|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): My right hon. Friend will recall that last week I asked for an urgent debate on the cuts in vital social services being made by Tory councillors in Calderdale. Those councillors are now proposing even more damaging cuts, this time in a health and social services initiative that has just been given beacon status because it is so highly thought of. Will my right hon. Friend please make time for a debate, not just on the cuts in Tory-controlled Calderdale but on the cuts being made by Tory-controlled councils across the country?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's concern, particularly since the cuts that caused her concern last week are now being exacerbated in a way that might damage the delivery of health and social care. She will recall that those of us who campaigned in local elections during this Parliament warned people who want to see improvements in health and social care about the inconsistency inherent in local authorities pursuing
I understand my hon. Friend's concern but fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House in the near future. However, it is Environment questions next Tuesday and she might find an opportunity to raise the matter then.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the right hon. Lady note in her busy diary the forthcoming exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall, commencing on 26 February, in which we hope to demonstrate our vision for a future Northern Ireland by exhibiting what is best? Will she recommend to colleagues and staff in both Houses that they seek to visit the exhibition and become better informed about what is best in Northern Ireland, so that they can fully participate in future debates?
Mrs. Beckett: I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in his plug for that exhibition. I share his view that it is good for people to be aware of positive developments in Northern Ireland, not least because it is important to project a positive view and to see the Province move towards greater prosperity and success in the future.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the request by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on international development, so that we can focus on the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, a commitment from which the Tory Government resiled during their 18 years in office, with the result that we inherited a figure of 0.2 per cent? It is important for us to increase that figure. A debate would also give us an opportunity to discuss problems such as AIDS in Africa, which is claiming 500,000 children's lives and 2.5 million adult lives.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's point. He is entirely right that, as far as I can recall, throughout the 18 years of Tory Government there was a sustained reduction in the resources made available to help developing countries. Although I sympathise with his concern and with his anxiety to highlight the Government's progress in the right direction--a direction to which the previous Tory Government were committed in theory, although they went in the wrong direction--I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): As the right hon. Lady is the custodian of the House's duty to hold Ministers to account, can she guarantee that if the former Treasury Solicitor, Mr. Hammond, presents a report to the Prime Minister on the conduct of Ministers, that report will be published verbatim and not bowdlerised, and that the Prime Minister will come to the House to make a statement upon which he can be questioned?
Mrs. Beckett: My right hon. Friend immediately volunteered to establish the inquiry--which I believe is being conducted by Sir Anthony Hammond--and it has been made clear that Sir Anthony's views and conclusions
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): The Leader of the House will know that, at business questions and on other occasions in the House, I have raised the issue of volunteers and the Criminal Records Bureau. She will also know that, this week, in a written parliamentary answer, the Government announced that they would not be charging voluntary organisations for checks to screen out those who are unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults. Could a Minister be asked to make that announcement in the House, so that all hon. Members can congratulate the Government on it? Does she agree that such an announcement would provide hon. Members with an excellent opportunity to discuss the contrast between the Government's support for voluntary organisations and vulnerable people in our communities and the support being given them by Conservative Members?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. She is only one of many hon. Members to raise the issue--although she has been most assiduous in raising it in the House--of the charge. The Government have always said that the matter was under review, and that is proven by the fact that the review has come up with a set of proposals different from those that were first advanced. She is right also to say that that is only one example of the ways in which the Government have massively increased support for voluntary organisations. I know that organisations such as the scouts and the guides, which in many ways led that campaign among voluntary organisations, will particularly welcome the announcement.
I fear nevertheless that I cannot undertake to offer to find time for a special debate on the issue--not least because, sadly, there are so many occasions when the House should be able to congratulate Ministers on taking action for which the House had called yet which turn out to be about something else entirely.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It is now clear that, shortly after the general election, the Government will announce their intention to ditch the pound. Does the right hon. Lady understand that most of us believe that the economic criteria are largely subjective and that the conclusions will be whatever the Chancellor wants them to be? Does she also understand that many of us believe that the constitutional and political criteria are yet more important? Consequently, should we not have before the general election early and frequent debates so that the electorate can have exposed to them exactly where the Government stand on those issues?
Mrs. Beckett: If I may take issue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear, it is absolute rubbish to pretend--as Conservative Members are clearly desperate to do--that the Government are committed, as he puts it, to "ditching the pound" straight after the general election. What the Government are committed to doing is ensuring that there is an assessment of the economic position and of whether we feel that the economic tests are met. If,
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a separate point about the constitution and political criteria, which met with loud approval on the Opposition Benches. He is entirely right that these are different issues and that they are of considerable importance. The Government have never disputed that. We have simply made it plain that, having given careful and mature consideration to those constitutional and political issues, we do not take the view that they are of sufficient weight to prevent Britain from joining the euro should we conclude that that is to our economic advantage.
I see no great need for frequent and early debates to explore these issues, as the position has always been absolutely clear. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is rightly pointing out that it was the Conservatives who signed the Maastricht treaty. One must be cautious with information that comes from press reports, but I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has said that Conservative Members will be free, in their personal general election manifestos, to say that they want never to join the euro, even if it is in Britain's economic interest, or even to go so far as to say that we should leave the European Union. That is an interesting debate which is clearly being held sub rosa in the Conservative party. I wonder why it does not want to share it with the rest of us.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): We had a useful Adjournment debate on Monday about unsolicited mail. A load of scams are being operated to wheedle money out of people, some of whom become addicted to the methods being used against them. As every Member of Parliament has constituents who are badly affected by such operations--and the Royal Mail does not play a very honourable role in this regard--can we have a debate on the matter in Government time? We might then end up with some red tape around the necks of the people involved, which we could tighten.