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Mrs. Beckett: I cannot recall whether the hon. Gentleman was able to be in his place for the Home Secretary's statement, but I am sure that he knows that the Home Secretary did make it plain that he understood fully and shared the view that any proposals that came forward would require to be most carefully examined. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government recognise that.

The hon. Gentleman asked me for an assurance that the Government would seek an agreed programme motion, and I can give him that assurance. We are seeking agreement; indeed, I would go further and say that the Government are seeking, if at all possible, to get an agreed Bill. If it is not possible to get such agreement, obviously that will call into question to what degree and at what pace such proposals can be proceeded with.

The hon. Gentleman then asked me about the issues that are raised in the Modernisation Committee report. I share his view that it is right and proper that the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) should receive credit for the proposals that he has advocated over many years of a long career in the House, and that the right hon. Gentleman has argued that we should take those steps.

I am afraid that I have not as yet had time to peruse the interesting pamphlet produced by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who, as I understand it, speaks for

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the Conservative party from the Front Bench on constitutional matters. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has read it, and tells me that it is much to be recommended. I look forward to reading it.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Disregarding for a moment the sad fact that, yesterday, the Tory dinosaurs on the Modernisation Committee rejected modernisation and attempts to improve the way in which we scrutinise legislation, does not the statement that my right hon. Friend has just made with regard to the business of the House for the next fortnight highlight the fact that we really should make more use of an earlier report of the Modernisation Committee with regard to carry-over legislation? Is it not time that we moved forward to a five-year Parliament which the people elect with a rolling programme of legislation, without the need for an annual Queen's Speech and state opening of Parliament, and time that Bills should be limited and have to complete all their stages within one year of their introduction?

Mrs. Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's regret that, for the first time, it was not possible to reach more of a measure of agreement on the Modernisation Committee, but that is behind us. I am conscious, too, that it was he who, in that Committee, proposed the measures for greater use of carry-over legislation from one Session into another--of course, only by agreement--that were agreed by the Modernisation Committee in an earlier report.

The issue of a five-year rolling programme, which my hon. Friend has raised today, is a further step in that direction. It has often been considered, and may well be explored again in future, not only in this forum but among the many other bodies that from time to time consider how this place works. I am also mindful of the fact that my hon. Friend, very sensibly, has also suggested that, were Parliament to move to a wider programme, there would need to be other mechanisms to ensure that legislation did not simply drag on, as a discipline both for the House and for the Government.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Leader of the House may know that the people of Banbury have been sending a Member to this place since the reign of Mary Tudor, and that--with the exception, I suppose, of the dark days of Charles I--never have a Government treated the House with such contempt.

We have Ministers who make statements to the media rather than to the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer never even came to the House to announce that he was handing over to the Bank of England control of interest rates; that was something that the House learned from the media. We have a Prime Minister who has changed Prime Minister's questions from twice a week to once a week, and rarely attends the House. Now, for the Prime Minister's convenience, a book is to be placed in the Division Lobby, so that those who are too idle actually to attend the House may sign in on a Wednesday afternoon. It will be not a three-day week under this Government, but a one-day week, with the Executive treating the House and the people whom we represent with contempt.

Mrs. Beckett: I have seldom heard such nonsense, even from the hon. Gentleman. As to the suggestion that

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the Government in some way treat the House with contempt, may I remind him, as the statistics make quite clear, that the present Prime Minister attends Prime Minister's Question Time more frequently than did his predecessor, answers more questions and deals with more issues? Indeed, Ministers under this Government make more statements in the House than did our predecessors. Those are the facts. I know that they are loathed by the Conservative party, but they are facts.

The hon. Gentleman has perhaps slightly misunderstood our proposals. Even under this Government, it will not be possible to sign to register one's views in the Lobby without actually being present.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): Has my right hon. Friend received any indication from Home Office Ministers as to when draft legislation on the private security industry is to be produced and whether that draft legislation will include measures to curb the outrageous activities of cowboy wheel clampers, who cause havoc for motorists up and down the country?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact date for the publication of draft legislation. I am well aware that it is an issue on which she has long campaigned, and I share her view that such activities cause great annoyance to members of the public. I understand that it is hoped to publish a draft shortly, but I cannot give her a more precise date than that.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Is the Leader of the House aware that a lobby is coming to Parliament this afternoon to protest against the Government's policy for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, particularly in the light of the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the subject and the effect that the policy will have on defence relations with America? Will she provide Government time soon to debate this important subject?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find Government time in the near future. The hon. Gentleman will know that, at this time of year, there is always considerable pressure on such time. I am conscious of the great interest that has been taken in the future of DERA, and the Select Committee on Defence has produced an interim report. I was not aware that a lobby was coming to Parliament, but I am sure that it will be received with great welcome by Members from both sides of the House.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): May I raise with my right hon. Friend a matter that I have mentioned to her on two previous occasions--compensation for former prisoners of war of the Japanese? Is it possible for her to consult her ministerial colleagues so that a decision--obviously, we all hope that it is a favourable one--can be made before we rise for the long summer recess at the end of July? There is overwhelming support for the view that these brave people should be compensated at long last, although that should have been done by the Japanese. I hope that my right hon. Friend will urgently examine the issue.

Mrs. Beckett: As my hon. Friend quite rightly said, he has raised the issue on a number of occasions. Indeed, he has campaigned long and hard on it and I know that that

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fact is widely recognised on both sides of the House. I fear that I cannot say to him with certainty that it is likely that an announcement will be made before the recess. He knows that the matter is receiving careful consideration, but I certainly undertake to draw his concerns and his pressure for an early announcement to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): May I join my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Leader of the House, in seeking to dissuade the Leader of the House from any plan to have a guillotine next Friday, because it is coincidental with Bastille day--a day devoted to the release of prisoners? The coincidence might confuse both schoolchildren and criminologists.

Mrs. Beckett: I thought that the date was familiar.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Can we have a statement on Inland Revenue inquiries into the criminal actions of the imposter who secured from the Inland Revenue private information on the personal tax files of Lord Levy? In that statement, can we be assured that all the journalists from The Sunday Times who are connected with the story have been interviewed? Can we also be assured that the Conservative party has no connection in any way with those criminal actions?

Mrs. Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that no one should be amused at the notion that anyone's tax affairs can be revealed simply as the result of a telephone call. Our laws do not say that, and I would have hoped that it is not what anyone in the House would expect. It is particularly remarkable that the person who obtained that information managed to do so without noticing that Lord Levy had paid--

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