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Mrs. Beckett: I understand and sympathise with the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents. I am well aware of the powerful emotional symbolism to the area of Ford at Dagenham. However, my hon. Friend will be aware--as I am--that Ford has made it clear that an announcement will be made. The full nature of the matter is not yet plain. No doubt, when the announcements are in the public domain, the House will discuss and comment on them in whatever way is possible.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on planning applications? Is she aware of my amazement at the two letters that I received this morning from the Under- Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes)? One refused to call in a planning application--off Asker lane--even though a vast number of people in Matlock wanted that to be done. The second letter informed me that the Government have decided to call in a planning application for Duffield fire station, which many people are keen should be developed--including the Labour-controlled Derbyshire fire authority.

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot offer to find time for a special debate on the Floor of the House, although I

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realise that such issues are often of burning concern in a locality. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman will fully recognise that, to some degree, Ministers act in a quasi-judicial capacity in such matters, so I should be unwise to be drawn into commenting on the merits of any potential decisions. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will weigh them all carefully.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the introduction of timetabling during the past few days. On Tuesday night, despite the lateness of the hour, many Members were extremely pleased that there was a guaranteed finishing time, even though it was at 12.28 am. May we look forward to further such experiments--[Hon. Members: "No."]--on timetabling in the near future?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks and congratulations, although I am not sure that they should be directed to me. As she rightly points out, the Government and the Modernisation Committee have argued that programming debates ensures better and more effective use of parliamentary time, and that all parts of legislation are properly examined as the House would want. She will also know that a competent Opposition would welcome programming. I have previously pointed that out at the Dispatch Box. However, she will have heard the noises from Opposition Members that suggest that there is some divergence of view on the matter.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): We are used to our forces being required to pull the chestnuts out of the fire after failures in Labour's foreign policy, but it would surely be a new departure for them to be pitched into the flames of the growing conflagration of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Will the Leader of the House explain how Her Majesty's Government can possibly give priority to fur farming and royal parks trading over the safety of our armed forces in a situation that--now that British nationals have largely been evacuated--does not affect our national interest one little bit?

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman's comments are, as always, wholly negative. I am surprised that it is his contention that we should ignore developments in Sierra Leone and ignore circumstances in which Britain can contribute to an improvement in public order--for our own citizens, as well as for others. On what the House debates, I accept that he raises an important matter, but I very much doubt whether the welfare and safety of a single British soldier will be much affected by whether we discuss it next week.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time to debate the Government's attitude to rip-off Britain? She will know that more than 20,000 families in the United Kingdom have lost money because of the closure of the Uno furniture retailers, and I am sure that, like me, other Members have experience of dealing with the problems that that has caused for our constituents. Customers of the company feel particularly ripped off, because they have lost their hard-earned savings, they will not receive their

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furniture and they will find themselves at the bottom of the pile when any recompense is given. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider giving us an opportunity to discuss the matter fully.

Mrs. Beckett: I take my hon. Friend's point that the problems that his constituents experience as a result of commercial developments in the area are problems that he feels are part of a bad relationship between consumers and some elements of the business community. I understand that that can cause great distress in a locality, but I fear that I cannot offer to find time on the Floor of the House for such a debate. My hon. Friend might like to seek an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Is the apparent delay in bringing forth the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly order and a debate on the Royal Ulster Constabulary anything to do with a problem of smoke and mirrors? The House is also aware that civil servants advise Government and that the Clerks of the House advise Members. I understand that, in the Welsh Assembly and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, civil servants advise Members. How can there be real scrutiny of government if the same people advise the Government and the Assembly?

Mrs. Beckett: On the hon. Gentleman's opening remark, most people in the House very much hope that, whatever discussions are taking place, they will come to fruition in a way that will forward the peace process in Northern Ireland. His final remark about how the Assembly is serviced and from where it takes advice is not a matter for me. No doubt he will seek to draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; I will certainly draw his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): The millennium year is ticking away and, although we have the technology to get to the moon and to look at the worldwide web on mobile phones, we have not yet tackled the problem of millions of people still dying from a lack of basic facilities and millions more living in abject poverty and poor health. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend saw a recent television programme that showed that 9 million people in India are blind for want of a cataract operation that costs just £15.

One of the issues facing many of the poorest countries is unsustainable debt. I know that the Government have been at the forefront of tackling the problem, but much more still needs to be done. The next G8 summit is in July, so will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the issue before the summit and as soon as possible? All the minds in the House could get together to make sure that this country leads the way and that we and the international community do everything that we can to tackle poverty. As we move into the new century, millions of people should be able to live in countries that have a firm footing for real development in the future.

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that she takes a great interest in this issue and expresses a concern that is felt deeply in the House and, to some extent, across the House. I accept, of course, her concern about the G8 discussions that will take place in July. I am

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grateful for her recognition of how much the Government have done and I assure her that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development will continue to pursue the issue of alleviation of the debt burden. I cannot promise time for a special debate on the Floor of the House, but the issue is exactly the sort that is debated in Westminster Hall, so my hon. Friend may wish to pursue it there

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What are the Government afraid of? Why, having set about vandalising our constitution, destroying the upper Chamber and setting up a royal commission to make recommendations, are they refusing to allow or even contemplate a proper debate on the matter in this House? Are they stalling for time? Do they wish to impose a so-called temporary solution on the hapless people of this country for an indefinite period? Or are we going to have, for once, a principled approach from the Government, which will allow the House of Commons to debate the matter and then get on with providing a solution for our Parliament and legislature that will satisfy the people of this country?

Mrs. Beckett: That was very noisy. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was here a couple of weeks ago, so he will know that the Government were prepared to have such a debate. We accepted legitimate representations-- I do not complain about them at all--that it was better to have the debate on a day when fewer hon. Members were out communing with their constituents and we shall schedule such a debate. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not notice that the debate was originally proposed for the day on which local elections were taking place. However, we accepted the reasonable view that it would be better to schedule the debate for another day, which we shall do.


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