|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Cook: I am happy to confirm that the answer to both questions is yes. We will of course consider the details that are put to us--it would be irresponsible to do otherwise--and, as the Prime Minister's official spokesman said yesterday, our answer is not inevitable.
Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing what will clearly be a fun-packed week--possibly the last week of the current Parliament. It has been a fun Parliament for some. The Government began, four years ago, with a party in Downing street, and proceeded to that great party down at the dome at the change of the century; but, as with all parties, they have left behind a lot of debris. I wonder whether some of that debris can be cleared up in the coming week's business.
One important fact is that the Government have yet to devote any Government time to a full debate on foot and mouth on the Floor of the House. There have been statements and one is to follow but, surely, given the nature of the crisis and the fact that the Prime Minister has taken personal control of it, one could have at least expected the Government to allocate time to discuss foot and mouth next week.
There are other matters of great importance that I hope the Leader of the House will consider fitting in before the end of next week. The Government have made statements and indeed have set up a taskforce to help to support businesses not directly involved in agriculture, but there is a growing problem for all the businesses that have appealed for a temporary reduction in their rating assessments.
On 6 April, the Paymaster General informed the House in a written answer that there were no fewer than 23,000 new applications as at 6 April. It does not seem that those are being processed; indeed, the Treasury has been unable to give up-to-date figures. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for the Paymaster General to answer questions in the House on how those applications are to be expedited.
We have still not had an annual debate on small business, which the Government promised when they came to glorious victory in 1997. Nor have there been any statements on the Floor of the House on, for example, many matters to do with procedure. The fact that we have just had a private notice question based on what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions yesterday and what was said in contradiction subsequently by his press officer surely merits some debate before the end of the Parliament; and what about a statement from the Government about their so-called modernisation programme, which has been inflicted on the House during the Parliament?
The Government have failed to reintroduce the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No.2 ) Bill despite its being a high priority for them and being announced in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech last December. Has that Bill now been taken off the party invitation list? The Government have only published a draft transport Bill, even though they promised to develop a fully integrated public transport system. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could tell us exactly what the intention is so that the House can question Transport Ministers on that subject.
There has been no legislation to enforce the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery, which makes it a criminal offence for a United Kingdom national to bribe a foreign public official. On that subject, not much time appears to have been allocated for the House to discuss very important matters that have been considered by Select Committees in respect of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), for whom the party has been so exciting that he has had to go home and spend a bit of time getting over it. It is important that such matters be discussed on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will assure us that those important matters will be tidied up before the party is over at the end of next week because, clearly, for the Government, the party will be well and truly over.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady complains that there has been no debate in Government time on the foot and mouth outbreak, which, if I recall correctly, first came to light in February, so we are talking about a comparatively short period, during which there have been, as she rightly acknowledged, extensive statements. I remind her that we went through at least two years, if not three or four, when the Conservative party was in government without any debate in Government time on health, which is an on-going issue and which was in crisis at the time. It is not unusual for there to be pressure on Government time, but, by contrast with the Conservative party, we have made extensive statements covering those issues.
The hon. Lady raises a valid point about the handling of applications with regard to rate relief. I believe that we have Treasury questions next Thursday, but in any case I will draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had not heard the concerns that the hon. Lady expressed, but clearly it is a matter of some interest. We already have in mind the issue of a small business debate.
As for the hon. Lady's remarks on procedure, I am not quite sure to what she is referring, although she complains about the handling of statements. It is a matter of record that, in this Parliament, on average, the Government have made a statement every two sitting days. We have certainly made substantially more statements--just as we have taken substantially more questions at Prime Minister's Question Time--than the previous, Conservative Government made. I therefore do not think that it lies in the mouths of Conservative Members to complain about that matter.
The hon. Lady then gave a list of matters that she felt should be debated, including some Select Committee reports. She treated us again to her views on the Modernisation Committee, but I remind the House that a consequence of the work of that Committee is that we now have four to five times as much time for debating Select Committee reports, and more time for Back Benchers than was available under the previous Government.
In her list of matters not covered, the hon. Lady also included a draft transport Bill that she wanted to discuss. I am not quite sure where she was last year, but it is my recollection that we had a Transport Bill which became the Transport Act 2000.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): For all those who are genuinely concerned with the national interest, should it not be a matter for congratulation that foot and mouth is now well under control? Everyone involved should be congratulated on what has been done. May I also make what I hope will be seen as a helpful suggestion, relating to what we have just been discussing? Would it not be much better for statements on very serious policy matters to be made by the relevant Minister and not outside the House? Not only would that save a lot of perhaps unnecessary work, but the Opposition would of course have less to exploit.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the whole House should take pleasure--although I am not sure that everyone does--in the very considerable success in handling what has undoubtedly been a very difficult outbreak. I think that most sensible people congratulate all those who have been involved on the enormous work and effort that they have put in--often with a huge amount of second-guessing. Action that was demanded one week was criticised the next, and a great deal of undeserved abuse was heaped on the unfortunate heads of those who were doing most of the work to tackle the impact of the disease. My hon. Friend is entirely right about that.
As for how statements are handled, I hope that my hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Agriculture Minister hopes to make a statement shortly. Additionally, he answered a written parliamentary question on the matter this morning.