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Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Will my right hon. Friend look at early-day motion 175, which I have tabled?
[That this House expresses its disgust with, and condemnation of, Colley Civil Engineering of 76 Meagill Rise, Otley, West Yorkshire, for persisting in failing to pay their former employee, Mr. Mark Aspray of Gorton, Manchester, £280 due to him in wages since April 2000 and for deliberately refusing to respond to correspondence sent on behalf of Mr. Aspray by his Member of Parliament, the Right honourable Member for Manchester, Gorton; warns other potential employees to steer clear of these disgraceful employers; and calls on potential customers and clients of Colley Engineering to have nothing to do with an organisation which cheats those who work for it.]
It relates to the swindling of my constituent, Mr. Mark Aspray, of pay due to him from Colley Civil Engineering of Otley. Will she also look at early-day motion 176, which relates to the swindling of Mr. John Carroll in my constituency of pay due to him by Ideal Cleaning Contractors of Farnworth?
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for the House to debate those motions so that I am able to draw attention to the way in which those companies not only swindled their employees, but will, no doubt, swindle their customers? It is intolerable that they should behave in such a manner and not respond to demands for the money to be paid.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand my right hon. Friend's anger on behalf of his constituents and, indeed, his concern, as I understand it from his early-day motions, that approaches to the companies have produced no
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): As this is the first time that the Leader of the House has been at the Dispatch Box this year, may I wish her a happy new year? I hope that she enjoyed her visit to New York. Her absence would explain why she has not entirely understood some of this week's nonsense regarding the programming procedures of Committees. Does she accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to ensure that we can debate in Committee all aspects of legislation? That was the intention of the recommendations of the Programming Sub-Committee. I am afraid that the Government did not make it clear from the Dispatch Box during the debates that that was the intention.
The idea was that the Government would attempt to meet, with all reasonableness, the Opposition's demands for the debates upstairs in Committee to be properly planned and programmed, which should be to the advantage of the Opposition. Will the right hon. Lady make it absolutely clear that the Government share that intention? That would defuse some of the feelings that are boiling up, as illustrated by the hon. Member for Hammersmith--or is it Shepherd's Bush? [Hon. Members: "Shepherd's pie."] The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) has a difficult enough job; we do not have to add to it.
If the right hon. Lady makes it clear that that is the Government's intention, the experiment might have a chance of working.
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I return new year good wishes to the whole House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to reaffirm that it was absolutely the intention of the Modernisation Committee's proposals, which were carried by the House on a free vote, to make public what all Members of any experience in the House know to be the case, namely, the date when the Government anticipate and want a Bill to leave Committee. The aim is to provide transparency in the management of discussions on legislation and, in particular, to ensure that if the Opposition want proper scrutiny and discussion of a Bill, that scrutiny and discussion can focus on the issues that members of the Committee, especially Opposition Members, believe to be of the most importance and weight.
I am slightly surprised to learn that the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is any dubiety about that. However, I undertake to write to all my ministerial colleagues reminding them of our purpose and making it clear that the Government hope that discussions will proceed in that way and believe that the arrangements will make a contribution to the scrutiny of legislation which will be to the advantage of the whole House.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Health is today chairing an important seminar on organ retention? That follows the disclosure that organs of children who
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware of today's discussions, which are of great interest and will arouse great concern throughout the House. On the assumption that there are weighty issues involved that will benefit from further scrutiny in the House, I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's request in mind and continue to discuss the matter, not least through the usual channels.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the Government's announcement last July about resurfacing concrete roads? Is she aware that there is great disappointment in Doveridge that according to the Highways Agency's announcement on 29 December--a day on which there was a great deal of media interest--the A50 is not to be included in the programme for 2001?
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that there are improvements that many of us want, not least because of the considerable under-investment over many years. I cannot undertake to find time for a specific debate on the A50 in Doveridge, but I can again recommend the virtues of the extra time available in Westminster Hall.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): As someone who has not always been in favour of programming business for various reasons, which I shall not go into now, may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept that the experiment will be judged largely on how far the Opposition of the day are able to discuss in Committee all the controversial matters that they want to discuss? If that happens, there will undoubtedly be a case for the experiment to be taken seriously, and not in the frivolous way in which the Opposition are conducting matters.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes the powerful, entirely correct point that in a rational world the experiment should be judged on whether it provides the opportunity for adequate scrutiny. He also makes the valid point that it is always open to any Opposition simply to waste whatever time is available--and if the Conservative party ultimately decides to do that, the changes will not benefit the scrutiny of legislation for which the Government wish and the House decided to provide. If it becomes apparent that time is being wasted, that will affect how people judge the experiment because, however much Members of all parties kid themselves, time wasting always brings the House into disrepute. The public do not understand when we waste time; they understand when we use it well.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The Leader of the House will recall the commitment that she gave me at business questions on 16 November about the Government's continuing consideration of the Liaison Committee proposals on parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive. Did the substance of Tuesday night's debate on setting up the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee, both as to the proportion and the relevant backgrounds of Back Benchers proposed for
Mrs. Beckett: Although I shall certainly do so, I am afraid that I have not had an opportunity to study in depth the link between the debate that I know was held on that issue earlier this week and the Liaison Committee report. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that at this moment it is hard to envisage that it would be likely to change the views that I expressed then.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 179--a very good motion that refers to taking back the track?
[That this House congratulates the railway unions on the launch of their campaign 'Take Back the Track' in the face of Railtrack PLC's failure to meet its obligation to provide a safe and efficient rail network; further considers that the current structure is insufficient to restore public confidence and attract people back to rail travel; and consequently calls on Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity to return Railtrack PLC to an appropriate form of public ownership.]
As a Member of Parliament for a railway town, my right hon. Friend will understand the virtues of such a motion. Will she find time for a debate on it? If not, will she bear it in mind that railway privatisation was one of the craziest things that the Tories did in 18 years, and that it was done with the purpose of lining the pockets of their friends? It will be necessary, because the subject will not go away, to take the track back into public ownership. If we cannot have a debate, will she join me in ensuring that that becomes part and parcel of the next Labour manifesto? It will be a sure-fire winner.