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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Early after the House's return in October, will the Leader of the House call the Home Secretary to ask for a debate on the consequences of the European convention on human rights and its application to road traffic cases? Will she also ask him to reply to a request from a constituent--her son was the victim of death by dangerous driving--that anyone prosecuted for such an offence will face a lifetime ban from driving?
Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I cannot undertake to provide time for an early statement, but I certainly undertake to draw the hon. Lady's remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary, who will, I know, respond to them.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby): Given the increase of £64 million for the funding of the BBC World Service that was announced in the comprehensive spending review, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future priorities of the World Service?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have long believed that the World Service is one of the jewels in Britain's crown and that it gives us considerable prestige overseas. I was delighted to see the extra funding made available to it by the comprehensive spending review. This issue was not pursued by the Conservative party in government, and that funding would be at risk from the cuts that it intends to make.
My hon. Friend also makes an important point about a debate on the future priorities of the World Service. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor of the House, but he, too, might explore the possibilities of holding such a debate in Westminster Hall.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Can the Leader of the House find an early opportunity when the House returns for Ministers to explain when they think that they must answer questions and when they think that they do not need to bother with any answer at all? We have heard today about the case of the Home Secretary, in which the Government do not reflect the mood of the House, and I have just had a series of six questions on trunk roads in London blocked. They received no answer even though they related to the Government's conduct. Will the right hon. Lady promise a debate on why Ministers will not answer questions and will not even attempt to answer questions? Does that not show contempt for Parliament?
Mrs. Beckett: Having had experience of some of the right hon. Gentleman's more arcane and bizarre questions, it has always seemed to me that there is a duty on both sides of the House--a duty to ask sensible questions and, I accept, a duty to provide proper replies. However, as it
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): May I press my right hon. Friend on her earlier answer about the timing of a debate in the overspill session on the Modernisation Committee's report--a Committee on which we both sit? The Committee's understanding is that the House needs the opportunity to vote on the report so that, if it chooses to support the Committee's proposals, they can take effect in the new parliamentary Session after the Queen's Speech.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I pay tribute to her for the worthwhile work that she does on the Committee. I anticipate that the House will have an opportunity to come to a judgment on those matters before the end of the Session.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The Government expressed their continuing commitment to the repeal of section 28, following the disgraceful blocking of that measure in the House of Lords. However, in debate and in the Prime Minister's reply to the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the Government have said that they have not decided how to tackle the issue of using further votes in the remainder of the Parliament to make clear the will of the House of Commons.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady will let me know when the Government have decided what they will do, but I offer her the use of a ten-minute Bill that I have on 31 October, which could be used to repeal section 28 in a single clause, and to get the House of Lords to think again and to submit to the will of the elected Chamber on this critical human rights issue.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. As he knows, I have great sympathy with his stance on the matter. All I can say to him is that while a ten-minute Bill may be an opportunity usefully to air these issues--
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): May I ask my right hon. Friend to do something unconventional? In all the centuries that we have had a Parliament here, only two candidates for Speaker have ever been proposed at one time, but this time there could be a multiplicity of candidates--perhaps as many as 12. Could my right hon. Friend act as an honest broker and go-between to organise hustings in Westminster Hall on the morning of Monday 23 October? [Interruption.] This is a serious point. Will she, on behalf of all hon. Members, invite all the candidates to declare themselves this week so that we
Mrs. Beckett: I accept that this is a matter of great interest. If my hon. Friend looks back, he will find that although there were not many candidates when the votes took place, there had often been a much wider field earlier in the proceedings. I am flattered by his suggestion that I might act as an honest broker, but I have every intention of resisting, as I have from the beginning, any attempt to put me in the middle of this.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): Will the right hon. Lady tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is able to come to the Dispatch Box today to explain whether the press reports about the docklands bomber being released are correct, given that it is alleged that it took the Secretary of State's personal intervention to about bring his release? Is the right hon. Lady aware of the disgust that will be felt throughout the country at the release of that man? Is she aware that however honourable the Government's intentions, they give a signal to the country and to terrorists that there are no depths to which they will not sink to appease the men of terror?
Mrs. Beckett: I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend will be able to come to the House today. As I said before, Mr. McArdle had co-defendants in the crime of which he was found guilty; they were convicted at the same time, and two who were given longer sentences than him have already been released. I believe that to have been the understanding behind my right hon. Friend's decision. [Interruption.] I am well aware that there are Conservative Members who continue to express outrage at the release of any of those who have been convicted of such crimes. However, I believe that the majority of the British people wish to see the peace process succeed, and that is their priority.
Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): May I take issue with my right hon. Friend's earlier comments about the reform of Standing Orders and the urgency of the need to amend them as they relate to the election of the Speaker? The choice of Speaker that we will make in a few months will largely define the character of the House and the pace of change here for many years to come; it is an extremely serious election. She must be aware that there is widespread concern among all hon. Members about the need to reform Standing Orders, and that many Members want amendments to be made.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Procedure Committee meets in the summer and has the opportunity to prepare proposals for amending the Standing Orders? Will she further ensure that we have an opportunity, before we assemble to elect a new Speaker, to debate and possibly to enact those amendments? If necessary, will she prevail upon the current Speaker to preside over those proceedings so that we can have a seemly election of the next Speaker?