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Business of the House

12.56 pm

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

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I should be delighted. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing us to take his time for the question.

Monday 4 March—Remaining stages of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Tuesday 5 March—Opposition Day for the minority parties. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Government Support for Mr. Mittal and the Domestic Steel Industry" followed by a debate entitled "Process of Consent for New Nuclear Power Stations in Scotland and Wales". Both debates arise on a motion in the names of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.

Wednesday 6 March—Remaining stages of the Office of Communications Bill [Lords].

Thursday 7 March—Estimates [2nd Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on policy on environmental taxation followed by a debate on the deployment of Ministry of Defence resources in the war against terrorism.

At 7 o'clock the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 8 March—Debate on police on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 11 March—Progress on remaining stages of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords].

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 12 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 13 March—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 14 March—Debate on women and equality on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 15 March—Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Monday 18 March there will be a debate on hunting. In the Queen's Speech we promised that we would enable a free vote to take place on the future of hunting with dogs. The Government will table a motion enabling the House to express its view in a free vote between the three options. A similar vote will take place in the House of Lords.

Following those votes my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs intends to bring forward, before the Easter recess, our proposals to resolve the issue.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 13 March, there will be a debate relating to European transport policy in European Standing Committee A and a debate relating to cosmetic products in European Standing Committee C.

[Wednesday 13 March 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union documents: 11932/01, Commission White Paper; European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide.

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12597/01, Draft Decision amending Decision No 1692/96/EC on Community guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 152-xv, (2001-02).

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union document: Unnumbered EM submitted by DTI dated 14 November 2001; Amended draft Council Directive amending for the seventh time Council Directive 76/768/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to cosmetic products. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 152-vii; HC 152-xix (2001-02).]

Finally, may I make a personal statement regarding my answer at last Business questions to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) a fortnight ago? At the time, I said that

which I accept is difficult to reconcile with all that we have since learned. More seriously, I said that

The Mirror has since recorded that it was misled as to the contents of the e-mail and that it was not addressed to Jo Moore. But there was an e-mail. I would not have used those words had I been aware of that at the time.

I enjoy our Thursday exchanges and I always seek to be accurate, if combative, in my replies. I regret that on the last occasion I was not in possession of accurate information. I apologise to the House for having, in all good faith, misled it, and to The Mirror for having done it an injustice.

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. I also thank him for what he has just said so graciously, but may I suggest, to round off that little matter, that he may want to come to the House on another occasion, following the inquiries that I have no doubt he is continuing to make as to the source of the misinformation that he was so regrettably given and the actions that he and the Cabinet propose to take to ensure that such things do not happen again? That would serve not only the House, but the Government—not to mention the right hon. Gentleman himself.

We have heard the announcement that the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill will be debated on Monday. We have been told that one day is being allocated to consider that Bill on Report and Third Reading. The House must be aware—if not, it is about to become aware—that 32 clauses and seven schedules to that Bill were not even considered in Committee, and that some 68 amendments have already been tabled for debate on Report stage of what is a 92 clause and 13 schedule Bill.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider, even at this stage, whether one day is remotely adequate to consider that number of amendments to a Bill of that size? Will he also give an undertaking that, if any Government amendment is tabled to that Bill between now and Monday, further time will made available properly to consider any such amendment? I hope that he will give that issue very serious consideration, because that important Bill contains some very controversial elements and it must receive proper consideration.

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Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you said:

Already, less than 24 hours after you said that, Mr. Speaker, we have had the unedifying spectacle of a humiliated Chancellor, who, having tried to slip out a White Paper under the guise of Question Time, was then obliged to turn a question into a pseudo-statement; but even then he gave no advance warning to my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor of the contents of what he was going to say, which he then garbled and babbled out at the Dispatch Box in a properly embarrassed manner.

What on earth can you now do, Mr. Speaker? In your typically generous way, you suggested to the House yesterday that you expected Ministers to respond to what you had said, but you said that you could use your discretion. Not only do I ask the Leader of the House to give an undertaking that he will use his influence to ensure that we do not have any more of this, but I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look again at the discretion that you said you might use, because the House is now being abused on a daily basis by the most senior members of the Government who seemingly do not care any more whether the conventions of the House are adhered to. That is regrettable and demeaning to everyone involved, not least to the Chancellor himself on this occasion.

We have now heard the confirmation of what has been widely speculated on in press: we will have debates on the subject of saving foxes, hares and failed Secretaries of State. The debate will have to take that form, will it not? We now know—I want the Leader of the House to confirm or to deny this—that there is a causal link between the parliamentary Labour party's support for the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the not coincidental announcement almost immediately afterwards that some raw meat is to be thrown to the parliamentary Labour party.

Will the Leader of the House confirm categorically and on the record that there is no question of any link whatever between the support given by the parliamentary Labour party to the Transport Secretary and the almost immediate announcement of a debate on hunting? If it were ever to emerge that there was any truth in that, it would be seen as the most cynical ploy. It must be a perfect example of the countryside being sacrificed to a Secretary of State at bay.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me deal with his points one at a time.

First, I will continue to reflect on anything useful that I am told with regard to the matter that I dealt with in my statement. However, the matter has been discussed exhaustively in the past three days. I am a humble man and there is nothing that I can usefully add to what has already been said.

On the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, many of the amendments that have been tabled for next week are in the Government's name and are of a technical character. Indeed, in some cases, they are on issues that have been raised by others, to which we want to respond positively.

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We are confident that the Bill can be properly dealt with in one day if the House is businesslike in its approach. I hope that we can deliver on that next week.

I am strongly in favour of making statements when it is appropriate and necessary to do so. However, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the four and a half years since 1997, this Government have made more statements to the House than were made in any four-and-a-half-year period under the preceding Conservative Government. When I was the shadow spokesman on international affairs, they frequently produced documents on Europe without even the courtesy that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has just given the House of an additional half-hour of questioning.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, who is fecund in his imagination, on having managed to bring the Secretary of State for Transport into the discussion on hunting. [Interruption.] I would not deny the right hon. Gentleman the credit for having done so. On this occasion, he is hunting a red herring—not worthy of me, but I could not resist it. I assure the House that the decision was taken last week, well before anything was said by Mr. Sixsmith to The Sunday Times, and well before any discussion in the House on the Secretary of State.

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