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31 Oct 2002 : Column 1003—continued

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the annual calendar that we have brought in. I believe that it will enable right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to plan more effectively for the use of their time in their constituencies. In the spirit of amity, I was much distressed to see in today's edition of the Daily Mail that he was described as dressing

I thought that grossly unfair to the right hon. Gentleman, who brings colour to our lives. I urge him to pay no attention either to that or any of the other points in the Daily Mail.

On the pre-Budget report, I anticipate that it will take place at roughly the same time this year as it has done in previous years. Plainly, it is important that the official Opposition and other parties get good notice of it. If it is not possible for me to do that through the business statement, we will certainly ensure that it is done through other channels.

The debate in Westminster Hall is, strictly speaking, on international terrorism; the debate in the Chamber is on domestic defence. I am conscious, though, of the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. We are obligated to have the debate in the Chamber today because, under the present agreement, we are obligated to have five days for defence debates in the House each Session, and we must get it in this week if we are to meet that obligation. We will try to avoid such a coincidence in future. I warmly welcome the fact that his observation on Westminster Hall is the kindest that he has yet brought himself to make about it. [Interruption.] I would not wish to hear that the right hon. Gentleman was mellowing. That would be a great disappointment to all of us.

On the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, the House will have a full day to debate those matters next week, and I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of making sure that the time is available for that. There is a big set of issues before us that day, to which the Government attach the greatest importance. I hope that Opposition Members who have spent the past year demanding vigorous action from the Government on asylum will not undermine their own statements by failing to support the Government in the vigorous action that is contained in the Bill.

Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman invited me to make an instruction to my colleagues in the Cabinet. If he will forgive me, I shall try to find more emollient, less challenging language. Of course, I totally endorse his view that the first call on any Secretary of State must be to be in the House to answer questions here, and I think that that will remain the case. I cannot exclude the possibility that, from time to time, there may be occasions when the House would recognise that there may be other competing calls—for instance, the necessity sometimes to represent Britain's case in

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European Council meetings. [Hon. Members: XAh!"] Opposition Members would be the first to criticise us if any of my colleagues let the British case go unstated on such important occasions. With those very few limited exceptions, yes, of course the first call on any Secretary of State will be to be in the Chamber for Question Time, and I do not anticipate that the change in time will make any difference to that.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The Leader of the House has given us details of the debates on the Queen's Speech. May I draw his attention to an apparent anomaly? Although we debate at great length the contents of the Queen's Speech, it seems that we are not permitted to be given the Government's views on the status and format of that speech. Will he comment on the report in The Times yesterday headlined XCourtiers move to let the Queen speak her mind"? Is there any intention for future years, if not for this year, to disentangle the Government's declaration of their intentions from the direct statement from the sovereign?

On the modernisation package that was approved by the House on Tuesday evening, will the Leader of the House correct the impression given, perhaps inadvertently, by the Conservative spokesman that business will end at 7 pm? Does he accept that the motion that we passed refers to the moment of interruption, and that it would be possible, for example, to have private Member's business after 7.30 pm or whenever the Adjournment has taken place, or before the Adjournment? There are possibilities there.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Hansard's report of the proceedings last night, when the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), speaking from the Back Benches, gave a lively performance? I do not know whose hospitality fuelled it, but it was certainly lively. Has the Leader of the House subsequently seen in The Daily Telegraph this morning that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is described by one of his senior colleagues as being Xout of control"? Will he deprecate any statement that any right hon. or hon. Member should be under anybody's control, let alone the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is famous for his independence of mind, and let alone under the control of his leader?

Mr. Cook: I can well understand why the right hon. Gentleman's leader might wish to bring him back under control. I read in my copy of The Daily Telegraph this morning over breakfast—always the first paper to which I turn—that he has been saying that he has 80 Conservatives ready to sign a motion of no confidence in his leader. If true, that would certainly worry his leader, as I understand that it would take only 90 votes to carry such a motion. However, it is not for me to pry into that interesting and mysterious relationship.

On the Queen's Speech, I also read the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I was, frankly, rather mystified by it. We have no plans to change the nature of the Queen's Speech and I am not aware of any proposal from the palace that it be changed. The speech will continue within the broad parameters that it has, by convention, followed for a long time.

The hon. Gentleman was right in his observations about what happens at 7 pm. I tried to draw attention to the issue in my winding-up speech on Tuesday night. We

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have moved forward by three hours the start and close of the proceedings of the House. I deprecate newspaper reports suggesting that we have cut our hours. We have not done so; the hours of debate remain constant. What we have moved forward is the time at which the main business comes to a close, when there is a moment of interruption before any other business may begin. During this Session, we have become accustomed to not taking other business after the moment of interruption, but as I said on Tuesday, I cannot guarantee that that will always happen. However, I am conscious that the House voted on Tuesday for an earlier start and finish and I caution hon. Members against already starting to unpick that only two days later.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): On the decisions that we made on Tuesday, will the Leader of the House commit to having the widest possible consultation with hon. Members about the practical mechanisms for implementing them? People are not clear and they have views. The widest possible discussion will enable those new arrangements to work well.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but before I deal with her point, may I return to an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), which I regret having overlooked? It would be my intention to have business statements on the Thursdays to which he referred. If that should change for any reason, we will ensure that he is informed. The reason why we will have no business statement next Thursday is not that the House is adjourning, but that it is the last day of the Session, so technically, I have no other business to announce for the Session. However, since the dates that I announced will all fall in the same Session, I anticipate that a business statement would normally be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made an important point. I intend to write to all hon. Members setting out the implications of Tuesday's decisions, how we will proceed with them and when they will come into effect. Of course, I am happy to consult Members and staff to ensure that their introduction is as smooth as possible and also as consensual as possible, consistent with the fact that the House reached a decision. I hope that, over the next year, we can arrive at a situation in which all Members believe that they voted for the changes, even if they did not do so.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Is the Leader of the House aware that the air travel trust fund operated by the Civil Aviation Authority is #9 million in debt, and that, in reply to a question that I asked about the issue, one of his right hon. Friends offered to find space in parliamentary time for the introduction of primary legislation enabling the application of a levy to the industry to make good the debt? Is he further aware that no such time has been made available? If a major charter company went bankrupt, there would be severe difficulties in returning affected passengers to this country. Will he therefore enlighten the House as to whether there will be space in the Queen's Speech and time in the next legislative Session for that primary legislation to be put before the House?

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