Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Has the Leader of the House had time to read early-day motion 619?

[That this House believes that the Halifax, Yorkshire's biggest financial company, must keep its headquarters in Halifax, the town whose name it takes; does not accept that all major financial centres in the UK should be located only in capital cities; notes that Leeds is a growing centre of financial excellence and that if the headquarters are moved to Edinburgh this would be a major blow to the Yorkshire Region as a place in which to invest and locate.]

It has been signed by 87 Members and opposes the relocation to Scotland of the headquarters of the Halifax bank, in the event of a merger between it and the Bank of Scotland. Feelings are running so high in my constituency against such a relocation that the Halifax Evening Courier produced a special edition to oppose it. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Government for a statement on the issue, which is vital to investment in Halifax and the wider Yorkshire region?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's clearly expressed concern and the Evening Courier deserves praise for ensuring that an issue of such importance to the local community is raised in that way. My hon. Friend and others also deserve praise for the way in which they have raised the issue. We are keen for organisations to take factors such as the impact on local communities into account when they make their decisions. I fear, however, that those decisions are ultimately a commercial matter for the company, although I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of any of my right hon. Friends who have any standing on the issue.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Historically, the Government have purported to support the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, but Government Whips last night were actively discouraging Ministers from voting for further progress on the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): If only that were true.

Mr. Brooke: Effectively, that prevented the Under- Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), who heard the debate, from stating the Government's current position with regard to the Bill. In the circumstances, may we have a statement on the Government's position?

Mrs. Beckett: With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has long campaigned on this matter on behalf of his constituents, he will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) say, "If only that were true."

Mr. Mackinlay: In the period of quarantine that will prevail during the general election and until the following

3 May 2001 : Column 997

Queen's Speech, will it be possible for the Government to reflect on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill and decide that it should not be resuscitated? If a motion on that matter is put to the House, should not it be subject to a free vote? There is no majority in the House in favour of this squalid little Bill, and the sooner it is consigned to the dustbin, the better.

Mrs. Beckett: With respect to my hon. Friend, the Bill is private business. Its resuscitation is therefore not a matter for the Government. It has always been subject to a free vote, precisely because it is private business. That will no doubt remain the case if it is reintroduced.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on the extraordinary actions of Barnet council, which is under joint Labour and Liberal Democrat control? Last year, it targeted the half of the borough in which it thought that its greatest support lay, and sent a letter encouraging postal voting to every householder. At the beginning of the year, it promised to do the same for the other half of the borough. It printed the letters, but then took the political decision not to take any further action. Will the right hon. Lady at least condemn what is political gerrymandering of the worst type?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not precisely familiar with the situation in Barnet to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but, in the light of what he has said, I wonder whether there was a great deal of criticism of the council for taking the steps that it did, and whether that has anything to do with his question.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Bearing in mind the expeditious way in which the House has dealt with business this week, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week on today's announcement by Corus, which makes it clear that the company never had any intention of changing its plans to sack 6,000 workers in the United Kingdom? Such a debate would give us the opportunity to show that Plaid Cymru was more concerned to back Corus in this matter than to support the Government's attempts to get the company back on track and keep workers in jobs. It would also give the House a chance to show how effectively the Government have responded to the Corus debacle--for example, they have provided some £66 million in Wales to try to ensure that steelworkers receive adequate compensation and the opportunity for new jobs.

Mrs. Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that it would be desirable to find time for such a debate, as it would make plain how much the Government have done to try to help people in that difficult situation. It would also expose those more concerned with scoring political points. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate next week.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): The right hon. Lady is assiduous is carrying out her duties as Leader of the House, and enjoys the respect of hon. Members. However, I hope she will agree that it is wrong that major policy announcements should be made by the Prime Minister's press secretary when, 10 minutes before that announcement, the Prime Minister had steadfastly refused

3 May 2001 : Column 998

to do make the same announcement in the House. The same is true of announcements by any press secretary and any Minister. The right hon. Lady has always stood up for the House's rights; will she do so on this occasion by agreeing with me?

Mrs. Beckett: That is a good try, but no such major announcement of a change in policy was made. That has already been made plain, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that the issue was aired earlier today.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on asylum? That would give the House an opportunity to discuss the success of the Government's Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, particularly the success of the civil penalties, which have had a dramatic effect on the numbers of illegal immigrants coming into the port of Dover, and of the accelerated process, which means that the backlog of unheard cases is at a 10-year low? In addition, the success of the dispersal system has meant that since last April hardly a single new asylum seeker has been placed in the port of Dover.

Is my right hon. Friend encouraged by the comments of the Conservative leader of Kent county council, who told Radio 5 just last week:

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is quite correct. I am encouraged to learn that the leader of Kent county council is, at least on this occasion, more in touch with the real world than those who represent his party in this House. My hon. Friend is entirely right to identify that there is merit in paying attention to the accelerated process in dealing with the backlog. I find it hard to keep a straight face when I hear Conservative Members talk about their record on asylum, when people waited years and years, not least in my constituency, without any decision being taken. My hon. Friend is also quite correct to identify this as an area in which Government policy has tackled a problem of enormous consequences that we inherited. I fear, however, that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on it next week.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Is it not time that we had a proper debate in the House about the real role of Alastair Campbell in the Government? Yesterday, the Prime Minister waffled about missile defence. Just after that, we are told, Mr. Campbell gave a clear statement on the Government's policy on missile defence. Today, we have had the unedifying spectacle of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs being not quite unable to deny what Alastair Campbell had said but trying to waltz around it in his gnomic way. Can we please have a debate in which it will be made clear beyond all doubt what the role of this man, Alastair Campbell, is in Government? Is he running the Government, does he speak for the Government, does he decide policy? Why is a Secretary of State unable to deny to the House what Alastair Campbell is reported as having said the previous day?

Mrs. Beckett: All I can say is that it is a clear indication of the priorities of Conservative Members that they spend so much time on this kind of nit-picking point

3 May 2001 : Column 999

and are not the slightest bit interested in debating issues of major importance such as the economy, on which they have nothing at all to say.

Next Section

IndexHome Page