Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:53 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 12:53 pm, 5th April 2005

Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a business statement. Following the Prime Minister's announcement earlier today, business for tomorrow will now be as follows:

Wednesday 6 April—Consideration of a business of the House motion to facilitate business for prorogation, followed by all stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill followed by formal proceedings on the Appropriation Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Inquiries Bill [Lords], followed by consideration in Committee and Third Reading of the Disability Discrimination Bill [Lords], followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Public Service Ombudsman (Wales) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords Amendments.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Thursday 7 April—Consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Education Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve the carry-over of the Crossrail Bill, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by all stages of the International Organisations Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords Amendments.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received, and if necessary:

Friday 8 April—The House may be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts.

The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.

Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 11 April by proclamation.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and his courtesy in letting me have early sight of it. Conservative Members are pleased that this surprise election has been announced. We are prepared to be constructive in discussions about the Bills currently before Parliament, but does he not agree that there are many Bills that have not completed their normal passage, and indeed some have not been debated at all? The Government have also lost a day for reasons that we all understand and agree with. So, Bills will be lost. Will the Leader of the House confirm that his statement does not affect questions or Adjournment debates, which will go ahead as before?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

May I say how grateful I am for the response of the shadow Leader of the House? We are working together through the usual channels to try to bring about the normal orderly conclusion of business in these circumstances. Questions will continue, including questions to the Prime Minister tomorrow, and Adjournment debates will continue. However, in Westminster Hall on Thursday there will be no private Member's debates, although they will happen on Wednesday—tomorrow.

May I say for the record that if, the discussions that have been conducted with the Opposition through the usual channels, which have been constructive, reach the expected conclusion, we will have secured Royal Assent for 16 Bills, more than half the programme of Bills announced in the Queen's Speech? That will be a considerable achievement.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Will the Leader of the House confirm that however constructive our discussions over the next few days—I am sure that my colleagues in both Houses will be constructive—the Government do not have to dissolve the House for another 15 months, five years after the date of the last general election? In those circumstances do the Government really believe that this is the right way to conduct the business of the House? If there is so much vital business still to be scrutinised by Parliament, why does it have to be dissolved so early? Does the Leader of the House recall that the Prime Minister himself said, in an earlier manifesto:

"We will introduce as a general rule a fixed parliamentary term"?

Does he appreciate that although I might, as a result, have to delay my retirement, there is still a good case for a longer Parliament?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was making a plea to enhance his pension. I am sure that the House agrees with me that he has had many distinguished years here and that he will be sorely missed. I wish him a very happy retirement, but I cannot help him on any of the other points.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Will my right hon. Friend consider carrying over for consideration tomorrow the Mental Capacity Bill, which is due to be considered this afternoon but not for another six hours, so that the House may be fully satisfied that, by accepting the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Jim Dobbin, the assurance to the Archbishop of Cardiff which the Government gave the last time the Bill was considered will be totally and fully fulfilled, and those of us who are to be asked to vote with the Government in the next few days will be able to do so, rather than feeling that we need more assurances?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

My right hon. Friend puts the point very fairly and sensitively. We are seeking to move ahead in the way that he describes. It is our objective to get Royal Assent, if we can, but it may not be achievable because of the sensitivities involved; we will just have to do our best.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

What time will the House be dissolved on Monday?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

That is a matter for Her Majesty because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is done by royal proclamation. The normal dissolution arrangements will apply in the normal fashion, and the precedents established for when the House dissolves will apply as normal.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

I am delighted that the Disability Discrimination Bill is scheduled for tomorrow, so it will be completed. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the measure will go through intact, thereby fulfilling Labour's commitment to comprehensive civil rights for disabled people during this Parliament?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I very much hope so. I share my hon. Friend's objectives. The Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation of this Parliament, to give extra rights to people with disabilities. I hope that all Opposition parties will be in constructive mode in giving the Government every opportunity to get the legislation on to the statute book, and that it will receive Royal Assent as soon as possible.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

What will happen to the private Members' Bills scheduled for debate on Friday? I am promoting one such Bill, to remove discrimination against Catholics under the Act of Settlement and other Acts, and was confident that the Government would facilitate progress on the measure. What do they now intend to do about that and other Bills, and will the Leader of the House, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, join the Leader of the Opposition in saying that he will seriously consider removing the last piece of religious discrimination in our constitution?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed that there will be no private Members' Bills on Friday, but there is simply no opportunity to take them forward. Other Members whose Bills are making progress will also be disappointed, but I am afraid that is a consequence of the choices that always have to be made in the run-up to a general election.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller PPS (Team PPS), Department of Trade and Industry

Why has the Road Safety Bill been left out of my right hon. Friend's list? Over which aspects of saving lives on roads was it not possible to reach agreement with Opposition parties?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The Opposition said that there was insufficient time for the proper scrutiny that they demanded, so it has not been possible to make progress on that Bill—which I regret, because it is a vital life-saving measure on which we should have been able to achieve Royal Assent.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the business on the Order Paper today remains as stated? If it does, what is the point? We have a Second Reading on a Bill that cannot go forward, and a programme motion saying that some of the proceedings on it must finish by 21 April.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I am trying to answer. Sir Patrick Cormack has been a Member much longer than me and is a much more distinguished parliamentarian than me—[Interruption.] I happily give him that; there are probably many others.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The former shadow Leader of the House, in his normal charitable fashion, says that it is not difficult. I will buy him a pint afterwards.

As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire knows, these are the normal circumstances in which a business statement is made before Prorogation.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Consumer Credit Bill commanded cross-party support in this place. In his negotiations with Opposition parties, may I prevail on him to allow the Bill to complete its parliamentary passage so that constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, north Staffordshire and across the country will no longer be victimised by loan sharks?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

That is another Bill on which we should very much like to have achieved early Royal Assent, so that it could go on to the statute book, for the very reasons noted by my hon. Friend: loan sharks are a scourge across the country and we wanted to deal with them through the Bill. Unfortunately, the Opposition say that there is no proper time to scrutinise it, so we shall not make the progress that we wanted.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

In terms of outstanding business, motion 32 on the Order Paper, on the conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the war against Iraq, is still outstanding. There will obviously be no opportunity to discuss the motion before the end of this Parliament, but does the Leader of the House agree that the opportunity of getting the Prime Minister bang to rights over the illegal war in Iraq could be significantly easier in the next Parliament?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

That argument has been rerun again, again and again. The hon. Gentleman knows that that impeachment motion was never going anywhere, and that it was a device for him and his colleagues to make the point that they have made repeatedly, like an old gramophone record. That answers his point very fully.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there will still be an Adjournment debate on Thursday on defence in the UK?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Will we still be Members of Parliament on Monday 11 April, and will the Leader of the House guarantee that any legislation that remains to be completed will have an opportunity to be considered and scrutinised properly, and that there will be no undignified shovelling through of legislation—even if the Front Benchers have agreed it among themselves?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

If the right hon. Gentleman still held the same position as he did when I came into this job, he would have been on the Front Bench, negotiating in exactly the same way as his successor. The answer to his question is that Members will cease to be Members after Dissolution when it takes place on Monday.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Will my right hon. Friend clarify something that will, I suspect, cause much disappointment to many of my Muslim constituents? Is it the case that we could lose the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, and can he explain why?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I very much regret that it looks as though we shall lose the opportunity to introduce the new offence of incitement to religious hatred that would have given particular comfort to the Muslim community. However, the Opposition made it absolutely clear that they were not willing to see that particular clause of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill go into law, so they bear full responsibility for blocking it. I am sure that Muslim communities throughout Britain will take careful note of that, and of the position of the Liberal Democrats on the matter.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Will the Leader of the House, even at this eleventh hour, cause his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House exactly what is going on in China concerning MG Rover, which has massive implications in the midlands for the work force of MG Rover and the supply chain? This is a matter of great anxiety, which should be resolved before the election.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I understand the hon. Gentleman's constituency interest. He knows that the Secretary of State will answer questions on Thursday, when he will have a chance, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, to put any question he wishes, with his customary vigour and effective representation.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he and his colleagues have done everything possible to try to secure the passage of the provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill relating to religious hatred? The issue is of vital importance to Muslims in our communities. They feel marginalised and threatened at present, and look to the House to say that they are an important and integral part of our society. We should do everything possible to defend them from those heinous crimes. Can my right hon. Friend tell us what the Opposition parties gave as their reasons for refusing to co-operate on this matter?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The Opposition parties—the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives—will have to speak for themselves, but I find it very disappointing that they have failed to support the Muslim community, who have constantly asked for that protection, and who alone are isolated in being prevented from getting that necessary protection. I hope that note will be taken of that across the country. I am afraid that it has not been possible to reach agreement—although if there is a change of heart in the next few hours there may be a reversal on that point. I certainly hope so.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions and Welfare Reform, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

As the Pensions Act 2004 will come into force tomorrow, will the Leader of the House assure us that any affirmative resolutions required to operate it, and indeed other legislation currently coming into force, will be in place? No less importantly, can he assure the House that where assurances have been given in Committee about proper consideration under negative resolution procedures, there will be some opportunity of ventilating outstanding concerns about those important and sometimes vital technical issues?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

It is certainly our intention to meet the objectives that the hon. Gentleman describes, and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will give careful consideration to what he has said, because I will draw it to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Further to the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend Paul Farrelly, may I urge my right hon. Friend to take up the cudgels again on behalf of the Consumer Credit Bill—something that not only is urgently needed in many of the communities represented by hon. Members, but was debated fully in Committee? Indeed, we set aside eight sittings for debate, but we only used four of them. So it seems clear not only that there is unanimity on the proposals, but that the Minister for Employment Relations, Consumers and Postal Services, who ably led the Bill through the House, managed to give satisfactory answers to all the queries raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would be good to see that legislation in place.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I very much agree. As my hon. Friend knows, and as the Minister whom he mentioned, who is sitting almost next to me, will confirm, the Bill completed all its stages in the House of Commons but got bogged down in the House of Lords. That is the reason why there is an inability to make progress with the Bill. I very much regret that such progress cannot be made, and all hon. Members' constituents will regret that as well. After we win the next general election, we will have to return to this matter and ensure that a consumer credit Bill is introduced.

I wonder whether it would be helpful to the House to say, with permission, that Parliament will be summoned to meet on 11 May, when the first business will be the election of the Speaker and the swearing in of Members, and that the State Opening will take place on Tuesday 17 May.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the election timetable is entirely in the Prime Minister's gift, and that only three years and 10 months of a possible five-year electoral cycle have gone by, so if any Bill or part of a Bill does not get through, it is entirely the Government's fault?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

In one sense the hon. Gentleman is right, but in another sense, all Prime Ministers are in this position. Indeed, I think that he will find that Mrs. Thatcher was in a pretty similar position in 1983 and 1987. These are the normal circumstances in which Dissolution is sought, and the Prime Minister has the right to seek it.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

Has the Leader of the House made any provision for the consideration of secondary legislation between now and Dissolution? I ask that particularly in the light of this morning's European Court judgment, as the Court's provisional decision was to overturn the food supplements directive. Will he make provision between now and Dissolution to suspend the regulations that apply in this country for the duration of the election campaign, given the issues that the industry faces as we speak?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Obviously, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will give this matter close consideration in view of the Court's decision and will act accordingly, but I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Leader of the House has been kind enough in the past to acknowledge the work that I have tried to do to reach out to the Muslim community. Will he therefore, on reflection, withdraw the remarks that he made earlier? Plenty of Conservative Members, and possibly even Labour Members, believe that there are many good reasons not to support the incitement to religious hatred provisions. Those reasons have nothing to do with hostility to the Muslim community, but rather with the concern that under the terms of that ill-considered, although well-intentioned legislation, any charlatan or exploiter who chose to define his activities as a religion would be able to prevent anyone from criticising him.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I was not suggesting in any way that he—or any other hon. Member—was seeking to turn his back on the Muslim community. [Hon. Members: "Yes, you were."] What I was saying was that the Muslim community—in particular its most respected voice, the Muslim Council of Britain—wants that legislation and that offence to exist, to give Muslims the extra protection that they do not enjoy at the moment. They are virtually alone as a group in not enjoying that protection. The hon. Gentleman, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats must confront the fact that they are denying the Muslim community's representatives the opportunity to get the protection for which they have asked, and which we as a Government are still willing to deliver if the Opposition will co-operate.