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Mrs. Beckett: I say with the greatest possible respect to the right hon. Gentleman that he has identified that the Home Secretary has already dealt with the matter in the House on two occasions. [Hon. Members: "No.] He may not have dealt with it to the satisfaction of Opposition Members, but that is not the point.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): Is the Leader of the House aware that an excellent report was produced yesterday, entitled "Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the Law on Sex Offences"? Will she undertake to provide some time when that report can be adequately debated in the House?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I admit that I have not had the opportunity to study the report, which, as she knows, is a report to the Government which we have issued for consultation, but I agree that it is important. She will know that the Government are anxious to strengthen the law that protects children in particular, and I am confident that people will consider the report in that light.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Lady give the House an assurance that when we return, there will be an opportunity to debate both on a substantive motion and a free vote the reports of the Liaison Committee and the Modernisation Committee?
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are pushing through a policy of transferring council house stocks into the private sector, and that many of us on the Labour Benches are extremely unhappy about what we see as a massive privatisation, which means that that stock will not be subject to any kind of democratic accountability. May we have a debate about that when we come back, so that those on the Labour Benches who are disappointed with that decision can argue that we should be investing massive sums directly into public housing, instead of hiving it off to the private sector?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend will know that we have invested an extra £5 billion in housing and made resources available to refurbish a further 300,000 homes. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time in the overspill for an early debate on that issue, but he will know that, fairly early on, there will be questions to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand the concern that the right hon. Gentleman expresses. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. We must all hope that such an eventuality does not require our return.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Mr. Brian Souter spent almost £500,000 on a referendum on section 28 in Scotland, but is she aware that the conclusions of recent inquiries in Mansfield and Chesterfield into the operation of his Stagecoach buses were highly critical? When I tabled a question asking for a transcript of the decision made by the traffic commissioner as a result of the Chesterfield inquiry to be placed in the Library, I was informed that it could not be done because there was a need to minimise public expenditure. As it would cost only £200, should not fresh consideration be given to that request and will my right hon. Friend pursue it?
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend has been exercised by the problems that have arisen in his constituency, and I sympathise with his concerns. I share his unexpressed view that Mr. Souter would be better advised to devote his attention to running his company better. I fear that I cannot undertake to grant my hon. Friend's request at this time, but I shall look into the matter and take it up with the relevant authorities.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): The Leader of the House may not realise it, but she is being unfair to the Home Secretary. On Tuesday night, he was put through the forensic mincing machine by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and, owing to the limited time available, to which my right hon. Friends have referred, he was unable to give an adequate explanation to do himself justice. It appears that he compounded rather than mitigated whatever offence he was guilty of in the eyes of that hon. and learned Gentleman. Surely she would be doing a service not only to the House but to the reputation of the Home Secretary if she permitted him to return to the House before Friday to give a full and candid explanation of what is recorded in Hansard at column 886 of his Second Reading speech.
Mrs. Beckett: My understanding is that the Home Secretary dealt extensively with the matter. Irrespective of the concern expressed by Opposition Members, it is my job, as the hon. and learned Gentleman perfectly well
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on pensions, especially pensions for war widows in the light of this week's announcement that those widows who cohabit and marry will be able to retain their service pension for life? As a sailor's daughter, I feel passionately about the matter, especially as the Conservative party did nothing for war widows in spite of years of being pressured to sort the matter out.
Mrs. Beckett: I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks. She is right that in a better world it would be possible for us to spend time drawing attention to the fact that, despite the warm words from the Conservative party, a Labour, not a Conservative Government have taken steps to assist war widows. Attractive though the prospect is, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May we please have an early opportunity for a prolonged debate on the increasing discrepancies between the written word and the spoken word, especially from Ministers? I have in mind a couple of examples, but I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members can think of many more. One is the memorandums now spewing from No. 10, which give a written version of events--not least the Prime Minister's thoughts, which seem to be at odds with what he says in public. Another is the matter referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)--the apparent discrepancies between the written word of the Lord Chief Justice and the spoken word of the Home Secretary. Surely a debate on those matters, allowing many more examples to be aired and explained, and if necessary, the appropriate resignations to be made, would be beneficial to everyone.
Mrs. Beckett: There is no discrepancy between what is emerging on issues such as the euro and what the Government have been saying in public for many months. The British people will be much more interested in the sharp discrepancy between the continued complaint of the Conservative party that only spin and not substance come from the Government and its determination to talk about spin and not issues of substance, such as the investment that the Government are making in the health service, education and transport and the jobs that have been created as a result of the Government's economic policy.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May we have a clear statement from the Government on their approach to war crimes? We are signed up to the Geneva conventions and we are obliged under the convention on torture to arrest and prosecute anyone on our soil who is accused of torture. Recently, two alleged war criminals have come to Britain. The first is a Rwandan colonel and there had to be a request for his extradition from this country by the Rwandan war crimes tribunal. The second is an Afghan colonel, who is also alleged to have committed serious war crimes. Instead of being vague about this issue,
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. She will know that the Government take these issues very seriously. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early statement--let alone time for one from three Ministers--but she might seek a debate on the matter in Westminster Hall during the overspill period.