Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mrs. Beckett: I know that the whole House shares the sympathy expressed by the hon. Gentleman for the families of those who died. He has continued to pursue this issue. It was a tragic accident. My right hon. and hon. Friends have always said that they would consider any fresh and relevant evidence. Until now, the judgment has been that no evidence has been produced that could lead to the issue being reopened.

The hon. Gentleman has asked several questions on this issue, and the Minister for the Armed Forces will hope to reply to those questions in the near future.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): Further to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on political party funding, so that the Labour party can make its arrangements completely transparent to the House and the general public? It would afford the Conservative party the same opportunity, particularly in relation to foreign funding and the evidence that it gave to the Neill committee that it would not take foreign funding.

Such a debate would also allow the Conservative party to explain how it squares that evidence with the appointment of Mr. Michael Ashcroft as its treasurer and the receipt from him of major financial donations, given that he is a United Kingdom tax exile resident in the United States with principal business interests in Belize, of which, along with the Turks and Caicos islands, he is a citizen. It is alleged that he funds the Government party in Belize and, extraordinarily, he is that country's

15 Jul 1999 : Column 590

ambassador to the United Nations. If that is not foreign, I do not know what is. If we had a debate, the Conservative party would be able to explain why it thinks he is not, and why, when diplomats told Ministers in the previous Government that a shadow hung over his reputation that ought not to be ignored, they ignored that advice--and the Conservative party continues to ignore it now.

Will the Leader of the House grant this request for a debate on party political funding, so that all those issues and the revelations exposed in the newspapers this week can be properly aired?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand the pressure that my hon. Friend is exerting. I share his view that it is a little hard to square what the Conservative party has said about taking funds from foreign sources with its relationship with Mr. Ashcroft. I take my hon. Friend's point that this interesting question could be explored by the Leader of the Opposition, who could explain to us how he squares those views if there were time for a debate in the House. However, tempting though that is, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future. Who knows, at some point the Conservative party, which has Opposition time, may want to explore such an interesting issue.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The right hon. Lady will probably not know that I previously raised with her predecessor as Leader of the House the issue of the conduct of the Deputy Prime Minister--whom I am delighted to see in the Chamber--when he refused to answer a question posed by me in the House. He wrongly said that the question was untruthful.

I now return to the question of the right hon. Gentleman's conduct in relation to his other role as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I request a debate on early-day motion 820.

[That this House notes with concern the failure of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to respond to a letter from the honourable Member for New Forest East when originally sent on 16th March and when faxed to his office on 25th May; further notes that the only matter discussed over the telephone by the Secretary of State's and honourable Member's offices was the Secretary of State's repeated failure to reply; therefore deplores the misleading written Answer on 8th July to a written question from the honourable Member for New Forest East, in which the Secretary of State wrongly stated that his reason for repeatedly failing to reply, was that 'the matter was dealt with by our offices over the telephone'; and accordingly calls upon the Secretary of State to handle his correspondence from honourable Members properly in future, rather than seeking to shield his incompetence and discourtesy.]

The motion relates to the right hon. Gentleman's failure to respond to correspondence from me, his further failure to respond to reminders about his failure to respond to correspondence from me, and his eventual misleading written answer, which wrongly claims that he does not respond to correspondence from me because the matter has been dealt with on the telephone.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 591

Back Benchers are fed up with this sort of arrogance and disregard for their attempts to do their duty, particularly when it is covered up by erroneous claims.

Mrs. Beckett: I readily admit that much of what the hon. Gentleman said struck me as somewhat opaque, but I gather that there is a dispute between him and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Someone in the hon. Gentleman's constituency is under the impression that he has seen my--I had hitherto thought unmistakeable--right hon. Friend in the constituency. My right hon. Friend says that he has not visited the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and that his office has written to the hon. Gentleman to say so.

We all recognise--[Interruption.] As I say, I am not as fully acquainted with all the details as I would like to be in order to give the hon. Gentleman the fullest possible answer. I can only say that we all understand that it is a matter of sensitivity when Members are, or are thought to be, in other Members' constituencies. I am confident that, had my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister been in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, he would have intended no offence thereby.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the Government intend to publish a second annual report on human rights before the recess? Can she confirm that this year, it will be a Command Paper? If it is published, will she be able to find time, either immediately before the recess or immediately after it, for the House to debate its contents? Many hon. Members are very committed to the cause of human rights around the world, and want an opportunity to discuss the matter in detail.

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I am not in a position to assist the hon. Gentleman at this stage. I have rather lost track

15 Jul 1999 : Column 592

of the timing of these issues, but I shall certainly make inquiries, and if there is any further information that I can give the hon. Gentleman, I shall write to him.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Leader of the House arrange a full day's debate next week, in Government time, on the harrowing plight of this country's heart patients? Is she aware that the patients charter specifies that no heart patient should be obliged to wait for more than 12 months for cardiac surgery? Is she further aware that a recent survey of 35 NHS trusts in England shows that no fewer than 21 of those 35 are failing to meet the target, and that in some cases, heart patients are having to wait for up to 17 months to receive the surgery to which they are entitled?

In view of the evident gravity of the situation, and given that constituents of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are directly affected by the crisis, will the right hon. Lady arrange for the debate that I have requested, so that it can be urgently addressed?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for another full day's debate on health care--particularly on one aspect of health care--in the near future, but I am aware that there have been difficulties, especially in some key parts of the country, and that local health authorities and local trusts are working to address them. I know that, in some instances, additional funds have been awarded in an attempt to resolve the problems.

Although I fear that I cannot provide a whole day in Government time, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have observed that there is a half day of Opposition time on Tuesday. He may have an opportunity to raise the matter then.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 593

Opposition Day

[18th Allotted Day]

Motorists

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): I inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

2.4 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I beg to move,


It gives me great pleasure to move the motion and to oppose the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. For once, some joker has been at work in the drafting of the amendment. It says that the Government now


    "recognises the freedom that the car has given",

but that recognition does not seem to extend to any policy initiative to help the motorist; indeed, many Government initiatives make the motorist's life hell on wheels.

The amendment says that the Government


If that is so, perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister can tell us why he has slashed London Transport investment, from £1,060 million in the last Conservative year to £564 million, and why his documents show roads expenditure, local transport expenditure and transport investment are down across the board. He has a lot to answer for.

It will be a pleasure to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box shortly to explain, if he can, the pitfalls of and troubles with his disintegrating transport policy. The other day, when I saw him in the newspapers beaming out in his customary friendly way adjacent to some elephants, I wondered whether he was about to announce a new transport initiative--whether it was going to be elephant rides for all, and whether that perhaps was the new fast form of transport to be introduced to new Labour's Britain. It would certainly be faster than many of the modes of transport that are on offer under the Government's disintegrating transport policy.


Next Section

IndexHome Page