of answering parliamentary questions, and they should table responsible questions.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I refer the right hon. Lady to the final part of her answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard)? Nobody could possibly expect her to know about everything that emanates from the Government, but may I draw her attention to the fact that on 15 January the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions issued a press release saying that there would be a new tax on motoring--in effect, a car ownership tax--from 1 April, set at "about £25"?

That tax was not mentioned in the Chancellor's Budget statement in July, and the next Budget statement is not expected for some weeks. Will the right hon. Lady please give clarification, and an opportunity to debate the matter?

Mrs. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman says that the press release gave some idea of the nature of the tax, not that it was a precise proposal. Indeed, he used the word "about" in his description of it. I shall look into the matter, but the hon. Gentleman will recall that Transport questions are scheduled for next Tuesday, and it may be possible to raise it then. I shall make further inquiries about the precise wording of the press release that he asked me about.

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