Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend has strong views on this, which he has expressed clearly and consistently throughout. As he will recall, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was asked yesterday about the release of medical evidence, and also about its possible release to the Spanish Government. My right hon. Friend dealt in part with those questions, and made it plain that it is not Government practice to release confidential medical evidence.

I remind my hon. Friend that Home Office questions will take place on Monday. He may have an opportunity to explore the position further then.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I thank the Leader of the House for listening to what was said to her about the Representation of the People Bill, and allowing time for proper consideration before the Report stage on Wednesday.

Will the right hon. Lady find time in the next couple of weeks for a debate on the benefit uprating statement that we feel is due to the House? Will she recognise that, although taking the Government's proposals to restrict access to jury trials to the House of Lords is an entirely proper move, it also legitimises anything that the House of Lords may do to the legislation--especially given that the proposals were not in the Labour party manifesto and, indeed, are contrary to what was in it?

Mrs. Beckett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. A valid point was made to us, and the Government always try to respond to genuine points relating to what is reasonable in the handling of business, from whatever quarter of the House those points may come. I will draw his observations about benefit uprating to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, but I cannot give him a date for a debate at this stage.

The hon. Gentleman was right to suggest that views on the question of jury trials have evolved and, indeed, changed over time; but he will doubtless recall both that the move was recommended by a royal commission, and that it is supported by the Lord Chief Justice. As for his claim that the fact that legislation was initiated in the House of Lords legitimises anything that the Lords may choose to do, let me tell him that it is never wise to generalise, and, in particular, that it is never wise to encourage constitutional precedent on the basis of something that one happens to support on a certain occasion--I am thinking of the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill--because it is likely to come back and bite one on another occasion.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are some rumblings, at least among Labour Members, about the possibility that the minimum wage may not be index-linked? Will she give an opportunity for those rumblings to become rather louder over the coming weeks?

Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that people are concerned that the minimum wage should be properly handled.

13 Jan 2000 : Column 427

No decision has been taken on the uprating of the national minimum wage, whatever my hon. Friend may have read in the press, but the minimum wage was always handled through negotiation, rather than through a formulaic approach, whether with regard to inflation or anything else. Decisions will be made following Ministers' consideration of a Low Pay Commission report.

Although it has been extraordinarily valuable and defeated the nonsense that was talked by the Conservative party about its impact, the minimum wage has been going only for some nine months. Although I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate on the matter, I draw to his attention the fact that tabling takes place today, I believe, for the next Department of Trade and Industry Question Time.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Earlier this week, the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), drew the House's attention to the fact that the announcement about the Home Secretary's intentions on General Pinochet were made to the media, not to the House. What efforts will the Leader of the House make in the remainder of the Parliament to ensure that Ministers make important public announcements first to the House, and not to the media?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was able to be present yesterday. Indeed, sometimes the Chamber is a little noisy, so it is not always easy to follow, but, had he been here, he would know that the Home Secretary made it plain that the Home Office did not make a statement to the media. What happened was that the Home Secretary's preliminary views were leaked to the media and the Home Office was then requested to confirm or deny them. He made it plain that he had intended to make an announcement first, in the proper way, through a written answer to the House. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary is one of the most punctilious Ministers with regard to such matters.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): My right hon. Friend will remember that, in December 1998, we faced the depressing reality of not being ready for this century--at least that was the view of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who never lets a fact get in the way of a soundbite. Just before the recess, my right hon. Friend gave a commitment to give a statement on progress on the millennium bug. Will she do that? It is important that we have the opportunity to put on record our thanks to public servants throughout the country, in central and local government, who led Britain's exercise and led the world in many respects.

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right about the observations of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who, when he was responsible for these matters--fortunately, it was not for long--made every effort to claim that, if anything went wrong, it would all be the Government's fault. However, I have heard him say nothing about how the Government deserve praise for things not going wrong in the aftermath of the changeover.

13 Jan 2000 : Column 428

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that the House puts on record the enormous amount of work that was undertaken by many dedicated public servants, who, in the context of the millennium bug and of the millennium celebrations as a whole, gave up their free time to celebrate the holidays, so that the rest of us could do so in peace. I assure him that the Government intend to honour their commitment.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill and the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill were both casualties under private Member's Bill procedure last year, but both clearly existed as Bills in the previous Session and are now in the Government programme. Why does the Leader of the House believe that the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill is more urgent than the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill?

Mrs. Beckett: Such Bills are always a matter of fine calculation. The Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, were it to come before the House instead of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, would nevertheless probably not pass into law in sufficient time for it to make a difference as early as the right hon. Gentleman, understandably and legitimately, would wish. Therefore, there is no argument that one Bill is more urgent than the other. He will know that many Members and, indeed, members of the public, not least those in the fur farming industry, are anxious for the matter to be resolved. The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill is the only chance for businesses that are already in substantial difficulty to get compensation. They regret the action, not of the right hon. Gentleman, but of some of his right hon. and hon. Friends, in delaying that Bill last time.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington): Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 150,000 ex-miners have lodged claims for chronic bronchitis, emphysema and vibration white finger, but that, under current procedures, it will take more than three years to settle those claims? Although we recognise the interest and efforts of the Minister with responsibility for those matters in making progress, several thousand ex-miners have died before their claims were considered, and several thousand more are expected to die in the next three years. Will she therefore agree to an urgent debate on that very important matter, and on other matters related to compensation for ex-miners?

Mrs. Beckett: I am, indeed, aware of the scale of the difficulties being experienced, and I know that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members--particularly those in the miners group--have pursued the matter assiduously. I agree with him--as does my right hon. Friend who speaks for the Government on those issues--that the position is unsatisfactory. I hope that my hon. Friend will be aware that a working party has been established to determine what can be done to speed up settlement of those claims. Ministers have repeatedly striven to do everything that can be done to speed up the handling of cases and the settlement of matters, and we shall continue to pursue the issue.

13 Jan 2000 : Column 429

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an urgent debate in Government time on the matter--it is open to him, of course, to apply for an Adjournment debate--but assure him that the Government have the matter under review and will continue to press forward on it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page