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Mrs. Beckett: Well, not only millions in previous years, but, as I understand from today's report, some £25,000 in corporation tax in the year in question. Apparently, that was overlooked by the people who wrote the story to which my hon. Friend referred. I am afraid I have no knowledge of whether people at The Sunday Times are being interviewed about the matter, nor, indeed, whether they have any connection with the Conservative party. I would hope that it is a matter of regret to anyone in the House that people's private tax affairs were not kept private.
[That this House welcomes the proposal announced in the Budget to lower VAT on women's sanitary products to 5 per cent. from 1st January 2001; agrees that women's sanitary products are not luxury consumer products; notes that continence products also classify as sanitary products and are not luxury consumer products; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to ensure that their definition of sanitary products will allow for the lowering of VAT to 5 per cent. on continence products, which are required, according to Government estimates in Good Practice in Continence Services, by up to 20 per cent.
That early-day motion has now received the support of 113 Members, many of whom are Government Back Benchers. Does the Leader of the House agree that that level of support illustrates the concern of Members about the anomaly that will exist from January 2001, when VAT on sanitary products is reduced, rightly, to 5 per cent., while the VAT that consumers will pay on incontinence pads will stay at the standard rate? Will she ask her right hon. Friend the Chancellor to come to the House and make a statement explaining his reasoning on the matter, which, if implemented as planned, would adversely affect the quality of life of an estimated one in four women in the United Kingdom?
Mrs. Beckett: I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman will know that one reason why Chancellors in successive Governments tend to be reluctant to make such changes is that, having made a change in one area, they are pressed to make it in another. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and, as I said, I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on the report of the Modernisation Committee, which she chairs. If adopted by the House, the report will finally end late-night sittings, which are not conducive to the making of good legislation. I urge my right hon. Friend to have a debate on the report as soon as possible, perhaps before the recess.
Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate before the recess. Indeed, that would not be necessary because, as long as the House has an opportunity to consider the matter in this Session, it has an opportunity to make its own decision as a House about whether it wishes to pursue this experiment.
I am certainly grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks, and it is important that, as a House, we use the time available to us well and effectively. Of course, although we have made repeated efforts--indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has offered to conduct seminars to educate the Opposition on how to be a good Opposition--I am afraid that they are not listening yet.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate, preferably next week, on the thinking behind the Government's priorities in their legislative programme? It would appear that the Government are about to try to force on the House and the people of this country a Bill that threatens to take away some of our most ancient and precious civil liberties on the spuriously urgent grounds that the matter must be dealt with extremely quickly and without proper scrutiny or consideration.
That contrasts with the fact that, already in this Session, the Government have given great priority to Bills such as the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill, the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill and the Census (Amendment) Bill, to name but four. Does that not seem very odd? Before we are asked to sign away
Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman chides us for making it a legislative priority to bring forward proposals to deal with issues of hooliganism, particularly those associated with football. However, I remind him that, in theory at least, that is also the priority of his Front-Bench colleagues. They challenged the Government to introduce legislation on that point and, indeed, offered the support of the Conservative party. The right hon. Gentleman has just made it plain why their words on the matter are not worth much.
As to why the Government chose to give greater priority to the Bills that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, I recognise that they are matters with which he apparently has some quarrel, but he should know that, in fishing communities, the need to tackle the problems that had arisen with the sea fishing grants regime was of considerable importance. That may not matter much in Bromley, but there are many parts of the UK where it matters very much indeed. Similarly, there was great concern about those who were affected by the anomalies that required correction by the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill, which received a great deal of support from other Conservative Members.
As to whether those Bills should be a priority in terms of the time that they are given in the legislative programme, I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that they are relatively minor matters, but we believe that they make necessary improvements and they have to be passed. I agree with him that they should not have detained the House for a great deal of time, but the fact that they did is entirely down to him and his colleagues.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): May I take the Leader of the House back to the Modernisation Committee and its proposals? When we finally get round to debating them, would she welcome amendments to bring under parliamentary control and scrutiny the operation of the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister and other Ministers, to introduce a committee to scrutinise all appointments to quangos by Ministers, and to enable the House to have some say in the appointment of members of Select Committees, rather than the current arrangement whereby the Whips decide who the members should be?
Although many of us welcome any appropriate proposals that enable the public to see and understand what is happening, Parliament has an important role in asking questions and scrutinising and controlling what the Government do. Does the Leader of the House appreciate that, in modernising, we have to move forward and make the House as democratic as legislatures in many other countries?
Mrs. Beckett: Well, no, I can confidently say that I would not welcome any of my hon. Friend's proposals, for two good and simple reasons. First, they are totally outside the remit of the report to which we are referring and do not arise from the debate. Secondly, although they
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Further to the questions that the right hon. Lady has already been asked about the Modernisation Committee's determination to close down the House and its democratic procedures, will she tell the House exactly how she plans to proceed with the measures? Will she be offering the House a free vote on them in this Session or the next? Will she be offering any vote on them at all, so that we will know whether they are likely to go ahead? Will she explain to my constituents how it can possibly be democratic for the House to vote only once a week on important matters that affect their lives?
Mrs. Beckett: From what the hon. Lady says, I doubt whether she has read the report. She ought to know by now that such matters are put before the House for it to decide; they are House matters and as a consequence there will be a free vote. I hope that there will be a free vote for Conservative Members as well, although I doubt it. If she is nurturing the illusion that in some way there is a diminution of democracy in the proposals, she definitely has not read the report.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): I understand that Europe is about to impose VAT on tolls in this country. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that that will have a devastating effect not only on people who use the Humber bridge, which already has the most expensive tolls in this country, but on those who use bridges throughout the land? The announcement is likely to be made in the recess, so will she ensure that nothing is done until we have had a statement in the next Session and, if the matter requires legislation, could she try to bury it at the bottom of the pile?