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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week, please?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 21 January—Second Reading of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Opposition Day [8th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "Failings in the Public Services" on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 23 January—Remaining stages of the International Development Bill [Lords].

Thursday 24 January—Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details have been given in the Official Report, Thursday 10 January 2002, columns 673-75.

Friday 25 January—Private Members' Bills.

Provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 28 January—Remaining stages of the Civil Defence (Grant) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Tuesday 29 January—Opposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 30 January—Motion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2002-3.

Motion on the Local Government (Finance) Report 2002-3.

Thursday 31 January—Remaining stages of the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Environmental Impact Assessment (Uncultivated Land and Semi-Natural Areas) (England) Regulations 2001.

Motion to approve the Administration Committee Report on the reopening of the Line of Route.

Friday 1 February—Debate on implementing the Learning Disability White Paper on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the beginning of February will be:

Thursday 7 February—Debate on Child Health and Maternity.

Thursday 14 February—Debate on the report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on relocation following paramilitary intimidation.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 23 January 2002, there will be a debate relating to the Barcelona Process and assistance to Palestinian Society in European Standing Committee B. [Relevant European Union documents: 11381/00, Reinvigorating the Barcelona Process; 14778/00 Assistance to Palestinian

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Society; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 28-vii (2001-02); HC 23-xxvii and HC 23-xxix(1999-02).]

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business. Will he confirm that it is the Government's intention to hold the annual St. David's day debate in the usual way? If so, will he—as soon as possible, please—give us the date when that debate will take place? He will understand that the Opposition are very keen to hold that debate, as we have many points to make in it, so it would help not only us but, I am sure, the whole House if we could have the date as early as possible.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recall, because you take a close interest in such matters, that the Public Administration Committee, in its excellent report of last December on the ministerial code, stated on page viii, paragraph (f):

The Government reply stated:

Then just last week, the Deputy Prime Minister, no less, said:

The Deputy Prime Minister, with all the weight and majesty of his office and his personality, then said:

Against that background, Mr. Speaker, are you not as disturbed as I am that the Secretary of State for Health, having said outside the House that his statement was the most important policy statement that he had made during his tenure of office, then went and made it outside the House and had to be summoned here by virtue of the fact that you, Mr. Speaker, granted a private notice question?

Mr. Speaker: Order. It looks as though the right hon. Gentleman is drawing the occupant of the Chair into his argument. His questions should be addressed to the Leader of the House, not to me.

Mr. Forth: Oh, I do apologise, Mr. Speaker, for giving you the credit—I will try not to do that again.

The point is a very serious one, is it not? The Committee has made a statement; the Deputy Prime Minister, no less, has agreed that the Committee was correct and made a commitment on behalf of the Government that something would happen; but then we find that we have to use devices to get Ministers to come here and do what the Government said they should do in any case. Even worse than that, apparently that mysterious person "a No. 10 spokesman" said at the briefing yesterday that he thought it impossible for all statements to be made in the House. We need clarification of that.

The Deputy Prime Minister said what he said in good faith. The Health Secretary was dodging and weaving outside the House and had to be brought in here. Now we

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find that No. 10 is effectively calling the shots and saying, "None of this matters; pay no attention to it; its all irrelevant trivia." We must get to the bottom of this, and we must get it sorted out, otherwise the only interpretation that we can place on it is that the Government are holding the House in complete contempt.

May I finally ask the Leader of the House whether he will make time for some clarification of a very important matter indeed that came up during Prime Minister's questions? Yesterday, in referring to the Saville inquiry, the Prime Minister said:

However, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said that he believed that that could not possibly be the real total. He said:

He went on to say that he thought that the inquiry's real, true total cost right across government was greatly in excess of £52 million. Is it not time that the House had an opportunity to get the full picture and, indeed, to express its view on it? Whatever the figure is—whether it is "as little as £52 million", as the Prime Minister seemed to imply, or much more—when will we get the chance to say whether we think that it represents value for money; whether it is a proper use of public funds; and what the view of the House of Commons is on the matter? Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a very early opportunity for that matter to be explored and debated?

Mr. Cook: May I first congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on attempting to speak for Wales? That is a bit rich given the nature of the Conservative representation from Wales. When we have such a debate, of course, the Conservative party's position at the Dispatch Box will be occupied by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). I know that Wales is a country of valleys, but that is really not a satisfactory basis on which to claim to speak for Wales. Yes, I am sure that we will have the traditional debate when the time comes, and it will demonstrate once again the extent to which the Conservative party does not have support in and cannot speak for Wales.

On the issue of the announcements of Government policy, in the speech that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health made on Tuesday, he was taking forward announcements that had already been made in the course of the 10-year plan. Indeed, the Conservative party normally complains that we keep making the same statement too often. My right hon. Friend had already made that statement once. He came to the House, and he answered perfectly adequately on that occasion. May I say in defence of my right hon. Friend that he will have debated health matters in the Chamber on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which reflects the priority that the Labour party attaches to health?

May I also gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he wants to encourage Ministers always to announce policy first in the House of Commons, he could have set an example last Thursday when we debated the White Paper on Lords reform. He was invited several times by my hon. Friends and me to announce the Opposition's policy, but he refused to do so. However, on

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Sunday, we discovered that they had a fully formed policy which was disclosed courtesy of The Sunday Telegraph, not the most pluralist of vehicles by which we can inquire into that policy. [Interruption.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman is not a Minister, and we will do our best to make sure that he never is.

On the Saville inquiry, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was asked about its cost and he gave a perfectly correct, precise and accurate reply. The cost of the inquiry is met by the Northern Ireland Office and it is precisely the figure quoted by my right hon. Friend. Of course, parties to the inquiry and those supporting those giving evidence will have their owns costs on top of that. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Of course, they will, and no one has ever denied that, but that is not the cost of the inquiry. [Laughter.] Well, on that basis, every time we have an inquiry and any organisation prepares itself for and gives evidence to it, it will register that as part of the cost.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) included in the costs Lord Saville's salary. If we had not had the public inquiry—whatever the Opposition might think about it—we would not have sacked Lord Saville. His salary would have continued to have been paid and would have continued to be a constant factor in public spending. As to the bottom line, there is a matter of public policy to be debated and I would very much welcome Opposition Members' views as to whether they believe that lawyers' fees are too high. However, I do not dispute the fact that we are right to have had the inquiry so that the full facts can be known and so that we can demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland that we have nothing to hide.

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