Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Marjorie Mowlam: I said earlier that I think that the Good Friday agreement will be the basis of the review, which will concern the agreement's implementation rather than its content. That is the perspective that we have adopted since it became clear, an hour or so ago, that we shall need a review pretty quickly.

Those discussions with the Irish Government are taking place now.

We have said clearly that we will discuss matters with the parties over the days ahead. I hope that by the time the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach meet next week, they will be able to outline the terms of reference, the nature of the review and its conditions. I can be no firmer than that at present.

I cannot give a specific time scale, either. I have come to the House within an hour and a half of knowing what was happening, and it would be premature, if not unwise, to start to set down times until we have talked to the Irish Government and to the other parties. I assure the House that the statement to be made by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach after their summit next week will make those answers clear.

Like my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire asked about the First Minister remaining in office at the moment. The two appointments are connected, but within six weeks, the situation will change. That is our understanding, but I should like to check the details, because I have not yet had the chance to make sure that it is definitive. I am 99 per cent. sure that that is how things stand.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): When will the Secretary of State and the Government recognise that the

15 Jul 1999 : Column 577

idea of an Executive for Northern Ireland composed of Unionists, nationalists and republicans is simple nonsense that will never work?. Has the time not come to endthe farce played out at Stormont today, to scrap the agreement, so that Northern Ireland can be governed as it should be--according to the same principles and practices as apply in the rest of the United Kingdom--and to defeat terrorism, wherever it comes from?

Marjorie Mowlam: We will continue to work for what the people of Northern Ireland ask us for. In implementing the Good Friday agreement, we are implementing what 71 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland voted for. We are acting not off our own backs, but because the people want progress. It would have been wonderful to move towards devolution today, as has happened in Scotland and Wales. Along with the Irish Government, we believe that the Good Friday agreement provided the best way of doing that, but we cannot act in Northern Ireland exactly as we did for the Scots and Welsh, because they have different histories, and the history of Northern Ireland, with its large element of violence, means that mechanisms are needed that include both communities. We are trying to achieve those mechanisms, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I am not the sort of politician who tends to praise my Front-Bench colleagues, but the Secretary of State's approach has been exactly right. Matters are still open and much work must still be done, but we must not give up hope. We must avoid the politics of blame, and shouting yah-boo against particular groups or people. We must recognise the complexity of Northern Ireland, and of the attitudes in the House towards resolving these matters. Some elements of Unionism may stand strongly against any change, but others would accept matters as they stand, while others still want progress, a timetable and an agreement. There are differing positions, too, within the Conservative party--but honourable positions are held and argued on all sides. We must try to pull all those views together to achieve the settlement that we all want.

Marjorie Mowlam: I agree. I certainly have not given up hope and belief in a vision of a better future for Northern Ireland.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 578

Business Statement

1.19 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 19 July--Second Reading of the Railways Bill.

Tuesday 20 July--Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "Deterioration in Health Care Provision in the United Kingdom", followed by a debate entitled "The Government's Proposed Energy Tax", both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Wednesday 21 July--Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House which will include the usual three hour pre-recess debate.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Employment Relations Bill.

Remaining stages of the Contracts (Right of Third Parties) Bill[Lords].

Thursday 22 July--Remaining stages of the Food Standards Bill.

Friday 23 July--Private Members' Bills.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received. The House will also wish to know that on Monday 19 July there will be a debate on sectors and activities excluded from the--

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does the right hon. Lady mean Monday 26 July?

Mrs. Beckett: No. On 19 July, there will be a debate on sectors and activities excluded from the working time directive in European Standing Committee C. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Monday 19 July: European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union documents: (a) 13526/98; (b) Unnumbered EM submitted by DTI dated 18 May 1999, Sectors and activities excluded from the working time directive; (c) Unnumbered EM submitted by DTI dated 21 June 1999. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 34-vi and HC34-xxiv (1998-99)]

Although the hon. Gentleman was mistaken in thinking that the date was incorrect, there was an omission from my remarks. I referred to the consideration on Wednesday 21 July of Lords amendments to the Employment Relations Bill. That is correct, but before that, we shall take consideration of Lords amendments to the Access to Justice Bill [Lords]. So, the business will be the Access to Justice Bill, followed by the Employment Relations Bill, followed by the Contracts (Right of Third Parties) Bill.

The only other thing that the House would want to know at this stage is that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 17 November.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The House is grateful for next week's business.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 579

In the light of the statement that has just been made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is the Government's intention now not to move the business of the House motion, in the name of the Prime Minister, at 7 o'clock?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the plan is still to rise on Tuesday week? Will she confirm that we shall have the promised debate on public expenditure before the House rises?

The Leader of the House will have heard your statement on 12 July, Madam Speaker. You noted that

You continued that the matter would be reviewed:

    "Once the House has had a chance to debate the fourth report of the Procedure Committee."--[Official Report, 12 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 21-22.]

As the implications of the Government's constitutional reforms have consequences for the House, will the Leader of the House find an early occasion on which we may debate the Procedure Committee's report?

What has happened to the debate on small businesses? Does the Leader of the House recall what the then Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), said last year? She stated:

Are the Government now anxious to avoid a debate, because of the problems currently faced by small firms?

At this time of year, there is pressure on Ministers to clear the decks before the House rises. May important statements on Government policy be made in the Chamber, rather than being slipped out in a written answer--as happened this week with the decision to privatise BNFL? Will the Leader of the House outline to the House what statements Ministers plan to make before we rise?

On Monday, does it really make sense to spend a whole day on Second Reading of the Railways Bill, when it will run out of legislative track because the Government introduced it so late in the Session? We shall have to have another day on Second Reading of the same Bill in the new Session. Could we not more usefully spend the time debating the report of the royal commission on long-term care?

Finally, on a more conciliatory note, the House is most grateful for the date of the state opening of Parliament.

Mrs. Beckett: I confirm that the right hon. Gentleman is correct; the Government do not now propose to move the 7 o'clock motion for the order on Friday. We still plan to rise on Tuesday 27 July; it is my intention and hope that we shall hold the public expenditure debate before that date.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the important debates that we need to hold on the report of the Procedure Committee. I am conscious of that matter and of the fact that Madam Speaker is also keen for the issue to be aired. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we could find an early occasion for such a debate, and I hope and anticipate that we shall find time, perhaps relatively

15 Jul 1999 : Column 580

early in the overspill period. That will kill two birds with one stone, because it means that we shall have a debate before this House gets much further into dealing with the consequences and aftermath, but the new bodies will have had more time to gain their own experience. In that way, we shall have a clearer view of what reciprocal discussions might be possible.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the debate on small businesses. I am aware of the indication given that there would be an annual debate, and I can think of no reason why the Government should want to delay it. In a whole range of matters--including, for example, introducing the lowest rate of corporation tax that small businesses have ever faced--we are doing a great deal to help the small business community. I assure him that that matter has not been overlooked, but I cannot give a date for a debate at present.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about statements. I remind him that, as Madam Speaker has made plain, there is nothing wrong with Government announcements being made by written answer. The House would never do anything else if we tried to make every announcement by way of a statement. I cannot tell him offhand what statements are likely between now and the recess, but I shall see whether we can provide some indication through the usual channels, if that would be helpful.

As for the Railways Bill, I do not accept that the Second Reading debate makes no sense--in fact, I think that it would be an extremely useful step. As I hope the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we hope that the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs will agree to consider the Bill, in another variant on the theme of pre-legislative scrutiny, which most of the House wants to happen. We hope and believe that that will substantially improve the Bill, which will be extremely helpful to the House in future.

Finally, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about our giving the date of the state opening. I apologise to the House for not being able to give it before, but there are always some complications in settling such matters.

Next Section

IndexHome Page