Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 15th April 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

The business will be as follows:

MONDAY 19 APRIL—There will be a debate on Kosovo on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 20 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 21 APRIL—Until 2 o'clock there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition day [9th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on Government taxation of the haulage industry. Followed by a debate on the crisis in British livestock farming. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 22 APRIL—Second Reading of the Disability Rights Commission Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 23 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

MONDAY 26 APRIL—Debate on defence equipment.

TUESDAY 27 APRIL—Progress on consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 28 APRIL—Until 2 o'clock there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 29 APRIL—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

FRIDAY 30 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 21 April there will be a debate on air transport competition rules in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 21 April:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: 8582/97, Air Transport Competition Rules; Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 155-vi (1997–98).]

Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The House is grateful for the announcement of next week's business and for the indication of business in the following week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday, following the weekend summit? We welcome the subsequent debate on Kosovo; I know that the right hon. Lady will want to keep the House informed about developments.

I welcome the reinstatement of the first of the new-style debates on defence that the right hon. Lady has announced. However, the debate that was lost was on defence and the world, which was planned on the grounds that it was logical to begin with policy and to move on to personnel and equipment. The debate that she has announced is on equipment. Is there a reason for that change?

There is still a backlog of promised debates: on the royal commission on long-term care; on the reform of the House of Lords; and on the national changeover plan for the euro. The House will expect to debate the recently published White Paper on modernising government and has still not considered the unresolved crisis facing the European Commission. When might we make a start on those important subjects?

There are no opportunities to question the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland until Wednesday week. Crucial talks have been taking place in the Province and the Secretary of State should keep the House in the picture by making a statement next week. Will the Leader of the House put that proposition to her right hon. Friend?

May the House be given the dates of the Whitsun recess, so that Members and staff can plan their diaries?

Finally, if the Prime Minister plans to be abroad on any future Wednesdays, could he take the Deputy Prime Minister with him and let someone else, perhaps the right hon. Lady, take Prime Minister's questions so as to avoid inflicting on the House the indignity that it suffered yesterday?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

It is anticipated that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement following the NATO summit, although I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that that will be a week on Monday. Of course, we shall continue to keep the House informed about events in Kosovo, as we have done assiduously hitherto.

I am not aware that there is any particular significance in the different title for the MOD debate, but I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about a number of debates on which he said we are building up a backlog. I should point out that we have put in several debates, such as the one on Kosovo on Monday and the one—we had just before the recess. It is right and important that the House should have those debates, but they take up time that might otherwise have been given to other issues.

The issue of long-term care requires considerable thought and preparation. The Government will come to the House when we have something further to say in that respect. We are mindful of the desire to debate the House of Lords White Paper. It is only a week since we had the statement on modernising government, but I have taken note of the right hon. Gentleman's request for debates at some point on that matter and on issues relating to the European Commission.

I do not recall—although I would probably have said that we would consider one—any request for a debate on the changeover plans for the euro. However, I remind the right hon. Gentleman and his party that there is a committee discussing those plans on which the Conservatives are perfectly welcome to sit—indeed, they made a nomination to that committee, which they subsequently withdrew. To be frank, it is a bit much for the Tory party to refuse to engage in discussions on the plans, but then to demand a debate on them in the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a statement on Northern Ireland. I shall certainly draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend is doing everything she can to resolve any difficulties that are arising there and that she endeavours to keep the House informed.

I am genuinely sorry to say that I cannot give the House any further information than I have already given on the dates of the Whitsun recess, but I shall do so as soon as I can. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about Prime Minister's Question Time, but I am sure that he has noticed that it is much rarer for the current Prime Minister not to be present at Question Time than it was for his predecessor.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

My right hon. Friend will know that Mr. Owen Oyston is in prison after being prosecuted on a charge of rape, and that many of us believe that he is innocent. Will she arrange for an early debate on the operation of the criminal cases review body, which lacks the resources to deal with a huge backlog of people who believe that they are innocent and await the referral of their case to the Court of Appeal?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's remarks in mind. He has raised those issues in the House on several occasions and I feel confident that he will continue to do so. We all share the concern about the backlog in dealing with cases of that nature, and I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

First, will the Leader of the House confirm a news report in the past few minutes that the appeal against disqualification by the hon. Member for Newark (Mrs. Jones) has been allowed? Would she care to comment on the Conservatives' having presumed, some weeks ago, that they could attempt to move the writ for a by-election in that constituency? What happens next?

Secondly, will the right hon. Lady comment on an issue that I have already raised on several occasions—that of charging for members of the public, including our constituents, to come into the Palace of Westminster? Will she tell us when the promised debate on the matter will take place, so that we—the Members of the House—can make a decision?

Thirdly, we warmly welcome Monday's debate on Kosovo; however, will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking that, although the main emphasis will be on the military situation, there will be time to consider the issue of refugees, which is becoming a source of considerable concern to people throughout this country? I draw to her attention early-day motion 521:

[That this House congratulates the relief agencies on their efforts in response to the crisis in the Balkans, but regrets the delay in coordinating a response which left many people frustrated and angry that they were unable to offer personal contributions to the disaster relief effort; and calls upon the Government to create in partnership with NGOs a permanent disaster relief contact point with a published emergency hotline phone number where offers of assistance can be logged while a substantive response is coordinated.]

The motion was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) and now has all-party support. It suggests that there should be a permanent disaster relief contact point. Many hon. Members will have shared my experience over the Easter weekend of trying to contact the various relief charities and finding it impossible to obtain answers to the questions that our constituents asked. I should say that the Department for International Development was manned that weekend.

Many of our constituents generously donated blankets, baby clothes and warm clothing, only to be told much later that what was really required was money. Will the Leader of the House confirm either that the Secretary of State for International Development will contribute to Monday's debate, or that the issue of refugees will be properly covered? If the issue is not properly addressed, a great many people in this country will begin to suffer from charity fatigue, because they will feel that their efforts are not properly appreciated.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order.

We are sympathetic to the proposals in early-day motion 521. I also sympathise with those who provided humanitarian help only to find that they had not done so in the most appropriate manner. The hon. Gentleman is correct: the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence will take part in the debate on Monday. However, I recognise that there may be a wish to take some cognisance of the humanitarian effort, and the Government are giving careful thought to how that subject can be addressed in the context of that debate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about charging the public for access to the Palace of Westminster. That matter has been raised in various House Committees and is still under consideration. No decision has been made even to put such a proposal before the House—although that decision may be made at some point. However, I make it clear that such a matter would be a decision for the House as a whole and would be taken only if the House considered it right, having weighed very carefully the many arguments involved.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the appeal, which I understand has been upheld. The implications for the legal case and for the House—to which Madam Speaker reported the earlier decision—must be considered. However, the hon. Gentleman is entirely correct to draw attention to the light it casts on the actions of the Conservative party in seeking to move the writ for a by-election which, if it had had its way, would have been held next Thursday.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

When may we debate the convention on the transfer of prisoners convicted abroad? The Leader of the House will know that two of my constituents, Paul Loseby and James Miles, have been in custody in Venezuela for the past two years. The Venezuelan Government have signed the convention, which now needs to be ratified by other countries. Could we debate this matter to ensure that British citizens convicted abroad—there are presently 2,000 Britons in that situation—can be returned to serve their sentences in this country?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the general treatment of British citizens who are imprisoned overseas. I am sure he will know that the British embassy is keeping a careful watch on the individuals to whom he referred and that they are said to be well, in the circumstances. The Foreign Office is examining, and plans to hold a seminar on, issues arising from cases regarding the handling of prisoners.

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's request for a debate on the issue. It is not likely to be easy to find time for such a debate, although my hon. Friend may be aware that the Modernisation Committee is to make a recommendation to the House in the near future that might, if carried, allow more time to consider matters of this kind. My hon. Friend will know that Foreign Office Ministers are aware of those issues and are always willing to discuss them.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

As the first annual report and national plan of the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator is due to be published shortly, will the Leader of the House assure me that a debate will be held in Government time to enable all hon. Members to discuss the national anti-drugs strategy and its effectiveness since the appointment of the drugs tsar?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I cannot give an absolute undertaking at this moment to find time for such a debate. However, I have taken on board the hon. Lady's request and will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the concerns of hon. Members on both sides regarding proper discussion of this matter.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

When may we have a debate on a subject to which my right hon. Friend made a distinguished contribution in her years in opposition: the Treasury supplement? It is interesting to note that the supplement was introduced by the last Liberal Government, but was respected not just by old Labour and old Liberals, but even by old Tories. The Treasury supplement was paid until the late 1980s when it was ended by the previous Government and then reintroduced for a short period when they experienced problems with personal pensions.

Is it not amazing that, if the principle of the Treasury supplement had been respected, it would now be paying £9 billion to the national insurance scheme, it would allow pensioners to receive increases this year on the basis of level of earnings and it would allow repayment of the losses that they suffered for all those years under the previous Government, who cheated pensioners every year that they were in office? Is it not right that we return to a principle that was respected by Governments of all parties for 80 years, until wrongly ended by the previous Government?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I suspect that there are only a handful of Members in the Chamber who have the faintest idea what he and I are talking about. My hon. Friend is right to say that the previous Government took a sweeping step in first eroding and then removing the Treasury supplement. The supplement was the basis of the original welfare state settlement. My hon. Friend will know that the way in which benefits are dealt with and awarded and the way in which money is raised for the benefits system were transformed out of all recognition by the previous Government. It is this Government's aim to devise a new welfare settlement and to consider again how that settlement is funded. I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. I am not at all sure that he shares the view that we should return to the original historic basis of funding the scheme.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

The shadow Leader of the House referred to a debate on Northern Ireland and linked that with the fact that it will be two weeks before we have Northern Ireland questions. The House will be aware that some hon. Members are no longer tabling questions on Northern Ireland. However, those of us who do find that we rarely get into the first half dozen, which means that pertinent questions from Northern Ireland Members are not followed through with supplementary questions.

Against that background, may I press the Leader of the House for a debate on Northern Ireland? I appreciate that there will be differences of opinion across the Chamber, but surely we can unite to support the Prime Minister's interpretation that no one can be in government in a democratic community who is backed by armed terrorists.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I appreciate the particular sensitivity of Northern Ireland Members in seeking to raise issues across the Floor of the House. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that the vagaries of the Order Paper are a difficulty for all Members in all circumstances. I shall bear in mind, as I have undertaken to do to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the concern that has been expressed for a further opportunity in the near future to discuss Northern Ireland matters, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I accept that it was right not to have a statement today before the facts were fully known about what happened during the air strike on the refugees in Kosovo, but will my right hon. Friend consider whether there should be a statement tomorrow, when things will be a bit clearer? The urgency is that, with fast-flying aircraft, with pilots having to make split-second decisions while looking at all kinds of instruments and wondering whether they are locked on by lasers from the ground, and with many other complications, such incidents will inevitably happen again, again and again. That is the urgency and that is why there should be a statement tomorrow.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

My hon. Friend is entirely right—I am grateful for his recognition of the fact—to say that there is still a great deal that we do not know about the incident that took place so recently. Were it not for the fact that we shall be having a debate on Kosovo on Monday, I would be more ready to accept my hon. Friend's suggestion that perhaps we should consider a statement tomorrow. However, I say to him in all honesty that the matter is so complex and difficult that it may well be that we shall not know much more by tomorrow. As we are able to have a debate on Monday, when it is to be hoped that the position will be much clearer, I think it right to await that debate.

I understand my hon. Friend's underlying point that a statement might have an influence on those who are putting their own lives in danger in attempting to deal with the situation in Kosovo. I have no doubt that every member of the armed forces, whether British or otherwise, has very much taken on board the lessons of the terrible event to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I raise with the right hon. Lady again the question of Monday's debate on Kosovo? I recognise, of course, that the debate is on the Adjournment, and that that is in accordance with precedent. The Conservative party, when in government, had a number of debates on the Adjournment dealing with military action, so I make no criticism on that point. However, the precedent is surely not a satisfactory one. In a democracy, when a Government are taking military action in order to achieve stated objectives, they should come to Parliament to get consent both to the action and to the explicit objectives. Indeed, no consent by the House has yet been given. Therefore, instead of a debate on the Adjournment, would it not be much better to have a debate on a substantive motion that sets out the explicit objectives and seeks the authority of the House both for the action and the objectives?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, quite correctly, that that is not the precedent. The Government do not rest simply on that fact. The precedent is that we have debates on the Adjournment precisely because successive Governments, Labour and Tory alike, have taken the view that that is the right way in which to proceed. The prior authority of Parliament is not required. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to change the historical and the constitutional position. Of course it is a matter of grave concern that military forces are committed. Such a decision is never taken lightly. However, the Government do not take the view that now is the time to change precedent that was set for admirably strong reasons.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 465?

[That this House notes that the Government plans to take away all benefits from men, women and children currently seeking asylum, and that instead they will receive accommodation, food vouchers and a small amount in cash; further notes that the cash amount proposed for asylum seeker children is 50 pence a day; believes that no mother can meet the needs of a young child, over and above food and accommodation, on 50 pence a day; and urges the Government to reconsider this proposal.]

The early-day motion has all-party support. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the arrangements for the children of asylum seekers? In their new legislation, the Government propose, among other things, to withdraw all benefits from asylum seekers and to replace them with hostel accommodation, food vouchers and a sum of money in cash. The cash sum proposed for children is 50p a day. I am the mother of a seven-year-old son. Even allowing for the fact that food and accommodation will be paid for, one cannot look after a child on 50p a day. If the Government's proposal were more widely known, there would be great public distaste, especially from our own supporters in the country. It cannot be right or part of a fair policy to force asylum-seeker mothers to look after their children on 50p a day. I urge the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on the subject.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I remind my hon. Friend that the Immigration and Asylum Bill is under consideration in Committee, where such matters can be thoroughly debated and thrashed out. Those issues will no doubt be raised again on many occasions during further discussion of the Bill. I understand, as will all hon. Members, the point that my hon. Friend makes. However, she has identified and clarified the fact that the long-term arrangements proposed by the Home Office cover all the basic essentials of life and of support for families. What we are talking about is spending money, but I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am confident that those matters will be fully explored without the need for an additional debate at this time.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Will the Leader of the House grant us an early debate on the United Kingdom's relations with Latin America? Is she aware that, as a consequence of the Government's actions, Chile has recognised Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands and terminated the only direct civil air link to the Falklands? Will she ensure that, in future, the Government put the interests of the British taxpayer and the British nation first in their relations with Latin America?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

The Government are always mindful of the interests of the British taxpayer and the British nation. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the previous Government who, quite rightly, signed up to an international convention against torture. Such matters must from time to time be taken into account. With regard to his wish to have an opportunity to raise concerns about our relationship with Latin America, may I remind him that Foreign Office questions take place on Tuesday?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

When the debate on Kosovo takes place on Monday, can the Foreign Secretary definitely give us an accurate picture of what happened yesterday, whoever was responsible? Many of us, certainly the large majority of hon. Members, deplore the loss of civilian lives and sympathise with the loved ones who are left behind.

Is it not true that, if the Serbian leadership had been willing to accept the reasonable terms for a settlement in Kosovo, there would have been no military intervention of any sort and the horrors that have taken place in Kosovo, including ethnic cleansing, would have stopped, I hope, permanently?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The Foreign Secretary will give the House as much information as he possibly can about yesterday's tragic event. I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks and his view that none of this would be happening were the Serbian President to accept the proposals that have been put forward and to come to talks, recognising that the ethnic cleansing and the action of his armed forces must cease.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Given the Prime Minister's pathetically obsequious support for Mr. Prodi as President of the European Commission, and Mr. Prodi's almost admirable clarity of expression in the past few days in voicing his desire to build a federal Europe, may we have an urgent debate to tease out what the Prime Minister thinks will happen to this country as a result of Mr. Prodi becoming President of the Commission? How can the Prime Minister square what he was saying about Europe before the general election with his support for someone who is a confessed federast?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

That is an interesting invention of a word.

The Prime Minister has been careful. It was unanimously the view of the leaders of the European member states that Mr. Prodi should become the new President of the Commission. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Prime Minister are ridiculous. My right hon. Friend has been careful not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor in talking about his choice of Mr. Santer. I remind the House and the right hon. Gentleman that the new President of the Commission—if he is endorsed—talks continually about a greater role for the Council of Ministers and, indeed, the European Parliament in guiding the Commission. I believe that that is what hon. Members on both sides of the House want.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Labour/Co-operative, Corby

May we have an early debate on recent Government measures to support families, particularly this month's record increase in child benefit, which will benefit some 14,500 families in my constituency? I need not remind my right hon. Friend that that contrasts all too starkly with the Conservative party's record when in government. It froze child benefit for three consecutive years, clearly revealing its view of support for family life. Does she agree that, in such a debate, we could show that 6 million families will be £2.95 a week better off as a result of the Labour Government?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

My hon. Friend is right. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future, but the Finance Bill debates are next week. He and other hon. Members may find an opportunity to raise not only the issue of how much the Government are doing through child benefit, which I agree contrasts starkly with the record of the Conservative party, but the other proposals that the Government are putting forward, including the working families tax credit, which will transform the position of low-income families in particular.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Given the Chancellor's complacent reply this morning at Treasury questions, may we have an early debate in Government time on the provision of debt relief for poor countries? Does the right hon. Lady understand that such a debate would afford Ministers the opportunity to announce the freezing of such aid to Zimbabwe, whose President has foolishly cut links with the International Monetary Fund and the World bank, and would allow the Government instead to redirect the resources available to countries such as Mozambique, which are poorer, better run and show greater respect for human rights?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am pleased as well as surprised to hear a Conservative Member praising Mozambique and the actions of its Government. I did not hear what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said earlier but, knowing him as I do, I am confident that he was not complacent. He works very hard to secure progress on debt relief, as did his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). The whole House will welcome the possibility of movement on IMF gold sales and the general pressure to relieve the debt of highly indebted countries.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the relationship between the UK and the EU in the regulation of genetically modified organisms? I pay tribute to Agriculture and Environment Ministers for responding to public concerns and tightening the regulatory and scrutiny process. However, their actions could be circumvented by corporations going through the European route. My right hon. Friend will know that, in December last year, I was involved in the launch of the "GenetiX Snowball" public action handbook, which sets out how concerns on GM issues can be raised in this country. I am asking for a debate because there are now concerns that companies could use European regulatory systems, which involve less rigorous scrutiny, but would give them authorisation to plant and grow in the UK.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate along those lines in the near future, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's concerns to the attention of Ministers. With ingenuity, he may be able to use the debate on livestock farming to raise some of the general issues about the handling of agriculture, if he is fortunate enough to catch Madam Speaker's eye.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

Could we have a debate next week or the week after on long-term unemployment, particularly among 18 to 24-year-olds? The right hon. Lady will know that long-term unemployment in that age group came down rapidly for about five years. The new deal has been running for a year and statistics will be published next week, although I understand that they will be fiddled so that they are not presented in the same way as before. We should be able to have a debate to find out why unemployment among that group, who are having billions of pounds spent on them under the new deal, has increased over the past year rather than going down, as the Government and everybody else had hoped.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am astonished that any Conservative Member has the gall to mention anything to do with fiddling unemployment statistics. I have lost track of whether it was 32 or 35 times that the Conservatives changed the way in which the unemployment figures were calculated, but we all know why they did it and what the effect was. The Government are pleased that long-term unemployment among young people has gone down by more than 50 per cent.—almost 55 per cent., in fact—since the election. About 250,000 young people have joined the new deal and around 60,000 have moved into jobs. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment would like a debate on the issue, but I fear that the pressure on the time of the House is such that I shall have to disappoint him. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is another Opposition day coming up. If he is so confident in the Conservative party's brilliant record on the issue, perhaps he should press his Front Bench to select it for debate.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour/Co-operative, Basildon

Early-day motion 493, in support of the minimum wage, says:

[That this House looks forward to the introduction of the national minimum wage on 1st April, which will tackle the scandal of poverty pay levels encouraged by the previous Conservative administration; notes that this is yet another example of the Labour government delivering on its promises; and in particular congratulates the Right honourable Member for Makerfield for the years of dedicated campaigning and policy work he has undertaken to ensure the introduction of the national minimum wage and fairness at work for millions of people, achieved with the growing support of the business community.]

Two weeks after its implementation, could we have a debate on the minimum wage? I am concerned that workers should be aware of their rights and eligibility. It would be useful for the public if there was a debate in the House of Commons. In my constituency, more than 1,200 people are benefiting from the national minimum wage.

The main reason why I should like to have such a debate is that, although the official Opposition oppose the national minimum wage, they have not made it clear whether they would reject it if they were ever to win another general election. Could we have such a debate, so that the public might know where the official Opposition stand on the issue?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's call for such a debate. I recognise, as she said, the importance of people across the country knowing their entitlement to the national minimum wage. The Government are doing as much as we can to make that known. I also sympathise with her concern to learn the Conservative party's view on the issue. As she rightly said, Conservative Members fought the minimum wage tooth and nail, and have yet to come clean about whether they would abolish it. I fear, however, that I have to disappoint her. Were we to try to have debates on all the many matters on which the Conservative party has yet to declare its policy stance, we should do nothing else.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on education, education, education? Across the country, it is about the time of year when parents are learning whether their youngsters will be able to go to certain schools. More than 50 parents in Clitheroe have been told that their children will not be able to go to Ribblesdale school, and that all the other local schools are full. They are now being told that their youngsters will have to be bussed many miles, out of their area, to get a decent education. I cannot believe that Clitheroe is unique in that experience. In this day and age, surely it cannot be right for youngsters to be asked to get up at 6.30 am to travel many miles outside their local education authority area to get a decent education.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

It is always a source of concern to the House when it is not possible for every child to be accommodated in the school of their parents' choice. One of the most stupid and ill-directed things that the Conservative party did in government was to pretend to people that there could ever be absolute, unfettered parental choice, regardless of school size or places. However, as a result of what we have already done—in less than two years—to put money into education and to reduce class sizes, there has been a net increase of 12,000 places available in popular schools. So the hon. Gentleman's complaints are certainly not the responsibility of this Government.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

As we approach the Welsh general election, may I ask my right hon. Friend if we may have an early debate on the Government's commitment to invest an extra £1 billion in the national health service in Wales and an extra £844 million in education in Wales in the next three years?

May I also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 523? It states:

[That this House congratulates the Welsh Rugby Union team on their magnificent 32-31 win over England at Wembley; and notes the particular achievement of Neil Jenkins in scoring 22 points, coach Graham Henry and captain Robert Howley.]

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

My hon. Friend should rest content with having been at the match, rather than using the Floor of the House to gloat over those who were less fortunate. Although I am reluctant to be drawn into commenting on the issue of the Welsh rugby team and its successes, I certainly share his view that it is important that we should remind the British public and the public in Wales of the resources that the Government are already making available, after less than two years, to improve the health and education services that are such a high priority for the British people. We shall continue to seek opportunities to get that message across. I fear, however, that I cannot promise him an early debate.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

May I reiterate the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—in the light of the right hon. Lady's entirely unsatisfactory response to it—that the Prime Minister should come to the House to explain and defend his support for Romano Prodi as head of the European Commission? She must be aware that Mr. Prodi has explicitly stated that his aim is to create a single economy and a single state in Europe. The House is therefore entitled to know whether the Prime Minister supports those aims, or whether it was just sheer ignorance that led him to support the nomination of someone whose political aims are anathema to the people of this country.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing very much, I am afraid. I should be more impressed by Conservative Members' complaints about anyone moving to create a single economy in Europe had not the Conservative party driven through the Single European Act.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Could the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate next year—[Interruption.]—next week, on the occult, secretive and criminal behaviour of senior Conservatives in Yorkshire, involving the embezzlement of a great deal of money? Is she aware that the senior South Yorkshire Tory, Mr. Graham Pugh, the treasurer of the Doncaster Conservative club, has walked away with £33,000 of money entrusted to his care? The scandal is that the Conservative party is not seeking any police or other action to get the money back, and is trying to cover it up. Is that not in contrast to the actions of the Labour party, which has suspended councillors, brought in the police and done everything to ensure that, as far as possible, we run a clean ship? Labour's action is in contrast to that of the Conservative party in Yorkshire—where the leader of the Conservative party comes from—which is taking no action on that criminal activity. We need a full debate to expose the corruption and criminality of the Conservatives in South Yorkshire.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am sorry to learn of the case to which my hon. Friend refers. I share his view—it has been made plain on many occasions—that it is this party that is determined to try to ensure high standards in public life, and to pursue anyone who falls short of those standards. However, I fear that I cannot promise a specific debate on the matter, not even if my hon. Friend is prepared to wait until next year.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

Approximately 100,000 jobs are at risk in small rural food-producing businesses. Businesses such as abattoirs and cheese makers have been hit by a deluge of regulation and dramatic cost increases; as much as 10 times in some cases. If BMW had not done a deal with the Government to save Longbridge, 50,000 jobs in the west midlands would have been at risk. Here, we are talking about 100,000 jobs spread across rural England which will not be replaced. This is a matter of real urgency which justifies an immediate debate in the House.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

There is likely to be a debate next week in which the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friends may be able to raise those matters. The Government are conscious of the difficulties to which he draws attention, and we are doing everything that can be done to alleviate them. However, he will recognise that there has been growing concern in recent years over issues of hygiene and food safety. It is important to try to get the right balance, although no one is arguing that we have it yet.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Can we have an early debate on party political funding through foreign donations? The Leader of the House will be aware from press reports yesterday of the £18,000 that the Conservative party received in the run-up to the last general election from a Serbian company with close links to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Since the issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) at Prime Minister's questions yesterday, the Conservative party has made it clear that it sees no problem with the source of that funding. That attitude will be regarded with shock and repugnance by the vast majority of people in this country. Will my right hon. Friend therefore organise an early debate so that the Conservative party can explain and justify itself?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

There will be a debate at some point on party funding, and certainly this party has set its face against foreign donations. I heard the well-timed and well-delivered intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) yesterday. I am sorry to learn that his appeal for that money to go to the refugees in Kosovo fell on stony ground.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Conservative, Altrincham and Sale West

Is the Leader of the House aware that, through parliamentary written answers, I have obtained clear evidence of blatant political bias in appointments made to NHS trusts and health authorities? Since 1 May 1997, some 228 Labour councillors have been appointed to those bodies. Will she ensure that the House has an early opportunity to debate what is a clear abuse of the Government's position?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. Despite the conclusions that he may have drawn from answers to parliamentary questions, he should be aware that the Commissioner for Public Appointments, in his annual report last year, reported that he had done a careful audit of NHS appointments and had found no evidence whatsoever of Ministers intervening to ensure the advantage of their nominees. I can understand the discrepancy between the hon. Gentleman's and the commissioner's interpretation. I can well believe that the former sees as blatant political bias the fact that any Labour members are appointed to the bodies from which the Conservatives sought to remove them altogether, but I fear that I cannot agree with that interpretation.