Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Unfortunately, we now have to move on to the business statement.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 400

Business of the House

1.34 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 30 October--Remaining stages of the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 31 October--Remaining stages of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 1 November--Debate on Defence and the Armed Forces on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 2 November--Continuation of debate on Defence and the Armed Forces on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 3 November--The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 6 November--Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 1 November there will be a debate on European Document No:9964/00: Social Policy Agenda, in European Standing Committee C. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 1 November 2000:

European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union Document: 9964/00, Social Policy Agenda; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000).]

The House may also wish to know that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 6 December.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. Before asking for details, I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who discharged his duties as shadow Leader of the House with grace and charm. He had a constructive working relationship with the Government, which helped to enhance the way in which the House is run.

The right hon. Lady kindly gave us a date for the Queen's Speech, but will she tell us when it was last held in December? She will be aware that its lateness is a reflection of the backlog from this Session. Many of us are concerned about the way in which the House's business is being discharged during the final weeks of this Session.

Does the Leader of the House plan to have a debate on the economy after the autumn statement? Hon. Members want the matter to be fully debated.

In next week's business, the Leader of the House announced a two-day debate on defence. Will she confirm that that still leaves one further Adjournment debate on defence for this Session? She will know that it is customary to have three defence debates on motions for the Adjournment of the House.

Will the right hon. Lady tell us whether the House will have an opportunity to reconsider the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which is currently in

26 Oct 2000 : Column 401

another place? That is particularly significant, because more than 125 pages of amendments have been added to it since it arrived there. The Bill that will return to the Commons is likely to be very different from that which left us, and hon. Members have not had an opportunity to scrutinise or comment on the revised Bill. Does the right hon. Lady agree with the Home Office Minister in another place, Lord Bassam, who said that the Bill was cumbersome and bureaucratic? It certainly is since another 125 pages were added to it.

Will the Leader of the House advise us whether there will be statements in the near future on the situation of Israel and Palestine, particularly as it arose during the recess and we have not yet heard from the Foreign Secretary? Will she also tell us whether a statement on the EU summit in Biarritz is anticipated? She will be aware that the previous three informal summits were the subject of statements in the House and were acclaimed as great victories by the Government. We hope that they will shortly have something positive to report on the Biarritz summit.

Finally, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), yesterday told the "Today" programme, in a debate with Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun, that the Prime Minister wanted to have a debate on the euro. Yesterday the Prime Minister put great emphasis on the Government's five economic tests, but we know from evidence given by Treasury Ministers to the Select Committee on the Treasury before the summer recess that the Government are not measuring progress on those five tests, and do not intend to produce any written evidence about how close we are to, or how far we are from, meeting those tests. In a spirit of co-operation, I urge the right hon. Lady to allow a debate on the Floor of the House about the single currency. We all want to join the Prime Minister in a debate on the euro.

Mrs. Beckett: I welcome the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) to her new responsibilities and join her in paying tribute to her predecessor, who was indeed an excellent shadow Leader of the House and discharged his duties with elegance and wit.

The hon. Lady asked when the Queen's Speech was last held in December. From memory I am not sure, but it has not happened for many years, probably not since the second world war. [Laughter.] Hon. Members have been attending these sessions for a long time, and I advise them not to laugh too soon. The hon. Lady asked whether the lateness was a reflection of the backlog. It certainly reflects the remarks of Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Tory party in the other place, who recently said that the Lords would wish to take a full amount of time--all the time they wanted--to debate Bills, and added:

Clearly that was the intention, and that has been the effect of the decisions taken in the Lords, where the Government do not control the timetable or the agenda.

As for the time being taken, the hon. Lady will recall that we have made two late additions to the Government's programme. One is the Football (Disorder) Bill, on which the Tory party called for legislation--and offered

26 Oct 2000 : Column 402

co-operation, although most of us would not think that that had been forthcoming. The other addition covers the Northern Ireland Bills resulting from the peace process. I do not know whether that is the cause of the lateness, but in two of the Sessions equivalent to this one in the previous three Parliaments under the Tory Government, both the Commons and the Lords sat for more days, and, indeed, passed more Bills, than we will have done this Session. We hope that a maximum of 42 Bills will be completed this Session, whereas during the equivalent Session in the 1981-82 Parliament there were 46 Bills, and during the 1985-86 Session there were 49 Bills. There is nothing unprecedented about the size of the Government's programme. It is simply that Members have wished to consider it adequately, and it has taken the Lords rather longer than it usually does to consider that number of Bills.

The hon. Lady asked for a debate on the economy. Obviously, we will consider that through the usual channels after the pre-Budget statement. I think that the Lady is mistaken in thinking that there is a defence day outstanding, but I will check that. She also asked about the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which has indeed been substantially redrafted. That, as she will know, followed representations from many who studied the Bill, not least Tory Members.

I will draw the hon. Lady's remarks about a statement on the middle east to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. She will know that oral questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be taken on 7 November, and I expect that there will be a statement following the Biarritz summit. As for a debate on the euro and the five tests, it has occurred to me once or twice lately that if there is one absolutely outstanding reason for Britain to join the euro, it is so that we can get away from this perpetual nit-picking about whether what some Minister has said is different from what was said a week before.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I appeal for brief questions. This will assist every hon. Member present.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne): When will there be a debate on the Liaison Committee's report, on which it is said there will be a free vote? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the debate will take place on a substantive motion?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot tell my right hon. Friend now when there will be a debate on the Liaison Committee report. To quote a previous leader of our party, "not next week". There will be a debate, and as my right hon. Friend knows, whenever there is a vote on such matters, it is a free vote--at least on this side. It is possible that Tory Members have been committed by their leader as to how they will vote.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I endorse what has been said about the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). We will miss him, not least his constructive attitude in the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons.

Was the right hon. Lady surprised that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) did not include in her requests an urgent debate on some important issues

26 Oct 2000 : Column 403

arising from the statement that we have just had from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Perhaps, with her usual modesty, the hon. Lady felt that as a former Agriculture Minister she might feature too strongly in such a debate.

Will the Leader of the House consider now some issues that cannot wait for the Government to investigate fully in all Departments all the implications of an extremely comprehensive report? I am particularly concerned about matters relating to secrecy, accountability and trust. The right hon. Lady will have noted the comment of Lord Phillips and his team that Ministers sought to sedate the public. Even the summary of the report stated that

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the issue does not merely affect the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Department of Health, but goes right across government? It is, of course, especially relevant to Parliament's current consideration of freedom of information legislation. We need a statement from the Government on whether they recognise the important implications of the Phillips report for that legislation.

Next Section

IndexHome Page