Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): May I also welcome the new Leader of the House and his deputy to their posts? I am sure that, with the right hon. Gentleman's background in constitutional law, he will appreciate the importance of his role in serving the whole House. Bearing that in mind, will he give us an assurance that, next time he is in charge of the House at the time of a Queen's Speech, he will ensure that the bundle of information given to the press in advance is also available to all Members of the House?
Will the Leader of the House also refer back to the work of his predecessors on the Modernisation Committee to produce a report that recommended the establishment of a business management committee? Such a committee would provide an opportunity for the whole House to take part in the timetabling and management of the Government's Bills throughout the year. That would avoid a logjam of business during the year, and the poor scrutiny that can result from that. It might even moderate some of the opposition that Bills could face in the Lords on the ground that they have not been adequately scrutinised. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House commented on that procedure. May I conclude by saying that I hope that he will share with the House more Government secrets in his new role than he ever did in his previous one?
Mr. Hoon: My apologies. I asked for the information to be deposited in the Library for the information of Members at the earliest opportunity, and it is my understanding that that was done. For the benefit of the House, particularly the more technically minded MembersI do not think that that includes the right hon. Member for Bromley and ChislehurstMembers might like to be reminded that information on the Queen's Speech, including detailed briefings about the Bills, is available on my website, at www.commonsleader.gov.uk. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman can take the appropriate courses to allow him to access that information.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I too welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position, not just because he has been a close friend of mine for nearly 30 years[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] These things do happen. I also welcome him to his position, becauseas some Conservative Members will remember from the 1990swhen he was on these Benches he showed himself to be a great respecter and user of the traditions and procedures of the House. Will he be sure to inculcate the same respect in some of his fellow Cabinet Ministers, who have not always shown the commitment that he has always shown to making announcements first and foremost from the Dispatch Box, and not outside and through the media?
Mr. Hoon: I think I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that I can respond in kind. When I first met the hon. Gentleman at the university of Cambridge, I had him down as a future leader of the Conservative party. I know it is a crowded field at the moment, but I am grateful for what he said and I wish him every success in his endeavours, wherever they may lead.
As for respect, it is certainly importantas I hope I made clear earlier in my response to yesterday's point of orderfor all Ministers to respect the conventions of the House, and to ensure that proper information is available to all Members.
William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Will the Leader of the House, in his new rolewhich, of course, covers the whole range of Government policyacquaint himself with the truly bizarre side-effects of the Government's policy on the capping of local authorities? Those side-effects include the capping of a council with one of the lowest council taxes in the country, Hambleton in north Yorkshire. Given the perhaps not wholly unfounded suspicion that the policy was motivated by electoral and political considerations, will the Leader of the House advise his colleagues that it can now happily be dropped, thus saving the House's time? If he will not do that, will he ensure that there is the fullest possible debate on the policy, so that its grave deficiencies can be fully exposed?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman was not suggesting for a moment that the policy was in any
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way motivated by the recent general election or the election campaign, but I give him the opportunity to confirm that. Nevertheless, it is important for the rules and the approach to be seen to be transparent, fair and objective in the case of all local authorities. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept from me that that is the position.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Has the new Leader of the House had an opportunity to see a BBC weather forecast recently? If so, he may have noticed that the BBC is employing a new graphic viewing the country from the south-west of England. The land mass has expanded, the country tapers away at the top, and my constituency, which is rightly famous for having some of the most interesting and varied weather in the country, is barely visible.
Many of my constituents depend on reliable weather forecasting for their living as fishermen, farmers and crofters. Surely it is wrong for us to be excluded from BBC services in this way. Has the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport a view on the matter? If so, may we have an opportunity to hear it as part of next week's business?
Mr. Hoon: I knew I was in for a treat when I was appointed to this job. One of the little-known responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Defence is, in fact, the Met Office. In the course of those responsibilities I visited the new Met Office, and saw the tremendous facilities there. I regret to say that my responsibilities did not extend to the way in which the BBC presents material supplied by the Met Office, but I am sure that the director-general of the BBC will note the hon. Gentleman's comments and take appropriate action.
Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Leader of the House accept that it is essential for the Foreign Secretary to come here next week and make a statement on our relationship with Uzbekistan? Many of us believe that our ex-ambassador Craig Murray has been treated disgracefully by the Foreign Secretary, and that no action was taken against human rights abuses in that country. We would like the Foreign Secretary to make an apology from that Dispatch Box.
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is assiduous in making statements. I have not checked the number of statements that he has made in the course of his distinguished occupancy of his position, but he has come to the Dispatch Box regularly to make them, and I am sure that if he judges it necessary, there will be a statement on Uzbekistan. He has made the British Government's position quite clear. The British ambassador visited the troubled part of Uzbekistan yesterday, and I know that the Foreign Office is awaiting a detailed report from him on what he found there.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Given his responsibilities for the House itself and for the management of business, can the Leader of the House share with us how he thinks that we can possibly scrutinise properly and effectively in excess of 45 Bills, even in an extended parliamentary Session? Does he
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seriously think that the House and indeed the other place can properly discharge their duties in terms of scrutiny in that time? If not, what does he propose to do about it?
Mr. Hoon: As the right hon. Gentleman has conceded, this is an 18-month Session. The business managers judge that there is perfectly adequate time to get through the programme that has been announced to the House. As always, co-operation from both sides of the House is required to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of that legislation. I am absolutely confident that that proper co-operation will be forthcoming.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): In welcoming the new Leader of the House to his post, may I advise him to set a trend and to establish twice-yearly debates on science and technology? This House neglects science and technology. The Minister for Science and Innovation is in the House of Lords, so we cannot question him about his work; and we live in an anti-science culture. Great issues face us such as nuclear energy, so we need to take the issue more seriously. An Adjournment debate would be warmly welcomed.
Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am slightly averse to setting trends after only 20 minutes in the House doing a new job. Nevertheless, he makes a good point about the importance of science and technology. I am sure that something can be considered through the usual channels.