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Mr. Forth: At the risk of being accused of being political in this of all places, may I tentatively suggest to the Leader of the House that it is time for a proper and, if necessary, lengthy debate on the role of so-called "envoys" of the Prime Minister? It would be in the interest of any such envoys, and certainly in the public interest, for us to know with much greater clarity what relationship they have with the Government and the ministerial code of practice, and exactly where they stand in terms of Government policy at home and abroad. They also lack accountability to either House of Parliament. This matter of great importance is worrying more and more people. In the interests of good governance, surely we must have it out in the open and clear beyond all possible doubt.

Mrs. Beckett: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is again pursuing the issue of Lord Levy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has answered questions about that, but what is quite plain and what has not been

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disputed by anybody is that Lord Levy has engaged in talks and conversations, which one hopes will promote the cause of middle east peace. Most people will think that more important than such nit-picking.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): During her busy day, has the right hon. Lady had a chance to read the report entitled "EU Membership--What's the Bottom Line?", which was published this morning by the Institute of Directors? It says that, taking into account the free market in the European Union and the inward investment that results from our membership, that membership costs each British family £1,000 a year. As we want to remain in the EU, but do not want to be run by it, may we have an urgent debate on how the EU needs to be restructured so that Britain benefits from it?

Mrs. Beckett: I do not think that there is any need for an urgent debate because the Government report assiduously to the House and spend a great deal of time on their efforts to achieve restructuring of the EU and more efficient spending of the public moneys that it uses, which the Conservative party singularly failed to do in government.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the crisis of democracy in local government? She may not be aware that the Labour leader of Cardiff council has had his pay for his three-day week increased to £58,000. He is the highest-paid councillor in Britain, and Cardiff council tax payers face increases of 10.2 per cent. this year. Seven Labour councillors voted against the increase and one abstained. They were immediately suspended from the Labour Whip. I fear that, unless we can stop the rot in Cardiff, it will spread to every other Labour authority in Britain and council tax payers will have to foot the bill for the greed of Labour councillors.

Mrs. Beckett: I have only two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, his party abolished the controls on those allowances in 1995. Secondly, if I were a Conservative Member I would not make a lot of fuss about people who get thousands of pounds for a few days' work.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The right hon. Lady will have noted the widespread demand for a proper debate--not merely one subsumed in the debate a week on Wednesday--on the statement that the Prime Minister is apparently making today. She will have noted also the considerable unease in the House about the precise role of Lord Levy. She has referred to the Prime

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Minister's answers, which I have before me. They say merely that, from time to time, Lord Levy has passed on oral messages. Will she be a real sport and pass an oral message from me to the Prime Minister? We expect changes in Government policy to be announced on the Floor of the House and we should like a little more detail as to the precise role of this extraordinary plenipotentiary.

Mrs. Beckett: I am always willing to pass on messages, but I can think of no circumstances in which it is likely that time will be found for a debate. The people of this country are much more interested in the prospect of peace in the middle east than in the preoccupation of Opposition Members. If any changes are announced, no doubt in the fullness of time those matters will come before the House. At first hearing, they do not sound to me so urgent that they need to be dealt with in five minutes. It does not sound the kind of matter that would take a short time to consider.

Personal Statement

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Madam Speaker, may I make a personal statement? During Prime Minister's questions yesterday afternoon, it was I who--from a sedentary position--accused the Prime Minister of being a liar. I recognise that that was unparliamentary language and happily withdraw the remark. When you asked who was the culprit, I fear that I remained silent. In retrospect, I realise that that was inexcusable. I apologise to you and to the House for my remark and my silence after it.

Madam Speaker: Thank you.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): In light of that full statement, Madam Speaker, it is clear to me that my suggestion to the House yesterday that it may have been the hon. and gallant Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) who called the Prime Minister a liar was wholly unfounded. I wish to express my unreserved apologies to him and to the House.

Madam Speaker: Thank you.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 107 (Welsh Grand Committee),

Question agreed to.

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Opposition Day

[8th Allotted Day]


[Relevant document: Minutes of Evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 14th March, HC 326-i.]

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the Prime Minister.

1.16 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I beg to move,

Something went wrong with the British relief effort in Mozambique. In seven critical days when thousands of people were hanging in trees, there were not enough helicopters flying to rescue them. We will never know how many lives were lost. It was the failings of many, not just of our Government. The purpose of this debate is to examine what went wrong and to learn the lessons, so that next time a natural disaster on this scale strikes--as sadly it will--the British Government can respond more effectively.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 14 helicopters were flying in Mozambique on 1 March? There were seven South African helicopters fuelled and paid for by the British Government and seven provided by the British Government. All 14 helicopters flying in Mozambique were funded by the Department for International Development. Is he saying that Britain failed? What was the rest of the world doing?

Mr. Streeter: I will come to that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that for most of the time, people were hanging in trees and clinging to rooftops in Mozambique and there were not enough helicopters flying to rescue them. That is irrefutable and the British people feel strongly about it. Most of the time, there were five helicopters in the air.

The House should judge the Government's handling of the Mozambique crisis not by the standards of tabloid headlines or unrealistic counsel of perfection but by the words and promises of the Secretary of State. In February 1998, the right hon. Lady said:

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    We can move over a weekend. There is no need to consult lots of Departments and delay our response.--[Official Report, 11 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 375.]

Unfortunately, we all know from agonising recent experience that the Secretary of State's words were not translated into action. There was delay. Her Department did not move immediately. There was no rapid response mechanism involving the Ministry of Defence or any other Department. It did not work smoothly. Mistakes were made--mistakes that cost lives. Whatever else happens as a consequence of today's debate, the delay, indecision and infighting that undermined the British Government's response must never occur again.

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