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Business of the House

12.45 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

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

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.

Tuesday 4 July--Progress on remaining stages of the Local Government Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 5 July--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Local Government Bill [Lords].

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Thursday 6 July--Estimates Day [2nd Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on HM Customs and Excise followed by a debate on Department of Social Security medical services. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 7 o'clock the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 7 July--Debate on the report of the committee of inquiry into hunting with dogs in England and Wales on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 10 July--Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Terrorism Bill.

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

Tuesday 11 July--Remaining stages of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Wednesday 12 July--Remaining stages of the Care Standards Bill [Lords].

Thursday 13 July--Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Friday 14 July--The House will not be sitting.

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.

[Thursday 6 July:

Class XVI: Vote 4: Customs and Excise: Administration.

Class XII: Vote 3: Department of Social Security: Administration as it relates to medical services.]

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.

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Does the relatively late return of the House in October, combined with the large volume of legislation still in the pipeline, mean that the opening of Parliament will be delayed until December, or that the Government are planning to abandon part of their legislative programme, such as the Freedom of Information Bill?

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 Prime Minister make a statement on Monday on the outcome of his hastily arranged summit with the German Chancellor?

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?

It is a year since we had a debate on drugs in Government time. Will the Leader of the House find time to debate that most important subject?

Finally, when the right hon. Lady has had her frank and cordial exchange of views with the Liaison Committee, may we have a debate on its most important report, "Shifting the Balance"?

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.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not likely to seek to make a statement on a summit meeting with the German Chancellor, as he is not having a summit with him.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What is he doing there then?

Mrs. Beckett: The Prime Minister is going to Germany to make a speech, and as a matter of courtesy he will pay his respects to the German Chancellor while he is there.

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.

On the subject of the Liaison Committee, I am very much looking forward to giving evidence to the Committee. At some point following that, I anticipate that the House will wish to discuss its report.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent reports from that increasingly

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eccentric and politically motivated organisation, Ofsted. One such report contains the quaint observation that only two local authorities in the country are adding to the value of their schools: one is a borough of only 26 schools; the other is the City of London, which has a grand total of one primary school. In view of the harm that this organisation is doing to individuals and to local authorities, can my right hon. Friend possibly find time for a debate on Ofsted's sad and sorry record?

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

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than normal. In the early years of the Government headed by Lady Thatcher, there were 10 or 20 more Bills than the present Government are endeavouring to put through. There is certainly no indication of difficulties.

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.

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