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Business of the House

12.31 pm

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

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

Monday 20 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Adoption and Children Bill.

Tuesday 21 May—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate on "Truancy and Discipline in Schools" followed by a debate on "Special Educational Needs". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 22 May—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill followed by a motion relating to the House of Commons Members' Fund.

Thursday 23 May—Remaining stages of the State Pension Credits Bill [Lords].

Friday 24 May—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

The provisional business for the first day after Whitsun recess will be:

Monday 10 June—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

I shall announce the business for the remainder of that week next Thursday, depending on progress in Committee.

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

Thursday 13 June—Debate on the report from the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee on passenger rail franchising and the future of railway infrastructure.

Thursday 20 June—Debate on equal opportunities in the Armed Forces.

Thursday 27 June—Debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on the research assessment exercise.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 12 June 2002, there will be a debate relating to the strategy for a future chemicals policy in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 12 June 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: 6671/01; Strategy for a future chemicals policy. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 28-xii (2000–01)].

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. May I remind him that on 7 May, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a statement on Wembley stadium? In it, she said:

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I am sure that the Leader of the House will recall that undertaking. Will he reassure the House, and give us his guarantee, that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will not come to the House on Friday 24 May with that statement? Although I and all other Conservative Members will be in our places here, I suspect that the Government believe that many of their friends and supporters may not be in theirs, as that is the day before the recess. Will the right hon. Gentleman say definitely that the statement on Wembley stadium promised for before the Whitsun recess will be made in Government time, and before Friday 24 May?

On 14 May we had a series of votes on resolutions concerning House matters. One motion stated:

Some 197 Members voted against it and 175 voted in favour, so the motion was defeated. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the House has opined that it is proper that there should be differences in remuneration among Members who bear different responsibilities. I support that proposition, and as I said in interventions during that debate, I will support it going further. Although we voted that Select Committee Chairmen should be paid more, I urge the Leader of the House to consider ways of establishing whether there might not be other categories of Members bearing additional responsibilities—

David Winnick (Walsall, North): The shadow Leader of the House.

Mr. Forth: Modesty forbids me, Mr. Speaker, but if hon. Members were to urge upon me additional pay, I cannot give an undertaking that I would not take it.

The serious point is this: given the view expressed by the House in the two motions of 14 May, will the Leader of the House give some thought as to whether we should look at this in a broader context to see whether it would be proper, reflecting the view of the House, to pay Members who bear additional responsibilities appropriately?

In today's edition of The Independent, that highly respected commentator, Donald Macintyre—a man who is familiar with matters within the Labour party—made a shocking statement. I want to quote it at some length, because I want the Leader of the House to look into the matter and come back to the House following his investigations. Mr. Macintyre said that

That is a reference to the Chancellor. The article continues:

Given all the praise that was larded on to Select Committees the other day and the fact that we have said that Select Committee Chairmen should be paid more for discharging their responsibilities, this is a very serious

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allegation. I ask the Leader of the House to investigate the matter and report to the House on whether the Government put undue pressure on members of the Treasury Select Committee and whether that Committee caved in, to use Mr. Macintyre's words, to that pressure. It is a very serious allegation, and if we are to take our Select Committees seriously, we must be guaranteed that that is wrong and would never happen.

Mr. Cook: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the business for next week. I shall try and respond to the points that came after that point of unity between us.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is well aware of the statement that she made to the House, and the matter is under active consideration. I note the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that there should be no statement on Friday 24 May; I am sure that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be here, of course, busily pursuing their duties. I have no doubt that many Opposition Members will be here too, and I look forward to a full report from my colleagues on the number of Opposition Members who attend.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. He will be aware that the matter concerns talks not only inside but outside Government and that others necessarily have to come to agreement before we can make a statement. However, I infer from what he said that he would find it more convenient if the statement were made on Tuesday 22 May, which is the Opposition Supply day.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about other people in the House who might merit enhanced pay. I find it slightly mysterious that one of the few people outside the Government who receives enhanced pay is the Opposition pairing Whip. I certainly concur with the right hon. Gentleman that, given the fact that the Opposition pairing Whip receives a supplement, and that he must have at least as much to do as the Opposition pairing Whip, the entitlement to enhanced pay might also be due to my shadow—

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Shadows.

Mr. Cook: I seemed to be carrying my audience with me when I held out a helping hand to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but I do not detect the same sympathy from the House for going beyond that.

The effect of the decision that we took on Tuesday is that the matter of pay for Chairs of Select Committees will be referred to the Review Body on Senior Salaries—the SSRB. Giving evidence or making a submission to the SSRB is of course open to any Member of the House—

David Winnick: Or the shadow Cabinet?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend really must not pinch all my punch lines. I was about to say that I look forward to the shadow Cabinet coming to a collective view on the matter so that we can know precisely where its members stand and so that the SSRB can take that into account. I warn them that it is often the practice of the SSRB to print the submissions that it receives and we look forward to reading that one.

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Mr. Don Macintyre is a journalist of distinction, with a well-crafted and well-pointed pen. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst quoted from a graphic and colourful interpretation of an event, but that event involved a majority on the Treasury Committee deciding that they did not wish to pursue a particular line of inquiry. I must point out that only two weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman stood at the Dispatch Box and praised the Select Committee for what it did. He cannot have it both ways—one week welcoming what the Committee says while in the next week deploring the views reached in that Committee by a majority of independent Members of the House.

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