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Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that for about 35 years the speakership has alternated across the House. I was not aware of the large number of Labour Members who believe that that is an important principle because it is not a matter for the Government; it is very much a matter for the House. Therefore, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, as I am sure the House will be.
My hon. Friend makes an important suggestion about inviting the Procedure Committee to meet during the recess. I will properly consider it, as he would expect. However, the Committee met after the election of the present Speaker and considered these matters very carefully. It concluded that it ought not to recommend a change. While I understand my hon. Friend's wish for the matter to be considered again, my immediate off-the-cuff reaction is that just before a further election--I realise that he will see the irony of this--is not the time to do it. It is a matter that ought to be considered carefully and thoroughly.
I am mindful of advice that I received some time ago as to the errors that one should avoid in government. I learned that what drove the Conservative party into the poll tax was the assumption that there must be a better system than the rates. The assumption that lies behind my hon. Friend's question is that there must be a better system of electing the Speaker and I am not sure that he is right.
In the meantime, Madam Speaker, after the great and good had their opportunity yesterday, may I say how much I regret the fact that this will be the last occasion on which I have the opportunity to address you in that way?
Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read very carefully Madam Speaker's wise words to the House about the proper scrutiny of legislation? Is the right hon. Lady really satisfied that this week, and indeed in October, the House will have a proper opportunity to scrutinise some extremely important legislation, which raises important issues of great principle about which many hon. Members have considerable concerns? For example, in the crowded legislative timetable that is still ahead of us and the other place, has she considered which Bills may be eligible for carry-over? As Chair of the Modernisation Select Committee, she will be aware that if there is cross-party agreement, Bills can be carried over to a subsequent Session. Will she give a firm undertaking that she and the Government recognise that it is more important to get it right than to get it quick?
Mrs. Beckett: I did indeed take note--as, I hope, did the House--of Madam Speaker's remarks about the scrutiny of legislation, and that it is one of our key functions and it is important that we get it right. I agree too that it raises important principles for the way in which
I am disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman repeating the Conservative party propaganda that this is a crowded Session. During the parallel year under the previous Parliament, there were 37 Bills; there were 43 in the subsequent year. Of course, it is important that we give legislation proper and full consideration, but the notion that the number of Bills before the House is unusually great is not borne out by examination of the figures.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about carry-over, but he will be aware that the Government expressed the view that that could be done only by consent. He will also be aware that such consent is not always forthcoming.
Mrs. Beckett: I note the right hon. Gentleman's sedentary intervention confirming that point. I simply remind Conservative Members of the recommendation of Professor Lord Norton, to whose report they said they attached much importance.
As speculation and excitement will inevitably grow about the election of a Speaker--the first item of business when we return--and touching on my right hon. Friend's earlier comment, does she agree that the best advice for those on both--I emphasise both--Front Benches is not to try to influence the outcome? Members should be allowed--as I hope that we will be--to make our own decision. On the two previous occasions, the House came to a wise and sensible decision and I am sure that we shall do the same when we return.
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend has constantly pressed the issue of compensation for Japanese prisoners of war. I shall again draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I understand that, as yet, no decision has been made, although, as my hon. Friend is aware, the matter is under active consideration.
On the election of a Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has expressed in the strongest possible terms the view that it is certainly not a matter for the Government, but for the House. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be unwise for parties to try to intervene officially. I share entirely his view that on the previous two occasions we made wise decisions. I am confident that we shall do so again.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the answer that she gave my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) on early-day motion 1027? May I remind the right hon. Lady that, during the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill, the Home Secretary told the House that the measure had the active endorsement of the then Lord Chief Justice? However, correspondence
Mrs. Beckett: I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that my function here is to discuss what business ought to be before the House. Although I know that he attaches importance to the matter that he raises, the House has had an opportunity to air and consider it.
[That this House welcomes the measures taken by the Government to raise pensioners' incomes, but notes that for five out of six pensioners, who do not receive income support, the additional basic pension payable in 2000-01 if the link with earnings had been restored in 1998 would be more than the combined value of the £150 winter fuel payment and free television licence for that year--£119 more for a couple aged 75 or over and £162 more for a couple under 75; notes the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18th July that next year's pension increase is a matter for further consultation; and urges the Government to undertake that consultation without delay.]
The motion notes the generosity of the Government in granting pensioners a winter fuel payment of £150, plus the free television licences. However, it notes the surprising fact that, had those payments not been made and, instead, the link between earnings and pensions been restored from 1998, five out of six pensioners would have been better off. There is a need for urgency, because there is widespread dismay among pensioners that, although--as a result of the Government's good economic policies--the Government have been generous in giving major sums to many causes, pensioners seem to have been neglected. That is surprising because it has been made clear that the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings is overdue and easily affordable.
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend is aware that, over the course of this Parliament, the Government will have made available to pensioners more resources than would have been case had we simply restored the earnings link. He will also be aware that those resources have been made available disproportionately to the least well-off among the pensioner community, because the Government felt that the plight of those pensioners was so severe that they deserved urgent help. However, my hon. Friend will also know that, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed, the Government will publish further plans for a new pensioner credit in the autumn.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Pursuant to the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the House said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire that the matter had been very adequately aired. I have to say, however, that the Home Secretary considered the matter