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Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I was very disappointed by the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) on his request for a debate on the middle east crisis, because it is a desperately serious situation. On Monday, on television, the Israeli Foreign Minister said that he supported the concept of an independent Palestinian state. Meanwhile, however, he was unable to say why Israeli forces were continuing to occupy the Palestinian areas and to fire on protesters, including large numbers of unarmed young civilians.
The situation has enormous implications for events in the middle east as a whole, and there is a danger of other nations becoming involved in it. Obviously, we all hope that the Oslo peace process is resumed and gets back on track, and that we end up with a ceasefire and--I hope--an independent Palestinian state existing alongside the state of Israel. However, does not my right hon. Friend
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a series of important points. As he said on the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), there is no doubt that it is a difficult situation, and that the whole House hopes that recent developments signal an easing of the difficulties. However, although he is right to identify that there is a difference between having a debate in the House and Foreign Office questions, the latter will provide an opportunity for the issue to be raised and aired. I also recommend to him the extra opportunities for debate in Westminster Hall, where I understand that there have been a number of more specific but also very well-attended and very good foreign affairs debates.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): Does the Leader of the House understand the anger that is generated when she announces business that will mean the most revolutionary changes in the procedures of the House, certainly in my lifetime, and then tells us that she will decide how long we can debate those changes? Surely the debate should continue until everyone who wants to speak has spoken. Anything less is an abuse of the rights and privileges to speak on such matters bestowed on Members of Parliament by our constituents. Will she reconsider her position, because I do not think that she would wish to be guilty of such an abuse?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I sympathise with the concern expressed by Opposition Members, but the notion that these are the most revolutionary changes that have taken place in the hon. Gentleman's lifetime makes me doubt whether he has been paying attention these past 20 years.
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Ministry of Defence is conducting an inquiry into the possibility of making ex gratia payments to the former far east prisoners of war. Can we have a debate on the issue on the Floor of the House? There are only about 7,500 of those ex-POWs left now. They are men who endured the most brutal treatment at the hands of their Japanese captors. Is it not about time that we put right what the Tories neglected for 18 years? They never cared about the POWs, the pensioners or all the people who sacrificed so much in the defeat of fascism. It is about time to put matters right, have a debate and get the payments made.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's wish to remind the House of what he properly describes--no one in the House would dissent--as the terrible suffering experienced by those to whose war record he refers. I fear, however, that I cannot find time for a special debate on that matter, especially as at present we have had and are having a number of defence debates.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition cited what he described as new figures in relation to the share of national income taken in tax. It has come to light today that they are not new figures. In fact, they are very old figures and do not even take account of the 1p reduction in income tax, the 10p rate of income tax or the working families tax credit. Have you had a request from the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement withdrawing what he said yesterday?
I do not know whether you have yet had a chance to read the 17th report of the Standards and Privileges Committee, dealing with declarations of interest during debates in the House. You will know that the Commissioner upholds what we all understand to be the rule. The Committee seems to discount the fact that we have a rule whereby if there is any likelihood of an interest being involved in a speech, hon. Members should declare it at the beginning. Will you please study the rules and the report and advise the House on how you think that hon. Members should deal with this matter? The report directly criticises the Chairman of the Committee, who is effectively saying, "Well, the rules don't apply to me and perhaps not to anyone else in the House."
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to the earlier point of order about the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), I understood that it was part of the traditions of the House that a Member who intended to make an attack on another Member would inform that person first.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully appreciate that you said you had noted those hon. Members who did not get called during business questions, but I wish to repeat the point that I raised last week--that junior Members of Parliament have only once chance every week to ask questions that are of crucial interest to constituents. I know that you have had a lot to think about in the past two weeks, but would it be possible for you to plan to allow a little more time for business questions?
Mr. Speaker: It is possible that I could allow more time for business questions, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that he was called to intervene during the preceding statement by the Home Secretary, and he spoke for too long. That delayed the Leader of the House getting to her feet, so the fault lies with the hon. Gentleman.