|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
This week, the House received a further statement on Sierra Leone, but I must repeat the request that several of us made last week for a full day's debate on Sierra Leone in Government time. Our troops are doing a magnificent job in difficult circumstances and have been exposed to that situation for some time. The commitment is likely to last for many weeks and the position remains highly volatile. Will the Leader of the House review the disappointing response that she gave last week and give serious consideration to a full day's debate on Sierra Leone?
This weekend is a critical one for the Northern Ireland peace process. Might we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Monday, if there are important developments over the weekend?
The right hon. Lady has just announced guillotine motions on no fewer than four Government Bills. Is that not a serious overreaction to the detailed discussion yesterday on the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill? Is not the underlying problem the sheer volume of legislation that the Government are trying to push through the House of Commons?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the superb job that our troops are doing in Sierra Leone. Of course I shall continue to bear in mind his request for a full day's debate on that matter, but I remind him, first, that there will be a debate on Sierra Leone in Westminster Hall next week; and, secondly, that, although there has recently been a steady stream of Opposition days, which is correct and proper, the Opposition have not chosen to debate what he describes as an important subject. I do not often say this to the right hon. Gentleman, but he will recognise that it is open to the Opposition to provide time for such a debate, if they believe that one is required. None the less, I shall pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and continue to bear in mind his request for a general debate on foreign affairs.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, kept the House informed of developments in Northern Ireland. I note the right hon. Gentleman's request that, if there are important developments, the House should continue to be informed and I shall draw that to my right hon. Friend's attention.
The right hon. Gentleman then asked for debates on Lords reform and the intergovernmental conference, and I have those issues in mind as ones that the House wants to debate. However, before that, he asked about the guillotine motions that I have announced, calling them an overreaction. As I am sure that he is aware, the two matters are not unrelated. The House is taking a great deal of time discussing legislation that is not contentious and that would not normally require much time in the House. Furthermore, there is a pattern whereby Bills go through Second Reading and Committee quite swiftly, and no amendments are tabled in Committee--
Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman might say that, but might I draw to his attention what I consider to be a rather worrying phenomenon? No amendments were tabled in Committee to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which is an important and worthwhile measure to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons; yet he and others tabled no fewer than 33 amendments, four new clauses and a new schedule for debate on the Floor of the House. A similar pattern can be seen in respect of the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill: the Bill was uncontentious and supported by Opposition Members, and the Standing Committee sat only once; yet no fewer than seven new clauses, 31 amendments and two new schedules were tabled to take up debating time on the Floor of the House. Any place of work can be brought grinding to a halt by people working to rule; then, measures have to be taken.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): I support the call of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for an early debate on the intergovernmental conference. There are important issues for the House to discuss and it is imperative that we have a debate soon.
In that context, may we also have a debate on the developing European security and defence identity within the European Union? I am sure that many hon. Members would like to express their views on that matter before the Government decide what attitude to adopt toward any treaty changes that might be consequential on that development.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point, both about the IGC debate and about other issues, such as defence identity in the European Union. I recognise the perfectly legitimate demand on all sides of the House for discussion of these important matters. That is why the Government are endeavouring to prevent business that should be discussed properly, but not at undue length, from taking excessive time.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I repeat my weekly request that the Government come off the fence on the reform of the House of Lords. It is now a fortnight since we were scheduled to have that debate. Might the gap in the Government's programme on Wednesday 7 June and Thursday 8 June, be filled with this important and urgent issue?
Has the right hon. Lady followed up with her colleagues the important statement by Madam Speaker, after talks with Sir Richard Wilson, on giving information to the House? Finally, does the right hon. Lady recognise that many people outside the House believe that this is all too reminiscent of the former Government and the way in which they handled the issues of genetically modified seeds and contaminated animal feed, under pressure from me and my colleagues? We never received good answers from them. Can we expect better answers from this Administration?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I am aware of the anxiety for a debate. Indeed, I share that anxiety. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I have made it plain that the Government do not intend to make their own pre-emptive announcement--if I may put it like that--in response to the royal commission, but wish first to hear the views of the House, and I am anxious to hear them. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that pressure of business has made that difficult, particularly with much time being taken on the Floor in the way to which I have already alluded.
With regard to transparency and open government, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in this Parliament, as of 11 April, the date of the latest figures that I have, we had made 219 statements; on average, under this Government, a statement has been made every two sitting days. The hon. Gentleman will also know that Madam Speaker has made it quite plain that a written parliamentary answer is a perfectly legitimate way of giving information, and, as he mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is about to make a statement.
Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are carrying out a review of the vaccine damage payment scheme 1979. Can she make time available for an early debate on this important issue, so that the scheme's inadequacy can be fully debated?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he has long campaigned on this issue. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor in the near future. Perhaps I could recommend to him the offices of Westminster Hall.
[That this House takes note of the recent undertaking of the honourable Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey 'on behalf of my party that we will seek to deal with any matter in our party that other people are concerned about'; accordingly calls upon him and his party leadership to investigate and repudiate the unethical, misleading and on occasions deliberately untruthful campaigning tactics of Liberal Democrat candidates in the Manchester, Gorton constituency in the current local elections; condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for putting about the deliberately untruthful scare story about 'Labour's proposals to force benefits claimants to be paid through their bank accounts' when the Prime Minister has made absolutely clear that all benefits claimants will continue to have the right to collect their benefits from their local post office, to collect their benefits weekly if they so wish and to collect their benefits in cash; further condemns them for seeking to deceive local people about their vote in the Council against the proposal for a new high school on the Spurley Hey site, a proposal supported by both the governors and the staff of the current school and endorsed by the Secretary of State; points out to the people of Gorton that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, there would be an empty, derelict site at Spurley Hey; and is tired of the Liberal Democrat policy of seeking to mislead voters into supporting them either by telling outright lies or else by pretending that they are responsible for the achievements of others.],
[That this House condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for seeking to deceive the people of Gorton about the Liberal Democrats' role in the Friends of Gorton Park organisation, which the Liberal Democrats seek to imply they have some responsibility for, when the excellent work of the voluntary officers and members is in an organisation whose formation was suggested by Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton, and of which that Right honourable Member is President; further condemns the Liberal Democrats in the Manchester, Gorton constituency for seeking to deceive local people about the Liberal Democrats' non-existent role in the Gorton Monastery Charitable Trust; notes that the Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton sponsored a promotional reception for the trust at the House, that that same Right honourable Member the week before Easter had a meeting at the House with Dr Eric Anderson, Chairman of the National Heritage Lottery Trust, and that in the week after Easter the Lottery offered the Gorton Monastery Trust a £2.7 million grant together with development money and that the Chairman of the trust, Mrs. Elaine Griffiths, in that week wrote to the Right honourable Member offering 'thanks for all you are doing to help us, it is very much appreciated'; and questions why the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Rusholme ward gives his address in his election propaganda as 20 Lowestoft Street, M14, which is inside the ward, when his name is not on the election register for that address but for 263 Barlow Road, Manchester 19, which is in a different ward.],