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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to a matter that may be of particular interest to you, Mr. Speaker--namely, the report this morning from the Procedure Committee on the election of Speaker? May I ask for an undertaking from the right hon. Lady that the House will have an opportunity to debate this report as soon as possible? Given that the Committee itself seems to have reached a consensus on recommendations to the House--that is broadly representative of the House generally--we may require very little time in the Chamber to deal with the matter. Perhaps the Leader of the House might find such an opportunity even in the week after our constituency week. It is important that the matter be determined before any possible Dissolution. Will she give us that undertaking today?
Secondly, I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the report this morning that the official advisers to the Government on the safety aspects of the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services are very concerned about the qualifications of the preferred bidder. Clearly, this problem should be brought before the House as quickly as possible so all Members can see what is involved.
Thirdly, what are the plans for the remaining stages of the Hunting Bill on Tuesday 27 February? The Leader of the House will be aware that substantial amendments are being tabled by the Government to cover huge areas of concern on all sides. Putting aside the personal views that all hon. Members have, I am sure she would agree that we all have a responsibility to make sure that the Bill is workable and practical and meets the anxieties of police forces throughout the country. Can I have an undertaking that, if it proves necessary, amendments will be available before Monday, the day before the debate? Will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking that if additional time is required, we can at least go until midnight that night, if not longer? Perhaps she might negotiate with Conservative Front Benchers who, I understand, share our anxieties about getting the Bill right. Perhaps the Government might like to borrow half a day--or even the whole of the following Opposition day--from the Conservatives so that the House can give the Bill careful consideration.
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware of the publication of the report on the election of a Speaker. The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who chairs the Procedure Committee, and his colleagues for their assiduity and speed in dealing
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) knows perfectly well that no Leader of the House would make a commitment ahead of time to dates that have not already been announced. I repeat my comments to the hon. Member for Macclesfield and his colleagues that I understand the House's wish to discuss the matter and make decisions on it. I shall bear that in mind; doubtless it will be discussed through the usual channels.
I have seen the press reports to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall referred. The Government have always stressed that safety will be an important factor in any decisions. If the press reports are accurate, they will be carefully considered by my right hon. and hon. Friends who deal with those issues.
Discussions are under way about the best method of scheduling and debating the remaining stages of the Hunting Bill to ensure that hon. Members have an opportunity to reach a proper decision according to the wish of the majority. I cannot say more now, but those discussions are being undertaken in a spirit that all hon. Members would welcome. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's generous offer of a day of Conservative time.
Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the review of local government finance? Consultation on the Green Paper, which was published last year, ended at the beginning of December. We held a debate only two weeks ago on this year's review, and several hon. Members raised general anxieties about the subject. In the light of those factors, it would be useful to discuss those issues generally before we make a decision on the future of local government finance.
Mrs. Beckett: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. Although the local government grant has increased by 14 per cent. in real terms in the past four years, compared with a cut of 7 per cent. in real terms in previous years, anxiety remains about the underlying structure for settling local government grant. Hon. Members of all parties share that anxiety. I cannot undertake to find time for an early further debate on the matter, but it is hoped that further proposals, perhaps even a White Paper, will be produced later this year.
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): There was much discussion yesterday about long supplementaries, and especially long, rambling replies at Prime Minister's Question Time. Is not that almost implicit in a 30-minute session? Would not the House be better served by a return to two 15-minute sessions a week?
Mrs. Beckett: I know that Opposition Members like to make much of that point because they believe that the Government are somehow in a weak position. However, the Conservative party, not for the first time, is in danger of shooting itself in the foot. As someone who has had more experience than most hon. Members of dealing with Prime Minister's Question Time from the Opposition Benches, I believe that the 30-minute session is much
Despite the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about inadequate answers, the Prime Minister's second change, to which Conservative Members never refer for some reason, cut out the time-wasting repetition of the answer, "I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago." The Prime Minister has answered more questions than his predecessor; he answers them well, and the Conservative party makes an error, not for the first time, in requesting a change.
Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): The Leader of the House will of course know that, since 1997, my constituency has received a substantial amount of money through regeneration budgets. Will she consider scheduling a debate on the relationship between retailers and multinational fast food chains and urban regeneration in our town centres? I ask that in the light of KFC's decision to pull out--indeed, to chicken out--of Tottenham High road, and our anxiety that other such outlets on our high streets will follow suit.
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend and his constituents recognise the role that the Government have played in putting substantial further resources into the area. However, I also understand the underlying concern that he expresses and that I think is felt in many parts of the country about both the change in our high streets and the way in which that change renders community feeling and the local environment somewhat vulnerable. I sympathise with the concern that my hon. Friend expresses. I fear I cannot undertake to find time for a debate in the Chamber on those issues, but he might seek an opportunity in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I thank the right hon. Lady for the very courteous and encouraging response that she gave to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the Procedure Committee's second report entitled "Election of a Speaker"? May I maximise my charm, diplomacy and persuasion in asking her whether she realises that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members--including I think the overwhelming majority of Labour Members, let alone Opposition Members--would like to have a debate on that report and to have in place a new system for the election of a Speaker by the end of this Parliament? It is an important issue, and the Procedure Committee undertook the inquiry at the request of the House. May I make that fervent plea for an early debate?
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. He is also entirely right to say that it was very clearly the wish and the will of the whole House not only that such an inquiry be conducted, but that it be conducted expeditiously. As I said, we are all grateful to him and to his Committee for having done so. He will not, I know, expect me to go much further than I already have in answering the question from the hon. Member for North Cornwall. However, I do indeed bear in mind the
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention a series of complaints that I have had from residents of Barrow upon Humber about a recent outbreak of lawlessness in the village? They are particularly concerned about cars continuing to park at bus stops and a truck that ended up in a bumper- to-bumper confrontation with a police car--when a bus was not able to proceed up the high street because it was blocked by the truck and a Mercedes was parked in the bus stop. May we therefore have a debate on observing the highway code? The fact that the truck was a "Save the Pound" Tory truck and the Mercedes at the bus stop was owned by a Conservative Member is in no way colouring my views on the issue.