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Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a

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request from the Prime Minister to make a statement today on the publication of the Government's annual report, or are we to deduce from the absence of such a request that the Prime Minister, although publishing the report and presenting it to Parliament, is not willing to subject it to the scrutiny and questioning of the House? Further to that point, is it in order for a Command Paper to be published and commercially available in a supermarket 24 hours before it is available to Members of this House through the Vote Office?

Madam Speaker: If my memory serves me correctly, I thought that a Labour party manifesto commitment was to publish an annual report and to do so in that way. I am aware of the sale of such a publication. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am one of his constituents; although I went to a supermarket yesterday, I was far more interested in food than in publications, and I should not have looked for it. I am not certain whether the correct way to proceed is that it should be on sale to the public before being made available to Members of the House. However, I understand that that annual report is a publication that is not open to questioning from the House at this stage.

Ann Clwyd: Further to a previous point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance notice of this. If we are to have a statement on Kosovo, I hope that it will include some information on reconstruction. After any conflict, it is well known that it is important to reconstruct a country as quickly as possible so that people can return to a normal way of life. Reports from Kosovo are especially worrying because they suggest that, although people involved in the conflict were talking about reconstruction and redevelopment after the end of the conflict, some countries now appear to be dragging their feet over giving the necessary assistance for that reconstruction to take place as quickly as possible.

When we return to the House, we shall be in the winter months. It is important that people in Kosovo can rebuild their homes and communities as quickly as possible. We must ensure that those countries which may be dragging their feet face their responsibilities to assist those communities to do that rebuilding.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Lady will have heard what I said previously about a possible statement from the Foreign Office. I shall not reiterate what I said, but I am sure that the Government Whip will have taken note of her comments; perhaps she would make her representations known in that direction.

Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the past two weeks, 28,000 letters have been delivered to Members of the House in the name of our constituents, but those letters were unsigned. They are part of what I understand is called the "Keep our Gold" campaign, in response to advertisements in the national newspapers. A mailing company paid almost £7,000 for the letters to be distributed in the internal mail via the Post Office. I cannot find out the name of the company behind those letters. I should like to know its name because we could all save ourselves a great deal of time and trouble by replying to it directly. I am at a loss as to why the company wants to keep its name secret. As you can

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imagine, Madam Speaker, I suspect the worst. Could you help me by inquiring further into the matter--especially as to whether you feel that it is an abuse of the internal system?

Madam Speaker: Yes indeed;, I will ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the matter. I do not know the company responsible--

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) rose--

Madam Speaker: However, it could be that Mrs. Dunwoody does.

Mrs. Dunwoody: You flatter me, Madam Speaker; I have no idea which company is responsible. However, further to that point of order, may I point out that I sent a letter to every one of my constituents named in those unsigned letters? Today, I have received a series of phone calls from people saying that they have no idea what it is about. I asked for written confirmation before approaching anyone on their behalf. It is revealing that many of those people had their names and addresses used without their knowledge.

Madam Speaker: I am delighted to have that information. I shall certainly ask the Serjeant at Arms and the authorities here to investigate the matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. While the Foreign Office is in a listening mood, will it also take into account the vast problems of toxic difficulties in Serbia, such as the pouring into the Danube of ethylene dichloride--

Madam Speaker: Order. It is not the Foreign Office that must take those matters into account: the hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order with me. The point has already been made and the House understands the views held by several hon. Members.

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Business of the House

3.41 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I beg to move,

I shall speak only briefly as the House has a great deal of important business before it this afternoon. This procedural motion is designed to aid the smooth progress of business. If approved, it allows you, Madam Speaker, not to adjourn the House this evening until any messages from the Lords have been received.

The order was first laid last Friday, at which time hon. Members objected to it and a large number of other measures. I make no complaint about that: those involved would simply say that they were exercising their rights. However, as we all know, rights entail responsibilities, and there is a responsibility on the Government to pursue and protect their own legislation.

I think that there is also a responsibility to try to achieve the timetable laid out in last Thursday's business statement. It was made clear then that the House would be asked to consider any Lords' messages received prior to the recess. Moreover, any legitimate concerns could have been raised during the three and a half hours that the House spent debating business issues that day. None were raised. It is perfectly reasonable to expect the House to consider messages from the Lords in the final two days before the recess. That is a long-standing practice, and precedents have been set.

I hope that we will now quickly move on to discuss the real issues affecting our constituents. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred to the "hooligan" element in the House last week, and it may be that this is just another example of such an outbreak. However, if there are any real concerns, I anticipate that they will be addressed quickly.

3.43 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am grateful to the Minister for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. It is all too rare that we have a chance to deliberate, in a calm and reflective manner, on motions that are all too often rejected or described as "merely procedural". I object to the term "merely procedural" because much of what we do in this place depends on an understanding of our procedures and on a fair and proper interpretation of them.

I am equally grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for pointing out that, on Friday, a certain number of matters, including this important procedural motion, were objected to. As always, I was here on Friday, and I counted 39 private Members' Bills to which the Government objected. I shall not detail them--[Hon. Members: "Go on."] Since my hon. Friends want me to do so, those Bills included the Cancer Care Bill, the Fuel Safety Bill, the Poverty and Social Exclusion (National Strategy) Bill, and the Concessionary Television Licences for Pensioners Bill--all killed by the Government on Friday, along with many others.

After those 39 private Members' Bills had been killed by the Government on Friday, as the Parliamentary Secretary acknowledged, I took the opportunity to object to this measure, and I shall explain why. I was interested to know

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why the Government should consider it necessary to move such a motion on a Friday afternoon. I have no objection to that. As you know, Madam Speaker, I am habitually in the Chamber on a Friday, for which hon. Members are grateful, and I appreciate that. However, I was puzzled by the fact that on a Friday afternoon, at the very end of business, after they had killed the 39 private Members' Bills, the Government seemed to want to slip this motion through quietly.

The motion contains some potentially disturbing elements. As we heard in the remarks introducing the debate which may gather momentum as we get into it--right hon. and hon. Members will see its importance as I skip my way through the salient points--the motion states with seductive simplicity that you, Madam Speaker,

That strikes me as a procedural blank cheque.

If one glances down the Order Paper, one sees that the Government are anxious to limit debate on other important matters. The Employment Relations Bill is allocated up to three hours. A very important matter, motion No. 8--the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield(Mr. Fabricant) to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, no less--is allocated only one hour. The debate of such important matters as the appointment of my hon. Friend is restricted, yet the present motion contains the rather sinister element that the House shall not adjourn

In other words, the Government apparently expect us to sit here and twiddle our thumbs, on the off-chance that a message may be received from another place. I am not sure whether that is a reasonable request at this stage of our proceedings--that is for the House to judge. However, it requires just a little thought to decide whether it is reasonable for us to prolong today's sitting, when there is a further sitting of the House tomorrow.

Although there is to be an important debate tomorrow on public expenditure--I fully accept that--I should have thought that our procedures contained sufficient leeway and flexibility for the Government to have stated that should the messages from the Lords not be received during today's sitting, it would be reasonable for us to deal with them tomorrow.

Is it not dangerous to expect us to receive a message from another place and deal with it instantly, without any possibility of consideration, when instead we could receive the message during today's sitting, ponder it overnight, deliberate and consult, and return in a proper and deliberative way to deal with the matter during tomorrow's sitting? Although the debate tomorrow is important, it is difficult to imagine that there would be no scope in tomorrow's business to allow the matter to be considered in a more deliberative manner.

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