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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I ask the Leader of the House if she would be kind enough to announce the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 17 January--Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on "Meeting the Needs of Pensioners" followed by a debate entitled "Protecting Post Office Services". Both motions will arise in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday 18 January--Opposition Day [3rd Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The Government's Mismanagement of Health Care in the United Kingdom" followed by a debate entitled "The Rising Cost and Reduced Accountability of Central Government". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions. They will be followed by a motion to approve the Administration Committee Report on the Line of Route.

Wednesday 19 January--Remaining stages of the Representation of the People Bill.

Second Reading of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill.

Second Reading of the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill.

Thursday 20 January--Remaining stages of the Electronic Communications Bill.

Debate on the Braithwaite Report on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 21 January--The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 24 January--Second Reading of the Disqualifications Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Tuesday 25 January--Remaining stages of the Disqualifications Bill.

Wednesday 26 January--Progress of remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

Thursday 27 January--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

Friday 28 January--The first day of debating private Members' Bills.

It may be convenient for the House to know that the Easter recess will take place the week after Easter rather than the previous week.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I thank the right hon. Lady for giving us the business for next week and the following week. I also wish her a happy new year. I thank her for giving us an indication of the date of the Easter recess. Although we do not ask for a week off in February, can she state whether there will be such a week off so that hon. Members and members of staff can make appropriate

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arrangements? If it is not announced soon, there is no point in having it--perhaps many of us would prefer that to be so.

Can the Leader of the House confirm which parts of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House, following the Home Secretary's statement earlier this week? Can she also confirm that the royal commission on the reform of the House of Lords is expected to report next week? Will there be a statement in the House and an early debate? Will the Government make plain their intentions for the joint Committee of both Houses, and will a Minister represent the Government on that Committee?

In the light of yesterday's statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, does the right hon. Lady accept that there is an urgent need for the defence debate that we have requested? It is unfortunate that such an important statement was made without debate in the House. Does she accept that yesterday's extraordinary statement by the Home Secretary underlines the need for a debate at the appropriate time not only on what is called the Pinochet affair, but on the inconsistency of the Government's treatment of aged people who are accused of serious crimes?

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the House is kept regularly informed of the state of the influenza epidemic? In view of her creditable record of dealing with the millennium bug, will she ensure that the Government get better at dealing with the flu bug? May we have the date of the Budget statement, again so that Members can make appropriate arrangements, and, as I asked at the beginning of my remarks, can she give a very clear indication of the remainder of this parliamentary year?

Mrs. Beckett: First, I note that the hon. Gentleman says that he is not asking for a February week, and indeed indicated that he would be happy not to have one. That is certainly consistent with the fact that Conservative Members voted against having such a week, although not entirely consistent with all the private remarks that are made to me--but there we go. I entirely take his point, however, that the benefit of such a non-sitting week lies in the House having as early an indication of it as possible. He will recall that last year we were not able to provide a full week because of the pressure of business. I am not able to give him an indication as to what, if anything, the Government feel able to offer, but certainly hope to do so by next week. I apologise that I am not able to do so today; I would have wished to, but we are not in a position to do so yet.

The hon. Gentleman asked which parts of the Bill on funding will be taken on the Floor of the House. That is a matter for continuing discussion through the usual channels and I hope that we shall be able to reach broad agreement on it. He also asked about the date of publication and the handling of the Wakeham report--the royal commission report on Lords reform--and for a statement, an early debate and an indication of Joint Committee intentions. My understanding and expectation is that the report is likely to be published next week--probably next Thursday, I believe--and obviously the Government will have to weigh it when it emerges. I take on board his request for early observations on it. We shall have that under consideration and it can be discussed through the usual channels. I am not sure how early it will be possible to give an indication about handling in terms

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of a Joint Committee, whether a Minister will sit on it and so on, but I shall bear his request in mind and convey it to colleagues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the defence debate. He will know that the Defence Committee is urgently discussing the White Paper and we intend to have the debate as soon as possible. We have made it plain that we regret the delay. I was a little surprised that he said that it was extraordinary that yesterday's statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was made without debate because there is nothing at all unusual about statements of Government intent being made before debate. The hon. Gentleman will know that it was well within the public domain that, following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, the Government had indicated that they would have to take account of the decision, as every previous Government have done, and would reflect on it and make a statement in the House when a decision was made.

It seems to me that there was nothing in any way out of the ordinary about my right hon. Friend's statement, nor do I believe that there is anything extraordinary or inconsistent in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's handling of a number of extremely difficult cases in which matters of extradition or prosecution have come into question. In all those cases, he has, first, borne in mind his own very grave responsibilities--which of course do not include prosecuting or deciding to prosecute people, as he has made plain throughout--and always reflected the law and the way that those matters are handled through our courts. He has observed and applied that principle with consistency to all those different cases, in which decisions as to whether to prosecute and what the weight of evidence justifies are always matters for bodies other than the Home Secretary, and quite correctly so.

The hon. Gentleman asked us to keep the House informed about the progress of the influenza epidemic and I shall certainly draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. As to whether we handle that as well as we have the millennium bug--I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks-- I simply say to him that, even though it could justifiably have been argued that the Government had some responsibility in respect of the millennium bug, nobody can charge us with being responsible for the flu bug, although I have no doubt whatever that many Conservative Members will try.

I am not yet in a position to announce the date of the Budget statement, but I recognise that the announcement ought to be made fairly soon, and I will draw the matter to the attention of colleagues.

Finally, let me echo what the hon. Gentleman said, and wish him and the whole House a happy new year.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Leaving aside all the Pinochet defenders and apologists on the Tory Benches, may I ask my right hon. Friend to request the Home Secretary to give further consideration to putting the medical reports on Pinochet in the public domain, or at least allowing the Spanish judicial authorities to see the medical evidence about which the Home Secretary told us yesterday? I claim to speak for no one else, but I for one would be very sorry to see Pinochet returned to Chile without the conclusion of the necessary legal processes,

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rather than that monstrous tyrant--as I described him earlier in the week--being sent to Spain, where he should be tried for his crimes against humanity.

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