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Mrs. Beckett: I freely confess to my hon. Friend that I am not aware of the time scale for such proposals, but I certainly undertake to get a reply for her from the relevant authorities. I fully understand her anxiety about the proposal and about such an extension of the operation of VAT. It strikes me that it will weaken still further the Opposition's case that we in this country face uniquely high transport charges, since so much traffic elsewhere in the European Union is on toll roads.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Will the proposed football hooligan Bill be drawn widely enough to take into account other forms of anti-social behaviour abroad? Many of my constituents do not like lager louts in Benidorm performing acts of holiday hooliganism. Equally, those who have seen hooliganism on airliners might think that legislative attention should also be given to such people. Will the Bill be drawn widely enough to include those aspects as well?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not sure that even my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary could draft legislation that would deal with every kind of anti-social behaviour in all circumstances, but I understand that any legislative proposal is likely to focus particularly on those who already have convictions for violence, although not necessarily for violence previously identified as being
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we hold a debate entitled "What happened to the peace dividend?" so that we can draw attention to the new arms race in Europe and the world? The threat to world peace has been greatly exaggerated and countries that are still impoverished, such as the former communist states, are being urged to spend less on education, health and housing and more on arms. America is pushing a new missile race based on the absurd claim that it is terrified of the might of North Korea. There has been a peace dividend, but, as always, it has cascaded into the pockets of arms traders'--principally American arms traders--who constantly exaggerate the threat to world peace.
Mrs. Beckett: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's concern that countries, especially those whose finances are already under pressure, should not be encouraged to spend more than necessary on their defence, given that they have other priorities for the support of their people. Hon. Members on both sides of the House understand the concern that he expresses. With respect, however, it is easy to poke fun at the notion that the United States should be alarmed at the activities of much smaller countries, but those who have access to atomic weapons should be feared if they are likely to use them. That is the matter of concern. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety that resources should not be misused, but equally, he, like all hon. Members, would want us to be properly defended.
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Lady will know that many hon. Members are deeply concerned about the problems in prisons, such as overcrowding and other conditions. She will also know that there is apparently a proposal that Brixton prison should be transferred to the private sector, something of which I would approve. Will she consider holding an early debate on prisons and, perhaps more importantly, an annual debate thereafter on prisons, possibly to coincide with the annual report of the inspector of prisons?
Mrs. Beckett: I have a great deal of sympathy with the concern that the right hon. and learned Gentleman expresses about conditions in the Prison Service, and I understand his reference to the recent reports of particular anxieties in Brixton prison. That important issue needs to be aired, but I fear that the pressure is naturally heavily on dealing with Government legislation at this time of year. He will understand that from his own experience in government. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House, even on prisons. However, although this will not be welcome, I recommend the attractions of Westminster Hall, which provides a further opportunity to initiate debates and to scrutinise Government policy.
As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal for an annual debate, he attends business questions often enough to know that, if we accepted all the proposals for annual debates on subjects of great worth, we would never
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Modernisation Committee's proposals and those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have worked hard to introduce them. I note the response that she gave to the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) for an early debate, which I would also welcome--but could that debate be held on a Tuesday or Wednesday as main business so that, in keeping with the spirit of the proposals, we introduce some of the education to which she referred, and, given that the proposals are about efficiency, so that those hon. Members who like to make efficient use of their time have the maximum opportunity to take part in that important debate?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks, and I am sure that all members of the Committee will be, because a considerable amount of work was done on those issues, although not all of it came to fruition. I undertake to bear her remarks in mind, although I cannot say at this point when the debate is likely to take place. However, I recognise the importance of holding that debate at suitable time.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her response to the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who asked about a debate on the NAO report on defence projects? There has been no debate in the House on such a report for the past decade, although when her Government came to power, they promised substantial changes. Some of the issues discussed in the report are relevant to Government action since 1997 and I believe that a debate is long overdue. Considering that what has happened can be described as bungling bureaucratic incompetence at best, or a procurement fiasco at worst, the issue should urgently be discussed by the whole House.
Mrs. Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have a defence procurement debate every year--although obviously the report was not previously available. I accept the importance of holding such a debate, but I cannot find time for it before the recess.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I add my congratulations to the Modernisation Committee on its report, which I skimmed through briefly before coming to the Chamber. I regret that Conservative members of the Committee have chosen to submit their own report, even though some of them did sterling work on previous reports, and previous Conservative members of the Committee made two important recommendations, which the Committee has brought forward.
Mrs. Beckett: I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government intend that the House should have an opportunity to reach a view on the proposals this Session. I share her view. I have long observed that there are those who nurture the illusion that they make sense and contribute valuably to debate in the small hours. I have never observed that to be true for the recipients.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): No one would accuse the right hon. Lady of having been unconcerned about civil liberties during her long and distinguished parliamentary career, but may I put it to her--I am sure that she will agree--that a fundamental tenet of civil society is that a person should be prevented from leaving his country only after a hearing in an independent court, free of the police and the Executive? If that centuries-old freedom is to be abrogated, does she agree that it would be absurd to do so just because a football match is coming up in early September? I ask her most seriously whether we can go through our normal procedures: the production of a proper consultation document to enable the police to give their views, Second Reading of the Bill in the House, debates in Committee, consideration by the Lords and reconsideration by the House. Then we would have a Bill that we could all support.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He will know that the Government do not intend to proceed other than with proper scrutiny and agreement, and when the draft Bill is published he may find that some of the points that he has raised are covered. He has made an important point and the Government are mindful of it.