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The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 12 July there will be a debate on European Document No: 8795/00 and COM(00)268, relating to financial assistance to the Western Balkans and an unnumbered explanatory memorandum relating to the preliminary draft budget of the European Communities for 2001 in European Standing Committee B.
The House is still owed a debate on procurement for the armed forces, which is made more urgent by today's National Audit Office report of an average four-year delay on major weapons and a £3 billion overspend. With our armed forces being asked to do more for less, that debate is urgent.
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer make an announcement on the comprehensive spending review during the next two weeks? If so, when? The statement is as important as the Budget, and the House would welcome details of the date and confirmation that there will be a full day's debate in Government time before we rise for the summer.
Will the Leader of the House clarify the position for Friday next week? Does it require a resolution of the House if we are to sit on that day? If so, when will that resolution be taken? If the day is earmarked for the football hooligans Bill, when will the draft Bill be published? Do the Government intend to take all stages of the Bill in one day, in normal time and with a guillotine? We should certainly resist that. In view of the importance of the Bill, which we support in principle, and given the congestion in the Government's programme, would it not be better to sit beyond the planned date of rising or abandon some other piece of legislation?
Mrs. Beckett: I undertake to draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Government endeavour to keep the House informed on such matters; I know that my right hon. Friend will want to do so, should that become necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have accepted the fact that there will need to be a debate on defence procurement. I am not sure whether the NAO report makes that more urgent, as--if I recall the matter correctly--the NAO was looking back at the disasters in the procurement of defence equipment under the previous Government. That does not exactly suggest that dealing with the report is urgent, although I accept that it is important and will require scrutiny in the House.
As for the Government's programme, I have repeatedly reminded the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) that the number of Bills in train during this Session is almost identical to the number put through by the Conservative Government, in which he served, at a similar stage of the previous Session. Indeed, as one looks back over the years of Conservative Governments--especially during the 1980s--the programmes of legislation that they put through were substantially heavier than that currently being undertaken by the Labour Government.
The notion that the Government should abandon some other piece of legislation casts into sharp focus the progress of the present discussions with the Opposition on such issues. The shadow Home Secretary--not for the first time--comes to the Dispatch Box demanding that action be taken and offering Opposition co-operation, but follows that with constant back-pedalling after the discovery that they cannot deliver. That seems to be the position on the issue--it is one that we have been in on several occasions in the past. The fact that opposition commitments are given that the right hon. Lady apparently cannot substantiate is a matter for them; it certainly does not provide grounds for the Government to start ditching parts of their programme.
With regard to the proposals made by the Modernisation Committee, I cannot refute strongly enough the notion that they would in any way damage or undermine the ability of the House to scrutinise Government business. The proposals will provide a basis whereby there can be a reasonable--indeed, better--division of responsibility between Government and Opposition, because the Opposition would have more control over how the available time would be used. There is no suggestion that the time need be reduced. The proposals provide a framework in which decisions could be taken at a sensible time, and not at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): As my right hon. Friend may be aware, earlier this week, a British citizen, Mr. David Chell, was sentenced to death in Malaysia on charges of drugs smuggling, which he denies. Given the Government's principled opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, could my right hon. Friend find time for a statement on the steps that the Government are taking to offer Mr. Chell support to save his life?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Leader of the House recognise that the proposed football hooliganism legislation raises serious issues, and will require careful examination. Members on both sides of the House have already said that we do not want to follow the pattern of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 and have the dangerous yobs Act passed at such speed that we do not take all the considerations fully into account. Will the right hon. Lady give us a clear assurance that it is the Government's intention to try to obtain an agreed programme motion for the discussion of this legislation?
In that connection, may I warmly welcome the report of the Modernisation Committee and ask the Leader of the House to give appropriate credit to some of the authors of the ideas that it contains? Does she recall that it was the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) who, in his capacity as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, was the pioneer of the ideas that are contained in that report?
I wonder whether the Leader of the House has also had an opportunity to read a slim little pamphlet, called "Mr. Blair's Poodle", by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), in which he promotes the very ideas for programming motions in the House to which the Modernisation Committee has now given the force of its own recommendations? Does she accept that, at long last, many members of the Conservative party recognise that the proper role of Opposition is to give effective scrutiny to the Government's legislation, rather than simply to waste time in the middle of the night?