Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 22nd March 2001.

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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) 12:31 pm, 22nd March 2001

The hon. Lady was kind enough to say that a reminder might be helpful and I appreciate the courtesy with which she made her point, but, no, the Easter recess had not slipped my mind. In fact, I was discussing it only this morning. I understand her point about the notice that the House likes to have about the length of the recess. All I can say is what I usually say on these matters, which is that it is subject to the progress of business. [Laughter.] When the Government have had a chance further to assess the progress of our legislative programme, I will share our thoughts with the House as soon as I can.

The hon. Lady asked about preparations for the continued handling of the foot and mouth crisis. As she will be aware, if a general election were called, Ministers do not cease to be Ministers. They continue to carry out their duties. She raised the issue of the code of conduct. My recollection is and my impression has always been—although this will be a matter of discussion, should a general election be called—that what is intended is to ensure that the holding of a ministerial post does not lead either to controversial party political decisions being taken which might bind a subsequent Government unfortunately or to exploitation for party political advantage.

As Members on both sides of the House are striving to be responsible about this serious crisis and, although occasionally there have been some differences of view, both the Government and the Opposition take the crisis in the countryside seriously, so that seems to me to be almost the last area in which difficulties of the kind which the hon. Lady identified might be likely to arise. If, however, such a circumstance develops, it will undoubtedly be a matter for discussion and careful consideration in the relevant Departments.

I understand the hon. Lady's remarks about Macedonia. She will know that it is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday, when it will be possible for Members to raise the issue She asked about the legislative programme in general. Business is coming back from the Lords and returning to the Floor of the House. That is true for all legislation in the pipeline, including the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, and other issues on which the Government have proposals to put before the House.

The hon. Lady lost me on her final point about the learning disability White Paper. I am not sure what the relevance was of her careful point about Mr. Al Fayed. I am sure that there is a delightful football ground in her constituency. Indeed, there is a delightful one in mine—