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6 Feb 2003 : Column 437—continued

Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): 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 will be as follows:

Monday 10 February—Second Reading of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 11 February—Second Reading of the National Minimum Wage (Enforcement Notices) Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2003.

Wednesday 12 February—Opposition Day. There will be a half-day debate entitled "The Government's Failure on the Economy and Public Services" on an Opposition motion—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that the Opposition support their own motion.

That will be followed by proceedings on the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Bill, followed by a motion to take note of various European documents relating to the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy and the operation of milk quotas.

Thursday 13 February—Debate on education for 14 to 19-year-olds on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 14 February—The House will commence the constituency week, and will return on Monday 24 February.

The provisional business for that week will include:

Monday 24 February—Second Reading of the Industrial Development (Financial Assistance) Bill.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful, as ever, to the Leader of the House for giving us the business. Will he give us the date for the annual Welsh debate—the St. David's day debate—as it is important that we know that as soon as possible? I acknowledge that this year St. David's day does not fall conveniently in the parliamentary calendar, but it would help to be given the date as early as possible.

May I ask, yet again, whether we are going to have a date for the Budget? What is the Chancellor afraid of? Is he running away from something, or can he not make up his mind? When will he share the Budget with us? As I reminded the Leader of the House last week, the Treasury Committee said that we should receive proper notice of the Budget date. Am I to assume that the Budget will not even be in March? Is it slipping into April? Will the Leader of the House please give us a clue so that we can all be ready to examine the Chancellor in detail following his Budget statement?

Yesterday in PMPs—[Interruption.] In Prime Minister's porkies, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister for his view of the London congestion charge. The Prime Minister said, "Not me, guv." Well, what he actually said at column 267 was that that was


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I am told that Mayor Livingstone was heard to say on television last night, "I couldn't have implemented the congestion charge without £200 million from the Government." That raises a number of questions that we ought to debate. It was the Labour Government who created the ghastly mayoralty and gave the Mayor his ghastly powers, so if Labour did fund the congestion charge, as the Mayor told us, how can the Prime Minister not have a view on it? I find that difficult to understand, but, if we have a little debate on it, perhaps the Prime Minister can come to the House and clear the matter up for us.

May we have a complete rerun of the debate and the votes on Lords reform? When I read my Hansard, I was astonished to find that the Prime Minister had managed to vote only once on the issue. The one vote that he cast was directly at odds with his own party manifesto commitment, and directly against what the Leader of the House had been urging us to do.

Matters are worse than that. The Chancellor did not vote at all. We ought to know why. [Interruption.] I am in a generous mood, so I will get into Hansard the fact that some bright spark on the Government Benches has just said that the Chancellor was working on his Budget. The Chancellor is obviously not working on his Budget; we have not been told the date for it yet, so that eliminates that possibility.

On Radio 4 this morning, I distinctly heard the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the distinguished Chairman of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, being asked whether the Labour Whips were in action during the voting. To my astonishment, the right hon. Gentleman said yes, the Labour Whips were indeed very active in urging Labour Members to vote against what the Leader of the House wanted to do and in support of the Prime Minister. We were assured that it was to be a free vote, yet a distinguished senior Labour politician tells us that it was not a free vote at all. We must have a rerun so that the Prime Minister can vote, the Chancellor can vote, and we can have a proper free vote.

We must clarify one final issue. I want an assurance that there is no hidden agenda. I suspect that what may now happen is the abolition of the hereditary peers and the setting up of some ridiculous bureaucracy that will be called an appointments commission, which the Prime Minister will claim gets rid of patronage. We have heard him say that before. However, the Joint Committee report states:


that is, to the upper House—


How can we square the Prime Minister's repeated assertion that he wants to set up a patronage-free system with the fact that the Joint Committee report states that only the Prime Minister would have the right to have nominations confirmed? That is a question that the Prime Minister may want to answer, if the Leader of the House cannot. Will the Prime Minister, or the Leader of the House on his behalf, refute that suggestion and give us a guarantee that nothing of the kind will ever happen?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman asked a range of questions; let me try to deal with them one at a time.

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I am happy to assure the House that the Government are well aware of the importance that the House attaches to Welsh day. We will make sure that there is a Welsh day as soon as practicable upon our return. We are always keen to have a Welsh day debate, in order to remind the world outside that there is not a single Conservative MP from Wales.

I have no reason to believe that the Budget will not take place at some point in March. There is no slippage, and it would be entirely normal to announce it some time during February.

On the £200 million announced by the Mayor yesterday, we welcome the fact that we have secured a settlement with him on the funding for the public-private partnership—a settlement that, I am pleased to say—

Mr. Forth: A settlement?

Mr. Cook: If the right hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall answer his question. The Mayor welcomed the settlement of the PPP in his singularly expressive terms: "We got beat." It would have been very helpful if he had concluded that the settlement was going to happen two years ago and not deprived us of the opportunity of getting on with improving the infrastructure of the tube.

Mr. Forth: What has it got to do with the tube?

Mr. Cook: The answer is that the £200 million is part of the package for improvements in the tube. That is exactly what it is. It is to the credit of the Government that we are providing the funds that will enable the tube to proceed. None of that money is for the congestion charge; it is all about improving public transport in London for Londoners.

I admire the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for a rerun of Tuesday. Indeed, I am sure that many of us have replayed Tuesday in our minds in the hours since then. As a practical politician, I am always one for rerunning votes, although I cannot necessarily express the same enthusiasm for rerunning the debate. If we are going to go back over who voted for what and what happened in the Division lists, I may say that I felt—I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree—that one of the striking features of Tuesday's Divisions is that a majority of Conservative MPs voted against the Conservative policy of 80 per cent. of peers being elected. In the light of the fact that he could not even persuade the majority of his own party to support its policy, I think that a touch of humility from him would immensely enhance the attractiveness of his personality.

The fact of the matter is that all options were defeated on Tuesday; there were no winners. I asked the House to give a clear, coherent and commanding lead on one option for reform. Plainly, we did not secure that from the House on Tuesday. We will continue to look for that support for an option for reform in this House, but the bottom line is that there will be no reform of the House of Lords until there is a majority vote in the House of Commons.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): We understand that the United Nations arms inspectors will report to

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the Security Council on Friday 14 February, which is, of course, just before our constituency week. Given that we would assume and hope that the United Kingdom Government will then try to have some positive input into a draft second resolution for the Security Council, may we have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that this House will have an opportunity to debate the nature of that second resolution and that, if necessary, the House will be recalled during our constituency week for that specific purpose?

The House will now be in some difficulty until the Government give us a new statement on the revised remit that will obviously be necessary for the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. Accepting what he has just said, does he understand that this House has voted very clearly against a fully appointed House? Indeed, that was the only substantial majority on Tuesday night. Whatever the Whips were doing, they lost, as the option favoured by the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor was defeated. I assume that both of them are democrats, so will the Leader of the House give us an absolute assurance that the Joint Committee will not now be expected to work up proposals for a fully appointed House, which would clearly be a complete constitutional farce? Indeed, I suggest that it would be improper for Members of this House who serve on that Committee to be asked to do that job after this House has defeated that proposition. I also hope that the Lord Chancellor and Prime Minister, who have made great play of the pre-eminence of this House, will accept that the pre-eminence of our vote must count on this issue. In those circumstances, when can we expect a statement from the Government about what should happen next and on whether there will be a revised remit for the Joint Committee or whether it should wind itself up?


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