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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can we please have an urgent debate on the increasing but understandable propensity of the Scottish Parliament to vote increased benefits to the Scottish people at the expense of the English taxpayer? Is it not about time that we had a full explanation of why it is considered proper for the taxpayer to spend 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. more on Scottish people in terms of health and education, while English taxpayers--long-suffering and patient though they are--are expected to put up with this state of affairs indefinitely? Please can we have a debate so that we can clarify the matter and put an end to it?. [Interruption.]
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend the Member for Workington reminds me of something that I was about to mention. The right hon. Gentleman speaks very forcefully on behalf of his constituents, although the decisions to which he refers were made long ago and are constantly aired in the House. May I say--with deep respect to you, Mr. Speaker--that it is a little surprising that the right hon. Gentleman, as a good Scot, appears to be so anxious about the Scottish Parliament?
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): May I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) in asking for a debate on the need to introduce new law to deal with scams--postal scams in my hon. Friend's case and fax scams in mine?
My sister and her husband have a hotel in Lincolnshire, and she has sent me a huge pile of telephone scams received over the past three years. They are all false bookings for the hotel, sent out by companies that have been set up with the specific objective of conning hoteliers in the United Kingdom. The scam is talked about in hotel industry magazines to alert hoteliers, but it is going on in other businesses all over the country. We need new law to stop these scams.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and powerful point. I was not aware of the episode to which he alludes, although I am aware that, unfortunately, the fraudulent and criminal mind is always good at devising new means of taking money off people. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the issue in the very near future.
I confess that I was not aware of the point that my hon. Friend was about to raise when he first spoke about outlawing scams--I thought that he was talking about what the Financial Times said about the Conservative party's policy on student loans.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Last night, the Select Committee on Education and Employment--or, at least, the Labour members of the Committee--released a report on access to higher education. We look forward to an early debate, before the election, on the Government's response to what was in the report, as well as on tackling student hardship and debt aversion, which were not in the report.
It can be seen from the proceedings that at the very last meeting of the Select Committee, the mild criticism of the Chancellor over the Laura Spence affair, previously agreed by all members, was deleted by the Labour majority. There were rumours that there was Cabinet pressure to remove such criticism which, in turn, implies unauthorised knowledge of the content of private proceedings. Can the right hon. Lady reassure the House that she and--as far as she can say--her Cabinet colleagues did not receive premature or unauthorised information about what was in the report, or about the private proceedings of the Committee?
Mrs. Beckett: I received no such information, nor indeed am I aware of the slightest evidence that any member of the Government did so. I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman makes such an allegation. I am aware that some concern was expressed in the Committee about the unauthorised release of information--but not by Labour Members. The issue should be handled with more caution. The Government will, of course, respond in the fulness of time to the Select Committee report, which has only just appeared. It remains to be seen whether the issue as a whole will be dealt with accurately. On the "Today" programme this morning, I heard the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) make the astonishing assertion that the Labour party brought in the student loan system. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman was 10 years ago, when the Conservatives introduced that scheme, but if we cannot have higher standards of accuracy than that, our debates will certainly be carried out with increasing difficulty.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): My right hon. Friend is of course aware of the remarks made nearly two weeks ago by the father of Damilola Taylor--that this country needs to address an agenda of moral regeneration. Does she agree that the House should take that matter seriously and that, because of those events, it is incumbent on the Government to find time to consider ways that we can respond constructively to that viewpoint?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I know that the whole House was impressed by Mr. Taylor's anxieties and concerns and sympathises with him in his sorrow. I do not anticipate being able to find time for a debate on that specific matter in the near future. However, perhaps during the days and weeks ahead, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary turns his attention to the outlook and to the changes that we propose to roll forward in our agenda for handling crime and offences--not least among the young--some opportunity will arise to focus on the issues raised by my hon. Friend.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during Prime Minister's questions, in answer to a question from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the Prime Minister said that there had been 500,000 extra students in further and higher education since the Government came into office. The video recording clearly shows that he said 500,000, yet in the Official Report, at column 921, the figure has been changed from 500,000 to 5,000. Mr. Speaker, is it in order for a figure to be changed in that way? How may I ensure that the record is changed to show the correct figure stated by the Prime Minister, and that the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House to explain why the record was changed and why his Government have failed to deliver on their pledge to increase numbers in further and higher education?
Mr. Speaker: I understand that the Prime Minister was misreported by Hansard. There was no request from the Prime Minister to alter the figure he gave the House. A correction will be published tomorrow.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know from the Order Paper, we are about to be asked to take a decision, without debate, on a new programme motion for consideration in Standing Committee of the Hunting Bill. Is it at all possible for time to be provided for a debate, or at least for a statement from a responsible Minister, as to the reasons why the Government are changing the terms of their programme? That is especially important, given that this is the first occasion on which the Government have had to change programming arrangements in that way. Surely, that demonstrates to everyone in the House that the idea that one can anticipate, in advance of a Standing Committee's proceedings, how many sittings will be needed for adequate consideration of a Bill is utterly mistaken.
Under the terms of the Sessional Order, Questions on supplementary programme motions to increase time for debate on a Bill are put forthwith. The Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3) motion extends the time for the Committee, so what is set out on the Order Paper is perfectly proper.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If any clarification is given about the extra sittings of Standing Committee B, could it be made clear that the motion was introduced by agreement and upon representations from Conservative Members, and that that is the fundamental reason why the sittings are being reprogrammed?