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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): The Leader of the House will know that fishing communities around the United Kingdom face a winter of crisis and a very depressing time following the recent Fisheries Council meeting. Pursuant to her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), which appears at column 809 of Hansard for 14 December, is she any closer to fixing a date for the promised fisheries debate? In particular, does she recognise that it is urgent that she find time for that debate, so that the House can have an input to Ministers before the cod recovery programme is debated in Europe on 18 January?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I had not forgotten what I said to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed from the business that I announced earlier, we have not yet identified a suitable opportunity for that debate, but I am mindful of the wish that it be held. Indeed, that was part of what I had in mind when I told my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) a few moments ago that, for perfectly reasonable reasons, there is a good deal of pressure on Government time in the new year. I have not forgotten the commitment that was made, and we are looking for ways to honour it.
[That this House welcomes the decision of the Scottish Parliament that criminal record checks for volunteers working with children in Scotland will be free; notes with regret that volunteers in England and Wales will still be required to pay £10 for identical checks to be made with the Criminal Records Bureau in the coming year; and urges the Government to emulate the excellent example of the Scottish Parliament.]
Will she arrange for a debate on this issue in the Chamber? Many voluntary and children's organisations fully support measures to protect children, which require that adults with unsupervised access to children must undergo a criminal records check. However, that costs money, and organisations in the voluntary sector are concerned about the impact of those costs on the volunteers whom they deploy. We need a debate on this matter to see whether some flexibility can be found in
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in these issues, and that he chairs the all-party group dealing with voluntary organisations. I am aware, too, of the great interest that exists across the House in the matter. My hon. Friend will know that no announcement has yet been made about the exact arrangements involved. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the Floor of the House, but many opportunities are open to hon. Members to keep up pressure on the Government until the relevant decisions are announced.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The Leader of the House has nominated the Second Reading of the Capital Allowances Bill for 15 January. Can she confirm that that is the first Bill to emerge from the tax law rewrite exercise? Will she ensure that, on Second Reading, Ministers couch their remarks in such a way that they touch on the more general work of the Joint Committee and on the wider question of tax simplification? Will she describe what further stages the Bill will go through after Second Reading?
Mrs. Beckett: First, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is right: the Bill is the first fruit of the tax law rewrite project, which I believe he was instrumental in initiating when he was a Treasury Minister. I am aware, too, that it is part of an on-going project of simplification, and that there has been pressure from hon. Members of all parties to make progress on these issues.
I cannot at the moment give the right hon. Gentleman any further information about how the Bill will proceed after Second Reading, or at what pace, but no doubt he will be able to seek that information through the usual channels.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): With regard to future programming and votes on the Hunting Bill, did the right hon. Lady notice that something quite interesting happened last night? The West Lothian question was a dog that did not bark in the night--or rather, it just squeaked. Only six of her colleagues from Scotland voted on Second Reading last night. Therefore, most Scottish Members have taken the very correct attitude that they should not vote on matters that affect only England. To do so would be as insensitive as crashing around a neighbour's house and taking down the pictures without letting that person into one's own house.
The right hon. Lady knows how much I admire her. Will she now put her name into the history books and proclaim the Beckett convention--that Scottish Members should not generally vote on matters that solely concern England?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, during the quite long periods in which the Conservative party was in favour of devolution, it took the view that there should not be two different classes of Member of Parliament at Westminster. That remains the view of this Government. He will also know that in the long periods in which there was devolved government at Stormont, the previous Government relied quite heavily on the votes of Northern Ireland Members.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The right hon. Lady will be aware, following press reports at the weekend, if not before, that a ministerial group has been set up informally to examine why 100,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing in the past year and why the unemployment rate is rising in the north-east, the north-west and the east and west midlands. Clearly, the Government have some political concern because unemployment is going up in areas that are more heavily represented by Labour Members. As a ministerial group has been established, may we have a statement from a member of the group to explain which of the Government's policies the group believes is responsible for the increase in manufacturing unemployment?
Mrs. Beckett: I know that the whole House is concerned about unemployment, particularly in manufacturing. It is perfectly understandable. However, I note that the hon. Gentleman identifies only the concerns about unemployment; he does not mention that the group will look, I feel confident, at other issues, such as how we have managed to succeed in increasing investment in manufacturing for the first time in many years and to increase exports for the first time for some time. The group will consider a range of manufacturing issues.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Government are concerned and wish to work with industry to see whether they can take any steps to deal with difficulties that the industry faces. He is also right that some jobs are being lost although not, of course, at anything like the rate at which they were lost under the previous Government, and it is true that many such jobs are in parts of the country represented by Labour Members. However, I am happy to say that as a result of the last election, there is Labour representation in all parts of the country.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I remind the right hon. Lady that I am joint chairman of the Middle Way Group, which supports a compromise solution on hunting with dogs and gained the support of the Home Secretary yesterday. Does she understand that there is genuine concern about whether it is possible to deal with the complexities of the three issues in a single day on the Floor of the House? Will she use her very best endeavours to ensure that no ministerial statements are made on that day?
Mrs. Beckett: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that a day is insufficient. The House will make a broad judgment on the options. I think that most right hon. and hon. Members are already perfectly well aware to which option they incline. It will then be for the House to continue later with further and more detailed discussion. I believe
Mrs. Beckett: If the hon. Gentleman was against that too, he has the merit of consistency. However, it does not alter the fact that that was thought sufficient time by the Government he supported to debate a number of options in exactly the way that this Government propose. However, I take his point. He will know that we are continually being pressed to make even more statements than we do, but we are mindful that there are particular days on which we seek to avoid cutting into debate time, and I will bear that in mind. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking, but I am conscious of his point.