Mrs. Browning: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. Earlier this week, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), stated that he had contacted the Home
The right hon. Lady will not be surprised to know that I am worried about other aspects of this week's events, notably the role of the Home Office in processing the application. It is typical of the Government that the only statement by any Home Office Minister was a media interview yesterday with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the House is treated with the same courtesy as the media on such an important matter, and that Home Office Ministers attend our proceedings next week to share with hon. Members information that they are prepared to share with the media?
Will the Leader of the House also ensure that the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday of an inquiry will not be used to cover up or delay information that hon. Members seek? That is especially important because Home Office questions will not be held until 5 February, and many questions will need answering before that date.
Turning to a matter that I raised last week, when does the right hon. Lady expect the Government to find time to debate the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) (No. 4) Order 2000? In her reply to me last week, she was extremely dismissive, but I remind her that the Government were criticised by a High Court judge for not consulting Members of the House on this matter. Whatever the right hon. Lady's views are on the time that has or has not been allowed, it is imperative that the Government present the order to the House, especially as there was a judgment against them when the National Union of Teachers took them to court over the matter.
I must raise another matter that I raised last week. I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has not announced today that the Government will find Government time to introduce a Bill on adoption. I mentioned the fact last week that, at Prime Minister's questions on 17 January, the Prime Minister told the House that the Government would legislate on the matter in this Session. The right hon. Lady's response to me last week suggested that that would be done by means of a private Member's Bill--
Mrs. Browning: This is why I am seeking clarification. In response to my request about the Prime Minister's pledge, the right hon. Lady said that the problem was due to a lack of time for private Members' Bills. The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will know that on Tuesday night--when I was present on the Opposition Front Bench--my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), whose private Member's Bill on adoption is in sixth place on the list, offered to make her Bill available to the Government if they wished to introduce adoption legislation through the vehicle of a
There is clearly confusion on this matter. Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether, when the Prime Minister said that the Government would legislate in this Session, he meant this Session or this year? There is clearly a difference. Will she also clarify whether the Government intend to introduce that legislation, either in a Government Bill or a private Member's Bill?
Mrs. Beckett: First, the hon. Lady asked about a change in the rules governing passport applications, but then properly identified that that was a question for the Home Office. There will be a half-day debate next week on Home Office business, so it is slightly surprising that the Opposition have not chosen to pursue the matter then, if they think that it is of such significance.
The hon. Lady made a spirited attempt to make something out of a matter that has already been put to rest. The Prime Minister made it perfectly plain yesterday--as the hon. Lady is well aware; indeed, she mentioned it herself--that he has asked for an investigation into the circumstances of the granting of nationality in this case. He also made it plain that the outcome of that investigation would be made public--[Hon. Members: "When?"] I thought that it was singularly stupid that, the second the Prime Minister said that yesterday, Opposition Members all started shouting, "When?" It will be published when it is finished. Considering that the investigation was announced only yesterday, and that the individual involved has probably hardly started work yet, this attempt at phoney outrage is even less convincing than usual.
The hon. Lady asked about the education prayer. I understand her concern. I accept that it would have been useful if we had had the opportunity to debate the prayer at greater length, as we might have discovered whether the Conservative party was in favour of performance- related pay. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) says that it might be. The implication of his remark is that it is very hard to find out where the Conservative party stands on any policy matter.
Nevertheless, this is an issue of what, these days, are increasingly called rights and responsibilities. The Opposition have the right to use time as they choose; they have the right to waste time. However, they also have the responsibility to consider that, if they waste time and talk out a prayer such as the one to which the hon. Lady referred, it might prove difficult to find time for it next week.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked me about the issue of adoption. I think that there was a misunderstanding about what I said last week. I must confess that I have not checked Hansard, but there was no intention to suggest that the Government intend to proceed by way of a private Member's Bill. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said very clearly was that there will be a Government Bill, and that the hope and the intention is to introduce it in this Session.
The hon. Lady will also recall that what I said to her was that adoption is such an important, sensitive and complex issue that it is extremely important to get it right. [Interruption.] That will be a prime concern for the Government, although--
Mrs. Beckett: I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you, like me, find the volume of noise from Conservative Members a little tedious. May I just tell the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that she is rather wasting her time making all that noise? I know from previous experience that the volume on the Opposition side of the House is turned down and the volume on this side is turned up, so she is wasting her time if she is trying to impress the public.
I repeat to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that adoption is a very important and serious issue, and it should be considered only in legislation that is very fully thought through and properly introduced. However, there is no doubt that, as the Prime Minister made plain to the House, he is extremely keen and determined to make legislative progress on the issue as soon as possible. He is very much pushing for legislation to be well prepared as early as possible.
There was no suggestion at all that we intended to proceed by way of a private Member's Bill. The reference that I made last week was to the offer made by the Leader of the Opposition--that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) might make her private Member's Bill available--at a time when Conservative Members were blocking having any private Members' Bills at all.
If I might turn to the terpsichorean ability of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I would ask her whether she is familiar with a dance called the hokey cokey that many children perform. Does she agree that the saga of Wembley stadium--where the athletics track has been in and then out, and then in and then out again; and the £20 million has been in and then out, and in and then out again--needs resolution by someone getting it by the scruff of the neck and shaking it all about? Will she please indicate to the House whether it is possible to make time in the near future for such a debate, or at least a statement, on the future of Wembley stadium?
Mrs. Beckett: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity. Unfortunately, his description of the process is all too accurate. He will know that the Government have no direct responsibility for the Wembley stadium project. However, I hope that he and the House are also aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is taking a keen interest in the issue and is very keen indeed to see a positive outcome to it. He believes that the project is very important, not only to my hon. Friend's constituents but to the country as a whole. I think the whole House will agree with him. I therefore have a great deal of sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend is making. I fear that