Previous SectionIndexHome Page

6 Mar 2003 : Column 958—continued

Mr. Cook: Over the past 50 years, there have been 22 Budgets in April. There is no particular delay in having another Budget in April; indeed, this Budget will be earlier than last year's Budget.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was no delay in the announcement. The Budget date was announced as soon as it was agreed. As Opposition Members appear concerned that there was delay in the announcement, I would have thought that they would welcome the fact that there was no attempt at concealment.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the Chancellor's written ministerial statement. The normal practice has been to announce the Budget date in response to a planted question. As he knows, written ministerial statements are more transparent, more obvious and more clear. They replace the written parliamentary question. There is nothing different in the way in which this Budget has been announced from any preceding Budget.

I have nothing to add to what has already been said on the dossier. It was cleared in the normal way.

Mr. Forth: By whom?

Mr. Cook: I do not know, nor would I expect to know, who saw the document in advance—nor do I think that it is an important matter in relation to the debate on the severe and grave matters that concern us in international affairs. It would do Opposition Members more credit if they focused on the central grave questions that we face in international affairs, rather

6 Mar 2003 : Column 959

than picking at the edges in a desperate attempt to distance themselves from a policy that we are told they fully agree with.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I express my sincere sympathy to the Leader of the House, who has lost out again in his long-standing battle with the Chancellor? After the announcement, for the first time, of a long-term parliamentary plan to enable hon. Members to plan their work in their constituencies, and after the efforts, with the support of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, to have a proper diary for the business of the House, I hope that the Leader will agree that it is disappointing that the Chancellor seems to be responsible for planning the business of the House—or is it President Bush or Saddam Hussein? What will be the future of the programme that the Leader has announced? After all, many of the matters that he has announced today are not all that urgent. Are we to wait on the Chancellor's whim before we know what the business of the House will be? Is it not time to have some mechanism that will allow the House to take back control over its own business? I understand that the Scottish Parliament, which the Leader visited recently, has such a mechanism.

In discussions that I hope that the Leader will hold with Opposition parties—in which I hope he will allow Back Benchers to influence the business of the House—will he consider in particular the mental health Bill, which was referred to during last week's business questions? There should be consultation on that Bill—not only on its scope, but on its pre-legislative scrutiny and timetable. In that regard, will he look in particular at early-day motion 263, on the victims of schizophrenia?

[That this House welcomes the National Institute for Clinical Excellence's Technology Appraisal Guidance No. 43 on the use of newer, atypical antipsychotic drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia, issued in June 2002; believes that the guidance is a real step forward in delivering better care for those with schizophrenia; recognises the importance of ensuring that patients have an informed choice about their treatment options; recalls the NHS' statutory obligation to ensure that all NICE recommendations are implemented within three months of issue; notes the concerns raised at the Rethink severe mental illness conference, Only the Best in December 2002, over the slowness of implementation; and urges NHS trusts, health authorities and primary care trusts to ensure that sufficient funding is made available to implement the NICE guidance quickly and effectively to improve the lives of those with schizophrenia.]

Mr. Cook: I found value in my visit to the Scottish Parliament. I believe that there are things that the oldest of Parliaments can learn from the newest of Parliaments. I look forward with confidence, in the light of the success of the Scottish Parliament, to the re-election of the governing coalition. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman would attach himself to that wish for the coalition.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sympathy, but, among the many things for which I may take responsibility, I have never pretended that I can set the date of the Budget.

6 Mar 2003 : Column 960

Mr. Forth: Ah!

Mr. Cook: I do not think that I have made an especially contentious statement.

My responsibility is to ensure that the House can fully scrutinise the Government and fully debate the business that the Government put before it. That is why it is important that the House should have a full four days for debate after Budget day, as would normally be the case. I would not have thought that Opposition Members would begrudge one day of the recess to allow the opportunity for full scrutiny of what will be an excellent Budget. [Interruption.] I suggest that hon. Members should not tempt me too far; otherwise, I may suggest that, because of the Government's excellent record in soundly managing the economy, a fifth or sixth day of scrutiny may be well worth while.

I note what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) says about the mental health Bill. In fairness, I think that we have consulted more often than any previous Administration on arrangements for the introduction of Bills. I shall certainly bear in mind what he said about a Bill that has attracted deep and considerable interest not just in the House but among the public outside.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Will my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be a debate in the House before Britain casts its vote at the United Nations for or against a war with Iraq? I have heard reports that arrangements are being made for the House to be recalled on Saturday 15 March, two days after hostilities will have begun in Iraq. The House will then be asked to approve what has already taken place. Can he set my mind at rest and assure me that the House will be able to vote on the propriety of a war with Iraq before British troops are committed to it?

Mr. Cook: I shall attempt to put my hon. Friend's mind at rest, but I anticipate that that is a serious undertaking that I have not previously managed to achieve.

I repeat from the Dispatch Box what has been said repeatedly by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary: it is both our wish and our intention that there should be a vote in the House of Commons on the commitment of any British troops and that we want—the Foreign Secretary carefully explained why this is in the interest of the Government as well as that of the House—that debate and vote to take place before troops are put into action. Plainly, we have got always to reserve as our primary consideration the safety and security of our troops. However, subject to that necessary reservation—with which, I think, all Members would agree—we want that debate and vote to take place before there is any military action.

I am aware that a story about a Saturday debate is currently running in the press, and I have received questions about it. However, I do not recognise the suggestion. I am puzzled about why it would be necessary to have a recall on a Saturday given that the weekend to which my hon. Friend refers is preceded and followed by a sitting week of the House of Commons. I hope that we will be able to debate the matter in good time and at a time that will not inconvenience Members.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many members of the

6 Mar 2003 : Column 961

staff, who serve us so well, are obliged to take their holidays during parliamentary recesses? Is he aware that I have been approached, as a member of the Commission, by a number of staff who wonder why the Budget cannot be announced on the Tuesday or, indeed, the Monday of the week beginning 7 April? We could still sit on the Friday and have our four days of Budget debate. The staff, who serve us so well, would not have to cancel—sometimes at great expense—holidays that they have made in accordance with the conditions of service that we impose on them.

Mr. Cook: I am well aware that the Commission is examining the position of those members of staff who may be in the position to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, I draw the House's attention to the fact that we have not yet passed any motion on the Easter recess. Indeed, the timetable that I produced last October—I was cautious when I announced it to the House—says that "all dates are provisional". There is a value in having provisional dates, but it is important to bear in mind the fact that they are provisional.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I might as well tear up the dodgy diary.

Mr. Cook: I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman seeks to make. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I cannot see any reason for hon. Members to shout at the Leader of the House. [Laughter.]

Next Section

IndexHome Page