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10. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What assessment he has made of the extent to which United Kingdom interest rates have converged with those in the eurozone. [141842]

12. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What estimate he has made of when the UK will join the single currency. [141846]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): The Government have set out five economic tests, which will have to be met before any decision to

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join the single currency can be taken. The Government will make another assessment of the five tests early in the next Parliament.

Mr. Swayne: Will the Chancellor now address Question 10?

Mr. Brown: The answer is that we will make an assessment early in the next Parliament. That is exactly what we will do.

Mr. Winterton: The Chancellor has emphasised the importance of business costs, so will he tell British business that the cost of entry to the euro is likely to be some £33 billion? How does he equate that with his desire to keep business costs down and this country's ability to take decisions to contain inflation?

Mr. Brown: Precisely because we have to look at all issues in relation to this matter, we have our five economic tests. The problem with the Conservative party is that there are some--

Mr. Winterton: Answer the question.

Mr. Brown: Precisely because of issues that are raised by the hon. Gentleman and others, it makes good economic sense to assess those matters in an appropriate way. That is why we have set five economic tests: the effects on investment, on financial services, on employment and on the flexibility of the economy and whether there is sustainable convergence. All the issues that he raises can be dealt with as we examine those five assessments.

The hon. Gentleman's problem is that, if he thinks that the matter should be dealt with by a prudent examination of the five tests, he will support leaving the issue open and not ruling it out on principle. However, at one and the same time, some Conservative Members say that we must look at the issue as a matter of detail and others say that they will never join, on principle.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is a member of Conservatives Against a Federal Europe. "John Major"--[Hon. Members: "The right hon. Member for Huntingdon."] Conservative Members do not like hearing their own policy. I think that the House would like to know what they subscribe to. "John Major", it says--[Interruption.] This is very interesting--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps this is a matter for the next Question Time.

Mr. Brown rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is now time to move on to business questions.

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House give the business for next week?

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

Monday 18 December--Second Reading of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill.

Motions relating to the Draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order and the Draft Apportionment of Money in the National Lottery Distribution Fund Order 2000.

Tuesday 19 December--Motion relating to the Draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulation 2000

Estimates Day [1st Allotted Day--Half Day]. There will be a debate on Urban Regeneration in England. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Wednesday 20 December--Second Reading of the Hunting Bill.

Thursday 21 December--Motions on the Social Security Benefits Up-rating (No. 2) Order and the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase (No. 2) Order.

Motion on the Christmas Recess Adjournment.

Friday 22 December--The House will not be sitting.

Hon. Members will wish to be aware that the House will meet at 9.30 am on Thursday 21 December for questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The provisional business for the first week back after the Christmas Recess will include:

Monday 8 January--Second Reading of the Homes Bill.

It is not possible at the moment to give the House all the business for the week beginning 8 January. That will be announced next week following discussion through the usual channels.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 17 January, there will be a debate relating to sport in European Standing Committee 'C'. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the last Thursday this year will be:

Thursday 21 December--Debate on British Trade International.

[Tuesday 19 December 2000:

Class Vote III, Vote 1 (Housing, construction, regeneration, regional policy, planning and countryside and wildlife, England)

Wednesday 17 January 2001:

European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union documents: COM (99) 644:The Helsinki Report on Sport; COM (99) 643: Doping in Sport; Unnumbered EM

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dated 23 November 2000: Declaration on Sport. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-viii, HC 23-xiii and HC 23-xxxi (1999-2000).]

Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. I wish to make two comments about it. First, the Second Reading of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill is scheduled for Monday whereas the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill will be on Wednesday. That will cause a great deal of inconvenience to Members who had hoped to attend the House to hear the Hunting Bill debated on Monday. I hope that the right hon. Lady has not changed the order in which the Bills will be debated simply to pray in aid the fact that the Government have put the issue of law and order before that of hunting.

Secondly, I have said several times before that it would not have been acceptable for the House to have debated embryology and then had a deferred vote. I thank the right hon. Lady for ensuring that the debate will be held at a time when Members can cast their votes following the debate on the subject. Conservative Members will have a free vote on the subject, and I am sure that she will confirm that Labour Members will have a free vote, too. It is a matter of conscience, and individual Members should cast their vote as they think fit.

Despite the fact that we are near the end of term, an important matter has occurred this morning and it merits the House's attention. Will the Leader of the House consider whether we should have a debate on the matter shortly? I am referring to this morning's Home Office press release announcing the names of the electoral commissioners. That was a surprise because on 6 December my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) tabled a written question asking when commissioners were to be appointed. The answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department yesterday at column 181W gave no hint of the names or when they would be released. Surely that should be corrected and the House should have a chance to discuss the matter because it is relevant to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which was guillotined in the last week of the previous Session, so restricting the opportunity for hon. Members to address that issue.

Why will the House have to wait until mid-January before the electoral commissioners are appointed, as the Home Office press release states? Surely we could debate that in the coming week and have them in place for the new year. Will the Leader of the House consider that because it is important and needs to be addressed? Will that decision not further complicate the implementation of the Bill's main provisions on donations and expenditure on 16 February if the matter is not dealt with until January next year? I hope that the Leader of the House will share my concern about the way in which the business has been handled and the disrespect it shows to Members of the House for announcements to be made without providing a written answer or an opportunity for us to discuss it.

Mrs. Beckett: First, I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that we moved the debate on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill because we wanted to change the order of business; the decision had no relevance to the issue of what might come first. Looking back as, sadly, Opposition Members rarely do, to their last Queen's Speech in the 1996

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Session, it is clear that the first Bill they tabled for debate was the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Bill. The notion that there is something unusual about the order in which we take Bills is not well founded. However, I assure her that the decision was simply a matter of trying to get a good pattern of debate for the following week, which business managers always strive to do.

The hon. Lady also asked whether the Labour party was committed to a free vote on embryology. I am pleased to hear that her party is to have a free vote, although I would have anticipated that. However, I remind her that when the Donaldson report was published on 16 August, the Government said that they would lay regulations to give effect to its recommendations so that they could be followed through, and those regulations would be laid before the House so that it could reach its decision on the basis of a free vote. There is no question that it will be anything other than a completely free vote.

As for the Home Office press release, I am afraid that I am not familiar with precisely what was said or why, and, to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure of the hon. Lady's point. However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 has been extensively discussed. People are aware of the issues that arise from it. I understand that the House is interested in who the commissioners may be, but I am not aware of a suggestion that we should debate those appointments. Indeed, successive Governments have not thought that there should be accountability, other than through Ministers, for appointments that are made through the proper public appointment process.

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