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28 Nov 2002 : Column 461—continued

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

Monday 2 December—Until 7 o'clock there will be an Opposition half day [unallotted] on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party relating to policing in Northern Ireland.

A debate on the convention on the future of Europe.

Tuesday 3 December—Second Reading of the Communications Bill, followed by a motion relating to estimates.

Wednesday 4 December—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Thursday 5 December—Estimates [1st allotted Day].

There will be a debate on the Government's drugs policy. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 6 December—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions will deliver a statement on the local government settlement on Thursday 5 December.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 9 December—Second Reading of the Extradition Bill. Followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Tuesday 10 December—Second Reading of the European Parliament (Representation) Bill.

Wednesday 11 December—Motion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House.

Followed by a debate on European affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 12 December—Debate on DEFRA issues on a substantive motion covering agriculture and the environment.

Friday 13 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 12 December will be a debate on the XPowering Future Vehicles" strategy.

Hon Members : Oh!

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House, especially for that last item, which excited the House hugely.

Recently, we in the House of Commons have been through a so-called modernisation process. Our shift patterns have been changed, and we have a new single control centre—the Government Whips office. We have reduced the opportunities for second jobs and we are

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also about to reduce our head count, as there will be fewer Scottish MPs. In light of all that, when will Labour Members get a pay rise of 16 per cent?

Just the other day in the other place, Baroness Symons said that

A number of matters arise from that to which the Leader of the House would do well to give some thought. First, two Secretaries of State are responsible for one thing—the convention. Secondly, we have a Minister of State who answers oral and written questions on the convention in this House. Next Monday, however, one of the two Secretaries of State to whom I referred, the Secretary of State for Wales, will lead the debate on the convention. However, the real question is this: how can two Secretaries of State be responsible for exactly the same thing? More importantly, how will we have an opportunity in this House regularly to question and hold to account the Secretary of State for Wales on his role in the convention? The Foreign Office may well answer questions routinely at Question Time, but we want to get at the main man—we want the Secretary of State for Wales to be here, regularly, to answer questions. How will the Leader of the House arrange for that to happen?

On 26 November, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister's rather astonishing statement represents the Government's policy on this important matter? Can he clarify whether the recent modernisation moves are a sinister hidden agenda to ensure that Members can and should have no interests outside this House?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for inciting bids for a 16 per cent. pay rise. I have consulted the representative of the control centre with me on the Front Bench, and he wishes to discourage any such anticipation on the part of my colleagues.

Like many other Members, I have been offended to see claims that Members of Parliament have had a 40 per cent. pay increase. That may have come as something of a surprise to them. For the record, and for the avoidance of doubt, since the 1997 election, the first four years showed an average increase in MPs' pay of 3 per cent. In 2001 and again in 2002 we have had increases of around 5 per cent., which were, of course, the product of precisely the kind of independent review that is being resisted by the Fire Brigades Union. I hope that that will restore some balance to some of the imbalanced reports that we have seen.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to explain to him the principle of collective responsibility, which is the basis on which the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs work in total harmony. It is a principle that may have escaped the

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right hon. Gentleman, since I believe that he holds the record in the previous Parliament for rebelling on the Tory Benches against the Tory Whip. We, however, have a situation of total harmony and unity between those two Secretaries of State, both of whom speak for the Government. The right hon. Gentleman asks how Members can question the Secretary of State for Wales. My right hon. Friend will be here to take part in the debate on the convention of the future of Europe. If I may say so, that debate is the result of a request at business questions that we should have a debate on the Floor of the House on the future of the convention of Europe. For that reason, I hoped that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome it.

I am frightfully sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman's third point has slipped my mind.

Mr. Forth: The Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr. Cook: The Deputy Prime Minister speaks, as always, with great wisdom on these matters. I do not resile at all from what he said on that point. Indeed, if hon. Members consult Hansard about our debate on the change of hours, I made the very point that those who choose to spend their morning working on other matters should not dictate the hours for those in the House who are full-time professional Members of Parliament. The balance of the House has changed during my membership of it. The majority of Members are full-time Members of Parliament who are here on the precincts in the morning, and that certainly includes those on the Labour Benches. Of course we have no proposal to ban those who carry out other work. It is a matter for them and also for their constituents, who will no doubt bear it in mind.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The Leader of the House has, on many occasions since he took up his present post, emphasised the need for better scrutiny of the Government's legislation and has said that better scrutiny makes for better government. Can I draw his attention to the fact that the Criminal Justice Bill, which was published a week ago, with 293 pages, 273 clauses and 26 schedules, still has no explanatory notes? Members of Parliament who seek to get to grips with this controversial and complicated Bill are receiving no help whatever. Since it is not apparently to be the subject of any pre-legislative scrutiny, does the right hon. Gentleman think that this is a good example of what he has been promoting? Does he not think that Ministers should be told firmly that they are not to publish Bills until the explanatory notes are available?

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that, despite the useful change to ensure that written ministerial statements are listed properly instead of being hidden in the charade of planted questions, of the 22 listed in today's Order Paper only 18 were available in the Library immediately preceding business questions. I know that he understands that the purpose of the change—as the Modernisation Committee pointed out—was to ensure that all Members of the House, not just those who planted questions, were made aware of what was intended in the written statements. Will he please examine the matter again?

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I understand that yesterday there was a written statement on wind power policy, which was accompanied by a useful briefing document. However, sufficient supplies of that document were not available yesterday for all Members to be able to read it. That completely undermines the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee, so will he look into that?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman's references to power confirm what a high-powered Government we are.

I am aware of the difficulties in providing an explanatory memorandum for the Criminal Justice Bill and I have expressed my concern that it should be made available to Members at the earliest stage. I am advised that the text will be supplied today to the Clerk of Legislation in the Public Bill Office who is responsible for ordering it to be printed and laid before the House, and it will be available from tomorrow. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It should have been made available sooner.

I felt that the hon. Gentleman slightly forced his point when he said that only 18 of the 22 statements were available. To put it the other way around, it means that when he inquired—the situation may have changed since then—only four of the 22 were not available. The House should keep a sense of perspective. As I have said before, we aim to get all the written statements in by 12.30, but in the old days of planted questions, the planted answers would have been available only from 12.30 and many of them would not have been produced until long after that. We should not regard the change as a step backwards; on the contrary, it is very much a step forward in terms of transparency and ease of access and identification in Hansard—witness the way in which Members are now able to tease me on the point.

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