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Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I am not used to receiving unqualified support from Prime Ministers, especially Conservative ex-Prime Ministers. My right hon. Friend may have noticed that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has signed my early-day motion 257
[That this House warmly supports the proposal put forward by Rita Restorick, and others such as the Royal British Legion, the Gulf Veterans, the Falklands Families and the South Atlantic Medal Association, that a posthumous medal, similar to the US Purple Heart, be presented to the next of kin of troops killed in action so that it can be worn with pride on Remembrance Day; accepts that suitable criteria for such a medal need be carefully defined and that this is best done by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Royal British Legion and forces' associations; but believes that servicemen and women who are killed in the line of duty have made the supreme sacrifice and deserve recognition for this in the form of a medal, as well as the Government's proposed memorial in central London.]
It calls for posthumous medals to be issued to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice as troops in the forces for Britain. The campaign is run by Rita Restorick, whose son was the last person to be murdered on duty by the IRA in south Armagh. As it now has such prestigious support, may we have a debate about it on the Floor of the House?
Mrs. Beckett: I sympathise with my hon. Friend's point. He knows that the House has the greatest respect for Rita Restorick. We sympathise with her loss, admire her courage and recognise the concerns of the wider community with which she bore that loss. My hon. Friend will know, however, that the granting of medals can be contentious. There is not a tradition of awarding a medal because an individual has died, however tragic the circumstances of that death. The Government keep these issues under review. I am pleased that my hon. Friend is so grateful to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I am sure that such support lends lustre to his early-day motion. Although I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I fear that that support may not be the clinching factor that swings the decision one way or the other.
Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): Has the Leader of the House seen the draft statutory instrument, Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications No. 1) Order 2001? Is she aware that this Bill--Freudian slip--or rather, statutory instrument appeared yesterday and is down to be debated at 4.30 pm on Monday? Is she aware that it is 144 articles long and longer than the original Postal Services Act 2000 that appeared on 27 January 2000? Is she aware that the other place was due to consider it with six other statutory instruments tomorrow but, following representations, it has been withdrawn? This is either carelessness or an abuse of power. Will the Leader of the House ensure that
Mrs. Beckett: As the House will recognise, if we were always to judge the time we spend on a matter by its length, it would not be wise. I was not aware of the issues that the hon. Gentleman identified. I cannot undertake to make changes on the hoof, so to speak. I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends who have responsibility for this matter. No doubt they will take heed of his remarks.
May we have time for a debate on fairness at work? I ask because of revelations in a newspaper on Sunday that the Leader of the Opposition has sent a threatening letter to Sir Ken Jackson, the leader of my union, promising that if the Opposition came to power they would revoke all legislation on recognition for trade unions. Does not that underline the Opposition's wish to exploit people, whereas the Labour Government are protecting them all the time?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his courtesy; I very much enjoyed my visit to an excellent school in his constituency, which is doing a tremendous job. I was much impressed by the talent of the young people taking part in the anti-drugs campaign--as any Member of the House would have been.
My hon. Friend asks for a debate on fairness at work, and raises the correspondence between Sir Ken Jackson and the Leader of the Opposition. I have, of course, taken on board the policy observations that were made. I understand my hon. Friend's concern; as he recognises, the Labour Government have long taken the view that it is a gross economic error to try to compete in today's economies on the basis of sweatshop conditions or of aiming for ever-lower pay and costs. Investment in quality and value must be the only sound long-term basis for the United Kingdom. It is clear that that view is shared across the economy--not least by the great bulk of private sector employers. Many people will share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time on the Floor for a debate on the matter, but I am sure that he will find other opportunities to raise it.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the latest report of the Select Committee on Liaison, "Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business"? Does she recall that the previous occasion on which the House debated such matters was due to the generosity of the Opposition, who found time for the debate? It is up to the Government to find time for such important issues.
Mrs. Beckett: I was not aware of the latest report from the Liaison Committee, which was, I understand, published at one minute past midnight today, when I had other concerns. Of course, I shall study the report with great interest. On two previous occasions, we have debated and discussed the recommendations of the Committee; I shall read the report's recommendations with great care and attention.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will the Leader of the House recognise the misgivings in many parts of the House about the report published on the Minister for Europe? Although my right hon. Friend is right to reject the exaggerated claims made for party political reasons by the Opposition, the report gives evidence of inadequacies in our procedures and of the need for a debate on future reforms.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend may or may not be aware that the Standards and Privileges Committee published a report some little time ago, stating that we should look again at our procedures. The Committee is now taking evidence--several hon. Members have given written or oral evidence--and I have little doubt that a time will come when the House will look again at the framework within which we make judgments on those matters. However, I doubt that it is likely to be in the near future. When and if we discuss those issues, I hope that the House will look more widely at the framework--the structure--for how we make such judgments, rather than relying on individual reports, because there are different views and concerns throughout the House.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): In my constituency, dozens of four-year-old children face the prospect of being bussed five miles or more to their first school in September. That is due to the abject failure of the Conservative-controlled local education authority to provide sufficient school places for those children in their catchment area. Will the Leader of the House ask her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to make a statement to the House, setting out the duty of local education authorities to provide school places for local children, and to tell the House what measures he can take to ensure that education authorities subscribe to their duties?
Mrs. Beckett: I was not aware of the position described by the hon. Gentleman. I am certainly sorry to learn of another example of lack of investment resulting in inadequate opportunities--especially for young people. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the issue, but I certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is the Leader of the House aware that if there is a debate on the reform of the Register of Members' Interests, full account should be taken of the fact that since it was set up in the mid-1970s it has never had the full authority of all Members of