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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will very kindly be coming to give evidence to the Liaison Committee. Will she be able to indicate to the House the Government's attitude towards its very sensible report? It is, after all, a way in which modernisation can be carried forward and Back-Bench Members can have a much stronger and more effective role in the House of Commons. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find time to indicate how we can proceed.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend will know that the Government have published a response to the Liaison Committee report. As I have told her and others, I take that report very seriously. Its proposals are profound and would have a significant impact on the work of individual Members. For that reason, I believe that it deserves the most serious scrutiny; but I fear that I cannot tell my hon. Friend that it is likely to be before the Chamber of this House in the very near future.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Last night the Select Committee on Broadcasting agreed a report on the future televising of the proceedings of Parliament. That report will be published on Wednesday 5 July. Given the urgent need, in the light of changing technology and the changing circumstances facing the sittings of the House, to revise the procedures for broadcasting, will the right hon. Lady find time for a debate on that report before the House rises in July?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I take that report seriously, and I am sure that the House will want to look at it carefully. I fear, however, that it is not altogether likely that it will be possible to debate it before the end of July
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): If we are to debate Neill's recommendations on ministerial advisers--and I presume that Tory Members think that they will have a feast--would my right hon. Friend arrange to have a document placed in the Library? I refer to the agreement on Short money, whereby taxpayers' money is paid to Conservative Members of Parliament for them to hire political advisers for Front-Bench spokesmen. [Hon. Members: "Wrong."] In that way, there will be a level playing field in the debate. As I understand it, £3 million of taxpayers' money has been allocated to them for that very purpose.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am not sure that there is a need to place a document in the Library, because the terms of the motion were on the Order Paper, and were agreed to. I was very surprised to hear Conservative Members suggesting that my hon. Friend was wrong. It suggests that their leadership may not have conveyed this useful information to them.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The Leader of the House has put down business in relation to Northern Ireland for 11 July which is, of course, the eve of the parades and marches that take place on 12 July. Air traffic between London and Belfast is difficult on the evening of 11 July and the morning of 12 July. It so happens that the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs is going over on 12 July to see the marches, as part of its inquiry on the Parades Commission. Was there any consultation with Northern Ireland interests when this particular conjuncture of dates was set down?
Mrs. Beckett: My understanding is that there was substantial discussion, but is not wholly clear to me whether it focused on the particular aspect of the date to which the right hon. Gentleman has quite properly drawn attention. If the interests of the Select Committee have been overlooked in any way, let me at once apologise. I shall ensure that the issues that he raises are drawn to the attention of all responsible. However, I can assure him that there has been considerable discussion of how to handle these later stages of the legislation.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): There has been a hysterical reaction to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office about the use of royal palaces. Given that this is said to be a no-go area for elected politicians, would it be in order for us to debate in this House the role of the monarchy, so that we can deal with those issues calmly and reflectively?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course it is open to any hon. Member to seek a debate on any issue. However, pressure on business in the Chamber is always substantial, as my hon. Friend will know, and I could not undertake to find time for such a debate here.
Mrs. Beckett: I am indeed aware that there has been no change in the funding formula in recent years, which means that it is the formula that was put in place by the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported. I am sure that it is within his knowledge that it is not true that the matter has not been considered: it has received, and continues to receive, extensive consideration. The hon. Gentleman will know that the issues are both complex and difficult. I can assure him that the Government will continue to work to try to get greater fairness into the system. As he will readily identify from the fact that it is the formula that we inherited, there are no easy answers.
Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Following the recent meeting in London of Attorneys-General and European Chief Justices to discuss, among other matters, the provisions of the international criminal court, can we have an early debate that could lead to ratification of the ICC treaty? Britain was one of the leading players in gaining international agreement to the ICC and was one of the first to sign the treaty. It would not be right for Britain to be one of the last to ratify it, nor would it send the right message at a time when we should again be taking a leading role in injecting a sense of urgency into the implementation of this important international initiative.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important initiative on which Britain has a good record. Of course, he will be aware that, unfortunately, an early debate would not be to the point. What is needed is legislation. He will also know that that legislation is not in this year's programme and that we do not discuss what may be in next year's. However, I accept his point; this is an important issue.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can we please have a debate entitled "Crime and Punishment", to be opened by the Home Secretary and wound up by the Prime Minister, so that the Home Secretary can clarify for the House the recent alarming stories that crime is spiralling completely out of control in this country and that we are now more lawless than the United States of America? We need clarification from the Home Secretary on that. Could the Prime Minister wind up the debate and tell us who these extra people he wants to be put in prison are, where the prison places are, and whether he is remotely concerned with judicial process or just wants to bang them all up straight away?
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): Given the wise decision this week by members of Standard Life to keep that organisation mutual, can my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the benefits of mutuality to its members? I ask that for two reasons. First, Bradford and Bingley members will make a crucial decision on their future next month, and organisations such as Nationwide, the headquarters of which are in my constituency, would appreciate the opportunity for Members to make it clear that carpetbaggers who are pushing for a quick buck now make members pay for it time and again later. Secondly, if we lose this mutual status from our organisations, we will lose crucial competition in our financial services markets.