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Monday 3 July--Opposition Day [16th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on "The Government's early release of prisoners" followed by a debate on "Neill recommendations relating to Ministers and special advisers". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
The House will also wish to know that, subject to progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Friday 28 July, and that it will return on Monday 23 October.
Sir George Young: The House is grateful to the right hon. Lady for next week's business and for an indication of the business in the following week. We are also very grateful for the information about the summer recess.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement in the next two weeks on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, and will she give the date? Will she confirm that there will be a debate in Government time on that statement?
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, before the House rises, we will have the outstanding debate on defence procurement, and that there will be the normal two-day debate on the defence White Paper in the autumn?
Mrs. Beckett: First, the right hon. Gentleman referred to a relatively late return after the summer recess, but the period for the recess is perfectly ordinary. Indeed, if one looks at the record one sees that the recess was substantially longer in 1992, 1994 and 1995 than is proposed for this year. It is true, of course, that we had shorter recesses in 1998 and 1999, but that was under a Labour Government; under Conservative Governments, holidays are clearly more of a priority.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked me for a debate on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. I cannot give a date for that at present, but I do anticipate that a statement will be made and hope that the House will have an opportunity to debate the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about a debate on defence procurement, and of course we anticipate that those matters will be discussed. When that will be we can discuss through the usual channels. He also asked me about the Defence White Paper, which, again, is a matter that the Government have under review.
Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot offer my hon. Friend time for an early debate on the issue, although I know that some Ofsted reports have caused considerable controversy. He will be well aware that there are reports in which there has been praise for various local authorities, as well as some in which there has been criticism. He will be aware also that this matter goes across authorities that are under different political control. I fear that I cannot promise an early debate on the matter, but I remind my hon. Friend that Education questions will be held next Thursday.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The Leader of the House will have heard the serious concern that greeted the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's statement about BSE. Can she give any indication when the Government expect to receive the report of the Phillips inquiry into the sad saga and gross mishandling of the BSE crisis by the previous Government? Can she give an undertaking that if there is a possibility of the report being received before the summer recess, there will be an early statement and debate before the recess, as this is a matter of major concern to both sides of the House?
On the subject of certainty in the parliamentary year, the Leader of the House will have heard Members on both sides expressing concern about the present uncertainty. Can she give any indication whether a date has been pencilled into the royal diary for the opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech, as that is clearly a matter of real concern? Will she give an undertaking--either through the usual channels or to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons--to consider a proposal which has been made before: that the House should meet the holiday requirements of those from Scotland and a number of northern cities and towns and have the summer recess at the end of June; that it should come back in September for the spillover; that we should have the interim period before the Queen's Speech to coincide with the party conferences; and that we should have the Queen's Speech later in October, rather than later in the year?
Mrs. Beckett: First, my understanding is that the Phillips report is not likely to be available before the summer recess, although I take on board the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the House's wish to scrutinise the report when it becomes available.
Secondly, I am afraid that it is certainly not within my power or remit to give indications in advance as to the contents of the royal diary. However, I can certainly say that the wilder hopes entertained by Conservative Members are unlikely to be borne out. The hon. Gentleman will understand it when I say that careful scrutiny of the amount of legislation that has been put through in previous years in no way justifies any contention that this Government's programme is heavier
Any glance at the statistics will show that, under a Labour Government, discussion in the Lords--for some unaccountable reason--seems to take more time and has resulted in more defeats for the Government's programme. The statistics are incontestable. That is a cross that all Labour Governments have had to bear and, no doubt, this Government will continue to bear it. [Interruption.] As for the noises from sedentary positions about the Lords being our House, I remind Conservative Members that there are still 30 more Conservative peers than Labour peers there. Hopefully, in the fullness of time, that will change--at least a little.
With regard to the recess, I believe that under the previous Government, straight after the Jopling report, there was certainly one year--perhaps even two--in which an attempt was made for the House to rise earlier in July. However, I fear that the previous Government were not successful in maintaining that record. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that a change in the pattern of the kind that he describes would have substantial knock-on effects for things like party conferences.
I suspect that the House will continue to return to this matter. However, it seems to me that a more general organisation of our business and other improvements in the way we handle legislation are required before we can come to such conclusions.