Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 1st March 2001.

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 for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 5 MARCH—Debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 6 MARCH—Second Reading of the International Development Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

THURSDAY 8 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 9 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 12 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget Debate.

TUESDAY 13 MARCH—Conclusion of the Budget Debate.

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

THURSDAY 15 MARCH—Estimates Day [2nd Allotted Day].

The Liaison Committee will recommend subjects for debate.

At 7 o'clock the House will be asked to agree the Spring Supplementary Estimates, Votes on Account and Defence Votes A.

FRIDAY 16 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

The House will wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 7 March, there will be a debate relating to motor vehicle distribution and servicing agreements in the European Community in European Standing Committee C.

On Wednesday 7 March, there will be a debate relating to health requirements for animal by-products in European Standing Committee A.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 14 March, there will be a debate relating to community immigration policy in European Standing Committee C.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 7 March 2001: European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: (a) 12648/00 and (b) 12646/00, Health requirements for animal by-products. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 28-iii and HC 28-vii(2000–01).

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union document: 13889/00, Competition in motor vehicle distribution and servicing. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee report HC 28-iii(2000–01).

Wednesday 14 March 2001:

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union document: 11529/00, Community immigration policy. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee report: HC 28-iii(2000–01).]

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. Yesterday's debate in Opposition time on the continuing foot and mouth crisis was welcomed by Members on both sides. Despite the fact that we have a busy schedule next week, including the Budget statement, I hope that the right hon. Lady can confirm that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be available to come to the House as necessary to share new information and advice with hon. Members, not least because the disease has now spread throughout the United Kingdom. Members will have questions in respect of telephone calls and queries from constituents, and it would be helpful to be updated by the Minister and to have an opportunity to ask questions. I hope that time will be found for that.

On foot and mouth, can the right hon. Lady tell us what contingency arrangements are in place in case the crisis continues? In particular, I have in mind the need to collect national census forms across the country on 29 April and any change that may have to be made to county council elections scheduled for 3 May.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether Downing street has yet received the report of the Hammond inquiry? She will know that there are press reports that it has. If the conclusions of the report are imminent, will she outline how the Government intend to convey that information to the House and what opportunities the House will have to question the Government on it?

May I bring the Leader of the House back to something that I raised at the last business questions: namely, the continuing problems with programming motions, especially in Committee? I have mentioned the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. The House was told that the Government intended to allow 16 sittings on the Bill but, in Committee, the Home Office Minister concerned offered only 14. I gather that in a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee, that was increased to 15 sittings. However, on the last day of its deliberations, the Committee will have to deal with no fewer than 50 clauses as well as new schedules, all of which will have to be compressed into a Thursday, when there are fewer hours for consideration.

I know that the right hon. Lady shares the concern that the programming procedures should be sorted out. I ask her to focus on our experiences with Home Office Bills in particular and to consider the case of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. It is a matter of grave concern to my colleagues that they will have to deal with that very important Bill in such a short space of time.

On the same subject, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill is due to come to the Commons soon from another place. Conservative Members in another place tabled many amendments to the Bill as a result of consultation with many large charitable organisations. It was a matter of great concern to them that they faced open criticism from Labour Members of another place for doing so. I flag that up now because I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the education team is responsive to the need for clauses and amendments to be properly scrutinised and discussed when the Bill comes to the Commons. It is clearly a matter of interest not just to us but to many charitable bodies with an interest in special educational needs.

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 can certainly assure the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food intends to try to keep the House informed about foot and mouth. I understand that he is seeking to put in place arrangements to keep hon. Members informed and to extend the availability of information in localities so that there can be as much accurate information as possible available in the public domain. I know that my right hon. Friend is, among other things, anxious to learn the lessons of the Phillips report and the handling of the BSE crisis, and feels that open and transparent provision of information is desirable in such circumstances. I hope that the House shares that view.

The hon. Lady asked me whether I could say any more about contingency plans for issues such as the census and the local elections; these were well-concealed inquiries about the date of the general election, I thought. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Minister has issues such as the handling of census forms under active consideration. I cannot give the hon. Lady any more information about that at the present time.

The hon. Lady and the House will be aware that the time period is such that we are probably talking about outbreaks of the disease that were incubated before movement was stopped. How great the difficulties are and how speedily they can be resolved will depend on events in the next few days. I cannot tell her any more about that at the moment, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will wish to do so.

I would have assured the hon. Lady that there will be an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Minister in the near future but for the fact that two Departments will be answering oral questions next Thursday, so I shall handle that matter with some caution. However, there will come a point at which the hon. Lady and the House will be able to question my right hon. Friend.

I am not aware that the report of the Hammond inquiry has been received, although, of course, I am aware of the great interest in the matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it plain that he has every intention of publishing the report as speedily as possible. The issue is under consideration, but I understand that it is not yet resolved.

The hon. Lady again raises the issue of programming motions. I am mindful of the concerns that she expresses. We are extremely anxious, as she noted, to reach agreement on those matters. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill receives its Third Reading in the Lords today. Although I am aware that the Bill is progressing, I am not aware of the issues raised by the hon. Lady or of problems with regard to the amendments. I certainly assure her that the education team will take seriously any issues or concerns that arise during the Bill's passage through this House.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

In view of the article in The Daily Telegraph today, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the record of the former chief inspector of schools? I refer especially to the evidence, documented in his own reports, of the success of many of the Government's policies, including the rising GCSE standards, the vastly improved literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools and the success in cutting infant class sizes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have the opportunity to debate those issues before the former chief inspector becomes a Conservative peer?

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 asks me to arrange a debate on those issues. However, given that we are to have Education questions and that the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill is to come before the House, I suspect that there will be opportunities for Members to air such issues.

I am, of course, aware of the former chief inspector's comments. I also heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on the radio this morning handling the issue with extreme skill. He showed the concern for educational standards that I hope everyone in the House shares. I share my right hon. Friend's view that it is to be regretted that the former chief inspector has, apparently, changed his mind on several things that he previously supported; that is, of course, entirely a matter for him.

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

May I return to the scourge of foot and mouth? Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House as soon as possible so that we can hear more about the contingency plans that may have to be used if this terrible disease continues to spread across the country? I draw her attention to the statement made yesterday by her colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that there seemed to be a good case for the postponement of the census. Will the right hon. Lady confirm whether that requires legislation? If so, we need to know in good time.

Will the right hon. Lady go further and ask the Home Secretary to come to the House and explain what the arrangements would be for polling day on 3 May—whatever elections take place on that day? As I understand it, new regulations provide for a complete election by post, if necessary. There has been a complete relaxation of the postal vote arrangements. It would be possible to use postal votes in rural areas, such as Cornwall, where there would be a total distortion of the result—of the county council elections or any other election—if any foot and mouth restrictions remained in the area on polling day. Will the right hon. Lady ask the Home Secretary to explain to the House exactly what contingency plans are in place?

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 hon. Gentleman raises two issues. I think the census may be a matter for the Treasury rather than for the Home Office. People are obviously considering contingency plans, although there may be some reluctance to get into detailed discussions until we know whether there is a need for such steps. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. Friends.

On voting, it is certainly my understanding—although I have not checked the matter with the Home Office—that postal voting, which is much more widely available, might assist in resolving any difficulties. I cannot undertake to ask the Home Secretary to make a special statement on that issue in the near future, not least because Home Office questions will take place on Monday 12 March, offering an opportunity to raise it at a pertinent point.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if any criticism is to be levelled at the Government about Woodhead, it would be that he was not sacked on day one? It is difficult to understand why someone who was so hostile to the Government's plans for education was kept on for so long.

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 has had reservations about those issues for some time and is, of course, free to express them. I simply say that I understand that one of the former chief inspector's criticisms is that he believes that there is a lack of follow-through on policies. I understand also that Mr. de Gruchy, who is not always the Government's greatest fan, has said that however much he may disagree with many of the Government's policies, he does not believe that it can be justifiably alleged that they are not followed through.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

In the context of the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) on the Government's handling of foot and mouth and the considerable concern about foot and mouth across the island of Ireland, will it fall to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to keep us informed of events in Northern Ireland and their effect on the border counties?

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)

To be honest, both are involved, as the right hon. Gentleman will clearly appreciate. However, without becoming too involved in the detail of a specialist subject, I understand that, as far as we are aware, the outbreak in Ireland has some relationship to the original case in the north of England. In that sense, such matters still fall within the remit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Clearly the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is involved and will certainly play his part in keeping the House informed.

Perhaps I may trespass on your good graces for a moment, Mr. Speaker, to confirm to the House that questions to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take place on Thursday 8 March and questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will take place on 15 March. Those are the occasions on which Members will have an opportunity to raise the issues to which I have referred.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of the staff and pupils of the excellent comprehensive schools in my constituency? Each of those schools has its own diversity of ethos, and each has high standards and is producing improving results, year on year. Those improvements are largely due to the work of the staff and pupils and have little to do with the policies of the former chief inspector, but they are also due to the support provided by the excellent local education authority in Bury. In view of the publication last week of the Green Paper on the future of secondary schools and the huge interest that those wide-ranging proposals have produced, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a strong case for a debate in Government time about the future shape and structure of comprehensive education 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 interesting issue and I join him in paying tribute to the excellence of the schools in his constituency. On the day the recent announcements were being made, I happened to be visiting an extremely good comprehensive school—which, as he says, has a richness of diversity—in the Halifax area. There is no doubt that much excellent work is being done, but it is important that we raise the standards of all schools, as he suggests. [Laughter.] Opposition Members are enjoying themselves, but those are the schools that our children attend, even if theirs do not; they are important to Labour Members.

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the work of many good LEAs, which are working in partnership with schools. He refers also to the Green Paper. I am mindful of the remarks in the Financial Times this week that much of the detailed policy in the Green Paper—particularly the emphasis on secondary schools—deserves praise. That view is widely shared.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

May I return to the issue of the foot and mouth crisis? Following the Downing street emergency meeting with farmers' representatives on Tuesday and the debate that took place in the House yesterday, I understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will announce that the Government will open selected abattoirs to take livestock from farms that are free from foot and mouth.

J. J. J. Heathcote, a small but modern abattoir in my constituency, has been in touch this morning to advise me that it understands that the Government will open only large abattoirs. That means that animals may have to travel many, many miles, which some believe has contributed to the crisis that we face today. If that is the case, it could have a devastating impact on small farms and small abattoirs. Will the Leader of the House assure me that the Minister will open not just large abattoirs, but will consider opening small, modern abattoirs? We believe that that would help farming communities.

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 aware that my right hon. Friend is giving careful and detailed consideration to the issue of how the travel of animals to slaughter can be handled so that they do not come into contact with other animals. Consideration is being given to what that will mean in terms of travel distances, times and so on.

I am not aware of the specific issue that the hon. Gentleman has just raised about the size of the abattoirs that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has in mind. However, I take his point, as will my right hon. Friend. I certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

Last year on 19 July, an hour and a half debate was held in Westminster Hall following the report of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' working party on park homes. Should we not now have a full debate on the issue in the House, as it is becoming an increasingly serious matter? More and more people who are not interested in the sites are becoming site owners; they merely rip off the residents. The report of the park homes working party was an attempt to flag up future legislation to introduce controls over these sites. It is important that we make effective progress on the matter.

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 understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am aware of a number of examples of people expressing anxiety about the running of such sites. I fear that I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter on the Floor of the House in the near future, but I undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Mr. Speaker, you will have noticed that, at Treasury questions, Labour Members appeared to be under orders not to ask supplementaries about the euro and the exchange rate that relates to it. Labour Whips may wish to give up discussion of the subject for Lent. However, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that we can discuss the truncated questions that were asked at Treasury questions today and consider the condition in the treaty that there should be a period of stability for at least two years before we would be allowed to enter the euro? We could also consider whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were he still to be in post after an election, proposes to have a referendum before that condition is met or intends to wait two years before he holds any referendum.

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 no ordinance—self-denying or otherwise—on the questions that Labour Members ask. I imagine that they wish to raise other matters and, unlike Conservative Members, do not want to keep going obsessively over the same ground. My hon. Friends have heard the answers and know that they have not changed. Consequently, I can only guess that they feel disinclined to dwell on an issue that has already been resolved. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is rather sad that Conservative Members are so obsessed with this issue. They insist on asking the same questions over and over again, even though they keep getting the same answers.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, yesterday, the Home Office published a draft statutory instrument on the prevention and suppression of terrorism, listing 21 organisations that it sought to have banned in this country. When is that measure likely to be debated in the House? My right hon. Friend will be aware also that many people have misgivings about the inclusion of certain organisations on the list, which might restrict peace negotiations. Under the current procedure, the measure can be debated for one and a half hours on an unamendable motion. Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is an extremely serious issue, that we should have longer than one and a half hours to debate it and that right hon. and hon. Members should be able to table amendments so that we can discuss the individual organisations that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is proposing to ban? Many of us believe that there are implications not only for civil liberties, but for the peace process in a number of places, including Sri Lanka.

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 can understand my hon. Friend's concern. As he rightly says, these are serious issues and he knows that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes them extremely seriously. I am afraid that I cannot undertake to provide for a procedure that would allow amendments to be tabled to a statutory instrument. There is a precedent; such proposals have often been considered in the House, but have been rejected by every Government. While I understand my hon. Friend's wish to have a lengthy debate on the matter, he will understand that I have to balance that wish against a number of other pressures on time. However, he will know that Home Office questions will take place on Monday 12 March, when an opportunity may arise to consider some of these issues. I undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend who, as always, will do everything that he can to meet the concerns of hon. Members.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

May I return to the foot and mouth outbreak? It is not acceptable that we should have to wait another week until Agriculture questions next Thursday to raise the matter, as it is a fast-moving disease. This morning, I was contacted by Mr. Kevin Feakins of Garron Livestock Ltd. in my constituency. The company was closed down two days ago due to foot and mouth disease. He is very concerned about some 3,400 sheep that he exported to France which are currently being slaughtered by the French authorities. The French authorities are telling the British Embassy in Paris that Mr. Feakins will receive only FF300 per sheep, which is approximately one third of their value. Whatever we may think about live exports, they are still legal. Given that Mr. Feakins will receive the full market value in compensation for sheep that are slaughtered in the United Kingdom, but not for those exported to France, will the Leader of the House make sure that when the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food returns to the House, he will have details about those sheep, as well as those being slaughtered in the United Kingdom?

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 did not say that we would have to wait a week to discuss the matter. I said that Agriculture questions would take place next Thursday, providing a natural opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to raise the issue. I also said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will try to keep hon. Members informed by whatever means he can. The hon. Gentleman may have overlooked the fact that I told the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that my right hon. Friend is even now working on arrangements whereby hon. Members can be kept informed and speedily updated on any developments. I know that he will seek to do that. With regard to the specific issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, I understand his concern. I cannot undertake that my right hon. Friend will make a statement specifically about that matter, but I shall certainly draw it to his attention. I am confident that he will be in contact with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to future business on the Order Paper. The Home Secretary has tabled the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) Regulations 2001. Before those regulations are brought to the House, will they be reviewed, as they are flawed? They omit to fulfil the Government's commitment to enfranchise the people of Gibraltar in the next European elections, which they are obliged to do following a court action that they could have avoided had they taken the advice of myself and others. I hope that the measure will be looked at again before it comes to the House because some of us will not acquiesce in this grave omission by our silence.

If my right hon. Friend thinks it somewhat irksome that I keep raising these issues as a matter of attrition with the Home Secretary, let me say that I take heart because the Home Secretary is a listening Minister. Two or three years ago, I asked him to introduce a measure to allow Church of England and Catholic priests to stand for election in the House of Commons; he refused. It pays dividends to keep working at it because, this afternoon, I hope that we will give a Third Reading to the very important measure for which I campaigned.

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 would never dream of regarding my hon. Friend as irksome. He is a conscientious and hard-working Member who has had a good deal of success in raising issues in the House, as he points out. I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I cannot undertake to find time for a separate special debate. The order will have to go through a scrutiny process in the House and outside, and I shall ensure that his concerns are aired.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on departmental replies to the correspondence of Members of Parliament? If she cannot do that, will she use her influence with other Departments to ensure that we receive speedier responses? I wrote to the Department of Health on 29 September 2000 and received an answer on 12 February which said: You and your constituents will be pleased to learn that the British Medical Association currently runs a mentoring scheme for overseas doctors. They can be contacted at … BMA House. That was an interesting answer, but I do not think that I should have waited five months for it.

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 share the hon. Gentleman's view, as will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, to whose attention I shall draw that example.

Photo of Mr Keith Darvill Mr Keith Darvill Labour, Upminster

Now that my right hon. Friend has had an opportunity to read the Procedure Committee's report on the election of the Speaker, what progress has she made in finding time to debate its recommendations at an early date?

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 mindful of the Committee's report and its excellent work. We have not been able to find time to hold that debate in the next couple of weeks, but I am aware that there is pressure on both sides of the House for the matter to be discussed.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

On foot and mouth, can the Leader of the House guarantee that a Minister will give guidance on how animals that were sold for slaughter in Carlisle ended up on an open-range farm in south Armagh? Something has to be done to tighten procedures, especially when that practice could have a devastating impact on the hard-hit industry in Northern Ireland and could spread the disease to the Republic, which would be even worse hit.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

Will it be possible to debate the impact of Government policies on single parents, if only to dispel the myths peddled by the tabloids and to demonstrate that the vast majority of single parents are victims of desertion, bereavement or divorce? Perhaps we could also discuss cases such as that of my constituent who came into my office the other day to tell me that her life had been transformed by the working families tax credit. She was able to afford child care, which meant that she could get off benefits, into work and do something interesting.

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 know from experience and from comments that people have made to me how much many single parents welcome the beneficial changes that the Government have introduced, especially because they are directed at children, which is a prime concern for single parents in particular. What my hon. Friend says is true: most single parents are involuntarily in that role and are doing their best to raise their families without them being harmed further by the circumstances that they face. I fear, however, that I cannot find time to hold a special debate on the matter on the Floor of the House in the near future, but she might want to pursue the issue in Westminster Hall.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. During business questions, hon. Members should ask for either a statement or a debate. Furthermore, if they are brief, I can call all those who want to put a question.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

Thank you, Mr. Speaker—I shall try to get this right.

The Leader of the House will be aware that, although the Opposition Whips Office is extremely effective, it cannot possibly be so effective as to have planted two or three moles on the Labour Benches this afternoon to demand that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment come to the House to explain why a former head of the schools inspectorate launched such a devastating attack on the failure of the Government's education policies. I hope that she will feel able to listen to the demands of her Back Benchers. If she agrees to them, I assure her that the Opposition will be extremely pleased.

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 do not think that I can add much to what has already been said, but no doubt the matter will be returned to many times in the House.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 365:

[That this House, hearing in mind the calls in the NHS plan, echoed by the British Medical Association, for more medical professionals, welcomes the joint bid by the universities of York and Hull to establish a medical school; notes the support from NHS trusts in York, Hull, North Yorkshire, the East Riding and South Humber; further notes that this is the largest population centre in England without a medical school; and expresses hope that, if successful, this bid will improve healthcare provision and training in a region with significant areas of deprivation and help alleviate the significant problems the region has in recruiting and retaining clinical staff]

It refers to the need to expand provision for medical education and new medical schools if we are to satisfy demand. A bid focusing on my constituency has been made by the universities of Brighton and Sussex. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that important issue, given that the provision of mare doctors is one of the keys to bringing our health service up to scratch?

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 share my hon. Friend's view on the importance of providing more doctors. He will know that the Government have already expanded the number of training places and that we are keen to ensure that the work force is expanded in that way. I am aware of the application to which he refers; it will be given sympathetic consideration, as are all such applications.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Can the Leader of the House provide for an urgent debate, immediately after the Budget statement, on the disproportionate state benefits and expenditure in Scotland compared with those in England? Does she not agree that it is important that the electorate are informed, through a lengthy and detailed debate in the House, as to why Scotland is such a privileged an I cosseted part of the United Kingdom? She will know that the Scots sometimes receive as much as 25 per cent. more expenditure per head than the English on education, health and other matters. The taxpayers of England will want to know why that is so and where the Government Stand on that issue well ahead of a general election.

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 stand where previous Governments have always stood on implementing the agreement on and breakdown of the provision of public moneys. As I recall, that was not changed by the Conservatives when they had a 20-year opportunity to do so. In that context, I cannot undertake to provide an urgent debate on a matter that is not an emergency and has no urgency about it.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Shipley

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on local transport investment? This week, the final report of the Aire Valley public transport commission in my constituency will be launched. It will help us to take advantage of new investment in the Bingley relief road and improvements to Leeds city station, as well as bringing together for the first time all the bus and train companies and transport user groups.

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 understand my ion. Friend's strong interest in the issue, on which he has long campaigned—in fact, I think that he chaired the Aire Valley public transport commission, which provide s a good example of a range of local interests coming together to address and satisfy local need. I also understand my hon. Friend's desire for the matter to be aired. Perhaps he will find an opportunity to do that in Westminster Hall; I fear that I cannot find time for it on the Floor of the House.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider her uncharacteristic truculence of 8 February and agree now to a debate on the Government's plan to scrap the pound after a rigged referendum? Given that millions of Labour voters want to keep the pound and that the right hon. Lady herself has a distinguished track record of euroscepticism, why does she not now do the noble thing t and resign from the Cabinet to speak up for those people, thereby ensuring that she becomes a real heroine, perhaps the length and breadth of the land and certainly from her birthplace of Ashton-under-Lyne to her constituency of Derby, South?

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 all very flattering. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's warm wish to welcome me back to the Back Benches.

First, it is pushing the boat out a bit to talk about a rigged referendum for which no preparations have yet even been made or announced. The hon. Gentleman is convinced already that it will be rigged.

Secondly, I fear that I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. Although he is entirely right that I campaigned in 1975 and for some years thereafter on the issue of membership of the European Union—I not infrequently remind those who did not share that point of view at the time that I did so—I have long since come to the conclusion that the United Kingdom has been involved in the EU for so long, and our legal and financial structures are so enmeshed, that it is now essential that we make the best of our membership. If that means that at some point we must consider entry into economic and monetary union, the House and the country will have to consider it.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the Leader arrange for a Minister at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to make a statement, following much concern about the erection of telecommunication masts and related environmental and health problems? In my constituency, there are three applications involving Ribchester, Clayton le Dale and an area just outside Longridge. It is a rural constituency and we do not want to turn the Ribble valley, or the countryside of the rest of England and Wales, into a giant Meccano set. Is it possible for a Minister to advise us of the changes that may be made to ensure that more power is given to local authorities to determine where masts are erected?

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 know that the issue arouses concern on both sides of the House. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) introduced a ten-minute Bill on the subject yesterday. Incidentally, it was opposed by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), which shows that there are different views on both sides of the House.

The issue is frequently aired, and I shall draw the remarks of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In the circumstances, I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter on the Floor of the House. There are many opportunities to raise the issue, and it is raised and aired continually. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns are passed on.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

After the premature leak to the media yesterday of the results of the Heathrow terminal 5 inquiry, will the Deputy Prime Minister make a statement on the report, which is of enormous interest to London and south-east Members. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us a courteous and proper presentation of the report's conclusions. When he does so, will he tell us what action he is taking to trace the leaker of highly market-sensitive information?

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 understanding is that there has not been a leak and that no decision on the inspector's report has yet been taken. I do not know from where the report originated. I undertake to let my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister know of the concern in the House that, when a decision is made, it should be properly conveyed to the House.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the delay in Departments responding to written parliamentary questions? One of my written questions was answered yesterday and appears today in Hansard at column 649W. I tabled the question to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport four weeks ago. It was a simple question. I asked when the Hinduja foundation paid the sponsorship money for the dome—hardly the most exacting question. I now have the answer, which is that a 10 per cent. deposit was paid in February 1999, just before the passport was issued, and that the rest was paid afterwards. I am still waiting for answers to questions that were tabled at the same time about the involvement of Lord Levy in the episode. I cannot understand why I am not getting more timely responses.

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 issue that the hon. Gentleman raises has been aired in the House and no doubt will be aired again, but I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on it.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I take the Leader back to the foot and mouth crisis? Farmers in my constituency are subject to movement restriction orders because of outbreaks just across two county boundaries. They are desperately worried about the situation. Will the right hon. Lady make earnest representations to her right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement to the House early next week on the fast-moving situation? Farmers are urging me to make representations about the welfare implications of their not being able to move animals to slaughter, and the compensation arrangements.

If the Leader of the House is unable to do that, may I make a practical suggestion to her, which I ask her urgently to consider? My suggestion is that after the Minister takes Agriculture questions next Thursday, he should answer a separate question on foot and mouth, so that we will have time to question him specifically on the issue. Thursday is a light day of business in the House. It is one of four days' debate on the Budget, and there is no reason why a little time should not be found for such a serious situation.

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 convey to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the general wish that has been expressed today for the House to be kept informed. The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend is extremely conscientious about doing that. I know that my right hon. Friend hopes that the arrangements that he intends to put in place for information will mean that hon. Members do not need to question him at the Dispatch Box about developments, and that he will keep them informed by other means, but obviously that remains to be seen. The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting suggestion about how to handle the issue at Agriculture questions, which no doubt Mr. Speaker will also have heard. Again, I will draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend, to see whether he considers it the right way to deal with the matter.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

May I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to this week's edition of Computer Weekly, which is published today? It alleges that two leaked internal Ministry of Defence documents indicate that critical changes were made to the Chinook mark 2's FADEC software. As a consequence of that, I was given a misleading answer to a question that I tabled in the summer of 1999. The Leader of the House will be aware that the matter is of interest to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and that the Prime Minister has answered a number of questions on it. The other place is due to debate the issue next Monday. Given the allegations made in Computer Weekly, does the right hon. Lady agree that the House deserves a statement or, at the very least, a fulsome written answer?

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 Computer Weekly, no doubt incorrectly, is not my daily reading, or even weekly reading. Consequently, I am not aware of the issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I undertake to draw it to the attention of the relevant Ministers, who are no doubt already being briefed on the matter. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on it, but if there is concern that the wrong information has been given, that will doubt less be addressed in some way.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

May we have a statement, please, from the Prime Minister explaining the contradiction between what he told our most important ally, President Bush, about the so-called European Union rapid reaction force being "firmly embedded" in NATO, and the provisions of the annexes to the treaty of Nice, which make it abundantly clear that the command and control of any such force will be entirely independent of NATO or any other organisation, other than the EU?

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 issue has been aired repeatedly in the House. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is certainly aware of the concern that has been expressed. I understand that the discussions that took place in the United States were I full and constructive, and that there is complete agreement between our Government and the Government of the US that there will be real value in the different role that the European rapid reaction force will play, and about the huge importance of NATO.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

May I endorse the calls for a debate on education policy that were made by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor)? Clearly, they want to sort out the confusion among Labour Members, who now know that they are part of a Government in which the Secretary of State for Education and Employment finds it difficult to make tough decisions and the Prime Minister cannot see things through. Of course, the Government are also prepared simultaneously to attack comprehensive and grammar schools. They are terminally confused and they do not know whether they are in favour of selection or against it, so it is time that we had a statement or debate to clear the matter up.

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 have been extensive statements and debates on education matters, and more will no doubt occur in future. The only confusion of which I am aware exists on the Opposition Benches, and perhaps in the mind of the former chief inspector of schools.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the huge threat that is posed to rural magistrates courts by the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998? To conform with the Act, courts must be reorganised so as to ensure that the public do not see prisoners in handcuffs, as such restraints infringe their dignity. The courts of Market Drayton, Whitchurch and Oswestry face significant costs. For example, Oswestry magistrates court requires £197,450 for compliance. May we have an urgent statement from the, Lord Chancellor's Department, explaining its policy? The requirements are imposed by central Government, but in theory the local expenditure is decided by magistrate.

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 undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter, although I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. I know that issues regarding the handling of rural magistrates courts and their problems are frequently raised with the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy). Indeed, I believe that Question Time for that Department will be held next week, so he may find an opportunity to raise the issue then.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the timing of the foot and mouth outbreak is especially unfortunate for hard-pressed farmers, as at least 50 per cent. of last year's lamb exports were destined for France and other European Union markets, which also form 90 per cent. of the culled sow markets? I understand that those two categories would not qualify for the funds that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food explained yesterday. Will she therefore invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement next week to announce the application of contingency funds to those categories?

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 aware of the particular misfortune in respect of the timing of what is in any case a very worrying outbreak, and of the great anxiety that is felt in the farming community. I cannot undertake to invite my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to make a special contribution on that issue next week, not least because he will be making his Budget statement. What that will contain is another matter, about which I know no more than she does.