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Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome the Home Secretary's statement, but will he assure me that the body he chairs will give proper weight to environmental considerations? The statement did not mention the word "environment". Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while hon. Members have ranted about the need for lower fuel prices in recent weeks, my constituents have been dealing with unprecedented floods whose severity has undoubtedly been caused by global warming to which vehicle emissions have contributed?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman referred to the civil contingency arrangements body which I chair. Although my responsibilities as Home Secretary are wide, I am happy to say that they do not include direct responsibility to the House for either tax policy or environment policy.

Of course we understand that many communities, not least those in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, have been severely affected by flooding in recent days and weeks. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister take that very seriously. Yesterday I attended a meeting, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, with all the local authority associations. Among other things, we discussed how we could better help areas such as that represented by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Why can we not designate fuel an essential commodity like gas, electricity and water, and place a legal obligation on oil companies to ensure continuity of supply?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend may know, discussions have taken place in the taskforce about whether the legal framework in which oil companies operate should be changed. It has not been possible to reach conclusions in the short time that we have had so far, but when conclusions are reached they will be reported to the House.

As for a change in the law, our problem was not a breach of obligation on the part of oil companies but a breach of civil duty--civic duty--on the part of the protesters, who went beyond the bounds of peaceful protest and sought to stop the delivery of essential supplies. In some areas, they succeeded.

Electricity, gas and water are delivered without the use of road transport, whereas about 60 per cent. of oil supplies depend on road transport at the last point of delivery.

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Business of the House

1.33 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will announce the business for next week.

Monday 6 November--Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on pensioners followed by a debate on privatisation. Both motions will arise in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday 7 November--Motions relating to the modernisation of the House of Commons.

Wednesday 8 November--Remaining stages of the Trustee Bill [Lords].

There will be a debate on the ninth report from the Trade and Industry Committee on proposed public-private partnership for BNFL. The debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 9 November--Debate on the first report from the Liaison Committee on Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 10 November--There will be a debate on sport on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 13 November--Opposition Day [20th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Motion on the Energy Act 1976 (Reserve Powers) Order 2000.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the remainder of November will be:

Thursday 9 November--Debate on electronic conveyancing.

Thursday 16 November--Debate on fishing safety.

Thursday 23 November--Debate on a Select Committee Report. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 30 November--Debate on a Government topic. Subject to be announced.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business. Why has she tabled a guillotine motion on today's Order Paper for Tuesday's business? The motion will require the House to conclude its deliberations at 8 pm. As we have heard, that business is important to hon. Members and to those who take an interest in our constitutional proceedings. It seeks to require us, after the Queen's Speech, to curtail most of the votes that take place after 10 pm, which will be rounded up into one vote on a Wednesday. It also seeks to limit the time that we will be able to spend in future on debating Government legislation.

Why will such an important debate be curtailed at 8 pm? Does it have anything to do with the interesting and attractive invitations that many hon. Members have received to party next Tuesday night away as the American election results come in? Will the debate be curtailed to allow Labour Members to stomp at the Savoy

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instead of carrying out their duties to the House and the people whom they represent? Given that the motion stands in the right hon. Lady's name, I would be grateful if she would carefully consider changing her mind. Conservative Members want to scrutinise and debate such an important matter fully.

On Thursday we shall debate the Liaison Committee's report on Select Committees. The right hon. Lady said on a previous occasion that there would be a free vote on the matter, yet the House is to be denied a vote altogether. Despite representations, the debate is on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. I ask for the debate to be on a substantive motion so that all hon. Members can express their views in the Lobby.

Will the right hon. Lady also consider allowing time for debates on two subjects about which hon. Members from all parties are concerned? The first is the position of the fire and rescue services around the country as a result of the radio spectrum auction which the Government have proposed. It will require them to change at great expense the systems that they currently use for radio communications. Arrangements have already been made for police forces around the country. The matter is now urgent because fire and rescue services have been given no suggestion about how they are expected to fund the considerable increase in costs that the auction will impose on them.

Notwithstanding the ten-minute Bill that was discussed this week, there are many letters about stem cell cloning in hon. Members' postbags. Will the right hon. Lady find time for a fuller debate on that important subject?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady first asked about the arrangements for the debate on Tuesday. Let me correct her, if I may. We have not tabled a guillotine motion, but a business motion, which is commonly tabled. Its timing will allow more than half a day for debate. [Interruption.] From the noises off, I can tell that Opposition Members do not often attend such debates. It is more time than we spent debating the parliamentary calendar and as much time as we spent debating whether we should set up the experiment in Westminster Hall. There is therefore nothing unprecedented about the time allowed for the debate.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asked me why the decision was taken. We anticipate that there may be a number of debates. She may be aware that one of her right hon. Friends has already tabled some 10 amendments, at least some of which he may wish to press to a vote. The hon. Lady suggested that it was because Labour Members might want to party the night away. Such remarks are most unwise. The last occasion on which I recall the House being kept up disruptively for a considerable time was when Conservative Members wanted to attend a dinner and the debate was prolonged until they came back. so it is always wise to be cautious about raising these parallels. Half a day for debating such an issue is perfectly normal and absolutely in line with all the precedents. We have made time in the hope that we can dispose of the business as expeditiously as is perfectly normal and efficient.

Thirdly, the hon. Lady asked me about the business on the Liaison Committee. Again, there is a precedent. If we look at debates on the Procedure Committee report, for example, as far back as 1990, 1994 and 1996--all under the previous Government--the precedent is for such matters to be discussed on a motion for the Adjournment.

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The hon. Lady asked whether there would be a free vote. I am always extremely careful about what I say about that, and I can tell the hon. Lady precisely what I said on every occasion when the matter was raised. All votes on House matters are free votes. That is what I said and those are the facts. I am astonished that the hon. Lady is in any doubt about that and that she and her right hon. and hon. Friends keep asking me about it every time we have a business statement.

The hon. Lady also asked about fire and rescue services. I shall undertake to make some inquiries for her. My recollection is that the matter was much debated when the spectrum option was being discussed and when the legislation was being prepared, but I will of course draw her remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. and hon. Friends in case they have anything to add. I also take on board her request for discussions about stem cell cloning. We shall certainly bear it in mind and perhaps discuss it through the usual channels.

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