Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): My colleagues and I warmly endorse the sentiments expressed from the Labour Back Benches by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). We expressed very similar concerns in yesterday's debate on the economy. I hope that the Leader of the House will recognise that there is a real problem for a Government who seem to be listening to the tax cutters of middle England, not to those who are disadvantaged.

On the Representation of the People Bill, will the Leader of the House please give us a firm assurance that all parties will be involved in discussions about the proper way to handle it? I endorse her very proper reluctance to fall for the idea that the Floor of the House is the right place to deal with detailed constitutional matters. All too often in the past two years, we have seen that that is not always the best way to handle the details. Will shepay special attention to the recommendation of the Modernisation Committee that it may sometimes be appropriate to split matters of principle, which should be dealt with on the Floor of the House, from matters of detail, which should be dealt with in Committee upstairs?

May we have an early statement on the Government's detailed proposals for political donations? Instead of finding loopholes for tax exile millionaires, will the right hon. Lady carefully consider the recommendations of the Neill committee to help those on more modest means to make modest contributions to political parties by means of tax concessions? Will she read the remarks of Lord Neill of Bladen, chairman of that committee, in the debate on the Loyal Address in the other place yesterday, at column 480? He urgently, and very properly, encouraged the Government to take up his committee's proposal.

Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand that thehon. Gentleman's party endorses the concerns of my hon.

25 Nov 1999 : Column 760

Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I hope that I am not being too unkind when I say that the hon. Gentleman knows that the Liberal Democrat party has a problem, in that it is always prepared to encourage more spending on everything without knowing where the money is to come from. However, I accept that there are issues of concern, which will always continue to be discussed.

The hon. Gentleman asked that everyone should be involved in discussions about the handling of the Representation of the People Bill; I am happy to give that assurance. I entirely take his point that, with regard to such matters, often it is better for discussion of detail to be separated from discussion of principle. However, these are all issues that we can consider.

The hon. Gentleman asked for detailed proposals about political donations. I am afraid that I do not have in my head the details of the timing of an announcement on that matter, but obviously it comes up in the context of the legislation that we shall discuss during this Session.

I am aware that the Neill committee made the recommendation that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and that Lord Neill expressed disappointment that the Government did not follow it. Lord Neill is a man of high reputation and standing, justly earned, but it is fairly common for those who chair such committees to be disappointed unless every dot and comma of everything that they recommend is accepted. I fear that the Government are not persuaded of the case for tax relief on donations to political parties.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend may have noticed that, during Agriculture questions, several Conservative Members objected to British beef sold in France being labelled as British. They are obviously ashamed of British beef, whereas we stand up to protect it. In the light of their interventions, and so that they may again put their case to the House--because I am sure that the country will want to hear of their feelings--may we have a debate on labelling? It is an important issue. When beef is sold in France, a label saying "Produced in Britain" will help to secure a share of that market again.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I share his view that, given the steps that, tragically, had to be taken in the aftermath of the dreadful BSE crisis, British beef is probably now the safest in the world. We should argue that something that is labelled "British beef" offers a greater guarantee of quality than can possibly be said of beef from any other origin. Over time, it will be possible for us to make and sustain that case. However, I fear that I cannot offer time for a special debate on labelling, although I understand--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I will try again next week.

Mrs. Beckett: I am sure that my hon. Friend will try again next week.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Following Prime Minister Putin's statement yesterday to the Duma of the Russian Federation that the rise in the price of oil will permit the Russians to prosecute the war in Chechnya ad infinitum, will the Leader of the House ask her

25 Nov 1999 : Column 761

colleague the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to make an emergency statement about Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the humanitarian catastrophe that is occurring in Chechnya without any let or hindrance on the part of the west? Will the Government explain whether they are happy to allow credits to be disbursed to Russia in circumstances in which hundreds and thousands of people are being massacred and driven from their homes, or whether they will do the right thing and cut off credits to Russia?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes a point as well as asking for a statement from the Foreign Secretary. As I am sure that he is aware, the Government have engaged in discussions with the Russian Government about the handling of affairs in Chechnya and we have sought continually to find the right and the best way to exert the influence that the whole House would wish to see exerted. International pressure got an agreement to a humanitarian role for international organisations and, at the recent summit, it brought the Russians to accept that a political solution was needed.

On the suggestion about the need for an emergency debate, I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have just had a foreign affairs debate in the debates on the Queen's Speech and that Foreign Office questions will be held on 7 December. Opportunities will arise to discuss the subject without an emergency debate.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the constitutional Bill, which will come to the Floor of the House next week, will contain changes to the law on the funding of political parties? The House desperately needs a debate on the funding of political parties and the country would like to see such a debate, so that relevant questions can be asked about the scandalous state of funding of the Conservative party and so that the stories can be exposed for what they are. Instead, the leadership of the Tory party is currently producing smears and smokescreens in an attempt to divert attention away from itself.

Mrs. Beckett: I have read some most extraordinary stories in the aftermath of what is obviously deep Conservative embarrassment about what has emerged about Mr. Ashcroft. I speak from memory, but I think that issues of funding do not arise in that Bill, but they will arise in a later Bill on the funding of political parties. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that, in this Session, there will be legislation that focuses on this issue. It is a matter that the House needs to resolve.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Will the Leader of the House reconsider the response that she gave to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)? Would not the debate that the hon. Gentleman has in mind give us the opportunity to remind ourselves that the Conservative Opposition campaigned in 1979 to break the earnings link that the then Labour Government had introduced? In two out of the three years in which the link would have applied, the Labour Government refused to implement their own legislation. When the late David Ennals was asked why he had not done the calculation correctly, he said that he was required to do it but that he was not

25 Nov 1999 : Column 762

required to get it right. Would not such a debate give us the opportunity to realise that the blatant cynicism of new Labour is every bit as bad as the blatant cynicism of old Labour?

Mrs. Beckett: I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that he clearly knows nothing whatsoever about his Government's track record on pensions policy, or he would not in a million years ask for a debate on it. I can think of nothing that I would enjoy more than to take part in such a debate and to repeat to Conservative Members precisely what they did in government. Their behaviour was disgusting, and they have never apologised for it.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Is the Leader of the House aware that next week is the international violence against women week? She will be aware that, unfortunately, in areas around the world where there is war, some of the most appalling acts involve violence against women, but also here at home, the percentage of crimes of violence that are categorised as domestic violence is on the increase. Will she find time for that issue to be debated in the Commons next week?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to that important event, and I am aware of the international week and the importance of the issue. She will know that there are a number of associated conferences and events, some of which have been arranged by local organisations and others by the Government. She will know also of the targeted funding being made available from the crime reduction programme for projects that target domestic violence here at home. I fear, however, that although I recognise that much work is being undertaken elsewhere, I cannot undertake to find time for an extra debate in the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page