Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the perhaps few occasions on which the British public can share in the enjoyment of the House is Prime Minister's Question Time? Does she share the concern of many Members that last week's was lost because of the efforts to talk out the business? Will she timetable a debate on procedure so that I and other hon. Members might discuss timetabling in the House, which the Modernisation Committee recommended in one of its earliest reports should be more and better used?

Mrs. Beckett: Certainly I am aware of the concern that is felt when the business of the House gets out of control. My hon. Friend is right to say that the Modernisation Committee made recommendations for the programming of suitable Bills and it proposes to examine where we are on that issue in the near future. He will also know that we debate procedural matters from time to time. I share his regret that last week's Prime Minister's Question Time was lost. He may not know that a Conservative Member who took part in that debate has made it clear on the record that Conservative Members took deliberate action in an effort to draw attention to their concerns about the business that we were debating and that they took that decision deliberately early on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): May we have a statement next week on the future of the Government information service? Of the 17 directors of communication who were in place when the Government came to office, only one remains--the 16th having been sacked last week by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The politicisation of the civil service is a matter in which a free Parliament should take an active interest.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he hears. There is no suggestion whatever that the head of information at the Cabinet Office was sacked. He is leaving to take up a six-month post at the Centre for Management and Policy Studies. When I was President of the Board of Trade, the head of information at the Department of Trade and Industry decided to take early retirement--entirely voluntarily and very much to my regret--for purely personal considerations. [Interruption.] I say to Conservative Members that those personal considerations were serious. It was a great source of regret that she chose to leave, but she did so of her own volition. That is another example of the silliness of making such statements and assumptions.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I listened with interest to the Leader of the House's comments about a possible statement on General Pinochet, next week or

3 Feb 2000 : Column 1209

whenever. She will have seen early-day motion 340, on correspondence between the Home Office and the lawyers for General Pinochet:

[That this House notes that on 30th January, the respected Spanish newspaper El Pais published the text of letters exchanged between the Home Office and Augusto Pinochet's lawyers from November 1999 onwards, and that these letters confirm that, despite being under no legal obligation to make such an offer, the Home Office proposed on its own initiative that Augusto Pinochet's medical details be kept secret before they received any such request from his lawyers; further notes that his lawyers informed the Home Office that their client issued them with detailed instructions about the terms under which he would submit to medical examination in November 1999 after he had allegedly suffered a major deterioration rendering him unable to prepare for trial, that, contrary to procedures adopted in previous extradition cases, the Home Office suggested General Pinochet's own British and Chilean doctors could attend his 5th January medical examination, and that the Home Office supplied him in advance with the complete list of questions they asked the independent medical team to ascertain, including queries about his ability to recall events in the 1970s; notes also that apparent loss of memory in this respect is notoriously easy to fake and that the torture offences upon which his extradition is sought occurred in the late 1980s; and therefore calls upon the Home Secretary to request that Augusto Pinochet attend a fresh medical examination at which observers for the governments of Spain, France, Belgium and Switzerland will be allowed to be present.]

The correspondence was published in last Sunday's El Pais. Will she ensure that all correspondence is made public so we can see the truth of the situation in respect of the request or otherwise for medical secrecy to surround General Pinochet's case? Will she also ensure that all the evidence and advice collected by the Crown Prosecution Service, which has been passed to the Spanish Government, is made public so that we can see the strength of the argument in respect of an appeal which would enable Pinochet to be extradited to Spain to face the trial that he so truly deserves?

Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I certainly cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance that all the correspondence and evidence is likely to be published. All I can say is that he will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has done everything he can to keep the House fully informed and gave a commitment to return with further information when he is in a position to do so. I shall certainly draw my hon Friend's request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May we please have, as a matter of urgency, a debate on the European Union's attitude to domestic politics, government and democratic elections in member states, and in particular on whether Her Majesty's Government are minded to support any intervention or interference in the democratic processes of a member state? Perhaps we could also consider whether the Government would be as interested in the domestic politics of a member state were an extreme left-wing party involved, as they apparently

3 Feb 2000 : Column 1210

are--perhaps the Leader of the House will give some clarification--when the party concerned is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

I refer to important constitutional matters relating to the European Union. I am sure that the Government will want to take an early opportunity to clarify their view.

Mrs. Beckett: The Government indeed believe that it is important for all EU members to respect the provisions of the treaties. That means that they should be committed to acting against xenophobia and discrimination. Obviously, we share the concerns that other Governments have expressed.

On a lighter note, let me inform the right hon. Gentleman that, having read yesterday's Hansard, I am shocked and dismayed to discover that the views on the EU that he has just expressed are in clear contravention of the stance that he adopted yesterday. [Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has learned since then; but, having taken a different attitude from his at the time when the British people made their choice, I will treat his remarks about Europe with much more scepticism in future.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): May we have a debate on the coal industry? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although a subsidy is available in Europe, there is doubt about whether we can obtain it? Does she realise that only 17 mines remain in Great Britain, and that every one is threatened with closure over the next 12 or 18 months?

Mrs. Beckett: I am aware of the sad position in the mining industry and of my hon. Friend's long and hard work on behalf of the mining community. The same could be said of other Labour Members. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate in the House in the near future, but my hon. Friend will observe that I have announced a debate on state aid to the European coal industry to take place in Standing Committee E. He will know that other hon. Members can take part in that debate.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in a few weeks' time, the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will consider relaxing safeguards on whaling, trade in ivory and other matters? Hon. Members have already expressed concern in parliamentary questions and in early-day motion 342, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor):

[That this House believes that strong international controls on trade in ivory are necessary to protect endangered elephants; acknowledges that the European Union's abstention on a vote to relax the ban on international ivory trade at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997 allowed a limited resumption in ivory trade between three southern African countries and Japan; is concerned that many African and Asian elephant range states have reported an increase in elephant poaching as a result of the lifting of the ivory ban and that there have been a number of large seizures of illegal ivory in recent months; notes Labour's manifesto pledge to 'support protection for the African elephant, and oppose any resumption of

3 Feb 2000 : Column 1211

the trade in ivory and elephant skins'; and therefore strongly urges the Government to fully support the restoration of a ban on international trade in ivory at the next CITES Conference of the Parties in April 2000.]

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on the meeting, in good time for those representing the United Kingdom to be informed of hon. Members' views?


Next Section

IndexHome Page