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Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): Further to the comments of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), my right hon. Friend will be aware that this week there have been a number of disturbing press reports on the recession in manufacturing industry and a downturn in the electronics industry. Given the importance of those industries to the UK economy, while

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I welcome the debate on small businesses, when will the House have an opportunity to discuss the future of manufacturing per se in the UK?

Mr. Cook: I entirely understand my hon. Friend's concern about the present difficulties in the electronics industry. As I said earlier, I have personal experience of that with the Motorola closure in West Lothian. Manufacturing industry is continuing to perform well in terms of both output and productivity, but there are particular problems in the electronics sector. It is open to right hon. and hon. Members to raise these issues whenever we debate economics and industry, which we did only last week. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that I will draw her comments to the attention of my appropriate colleagues and we will consider having such a debate in future.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): When the Leader of the House makes his business statement next week, will he be in a position to indicate which, if any, Government Bills this year will be draft Bills published and subjected thereafter to pre-legislative scrutiny under the Select Committee system? May I suggest as an appropriate candidate the clauses on incapacity benefit in the welfare reform Bill?

Mr. Cook: On the general principle, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Queen's Speech we announced four Bills for draft legislation, which will be brought before the House. I have said before that I would like the House to move towards a two-year rolling programme on legislation, with the opportunity for Members and outside bodies to comment on draft legislation in advance of it being included in the subsequent Queen's Speech. That would make for better legislation, and it would have a better passage through the House. We are already in the second year of what might some day be a two-year rolling programme. Therefore, unless we bring forward for Second Reading debate and legislation the current Bills in the Queen's Speech, we shall have a long delay in introducing some measures that are very important to Members and their constituents.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on domestic energy prices? Many pensioners in my constituency are facing a 25 per cent. increase in their gas bills because they are supplied by a dedicated subsidiary of Eastern. Eastern is itself owned by Texas, so decisions that are made thousands of miles away affect people living in Havering. This is all entirely due to privatisation and deregulation, which was brought about by the previous lot, but now we have to deal with it. May we have a debate or a statement?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the problems of pensioners, and he will be aware that we have set out a strategy for tackling fuel poverty among pensioners and others. The primary impetus behind the current round of gas price increases from last April was the increase in the wholesale price of gas, which distributors can no longer avoid passing on to consumers. The average increase has been not 25 per cent., but 5 per cent. and my hon. Friend may wish to draw that to the attention of his local distributor; and gas prices overall in the United Kingdom are still 10 per cent.

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down on what they were in May 1997. However, I fully appreciate that certain consumers such as pensioners are facing difficulties, which is why we are trying to target on them our strategy to try to end fuel poverty.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Would the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the state of industrial relations at the Post Office, because the other problems faced by that organisation affect us all and very few of them will be resolved until the underlying problems are tackled?

Mr. Cook: These are problems that must be addressed by the Post Office and its unions: it is for them to try to seek to find a way forward. I am not persuaded that a debate in the House would necessarily help either side find a solution.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the activities of cable companies and other utilities? They are causing huge unnecessary disruption to road users, and I recently learned of the disruption that they are causing to our environment. They are digging up grass verges and not putting them back properly, which means that they cannot be cut, and sometimes they leave equipment around, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. They are preventing grass verges from being cut right across Swindon, so may we please find time for a debate on the wider issues arising from the activities of cable companies and other utilities?

Mr. Cook: I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's point, as I almost missed the Cabinet meeting because of street works on my way there. Such works not only cause individuals enormous inconvenience, but are a big economic cost to the nation, estimated at £2.5 billion a year. We have just taken legal powers for local authorities to enter into contracts and deadlines with utilities carrying out street works, which provide for fines if the deadlines are not met. I am pleased to say that in the short time since those legal powers have been available, 100 local authorities have said that they intend to use them. I hope that that will result in an improvement, and will reduce disruption to the lives of constituents.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): In view of the big climbdown on disability benefits that the Leader of the House has announced, cannot he see that there must be a ministerial statement to tell us why the Government trust existing but not future disability claimants? Will he give us an assurance that the Prime Minister will from now on visit the Terrace more often, in the hope that the Government's unpopular policies will be modified by such action?

Mr. Cook: I would encourage all Members to visit the Terrace, and I hope to do so when we manage to conclude the pressing business of the Leader of the House over the past two weeks. I stress that the proposal on incapacity benefit is intended not, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, to distress new claimants by putting them in a state of uncertainty, but to ensure that, if they wish and

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are able to do so, they can open the door to employment. Those who cannot work and are incapacitated will continue to get benefit and have nothing to fear.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 42, on television coverage of the British Lions tour?

[That this House notes that television viewers without access to subscription TV in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be unable to view even highlights of the Rugby Union test series between the British Lions and Australia; regrets the fact that BSkyB was prepared to do a deal involving highlights only with S4C and not the BBC; and urges the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to consider adding future test matches involving the British Lions to category B of the listed events which would mean highlights would be available to a wide audience.]

I am concerned that, although Australian terrestrial television viewers have been able to see live coverage of the opening overs of the Ashes test series in the past couple of hours, terrestrial viewers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland cannot see even the highlights of the British Lions' games. If there is not time for a debate on this important issue, will my right hon. Friend at least draw the early-day motion to the attention of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Cook: I very much doubt whether a debate in the House would alter the grave situation to which my hon. Friend draws the House's attention. He has made his point, and I hope that it will be registered with the appropriate authorities.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): Will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity for a debate on policing in Northern Ireland? He will be aware of the demoralisation of the police force in Northern Ireland, which has been accentuated by the recent discussions between the Government and republicans with a view to making further concessions to them. Such a debate would provide an early opportunity for the Government to set the Royal Ulster Constabulary's mind at rest and to make a statement on the long-term future of the RUC reserve.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that matter has been much debated in the House. We set up an independent commission to review the RUC. It made its report, and we have acted to implement its recommendations. Those actions were taken to encourage consensus and support for the RUC. I fear that we will have a number of opportunities in the immediate future to return to Northern Irish politics and issues, during which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can make their comments on the police. As he will understand, the current priority of the Northern Ireland Office is to ensure that we cope with the difficult situation regarding the Good Friday agreement.

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