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Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): I welcome my right hon. Friend's measured response in this tragic case. Does he agree that all hon. Members should guard against the danger of giving the public the perception that we welcome European Court of Human Rights decisions that support the United Kingdom Government, but heavily criticise those that do not? Does he agree that such a perception, which may be held by the public in the light of some of the comments in the House today, could be dangerous?

Mr. Straw: As I have said, people have different views about the judgments. In a democracy, they are fully entitled to those views. In any event, I have to consider the judgments very carefully, but I have made the point that separation of powers, which is an essential feature of democracy, means that those in the Executive sometimes have to accept decisions that they may not find welcome.

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Business of the House

1.21 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 20 December--Second Reading of the Transport Bill.

Tuesday 21 December--Debate on public expenditure on a Government motion.

The provisional business for the first week back after the Christmas recess will be as follows:

Monday 10 January--Second Reading of the Political Parties and Referendums Bill.

Tuesday 11 January--Second Reading of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

Wednesday 12 January--Consideration in Committee of the Representation of the People Bill [2nd Day].

Thursday 13 January--Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Representation of the People Bill [3rd Day].

Friday 14 January--The House will not be sitting.

I said that I would endeavour at the start of each month to give an indication of the business that is likely to be taken in Westminster Hall. The Liaison Committee proposes that the following business should be taken in Westminster Hall on Thursdays during January:

Thursday 13 January--Genetically Modified Organisms and Biotechnology--First report from the Science and Technology Committee, Session 1998-1999, HC 286; and the relevant Government response.

Fifth report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 384; and the relevant Government response.

Thursday 20 January--Debate on small firms.

Thursday 27 January--The Prison Service in Northern Ireland--Fourth report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 1997-1998, HC 716; and the relevant Government response.

The debates on Select Committee reports have been set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means after consultation with the Chairman of the Liaison Committee.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business when we return. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for implementing my suggestion last week that we bring forward the sitting hours on Tuesday.

Will there be a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the future of Wembley, as his self-imposed deadline has expired and there is much speculation about the stadium's future? If we cannot have a statement, might oral Question 11 on Monday to the Secretary of State on the subject be taken at the end of Question Time, to allow an opportunity for further discussion?

Will the Foreign Secretary make a statement before we rise about Chechnya, where events are moving quickly, so that he can outline the diplomatic initiatives that he and other European leaders have taken to limit death and destruction?

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While we are away, will the Government announce that 2000 is to be another year of delivery? If so, will they announce all the targets that they missed in 1999?

I see that, this time last year, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) asked for the dates of the Easter and the Whitsun recess. I do not propose to push my luck, but for those hon. Members who like to plan ahead, is the right hon. Lady able to shine any light on the timing of the February constituency week? If she does not announce it today, the House will have to wait another month.

Finally, as this is the last business statement of the year, may I wish the right hon. Lady a merry Christmas and a bug-free new year? Those good wishes go to her staff, to Madam Speaker and to the staff of the House.

At the end of the last century, the House rose on 27 October for the Christmas recess, and returned on 30 January--a target, perhaps, for the Select Committee on Modernisation.

Mrs. Beckett: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his acknowledgement that we have brought forward the timing of business on Tuesday. I think that that will be for the convenience of the whole House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about Wembley. I shall certainly draw his proposal to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The right hon. Gentleman will know that those matters are still under consideration, and that--although the initial deadline has passed--further work and consideration of the outcome are being undertaken. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend will be able on Monday to say anything further on those matters; but, as I said, I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to his attention.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Foreign Secretary will be making a statement on Chechnya. I am not aware of my right hon. Friend's intention to do so; as the right hon. Gentleman said, the situation is confused. However, I shall draw the request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

I shall pass over the partisan remark that the right hon. Gentleman clearly felt it necessary to make, and merely tell him that the Government are well on course to meeting the targets that we set ourselves, both this year and at the general election.

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the dates of the February week--or say whether there will be such a week--although I understand, and am very mindful of, hon. Members' wish to know well in advance. However, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, I have also to be mindful of the progress of business, which is something that we have to take into account, and sometimes carefully monitor--especially when we have debates on, for example, whether a message should be received from the Lords.

I accept and am happy to return the right hon. Gentleman's good wishes, and I appreciate them. I share the wishes that he has expressed to Madam Speaker and her staff and to all the staff of the House.

I was also most interested in, and entertained by, the parallel that the right hon. Gentleman drew with the end of the previous century and the length of the Christmas recess in that year. I trust that the parallel will be taken

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on board by the many Opposition Members whose reaction to the announcement of any recess is to say that it is too long, unprecedentedly long, and an abuse of position by the Government. I hope that they have learned from the historical parallels.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): In the light of reports today that the Financial Services Authority is planning not to hold an inquiry into the mis-selling of mortgages, when can we debate early-day motion 11?

[That this House is alarmed at the continuing high sales of endowment mortgages; agrees with the Consumers' Association that endowments are 'risky inflexible products which typically pay seven times the commission of repayment mortgages'; calls for legislation to end the hidden charges and high redemption charges in other mortgages; and urges speedy compensation for the victims of mis-selling and the establishment of a financial advice service that will be independent of the selling process.]

There is abundant evidence that possibly millions of people have been mis-sold mortgages and that, if the inquiry is not held, they may be denied compensation.

We could also discuss the proposal that the Government should establish a website on which benchmark information--free of any need to make commissions--is given to the public. The general public have been using the NHS Direct website to gain information, and a financial advice website could both provide a valuable service and ensure that, for the first time ever, the public were able to receive advice entirely divorced from the need to earn commissions.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which will be taken on board by the responsible Ministers. He also said that the Financial Services Authority has decided not to proceed with an investigation into mortgage mis-selling, but that is not entirely my understanding. I was under the impression that the FSA was still considering what action, if any, needed to be taken to improve standards. Nevertheless, as I said, I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): May I, on behalf of Liberal Democrat Members, offer season's greetings to the right hon. Lady, her staff and all Officers and Members of the House?

I also thank her for the business statement. We appreciate that the first week in January will be extremely busy. However, will she either make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to make a statement to the House on the prospectus that was issued this week on the Learning and Skills Council, or provide time for a debate? The relevant Bill will be introduced not in this place but in another place on 20 January. The decisions involve a £6 billion budget, but we shall not have an opportunity to discuss the prospectus before the orders are laid before the other House. That is a crucial issue for a statement or a debate.

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