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9 Jan 2003 : Column 317continued
Monday 13 JanuaryOpposition Day [2nd allotted day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled XFailure of the Home Secretary to Provide a Credible Criminal Justice System", followed by a debate entitled XFailure of the Government's Drugs Policy". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 14 JanuaryUntil about 4 o'clock there will be an Opposition half day [unallotted] on a motion in the name of the Ulster Unionist party entitled XThe Future of Education in Northern Ireland", followed by a debate on the London bid for the 2012 Olympic games on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
The House will wish to know that there will be a further debate during the week commencing 3 February in which Members will have an opportunity to vote on the seven options recommended by the Joint Committee.
Mr. Knight: I thank the Leader of the House for his reply. We are rather surprised that he has announced a debate on defence in the world for 22 January. Does not he recall that we had a debate on that very subject on 17 October last year, less than three months ago? The next defence debate that the House was expecting was one on defence procurement. With so many decisions awaited on new defence equipment, should not Members on both sides of the House be given an opportunity to raise those issues in debate? Why is he allowing Defence Ministers to dodge scrutiny on such issues, when many Members, including a large number
Flooding remains a serious issue that has returned to devastate parts of the UK over the past few days, with many people suffering severe losses and the trauma of being forced to flee their homes. In view of changing weather patterns, it is clear that much more needs to be done. May we have an early debate on the Government's strategy on this now near annual emergency? It is important that the House is able to examine what is being done following the warning given by the Institution of Civil Engineers as long ago as 2001. It said that the Government's plans were Xpiecemeal and inadequate" and it concluded that spending on flood defences ought to be doubled. If the recommendations in the report have not been fully implemented, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government must take most of the blame for the scale of the latest devastation?
On the subject of modernisation, has the Leader of the House any plans to improve and update the way in which members of the Cabinet communicatenot with the public, but with each other? May we have an early debate on that? Is he aware of the widespread concern that there has been a complete breakdown in Government collective responsibility this week? That is not just our viewthe newspapers have been full of it. The Independent of 8 January said:
I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should be surprised that we are holding a debate on defence in the world. Quite a lot has happened to defence in the world since 17 October, and I remind him of a technical but important point. The previous debate took place in another parliamentary Session; we are committed to holding a debate on defence in the world in each parliamentary Session. That is why we have again tabled the subject for debate. I will, of course, consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on whether he wishes to hold that debate or the other debate on defence procurement on that day. However, I have often observed the House of Commons in action and noted the ingenuity of Members, and I do not think that it is beyond their skill to find a way to bring within order comments on an aircraft carrier in a debate on defence in the world, to which they are plainly relevant.
I am pleased to report that there have been substantial increases in spending on flood prevention since the last floods and since the observation was made in 2001. That may partly explain why fewer houses were inundated during these floods than there were two years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman asked us to double spending on flood prevention, but that would be very difficult to achieve in the context of a 20 per cent. reduction in spending, which is the formal policy of the Opposition. I remain to be convinced about whether they can flesh it out, but we have an hour of questions before us, so I shall welcome, and take careful note of, observations from any Conservative Member who wishes to propose a 20 per cent. cut in public spending in his or her constituency. I will make sure that the Government act on that request.
The right hon. Gentleman is perhaps guilty of wish fulfilment by claiming that the Cabinet is falling apart at the seams. The Lord Chancellor and I have repeatedly said, including in statements to the House last summer, that there will be a free vote on House of Lords reform. It is a bit inconsistent for the right hon. Gentleman's party to welcome our commitment to a free vote in Parliament so that it can settle the matter but then complain that there is not a collective decision in the Government on what Parliament should vote for.
I am glad to take this opportunity to say that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has played an excellent role in ensuring that the Iraqi crisis is dealt with in the United Nations and that it is kept firmly anchored there. Through those efforts, we achieved a resolution that was unanimously agreed by the Security Council and got the inspectors back into Iraq, which I thought would be welcomed by all hon. Members. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend on that.
What plans does the Leader of the House have for further discussions with Opposition parties about pre-legislative scrutiny? What progress has been made on that, and what are the candidates this Session? In particular, will he consider the case made by both main Opposition parties for a civil service draft Bill? He will be aware that the report of the Wicks committee is imminent. Surely that must be a strong candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny.
What discussions does the Leader of the House intend to have with Opposition parties about appropriate Bills for carry-over in this Session? I notice that this morning's papers report that yesterday he canvassed the views of the parliamentary Labour party on candidates for carry-over. Perhaps he will also talk to other Members of the House, since he is Leader of the House, not leader of the PLP.
Finally, will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for a statement on appropriate penalties for excessive speeding on the roads? Unfortunately, there was no chance earlier for the Solicitor-General to make a statement, but no doubt she would like to do so.