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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May I ask the Leader of the House for 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:

Monday 22 April—Continuation of the Budget debate, in which the theme for the day will be enterprise and opportunity for all.

Tuesday 23 April—Conclusion of the Budget debate, in which the theme for the day will be health.

Wednesday 24 April—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an Humble Address to celebrate the golden jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that there is an all-party consensus. Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill will follow. That will be followed by consideration of a Lords consequential amendment to the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords].

Thursday 25 April—There will be a debate on international development on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 26 April—There will be a debate on the quality of life in local communities on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 29 April—Second Reading of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 30 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 1 May—Second Reading of a Bill making the necessary legislative changes to national insurance following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Thursday 2 May—There will be a debate on Wales in the world on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the approbation of the House.

Friday 3 May—The House will not be sitting.

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

Thursday 2 May—A debate on women and information technology.

Thursday 9 May—A debate on the report from the Trade and Industry Committee on the end of life vehicles directive.

Thursday 16 May—A debate on the report from the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee on empty homes.

Thursday 23 May—A debate on the role of the United Nations.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 1 May, there will be a debate relating to the promotion of the use of biofuels in road transport in European Standing Committee A.

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[Wednesday 1 May 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: 15500/01, Promotion of the use of biofuels in road transport; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 152-xix, HC 152-xxii, (2001–02).]

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us that notification of the business. Will he please find Government time in the very near future for a debate on the future of agriculture? It is a very long time since we have had such a debate. Since the very damaging effects of foot and mouth, given that there was nothing in the Budget for agriculture or rural communities, and as it would appear that the countryside is in general revolt, I would have thought it was in the interests of the Government, and certainly of the House as a whole, that we had a full day's debate on the future of agriculture in order that we can sort out those matters.

I was interested in the announcement of consideration on 1 May of a Bill on national insurance. I know that 1 May used to have a political significance, of which the Government obviously do not want to remind us, but perhaps it is an appropriate day to debate such a Bill. As the Bill obviously has major tax and policy implications, will have an effect on both individuals and businesses and we will surely need a considerable amount of time in order properly to consider it, and in essence, reality and substance it is a taxation Bill, will it or at least its substantial aspects be dealt with on the Floor of the House? Will the Leader of the House guarantee adequate time in Committee, either on the Floor of the House or Upstairs, for all its implications to be considered?

National insurance increases of the kind the Chancellor mentioned yesterday represent a major policy and directional shift by the Government. I hope that we can have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the House will be able properly to consider them in all their aspects.

On the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, the Leader of the House will know that, under consistent pressure, the Government have been forced to notify the Bill to the authorities of the European Union. It was only as late as 28 March that notification was finally made, as is required by a number of EU directives. Member states are obliged to notify Bills that have an impact on the internal market.

The purpose of notification is to provide an opportunity for the Commission and other member states to comment if they consider that the proposed legislation has the potential to create a technical barrier to trade. Given that, and given that it is also a requirement that any resultant substantial changes to legislation must be allowed for, can the Leader of the House tell me whether he believes we can embark on the Bill's Second Reading during the notification period or, more important, on its Committee and Report stages. I know that this is one of the obvious benefits of our membership of the European Union, but it strikes me that there are considerable implications for the procedures of this House and the timing of legislation, not least this Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can advise us how far he believes the Government can take this Bill during the period of notification, which may indeed be extended beyond the initial three-month period starting from 28 March.

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Finally, I remind the House of the sensational developments that occurred in this place on 15 April when the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said to Mr. Deputy Speaker at col. 420:

He went on to say in column 421:

Later in column 421 he referred to communications between the City corporation and the Prime Minister, and asked in column 422 whether we could

The hon. Gentleman finally repeated his belief in column 422 that

In my 19 years in this House I do not think that I have ever heard a Government Back Bencher accuse his Prime Minister of corruption, of abuse and of tainting the procedures of the House. These are very serious allegations. Given that the Prime Minister is the custodian of the ministerial code of conduct, who will implement and police that code of conduct in the context of these very serious allegations? It is a matter for the House, and something to which we are therefore obliged to return. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow time urgently and soon for the House to go into these very serious allegations, and possibly for the Prime Minister to appear so that he can answer them.

Mr. Cook: Let me seek to respond to the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised; I will save until the end the serious issue of substance in respect of the forthcoming national insurance Bill.

On agriculture and the countryside, I am well aware of the feeling in a number of quarters in the House that it would be valuable to have a debate on the countryside. I am not resistant to that, but it has to join the many other things that we have to consider. However, I think that the right hon. Gentleman was rather unfair about spending on the countryside as farming and rural businesses have received substantial support in the wake of the foot and mouth outbreak.

On the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that an issue is being pursued in Brussels that conforms with the regulations there. It is being pursued in parallel with the legislation here, and I would greatly regret it if the House decided to suspend proceedings on the Bill. It is a very important health measure that will literally save lives, and it has substantial support on both sides of the Chamber. I therefore hope that we can proceed in parallel with the discussions in Brussels. I am confident that my colleagues there will put up a robust case and that those in Brussels will agree with us. The Bill is not a barrier to trade but it is a barrier to cancer and therefore deserves the support of all Members.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Tell them to get stuffed.

Mr. Cook: I thought that I had just done so, but in a rather more parliamentary way.

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I hope that the right hon. Gentleman gave notice to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that he was going to name him in his question. I note that my hon. Friend is not here. Given the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman quoted him, it would have been fair to give my hon. Friend advance notice. In mitigation, however, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be intensely flattered to have been quoted at such length by the Opposition.

On the issue of substance, I think that the right hon. Gentleman rather overdid the synthetic rage. The City of London (Ward Elections) Bill has come before the House on many occasions and has been debated exhaustively. I thought that it was supported by the Conservatives, but I may have misunderstood the Opposition's relationship with the City of London. I am sure that people in the City will read the right hon. Gentleman's observations with interest.

Technically, of course, any business motion is tabled in the name of the Prime Minister. The motion to dispose of the Bill was a collective decision of Government as, although it is a private Bill, it has been before the House many times. I assumed that the motion would have been welcomed by those Conservative Members who support the Bill. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's indignation is especially synthetic because, whereas the motion was to suspend the 10 o'clock rule, proceedings on the Bill got nowhere near 10 o'clock but had been concluded by 8 o'clock.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an issue of substance in connection with the national insurance Bill. He reminded the House that 1 May is a date of deep significance. It is the anniversary of the historic landslide with which the Labour party pushed the Conservative party into opposition. It is the date from which we were able to address the previous Conservative Government's under-investment in the health service. We are proud that, over the course of two Parliaments since 1 May 1997, we will have doubled the investment in the national health service that we inherited. The national insurance Bill is important in enabling us to do that, and for that reason will be supported by all Labour constituents, and by most Conservative constituents.

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