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Mr. Speaker: That is a matter for the Commissioner and the Committee.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 22 and 29 October in Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister said that certain information was given to him and to the Taisoeach by General de Chastelain. I tabled three questions about the Prime Minister's statements to try to elicit further information, and when the Prime Minister replied on 6 November he referred straight

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back to his statement on 29 October. Can you render any assistance in obtaining proper answers from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to parliamentary questions?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should seek advice from the Table Office. The quality of answers given by Ministers is not a matter for me.


Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation)

Mr. Secretary Hoon, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Smith, Mr. Adam Ingram and Mr. David Lammy, presented a Bill to make new provision for establishing pension and compensation schemes for the armed or reserve forces; to amend the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943; to provide for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation to a registered charity; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 8 December, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 10].

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Sixth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 November],

Question again proposed.

The Economy

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected for debate the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Standing Order No. 33 provides that on the last day of the debate on the motion for an address to Her Majesty the House may also vote on a second amendment selected by the Speaker. I have selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party for that purpose. The vote on that amendment will take place at the end of the debate after the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been disposed of.

1.32 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at end add—

Within the general sphere of economic affairs, there are six Bills and two draft Bills. Before discussing them, I draw attention for almost the last time to the investment banking interests listed under my name in the Register of Members' Interests. I stand before the House a poorer but happier man.

I am glad to be able to tell hon. Members that we start with broadly positive attitudes to each of the six Bills. We are enthusiastic about the central innovation contained in the Companies Audit and Investigations and Community Enterprise Bill. The voluntary sector is

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the first sector: a foundation of everything we value in human society. Both the state and the market are essentially co-operative ventures; neither could be sustained without an active sense of the common good. We unreservedly welcome the evolution of new forms of association, which foster the social entrepreneurs who can transform whole neighbourhoods.

I also welcome the Bill on civil partnerships. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, it addresses real grievances. I am personally delighted that there will be a free vote, on this side of the House at least. I shall vote in favour of the Bill.

As far as the provisions and proposals on baby bonds, disabilities and employment relations are concerned, we will enter into constructive dialogue with the Government in Committee, although I should say that we do not regard child trust funds as an adequate substitute for a proper lifetime savings account, and we shall watch closely for any unnecessary regulatory burdens on small and medium-sized business emerging from disability and employment legislation.

The energy Bill raises significant technical, accounting and environmental issues that we shall want to scrutinise. We share the aims, although we are not wholly convinced about the methods, of the pensions Bill. The fact that this Bill is now being introduced by the Government is, as my right hon. Friend Lord Forsyth has said in the other place, faintly reminiscent of the arsonist appearing with the fire extinguisher. We have to be careful that the arsonist does not light another fire. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is an acknowledged guru, will have more to say about the need for some imaginative and lateral thinking in this area. The requirement for full funding of company pension schemes before wind-up is in itself admirable. However, I am sure that the Chancellor will share our desire to avoid a situation in which this becomes a cause of reduction in the number of company schemes. These, too, are issues we shall need to discuss in Committee.

I suppose that I should congratulate the Chancellor on keeping the draft Bill for a euro referendum just that: a draft. For our part, we would have preferred to see the officials doing something more useful with their time, but I suppose that if it gives the Prime Minister an executive toy to play with on his desk, that may be a small price to pay for avoiding any misguided attempt by the Government to do anything about the euro.

Whatever the merits of these Bills, the truth is that the solution to the Government's ills and to the principal problems of the country is not more legislation; it is better administration. I give the Chancellor full credit for the vast energy that he has displayed in his unremitting, passionate and sincere attempt to improve the administration of public services through a panoply of five-year plans, 10-year plans, targets, initiatives, public service agreements, centralised funding, performance monitoring, comprehensive spending reviews, terms and conditions, audits and best value regimes.

It all began with the noblest and most proper sentiments. In 1998, the Chancellor told The Sun that

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Alas, the dreams have turned to ashes. Today, the same newspaper contains evidence that the Chancellor's best value has meant no value. Comprehensive spending has meant comprehensive waste. We all remember Picketts Lock, the dome, and the Scottish Parliament building. We also remember the Passport and Records Agency fiasco, the armed forces asset management project and the renegotiation of a failed plan to link magistrates courts. [Interruption.] There is more. Members should contain themselves.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: I would be delighted to give way. Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether the Select Committee on the Treasury, which he chairs, approves of the massive waste by the Government?

Mr. McFall: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned newspapers. I note that yesterday he said that he would not talk about the financial services industry. He knows that members of the Select Committee and I are concerned about these issues. I would like a commitment that he will do an instant U-turn and tell the House that he will talk about financial services. I would like to know whether he will continue to talk about his target of 35 per cent. public spending for gross domestic product. Will he continue to talk on those issues?

Mr. Letwin: As a matter of fact, there are such experts on the Opposition Front Bench on that subject that I do not intend to speak about it. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that last night I deprived him of the fun that he was intending to have on that subject.

According to IT specialists—the hon. Gentleman ought to attend to this—£1.5 billion of spending on IT contracts has been wasted. Perhaps his Committee will look into that, because it has not been a very good record for a Chancellor who promised value for money.

It is not just a matter of projects that have gone wrong. There is also the question of squandering money on an ever-expanding bureaucracy. Why have the Prime Minister's office costs gone up by over £6 million since 1997? Why do Health Ministers' offices cost 70 per cent. more since 1997? Why has the Cabinet Office declared an increase in taxi fares of 1,000 per cent? I do not like paying the congestion charge either, but is not that taking it a bit far? Why have 1,422 staff been added to the payroll of the Department of Trade and Industry, when the Chancellor himself agrees that 500 of them are redundant?

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