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Speaker's Statement

11.31 am

Mr. Speaker: As the House will know, this Friday is 11 November, Remembrance Day. The House will be sitting at 11 am, and right hon. and hon. Members, their staff and officials in the House will be attending to their duties at that time.

I regard it as appropriate that the House should join the nation in observing the two-minute silence at that time, so that we may remember those who gave their lives for their country to help preserve our democratic freedom.

Instructions will also be issued to heads of Departments so that members of staff who wish to observe the two-minute silence should be enabled to do so.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows.

Monday 14 November—Remaining stages of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Tuesday 15 November—Opposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "Consequences of the NHS Financial Deficit", followed by a debate on the oversight of the ministerial code.

Wednesday 16 November—Remaining stages of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill.

Thursday 17 November—A debate on defence in the United Kingdom on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 18 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week is as follows.

Monday 21 November—Second Reading of the Equality Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 22 November—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 23 November—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill.

Thursday 24 November—Consideration in Committee and Third Reading of the European Union (Accessions) Bill.

Friday 25 November—The House will not be sitting.

With permission, I would also like to announce the recess dates for the coming year. The printed version of    the calendar is now available from the Vote Office    and details can be found on the website [Interruption.] I did cross out "my website".

The House will rise for Christmas on Tuesday 20 December 2005 and return on Monday 9 January 2006. For the spring half term, the House will rise on Thursday 16 February and return on Monday 27 February. The Easter recess will start when the House rises on Thursday 30 March and will end when we return on Tuesday 18 April. We rise at Whitsun on Thursday 25 May, returning on Monday 5 June. Finally, we will rise on Tuesday 25 July for the summer recess and return on Monday 9 October.

As a consequence of that announcement, it will be necessary to move the private Members' Bill Friday sitting previously announced for 24 February, and I will table the necessary motion later today. As always, all those dates are subject to the satisfactory progress of business.

Chris Grayling: At Treasury questions this morning—I was present, but the Leader of the House did not have the benefit of hearing what Ministers had to say—Ministers left us confused and concerned about reports that the Government are now willing to surrender some or all of the British rebate. Can we have an urgent
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statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what he is planning, particularly whether he is planning to do a deal in order to secure a final budget settlement before the end of the UK presidency? Can we have a statement about what would be a major betrayal of Government promises as soon as the Chancellor returns from the middle east?

No mention was made in Treasury questions about a date for the pre-Budget report. The Leader of the House will remember—I pressed him on it last week—that many Members want to be present to hear that report and may need to amend their diaries. There is no reason why the date could not have been published by now. Is it not the height of discourtesy to the House that it has not yet been published?

I am glad that the Leader of the House responded to my request for the publication of dates for next year's recesses, but I want to raise one matter with him. When did he decide to abandon the September recess? My understanding was that the reason why we did not have a September recess this year—[Interruption.]

Mr. Hoon: September sitting.

Chris Grayling: I am grateful. The Leader of the House will know that we had no September sitting this year because of the construction of the security screen. It is finished and I was not aware that we needed another one for next year. Is this therefore a permanent decision? Will there be no September sittings in future? If so, when was that decision taken?

Will the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster be in place to respond to next week's debate on the ministerial code? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the Prime Minister seems to believe that the Cabinet Office is no longer an important part of his Government?

At last week's business questions, I asked the Leader of the House for a statement and debate on trade justice before the Hong Kong trade summit in December. Since then, the preliminary talks have collapsed without agreement. Given that the Government know how strongly Members on both sides of the House feel about the issue and given the strength of the lobbies taking place outside this place, when will we get a statement about what has happened and what can be done to rectify the situation?

Finally, I am sure that the Leader of the House shares my concern about the rising tide of violence in Britain. He will also be aware of the possible legal difficulties faced by many of our people—teachers, for example, trying to intervene to break up a fight in a school playground. In the light of recent events here, will he ensure that members of the Government Whips Office are given access to legal advice, so that they know exactly where they stand if they are forced to intervene to break up a fight in the Labour Lobby?

Mr. Hoon: If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I will start with the sublime. The rebate negotiated by Mrs. Thatcher at Fontainebleau—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I can tell that there is real nostalgia on the
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Conservative Benches for a period of firm leadership. She negotiated that rebate because of the imbalance in the operation of the common agricultural policy and the EU budget in respect of the United Kingdom. The Government have made it clear that as long as that imbalance continues, it will be necessary for us to maintain our position on the rebate. That is the Government's position and it has been set out by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of Exchequer on repeated occasions. I see no need for them to come before the House and say it yet again.

I am sorry that we have not yet established a date for the pre-Budget report. As right hon. and hon. Members will have noticed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been travelling a lot lately, but I will pass the information on to the House as soon as it becomes available.

As to recess dates and the September sitting, I have discussed the issue extensively with hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is clear that there is dissatisfaction about the arrangements for September sittings in the recent past. There are strong feelings about our returning for one week, or perhaps two, at the beginning of September, only then to break for the party conference season and return for a matter of weeks, before a further break for the Queen's Speech, as happens in most years. September sittings are important and the principle of having them ultimately needs to be revisited, but unless we can persuade the political parties to change their conference arrangements, I do not see how we can get the continuity of sitting arrangements that Members require. In the light of that, I have written to the chairs of each of the political parties, urging them to look at this matter and to consider having their conferences earlier in September, thereby allowing the House to return earlier and on a continuous basis, so that the sitting is sensible and manageable for all concerned. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the reason for this development is very much the reaction of Members from all political parties and in all parts of the House.

On the ministerial code, I am confident that a highly experienced Minister will be available to deal with Tuesday's Opposition day debate. He will doubtless set out the Government's position with care and clarity.

I dealt last week with the Lobby issue to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am full of admiration for the robust nature of the Government Whips Office. The Whips do their job extremely well.

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