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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): May I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that she will make a statement tomorrow on what is to happen on Friday to my excellent private Member's Bill, which will protect the interests of low-paid shop workers throughout the United Kingdom and which I am quite sure Her Majesty's Government strongly support?
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): To clarify that point, and in relation to the statement tomorrow, does the Leader of the House envisage that the House will sit from 11.30am to 7 pm on Thursday--or will it sit later? Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether she envisages any time for private Members' Bills on Friday, and does she envisage announcing the Dissolution on Friday or on Monday?
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is nothing in the business that she has announced for tomorrow--or, indeed, in the parliamentary business that she will announce tomorrow--that would keep the Deputy Prime Minister out of Scotland over the next wee while, or will he just be kept out because he would blow the gaff on the Government's plans to cut public spending in Scotland after the election?
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Will the Leader of the House arrange tomorrow to make a statement to the effect that the Government--or perhaps the House of Commons Commission--will refer to Sir Nigel Wicks and the Committee on Standards in Public Life the issue of the resourcing of the Commissioner's Office in the House and the procedure for the re-appointment of the Commissioner for Standards?
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Does the Leader of the House not think that she owes a public apology to Southend-on-Sea? Given that today is the first day in the history of Parliament that we have had an exhibition promoting the glories of Southend in the Upper Waiting Hall, will she urge all her colleagues to visit the exhibition before they go off to fight the election?
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I raise a matter that is of concern to all Members of the House, whichever their party? The Prime Minister has announced an election. Although I accept that it might be necessary to wait until tomorrow for details of how the House will conduct its affairs for the rest of the Parliament, is it not possible for the Leader of the House to tell us when the Dissolution of Parliament will take place, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)
Mrs. Beckett: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I understand his point. However, he will be aware, as there has long been an excellent analysis in the Library on this point, that if the general election is to be held on 7 June, the House will have to be dissolved on or before 14 May.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Why is this such a shambles? Is the Leader of the House the only person in the country who did not know that an election was planned? Is she the only person who was not let in on the secret? Have not the Government been planning for this election for more than four years, and should they not be able to tell us when this miserable Parliament is finally going to be dissolved?
Mrs. Beckett: I can only suggest that, not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman is suffering from an extraordinarily selective memory. If he looks at Hansards relating to this stage of past Parliaments, he will find that nothing I have said is in any way unusual.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will there be time for proceedings on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill to be completed tomorrow? If not, when will there be time for them to be completed? The Bill is widely supported by Members in all parts of the House, and the Welsh Assembly has worked closely with the Government in trying to secure its passage. If it is not possible to pass the Bill before dissolution, will that not constitute copper-bottomed evidence that the Assembly needs powers to make primary legislation?
Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that it will not be possible to deal with the Bill tomorrow--but, like other business that is before either House, it is very much in the Government's mind.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can the Leader of the House guarantee that the rights of the House to scrutinise the Government and hold them to account will in no way be compromised by this unseemly last-minute dash into an unnecessary election?
Mrs. Beckett: Certainly the House will continue to enjoy the rights that it has always enjoyed. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that he, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), has clearly forgotten this stage of every Parliament in which he has served.
'(1A) Any such report shall include details on the progress of implementing this Act and all new secondary legislation and guidance passed under this Act.'.
Schedule 1 deals with the setting up of the authority. On Second Reading I expressed disappointment at the fact that all its members would be appointed by the Secretary of State; nevertheless one of its duties will be to present him with an annual report which will then be placed in the House of Commons Library. We fear that the Bill, being a framework Bill, will leave a lot of detail to be dealt with later, and that there will not be as much parliamentary scrutiny of that detail as there could be.
This is a small amendment, and I shall not take up much of the House's time. I merely say that, in our view, it is unlikely that an authority set up by the Secretary of State will produce a report on its work over the year that will be in any way critical of what it has done during that period, or will draw attention to its shortcomings. The purpose of the amendment is merely to ensure that the report gives real information, and provides details of further legislation and the progress of this legislation during the year, rather than being a glossy annual document that is of no interest or use to anyone.
Mr. Charles Clarke: The Government do not disagree with the substance of the amendment, but in the spirit of the argument frequently advanced by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and her hon. Friends that there is no need to include in legislation requirement for action that would routinely be taken, I urge her to withdraw it.
I would expect the SIA's annual report to contain the information that the hon. Lady requests. Clause 1 obliges the authority to report on all the functions specified in that clause, which include the elements identified in the amendment. In the extraordinary event that the annual report did not contain such information, it would be open to the Secretary of State to direct the authority to provide it. I can certainly make a commitment on behalf of the present Government that a future Secretary of State would give such directions if they were necessary.
The precise content of the report will be a matter for the authority, but as I have said, the authority is required to report properly on the operation of its functions as set out in clause 1, and I cannot imagine how it would be possible to do that without including the information