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Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Secretary of State mentioned that there were particular problems and issues relating to shire district councils, and he was certainly correct in that respect. He also prayed the Local Government Association in aid in support of his proposals. Will he therefore explain to the House why the LGA is in serious dispute with his Department about the way in which it expressed the funding increases for shire district councils in his related statement only last week?

Mr. Byers: The position is very clear. I was specifically referring to the joint partnership approach whereby the priorities for local government are identified jointly between central and local government. There is no big dispute about the presentation of the figures in the settlement announced last week. An issue has arisen through the consultation process and, as I have mentioned before, the situation is clear. We are considering the issue

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in the light of representations that have been made and I hope to be able to respond positively. That is what happens during consultation. There would have been a real issue if we had just announced the final settlement last week, but we did not do that. We said, "Here are the figures, and now we will consult." An issue has arisen in relation to the districts and it is one to which I hope to be able to respond positively.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome the Secretary of State's statement, especially the reforms that he is introducing to capital funding. Will he confirm that under the changes he has announced local authorities such as the London borough of Merton will be better placed to examine the contribution they can make to the financing of major community projects, such as the search in my constituency for a new home for Wimbledon football club or the need to rebuild the civic hall? That hall had to be sold off when the Tories were in office; Merton had a Tory council and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who leads for the Opposition on this issue, was a Tory councillor in Wimbledon Park ward.

Mr. Byers: Most of us know that the approach that the Conservatives took to local councils, as in many other areas, was to sell everything off. I was not aware that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was a member of Merton council at the time when it sold off its assets, but that is the nature of Conservatives in local as well as central government. Many of our crucial utilities were similarly sold off. Local councils will now have the scope to support community projects. The new capital freedoms that we intend to give will allow Merton to develop a site, perhaps in partnership with Wimbledon football club, or to make provision for a civic hall. Those flexibilities and freedoms will be available as a result of the changes that we have introduced, which did not exist under the Conservatives in government.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must move on.

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Points of Order

4.42 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns motion 9 on the Order Paper, which was placed there only this morning. Is it in accordance with the rules of the House for the Government to place on the Order Paper a proposal that we should give them the authority, without debate or discussion, to participate in the drafting of a European arrest warrant that would entitle any other member state to arrest in the UK a citizen of our nation whom it believes to have voiced an opinion contrary to its laws? That is an important and significant undermining of our rights and freedoms, in that it would deprive our Government and courts of the right to object to extradition even if they believed it to be unfair and unreasonable.

Do you consider it is right to place on the Order Paper a proposal of that sort in a way that makes no provision for debate? If by chance it is in order, can you give me an assurance that, if the order is objected to at 10 o'clock tonight, its approval will be delayed until the House has the opportunity to vote on it tomorrow under the deferred voting procedure? I am sorry to take up the time of the House, but it is a very important point.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I want to answer the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), and my answer may assist the right hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I am satisfied that everything that has been done conforms with the rules relating to the consideration of such documents. I understand that the document was debated in European Standing Committee B yesterday and reported to the House in the usual manner. I can confirm that, if the motion is objected to after 10 o'clock tonight, it could give rise to a deferred Division tomorrow afternoon.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your ruling, you referred to a document that was debated yesterday in European Standing Committee B, which I attended. Unfortunately, that document is not the final text that will be agreed at the European Council meeting to take place shortly. Therefore, the House has not scrutinised the final form of the instrument in question. I believe that that is in breach of Standing Orders and the resolution of the House of 1998 that insists that nothing of a European legislative nature shall be agreed or passed without full scrutiny taking place first. Because we did not have the up-to-date document, such scrutiny did not take place.

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman raises a new issue. I shall consider it and get back to him and, if necessary, to the House.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Is it on the same matter?

Mr. Wilkinson: Yes, I serve on the Committee.

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May I point out that not only was the document that we were discussing out of date—it related to a Council meeting that took place on 31 October—but a French document exists that relates to an interim discussion that took place at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. French is a working language of the Community and, had a translation of that document been produced, it would have been entirely germane to our proceedings. It was not produced, so our proceedings essentially considered a document that was out of date. Will you bear that point in mind?

Mr. Speaker: I will bear that point in mind. I give the same assurance that I gave earlier. I will look into the matter and come back to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and, if necessary, to the House.

Norman Baker (Lewes): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to raise a point of which I have given you prior notice. It relates to the guidance that you helpfully gave the House recently on parliamentary answers. You indicated that Ministers should be as open and as helpful as possible in response to Members' queries.

As an example, I draw your attention to an answer that I received from the Leader of the House yesterday when I asked him if he could list the orders made through the Privy Council under the royal prerogative in each year from 1997 to date. He said that the information could be provided only at disproportionate cost, but an answer to an identical question tabled on 3 March 1993 at column 203 listed all the orders in full detail.

I tabled another question to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions about flights carrying radioactive material, and that was met with the answer:


However, when I tabled an almost identical question in 1997, it elicited facts about how many flights had occurred and about the nature of the radioactive material involved—high, low or intermediate grade.

Sadly, it seems that Ministers are not paying attention to your guidance and are being less helpful. I will, of course, draw the matter to the attention of the Public Administration Committee, but would be grateful if you would issue further advice to Ministers to inform them that they should listen to what you have said and ensure that questions are properly answered.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has answered his question himself. He can go to the Public Administration Committee if he so wishes. He referred to individual questions and replies, but I cannot give a ruling on them. He can pursue the matter and, if he studies my rulings, he will see that I have provided more than one piece of advice on the subject.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a great deal of confusion about the possibility of further troop deployments to Afghanistan. This morning's Washington Post reported:


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That fact seems to have been confirmed by the Prime Minister who said this afternoon:


Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any indication that the Government are likely to make a statement on that matter in fulfilment of the Prime Minister's assurances that the House would be informed first about changes and developments in Government policy?


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