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Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I follow the question that was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who has left his place, but do not follow in his footsteps. What progress has the Leader of the House made in securing a debate in Government time on the national drugs strategy, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House and of the argument can have plenty of time to debate the matter? She will, I know, acknowledge that there has not yet been a debate in Government time in the current Parliament, and that the time given at the time of the statement was inadequate for the breadth of the subject.

Mrs. Beckett: However assiduous the Government are in having statements in the House, it does not allow for the full exploration of a subject in the way that debating time does. All I can say is that I will certainly bear the hon. Lady's remarks in mind.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Pursuant to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on appeasers, I say frankly that I shared platforms with John Pilger and Harold Pinter and the apology for which my hon. Friend asks may be forthcoming, but it will be in five years, when the position might be altogether clearer.

In welcoming Thursday's debate, may I say that there are some of us on the Labour Benches--I do not know how many--who would welcome it being opened by the Prime Minister. As my right hon. Friend will remember, when she was the hon. Member for Lincoln, Harold Wilson often intervened in major foreign affairs debates; during the time of Vietnam, he certainly did so.

It is not a matter just of the amour propre or the self-importance of the House of Commons because, had there been a proper parliamentary debate before the bombs were dropped, much more would have been said by some of us about the need to act in concert with the Russians--if the Russians had not been sidelined for a whole fortnight, much agony might have been saved--we would certainly have asked questions about the refusal to use ground troops at an early stage, and we would never have allowed unchallenged the decision to start bombing and to refuse to use ground troops, leaving vulnerable the very people whom we were hoping to help.

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Mrs. Beckett: I am well aware that in thepast--certainly in the days of our late friendLord Wilson--Prime Ministers used to take part in a greater variety of debates, as my hon. Friend rightly says. He will recall, as I do, that that tradition was sharply changed by Lady Thatcher. I am sure that I am right in saying that that policy was not much altered, if at all, by her successor and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes to the House more often than his predecessors. [Hon. Members: "No."] It is true, I am afraid, and the statistics clearly bear it out.

I will certainly undertake both to my hon. Friend and to Opposition Members who have raised the matter to draw to the Prime Minister's attention the request that he should open the debate, but hon. Members will be aware that the pressures on him have been extremely heavy of late. It is not clear to me what my right hon. Friend's commitments might be, or whether that would be practical. We keep talking about the Cologne summit as though it were around the corner, but it is not--it has not yet taken place. I have a horrid feeling that that debate might be on the eve of the summit and that it simply may not be possible for the Prime Minister to be here. However, I undertake to draw the request to his attention.

I also take my hon. Friend's point that it is too early to know how events will turn out in the Balkans, although all of us obviously hope that they will improve, and we have taken some strong steps in that direction.

The Prime Minister has made five of the statements on that matter to the House. As to whether, if we had had a debate opened by the Prime Minister at an early stage, events might have gone differently, I fear that I cannot share my hon. Friend's view. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said in the House, there have been intensive discussions with the Yugoslav authorities for a long time. Most of us would contest any suggestion that the Russians were sidelined. They have been very much a part of the discussions throughout, including right back at the beginning. I understand my hon. Friend's view and can assure him that opportunities will continue to be provided for those matters to be aired.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): When will the electronic commerce Bill be published? It was announced with a fanfare of trumpets in the Queen's Speech, but it appears to be part of a policy that is in a certain amount of disarray. Have the Government abandoned any idea of producing such a Bill? Also, will the right hon. Lady tell us what has happened to the appointment of a so-called digital envoy? Two names were passed to No. 10 in March and we still await an announcement on whether such an envoy is to be appointed. There are rumours that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) will be appointed instead. Will the right hon. Lady deal with that matter, too?

Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date when the Bill is likely to be published, but I hope that it will be in the near future. Nor, indeed, can I give him information about the appointment of a digital envoy, although I will certainly draw his request for information to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

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Moreover, Trade and Industry questions are next week, so the hon. Gentleman may be able to ask my right hon. Friend directly.

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): Next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday a major United Nations conference is taking place at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre across the road. I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister will address it, along with a number of his ministerial colleagues. The conference is organised by the World Health Organisation and is on health and the environment. A number of issues are to be considered, including a legally binding protocol on water and health, and a charter on transport, environment and health. In view of the importance of that conference, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the business for next week, or arrange for us to have a debate before the end of the month on the outcome of the conference?

Mrs. Beckett: I certainly cannot undertake today to do that, although I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks. I accept that it is an important conference and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will make an important contribution to it. I fear, however, that the request for a debate in this House will have to take its place on the list of eminently worthy subjects that we should debate.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I join my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House in asking for a debate at the earliest possible date on long-term care. The matter is of great importance to a growing number of people.

My real question is whether the Leader of the House is prepared to arrange for a debate in Government time on the procedural changes needed in this House as a result of devolution and the other changes that the Government have introduced to the way in which this country is governed. The right hon. Lady will know that I chair the Procedure Committee and that we recently published a report on the procedural consequences of devolution. If the House is to be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, it is important that changes take place here to reflect the changes that the Government have brought about.

Mrs. Beckett: I have taken on board the request for a debate on long-term care. May I gently remind the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members that it was this Government who set up the royal commission? Although he is right to say that this is a problem of great importance, it has been around for nearly 20 years--for most of which time his party was in power. I am sure that he regrets as much as I do the fact that more was not done about long-term care at that time.

On the possibility of a debate in this House on the procedural consequences of devolution, I am aware of the important and serious work being done by the Committee chaired by the hon. Gentleman and I understand his wish to have those issues aired here in the near future. Such is the pressure on time that I cannot readily see my way to finding time for an early debate--and in due course we

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shall have a little more experience under our belt of how these changes are developing. I have taken on board his request, although I cannot grant it now.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early stage for a debate on the subject of lip reading, given the high degree of cross-party support for my early-day motion 573?

[That this House recognises that more than eight million people are hard of hearing or severely deaf; notes that most of them rely on spoken English for communication with family or friends and for equal access to leisure and social activities, public services, employment and education; further notes that the acquisition of lipreading skills is vital to this end and that this is best facilitated through lipreading classes taught by qualified tutors; believes that such a programme will encourage people with acquired hearing loss to maximise their opportunities to remain active and participating members of society; and calls on the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to require the new local learning partnerships to recognise their role in providing lipreading classes, at no charge to hearing-impaired users, in each locality.]

The provision of lip reading classes across the country is patchy. Provision exists and access is easy in some parts but not in others, and courses are charged for in some parts but not in others. Because lip reading is so important to the older generation as they lose their hearing, it is vital that we have consistent provision and easy access to lip reading classes across the country. Will my right hon. Friend draw this matter to the attention of her right hon. Friends and arrange for an early debate on it?


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