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Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): May I press my right hon. Friend a bit further on the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)? She will have seen early-day motion 900, on the compensation to be paid by the Manx Parliament to former prisoners of war of the Japanese.

[That this House congratulates the Tynwald for its decision to make an ex gratia payment of £10,000 to residents of the Isle of Man who were either prisoners of war or internees held by Japan during the Second World War; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to make a decision on whether it will make an equivalent payment, including widows, in the UK before this House rises for the summer adjournment.]

Will she undertake to point out to Defence Ministers that time is running short if they are to make a statement and follow the example of the Manx Parliament, as I think that they want to?

Also, when Opposition Members were asking questions, it occurred to me to ask her to remind the House who introduced the Jopling proposals--our side or theirs?

Mrs. Beckett: I take on board my hon. Friend's remarks. I note that he, too, has much pressed the claims

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of those who were prisoners of war of the Japanese, and I undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

With regard to the Jopling proposals, my hon. Friend is right. They were produced by an all-party Committee, which was chaired by a distinguished member of the Conservative party. The proposals were put forward in 1991-92. My hon. Friend has correctly identified part of my own contention--that that is a direction in which the House has been moving for a considerable number of years and which, in theory, has agreement in all parts of the House. The abrogation of that understanding and agreement during this Parliament has led to the present proposals.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): In the light of the recent publication of the Government's proposals for a national waste strategy, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that we will have an early debate on the matter, so that applications such as the one in my constituency by Minosus to deposit toxic waste down the Winsford rock-salt mine can be taken in that context, instead of the present piecemeal approach, which could be extremely damaging for the long-term future of the environment and our people?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on that in the near future. The hon. Gentleman might find time for one in Westminster Hall, and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions takes questions next week.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Will my right hon. Friend allow me to pay tribute to her important role in relation to today's Modernisation Committee report in trying to reach consensus and make that an all-party recommendation? Does she agree that the proposals for programming and better use of time in the Chamber and Westminster Hall should be read carefully by all hon. Members? Those proposals are sensible and a decision should be taken to adopt them as an experimental way forward in the next Session of Parliament.

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is right to say that I endeavour to reach agreement and consensus on such matters, building on the consensus that has existed in the House for many years, until quite recently. We should continue to try to get such an agreed way forward. If the House agrees to proceed with such an experiment, I expect that few will wish to turn the clock back.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Earlier, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested that I was supporting the proposals in the Modernisation Committee's report for the programming of legislation. In fact, what I wrote in my pamphlet was that we in the House need to scrutinise power where it really lies--that is, with the Prime Minister, who hardly ever comes to the House, hardly ever votes here and hardly ever speaks here. Will the Leader of the House give urgent consideration to the possibility of a debate to find ways in which we can bring the Prime Minister nearer to the centre of our deliberations in the House?

Mrs. Beckett: No one ever suggested that the hon. Gentleman was supporting the proposals in the report.

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I confidently expect that he, along with most other, and perhaps all, members of the parliamentary Conservative party, is likely to vote against the report, as I see no indication of a free vote or free thinking on the matter on their side. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) was probably quoting his remarks that programming is not only a good and valuable way of making the best use of time, but was somewhat inevitable.

On the issue of scrutinising where power really lies, and the Prime Minister's role, I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that he should know that the Prime Minister's record of attendance in the House and his record of statements in the House are infinitely superior to those of his predecessor. It is true that there was a substantial break with precedent with regard to the number of occasions on which Prime Ministers speak in the House. It was made by the right hon. Lady Thatcher.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must now move on.

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Points of Order

1.15 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You and the House may be aware that yesterday there was an announcement in the press of £1 billion extra funding for science. That was also reported to be in a speech by the Chancellor, but no statement appears to have been made in the House, and no question appears to have been answered in today's Hansard on the matter. Should not Ministers be making such announcements to the House rather than through the media and in speeches outside the House? Questions on whether that announcement is welcome, whether there will be funding for equal opportunities in higher education, whether the unit of resource should be better funded, and other such matters could then be put directly to Ministers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The Chair has received no notification of any announcement in any form to the House. I can only repeat what Madam Speaker has said on a number of occasions--that significant changes of policy should be announced to the House by one means or another.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had any indication from the Prime Minister or another Minister that the Government intend to return to twice-weekly Question Times, in the light of the new precedent established yesterday of the Prime Minister answering a question this week which he had failed to answer properly the previous week?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No such notification has been received. That is not a matter for the Chair.

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[2nd Allotted Day]

ESTIMATES, 2000-01

Class XV1, Vote 4

HM Customs and Excise

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 1999-2000, on HM Customs and Excise, HC53, and the Government's response thereto, HC442; and HM Customs and Excise Departmental Report 2000: The Government's Expenditure Plans 2000-2001 to 2001-2002, Cm 4616.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

1.16 pm

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham): As Chairman of the Select Committee on the Treasury, not of the Sub- Committee, I shall make only a brief intervention. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) is the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, so he will make the Chairman's speech. I simply wanted to act as a master of ceremonies, introducing the guests to the hosts.

The Sub-Committee was set up in 1998 to scrutinise the bodies and organisations for which Treasury Ministers are responsible. For a year now it has been well chaired by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire. This afternoon we are discussing the Sub-Committee's fourth report, the second report of this Session on HM Customs and Excise.

The Sub-Committee had five sessions of oral evidence and visited Canada to consider the merger of authorities. It has done a thorough job. There were three issues of which the Sub-Committee rightly made much. The first was whether it was desirable to merge Customs and Excise with the Inland Revenue, and the Sub-Committee concluded that it was a good idea, for three main reasons--that it would improve compliance with taxation, reduce businesses' compliance costs and reduce the Government's revenue costs.

The Government, as my hon. Friend the Paymaster General knows, rejected our proposal and defended their position of so-called closer working between the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. I look forward to hearing the Government justify their position. In that context, I want to mention the news yesterday, reported in the Financial Times, that an internal investigation ordered by the new chairman of Customs and Excise has identified losses of up to £1 billion, which apparently could be double that, in Customs and Excise's collection role. That is its core activity, on which, apparently, it has fallen down. That is another reason why the Government might reconsider their position on merger. In any case, I should like to hear something about that matter.

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The Sub-Committee also investigated alcohol and tobacco smuggling. It concluded that tobacco smuggling was a much more serious problem than alcohol smuggling, in the sense that the revenue loss is much greater, and it recommended that further resources should be given to Customs and Excise to slow down and eventually stop tobacco smuggling. I congratulate the Government on accepting many of our recommendations under this heading. I understand that they have provided extra resources amounting to £209 million. I should like to know how that money will be spent. Is it new money? This is a useful occasion on which to inform the House about that.

The third main issue that the Committee considered was compliance and compliance costs. Again, the Government have accepted some of our proposals. We believe it to be important that they target reductions in compliance costs, and that there should be legislative underpinning of the so-called Sheldon doctrine. I understand that in a sense the Government have come forward with a compromise proposal, and that is a code of practice. I would like to hear about that, too.

I end by congratulating the Sub-Committee on doing extremely useful work for the House. It has demonstrated the useful work that Select Committees can do in digging away at things. Their work is useful for Parliament--that is their main purpose--and for the Government. There are some who consider that Select Committees are there to attack the Government. In fact their role is to make Government accountable, so there should be a win, win situation. It is right that Government should be investigated and made accountable. It is right also that the activities of Government should be transparent, and the report provides a good example of a Select Committee doing its work properly.

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