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9 Jan 2003 : Column 317—continued

Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

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

Monday 13 January—Opposition 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 January—Until 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.

Wednesday 15 January—Remaining stages of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill.

Thursday 16 January—Motions on General Synod Measures, followed by a motion to take note of various European documents relating to fisheries policy.

Friday 17 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 20 January—Opposition Day [3rd allotted day], there will be a debate on an Opposition motion subject to be announced.

Tuesday 21 January—Debate on House of Lords reform 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.

Wednesday 22 January—Debate on defence in the world on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 23 January—Remaining stages of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill.

Friday 24 January—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 30 January will be:

Thursday 30 January—A debate on the report from the European Scrutiny Committee on democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments.

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

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of Labour Members, wish to express their views, particularly on the aircraft carrier project in which BAE Systems is a key contender? As he has said that this business is still only provisional, will he consider changing it to allow the House to debate defence procurement on that date?

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 communicate—not 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 view—the newspapers have been full of it. The Independent of 8 January said:

It went on to say:

Meanwhile, on the same day, the Daily Mail reported on the Government's foreign policy under the headline

The article by its political editor stated:

The paper added:

That was not all. On the very same day, there was more evidence that the Cabinet is coming apart at the seams. Other reports said:

One article by Paul Eastham rightly concluded:

In the midst of all this, where was the Prime Minister? He was telling a conference of ambassadors in London—and apparently he was serious—that under his leadership

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He should start talking to members of his own party. In view of the widespread appeal of this ongoing free-for-all among Ministers, is there not a case for modernising the Government's procedures and perhaps allowing the next meeting of the Cabinet to be televised?

Mr. Cook: Happy new year to the right hon. Gentleman, too.

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.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): We have just heard the Leader of the House speak warmly of the Foreign

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Secretary. Can he explain why the Foreign Secretary decided to make an extremely important statement on Iraq by way of a written statement on Tuesday given that there are two most extraordinary reasons why it should have been an oral statement on which we could have cross-questioned him? For the first time yesterday, time was allocated for statements to the House to allow Secretaries of State to explain what they are up to and to allow us to question them. Why was that opportunity not taken? To add insult to injury, my copy of Hansard yesterday did not contain the statement from the Foreign Secretary. I understand that that was subsequently corrected, but Hansard did not have that statement as a written submission. I hope the Leader of the House accepts that that is outrageous.

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.

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