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Mr. Hain: Obviously the Minister will want to listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman's point. Turning to his party's policy on this matter, which needs to be clarified, I can tell the House that a briefing note entitled, "Lines and ideas for Monday's press conference", discusses increases in local income tax as high as 6p and says:

We should be told exactly what the Liberal Democrat policy is: sky-high income taxes instead of fair taxes and fair local provision.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for twice referring to my colleagues on the shadow Front Bench as an attack machine. We have been after that endorsement for quite some time, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge his contribution to our reaching our first objective.

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May we have an urgent debate on rural public transport? Already this week my constituents have suffered a number of strategic bus route cuts and face the threat of parents being asked to pay for their children to be taken to school. Whatever solutions to the problem of rural public transport the Government are producing, they are certainly not working, and if the right hon. Gentleman wants a conversation with my constituents on that, they are ready to have one with him.

Mr. Hain: The press reports on the draft school transport Bill were completely misfounded and erroneous. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills wants to set up a series of pilot schemes that enable local authorities better to provide local school transport for a range of pupils, to reduce peak-hour traffic congestion, to improve pupil safety and to deal with other situations that Church schools, for example, are concerned about. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to contribute to that discussion when it is subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, as it is intended to be next year, and I hope that he will do so.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the detail of the situation that we are trying to tackle, which is a series of anomalies in which local authorities are not able to provide a flexible range of bus services, as we believe they should, to help pupils to get to school more safely, to take them out of the cars in which their parents tend to bring them, to put them on buses and so to relieve traffic congestion.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): In view of the call by the German Chancellor and the French Defence Minister for the resumption of European arms sales to the People's Republic of China, which have been embargoed since the Tiananmen square massacre, and rightly so in view of the continued repression in Tibet, human rights abuses in the People's Republic and sabre rattling against Taiwan, can the Foreign Secretary come to the House next week and make a statement that the Government will, at the European Foreign Ministers Council, veto any such suggestion, because if it were acceded to this request would lead to the European Union becoming a friend of the great dictators?

Mr. Hain: The Foreign Secretary will, of course, address the House next week, and he holds himself accountable to the House at every opportunity. On the question of arms sales to China or any other country, I point out to the House that after all the shenanigans and scandals of the last Conservative Government on this matter, we were responsible for introducing a strict code of practice that regulates arms exports and makes sure that they cannot be used for internal oppression or external aggression. In addition, and this is directly relevant to the hon. Gentleman's question, we were responsible for ensuring that much the same code of conduct was adopted by the EU, so we can proudly hold our heads high, knowing that we put defence trade on a much more equitable basis that respects human rights, rather than selling any arms to any country that wants to buy them, as tended to be the practice under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported.

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Points of Order

1.25 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me deal with a reply to a point of order that was made yesterday.

Yesterday, at column 520 of Hansard, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) made a point of order about remarks made, on an intervention, by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I undertook to check Hansard and come back to the House if it seemed necessary to do so.

It seems clear that the hon. Member for Ilford, South gave an incorrect year for the quotation which he read to the House. It would have been helpful, to me and to the House, if as a matter of courtesy he had acknowledged the mistake as soon as it was pointed out.

More importantly, I understand that the hon. Gentleman subsequently approached the Officials Box to talk to the civil servants there. I want to make it clear, as my predecessors have done, that the Box is provided solely for officials of Government Departments supporting Ministers in questions or debates. Civil servants using the Box must not take advantage of their position in the Chamber to brief Back Benchers, and Members should not give them any encouragement to break this rule.

Let me add this: the admittance of civil servants into the Box is by my permission. I shall not hesitate to rescind the privilege of any official to attend this Chamber in the Box if I believe that any of the rules that I have just set out have not been followed.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Tyler: On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I shall call the hon. Member for Ilford, South first.

Mike Gapes: May I apologise to you and to the House, Mr. Speaker? Yesterday, I had a quote that was entirely accurate except that, through a typographical error, it said 1998, not 1988. My intervention was made on the basis of that error, for which I apologise. I tried to check the exact date when I heard the Secretary of State's intervention. At that point, I was not clear about whether it was 1988 or 1998, which is why, in error, I approached the Box. I apologise again to you for that error, Mr. Speaker. Certainly it was not my intention to mislead the House, and I apologise to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) if I, while accurately quoting what he said under a Conservative Government, gave the impression that he had said it under a Labour Government.

Mr. Speaker: I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, and the matter is now ended.

Mr. Tyler: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On a separate matter, I want to apologise to you and the House. Quite uncharacteristically, I hope, I protested volubly a few minutes ago, when the Leader of the

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House, no doubt entirely inadvertently, misled the House as to the nature of my party's policy on local income tax. He suggested that there was a paper saying that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had said that the tax would be in the region of 6p in the pound; it is in fact less than 4p in the pound. I am glad to have this opportunity to clarify the matter.

Mr. Speaker: I will not be drawn into that matter.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In today's Order Paper there is notice of a written ministerial statement on employers' liability compulsory insurance by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. A year ago, the Chancellor announced an inquiry into the crisis facing many thousands of businesses as a result of the acute increase in public and employers' liability insurance premiums. Surely, on the day that such an important report emerges, there should be an oral statement.

As it is, we get a written statement sneaked out into the Library at 11.58 am, so Members who were sitting through questions from 11.30 am would not have had a chance to see that important report had they stayed in the Chamber. They may have wanted to comment on the report or make inquiries of Ministers during today's debate. Surely if Ministers are to make written statements, they should put them in the Library at the earliest possible stage.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that the statement was received by the Library at 11.58 am. I look to Ministers to ensure that written statements are delivered to the Library promptly.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that has arisen this morning, otherwise I would have given you prior notice. At 11 o'clock, the Standards and Privileges Committee published its first report of the 2003–04 Session. I am concerned about the serious allegations made in a newspaper that a Member of this House may have behaved treasonably. In the report, Sir Philip Mawer writes:

Is there anything you can do, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that the work of Officers of the House are not obstructed?

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