HC Deb 30 July 1998 vol 317 cc547-59 4.34 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business of the House for the first week back after the summer recess.

MONDAY 19 OCTOBER AND TUESDAY 20 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a motion to approve the conclusions of the Government's strategic defence review.

WEDNESDAY 21 OCTOBER—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Human Rights Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 22 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the 10th report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on housing; followed by a debate on the seventh report from the Trade and Industry Committee on reform of European structural funds. Both debates will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 23 OCTOBER—The House will not be sitting.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

I am grateful for notice of the business for the first week back. I welcome the right hon. Lady to her first business questions, and look forward to working with her. In that spirit, may I suggest that she glance at the website at No. 10, whose Cabinet page still shows her as President of the Board of Trade?

Can the right hon. Lady confirm that there will be an oral statement at 11 am tomorrow on the roads review, and explain why all the other oral statements after the comprehensive spending review took place within a few days of it, while this one was held back until the Friday that the House rises? When we return, can we have a debate in Government time on the new role of the enforcer at the Cabinet Office, to give the House a clearer idea of how he will operate and what his remit is? How will he kick-start the stalled programme of welfare reform, caught, as we heard yesterday, between two warring Departments? How will he arbitrate between No. 10 and No. 11 on such issues as the future of the Paymaster General?

When do the Government hope to receive and publish the report of the Jenkins commission on electoral reform? Can we have a debate on it? Will the Labour party do what the Conservatives have done, and place in the Library of a copy its submission to the commission?

On today's costly and revisionist annual report, should the Prime Minister not hold himself to account in the Chamber of the House of Commons rather than in the rose garden at No. 10? Should he not do so before all Members of the House, rather than a hand-picked team of Ministers?

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. It is not my first business questions, because I have been shadow Leader of the House. I do not know whether he thinks that I am on performance-related pay but he asked a lot of questions, all of which I will endeavour to deal with. I assure him that there is no significance in—and nothing sinister about—the roads statement being made tomorrow, which is a sitting day. It has not been held back; it is a matter of it being ready. At business questions, Members always want statements, but every other day they do not want them, because they take time from debates. It is always difficult.

The right hon. Gentleman seeks a debate on the role of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I am sure that there will continue to be Opposition days, so it is a matter that he and his colleagues can continue to pursue. I know that they are looking for ways to fill the time, as they have no policy of their own to debate. He will have to consider that.

On the Jenkins commission, I do not know the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question. I will inquire about the issues that he raised on that. He asked about why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's annual report was not presented to the House. He overlooks the fact that, obviously and inevitably in the annual report, the Government report on what has already been done and that a parliamentary question on the annual report was answered. Scrutiny in the House through statements and questions and so on are for future policy. I assure him that all the issues have been aired in the House. I commend the example of producing such a report to the Conservatives, though I am not sure what they would put in it.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend back at the Dispatch Box—I know that all my colleagues join me in that. I particularly commend her good sense in debating the Select Committee report on housing in the week we return. Having set such a good example, will she also allow us to debate the Select Committee reports on regional airports and other aspects of transport, because they are all equally good?

Mrs. Beckett

Any report produced by a Committee in which my hon. Friend had a role would be worth reading. I shall bear in mind her view that the reports merit examination in the House—but not, I fear, in the first week back.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

In welcoming and congratulating the right hon. Lady, may I say how much we appreciate the work of her predecessor as Leader of the House? I hope that she will extend my felicitations to her predecessor.

I remind the right hon. Lady that the Leader of the House has two roles. She must ensure that the Government's business is carried through, but she must also represent the views of all Back Benchers and parties. I draw her attention to early-day motion 1569.

[That this House is appalled at the behaviour of a small but organised group of Tory honourable Members who appear to be acting as 'a party within a party' in blocking the progress of Private Members' Bills that have the support of the House; notes the inability of the leadership of the Conservative Party to deal with these backbench honourable Members who seem to be running the Party; and hopes that the House can find time in this Session to consider and pass those Ballot Bills that were blocked by those Tory honourable Members in the order that they appeared on the Order Paper for 3rd July, namely the Fireworks Bill, a safety measure which would decrease firework accidents, the Energy Conservation (Housing) Bill, which would help people living in cold homes to keep warmer, the Weights and Measures (Beer and Cider) Bill, which would ensure that customers get full measures in public houses, the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Bill, which would help stamp out cruelty in puppy farms, the Energy Efficiency Bill, which would help home buyers insulate their homes and cut fuel bills and the Local Authority Tenders Bill; and further hopes that, if necessary, provision can be made to bring proceedings to a close on each of those Bills after reasonable time.]

A total of 180 hon. Members of all parties have expressed concern about the treatment of private Member's Bills. I appreciate that a debate will not be possible tomorrow, but will she see if some action can be taken in the spillover period to deal with the matter?

Can the Leader of the House give us any information about the timetable for the freedom of information Bill? Will there be time in the second week of the spillover Session for a debate on the White Paper on local government published today and just introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister? During the long recess, when she perhaps has more time for reading than has yet been available to her, will the right hon. Lady carefully examine the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee's first report on the legislative programme, in the hope that they will be of use to her and her colleagues in deciding how next Session's business may be undertaken in the House?

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I am aware of the excellent work done by my predecessor, and I know that she will be grateful to him for his observations. She said that the Committee would examine the procedure for private Members' Bills. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I am sure that, in due course, the Committee will examine that matter.

I have taken due note of what the hon. Gentleman said about what we might discuss in the spillover. I cannot, I am afraid, cast any light on the timetable for the freedom of information Bill. I hear his concern to debate the White Paper that has just been announced, and I will bear it in mind. I assure him that I intend to take some time during the recess to study the work of the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position? When she is thinking about business for next Session, will she consider the possibility of holding a series of debates, preferably opened by the Prime Minister, to give the House an opportunity to debate the performance of each Government Department?

I do not wish to cause my right hon. Friend any embarrassment, but will she ensure that the Department of Trade and Industry is at the top of that list of debates, so that we can highlight its achievements over the past 15 years——[Interruption.]—-15 months—including the national minimum wage and the White Paper "Fairness at Work"? It is necessary that we highlight those achievements and the work of the previous Secretary of State, who introduced those measures. If we have such a debate opened by the Prime Minister, we shall be able to question him on the reasons why changes were made in that Department recently, as well as in other Departments.

Mrs. Beckett

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his interesting suggestions for discussions in the House, and for his kind remarks. I take seriously the observations of all hon. Members. I will certainly take seriously his suggestion that we should debate the way in which Government Departments handle their business. He will know that the time of the House, especially with a heavy legislative programme for a reforming Government, is always at a premium, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the achievements of the Department that I previously headed, where a great deal of work has been done. I am confident that work will be taken forward in the future.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I look forward to the debate on the strategic defence review. May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that a specific issue is raised with the Secretary of State for Defence in the context of the new spirit of openness and open government to which we are committed? I received a reply from him on the 28th of this month about costs relating to the nuclear weapons establishment, in which he declined to come up with the information, on the basis that it was exempt on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

As the information was already available in Companies House, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the full costs associated with the nuclear weapons programme are as available to Members of Parliament in the House as they are to members of the public outside, so that a full and proper debate can take place here.

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly hear the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. All that I would say to my hon. Friend is that, if the material that he describes is available in Companies House, it is available to hon. Members as well as more widely to the public.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—in the modern vernacular, the enforcer—come to the House at 11 am tomorrow to make a statement on the ethical implications of the appointment of Lord Sainsbury to the Department of Trade and Industry, and how he will dispose of his £1.4 billion of supermarket shares, in view of the fact that his Tuscan tycoon friend the Paymaster General is trying to promote the sale of individual savings accounts through supermarkets, and that is germane to Lord Sainsbury' s responsibilities at the DTI?

Mrs. Beckett

There is no question of any need to make such a statement. There are no ethical implications in Lord Sainsbury' s appointment. He has already met the permanent secretary of the DTI to discuss the handling of his affairs. The ministerial code sets out roles on avoiding conflicts of interest, and they will of course be followed.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

Early after our return, will the Leader of the House make way for a debate on the increasing number of deaths from drugs overdoses in Strathclyde this year, especially the recent alarming reports that the deaths may have resulted from heroin taken from a missing batch imported into this country by Customs and Excise for use in tracking drug traffickers?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly share my hon. Friend's concern at the tragic events that she describes. I am not familiar with the report to which she draws attention, but the Ministers in the relevant Departments may be. If they are not, I shall ensure that it is drawn to their attention.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I welcome the right hon. Lady back to business questions. May we have a debate in the spillover period on departmental responsibilities in the Scottish Office? It will not have escaped her notice that the new Minister of State at the Scottish Office has a dramatically lighter work load than that of her predecessor. The reason seems to be that she has been given the "bash the Nats" portfolio.

I welcome the sign of panic from the Labour party. I welcome the recognition that they have been trounced in the polls in Scotland. I even welcome the ministerial changes that acknowledge that, but is there not an issue as to whether a part-time Minister should be given a full-time salary? Should not the Labour party pay for its own politicking rather than ask the public to do it?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. His question seems to be hypothesis piled on hypothesis. I have not studied, I fear, the detailed allocation of work in the Scottish Office, but we have excellent and hard-working Ministers there. I am confident that they will do an excellent job in handling the affairs of the Scottish Office. If that handling has some impact on the electoral fortunes of the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that it will be a job well done.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Looking ahead to business on our return, may I invite my right hon. Friend to make a statement following the resignation comments of Lord Richard, who has implied that it is unlikely that there will be any Lords reform other than setting up the wholly undemocratic, unelected council of life peers? As a proud moderniser and, along with her, diligent custodian of the Labour manifesto—[Interruption.]—new Labour manifesto—may I draw to her attention the commitment we gave to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to look into reform? In other words, we gave a commitment that the further reform would be Parliament-led, not Executive-led. Is it not time, first, that we had some specific proposals on the reform of the House of Lords, and, secondly, an indication that we will see this right through to the end, and to a democratically elected House?

Mrs. Beckett

I am well aware that my hon. Friend is a diligent custodian of the Labour party's manifesto. I heard some, though perhaps not all, of the remarks of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Richard. I must admit that I did not read into them the implication that has been read in by my hon. Friend. The reform of the other place is an issue that will certainly be thoroughly debated in this House, and I am confident that, in the end, my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the outcome.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new responsibilities. Will she be able to give us a debate both on the Government's annual report, and on the way in which the Government deal with the House? She will know that I pressed both her predecessor and the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has also lost his job, to ensure that we found out how long it is taking Ministers to reply to letters from Members of Parliament, but we have still not been given that information.

I know that the right hon. Lady's former Department, the DTI, had one of the best records under her control—indeed, one of the Ministers said that he was sacked because he had achieved too high a return rate for letters from Members of Parliament. Can we have an early debate on that issue, because it does concern all of us, and affects how we can do our job for our constituents?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot undertake to find time, although I can generously offer that the Opposition might find time, to debate the Government's annual report, but I shall certainly bear the request in mind.

As for the way in which the Government deal with the House and the length of time taken to reply to letters, all Ministers are anxious to get the turn-round as fast as possible. My predecessor will probably have told the hon. Gentleman that, in every Department under the Labour Government, the level of correspondence, not only from Members of Parliament, but from members of the public, and the overall work load has actually gone up like that—almost vertically. That is one of the things that is making it harder to achieve a fast turn-round. When a Government are reforming and modernising, as this Government are, it increases the work load.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new job, and I associate myself with the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). Will she look in the new parliamentary year for time for an early debate on health and safety? That would be particularly pertinent, as the first week back is European Safety Week; and the 20th, which is the second day back, is the 21st anniversary of the expansion of the role of the health and safety representative under the Health and Safety at Work Act, etc. 1974.

Such a debate would give us an opportunity to discuss the Health and Safety Executive report on the reporting of accidents in mines, which shows 52 per cent. under-reporting. That figure is contested by the mining unions, which argue that the level of under-reporting is far greater. An early debate would be much appreciated.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I must admit that I was not aware that it would be European Safety Week when we come back, and I am grateful to him for that information. At present, I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in that week, but I shall certainly bear his views in mind.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I too congratulate the right hon. Lady on her new appointment. May I return to the issue drawn to her attention by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce)—that ministerial correspondence is being returned far too slowly?

I wrote to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on 4 April, but I have still not had a substantive reply. If a difficult question were posed in the correspondence I sent to the Minister, I could understand the need to look into it with some care, but the correspondence does not deal with a difficult matter. I invite the Leader of the House, as the protector of the interests of Back Benchers, to ensure that Ministers get their heads around their correspondence rather more quickly than they are currently doing.

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks, but, without knowing the particular issue to which he refers, I cannot know what the reason is for the delay, although I agree that the delay is not usual. It would be a matter for regret in any Department, and I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister. However, all I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman is to repeat that the work load undertaken by Government Departments has, in most cases, quadrupled, and inevitably that has implications for the time it takes to deal with these matters.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

Does the Leader of the House share the concern of hon. Members, the Playpen Campaign, many parents and child care professionals about the apparently conflicting statements emanating from the Government in respect of child care regulation? On the one hand, the former Secretary of State for Social Security published the excellent Green Paper "Meeting the Childcare Challenge" which made the case for better regulation; but, on the other hand, we had the better regulation task force report, which made the case against better regulation.

Is there not an urgent need for these matters to be clarified? Is there not an urgent need for a debate in the House, so as to ensure that we have no more Louise Woodwards, Helen Staceys and Louise Sullivans?

Mrs. Beckett

All hon. Members on both sides of the House share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend that there should be no more tragedies, but I must admit that it does not appear to me that there is a conflict on the issue. Everyone is well aware of the importance of ensuring the safety and welfare of children; the issue is how best it can be secured. My hon. Friend will know that the consultation document was issued in March. The Government are studying the responses to that consultation, and will come forward with proposals in due course.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Now that we have the constitutional innovation of the Government Chief Whip being in the Cabinet, will there be a slot for the House to put oral questions to her?

Mrs. Beckett

That would certainly be a constitutional innovation. I must confess that I had not considered the matter, but I shall certainly do so.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that, on four occasions, I have raised the case of my constituent Ricky Reel in the House. He was the young man who, last year, following a racist attack, went missing and was found dead in the Thames a week later. There was a Police Complaints Authority investigation into the investigation of his death; that has now come to a conclusion, and it is hoped that the report will be available during the recess.

May I ask that we have a debate on the PCA report as soon as possible after the recess; and that the report be made available, together with all the investigatory evidence? That will ensure that we can have a thorough debate on the case, which will help to restore the confidence of the family in the overall investigation, and to identify where possible what actually happened to Ricky.

Mrs. Beckett

I am well aware of the great interest and concern that my hon. Friend has shown on behalf of his late constituent and his family. I cannot today give any indication as to whether it will be possible to find time for a debate, although it is open to him to seek an Adjournment debate. However, I shall certainly draw his remarks and his request for full publication to the attention of the relevant Department.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), and ask the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make an early statement to the House about the role and responsibilities of the new Under-Secretary of State for Science and Technology? She will no doubt be aware that Lord Sainsbury has indicated that, because of his commercial interest, he does not intend to involve himself in matter relating to food technology, and that is welcome.

However, does the right hon. Lady recognise that, to name but a few, plants and soil, wood and metal, textile and garment manufacturing technology are also matters in which, because of Lord Sainsbury's commercial interest, he should in future have no ministerial involvement? An early assurance on that point would be greatly welcomed.

Mrs. Beckett

There will, of course, be opportunities to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at Trade and Industry questions in the autumn. I can only repeat what I told the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood: there are rules to prevent conflicts of interest arising, and those rules will be followed.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What has become of the much heralded statement on the proposal for a trial in a third country—Holland—of the Lockerbie suspects? Since Madeleine Albright apparently agreed, the idea that American objections are stopping such a trial is somewhat question-marked. Is it because of the nine-year-old cynicism of the Crown Office in Edinburgh? To put it quite cynically, the last thing it wants is an actual trial to take place, because, if it did, the poverty of the evidence that the Crown Office claims to have would be exposed. Is that the real trouble?

Mrs. Beckett

No. I can assure my hon. Friend, who I know has taken a long and sustained interest in the matter, that the Government continue to give priority to seeing justice done through a criminal trial of those who are accused. There have been discussions about the possibility of trial in a third country. A great deal of work has been and continues to be done on the matter. Complex issues are involved. If and when they are resolved, we shall make an announcement. I can assure my hon. Friend that the matter is not being held up by any concern of the kind to which he referred.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

May I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post, and congratulate her on her outstanding performance in her previous job, which was widely appreciated on the Back Benches. [AN HON. MEMBER: "But not by business."] I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 1589 on freedom of information, which is now signed by 185 colleagues from all parts of the House.

[That this House welcomes the Prime Minister's statement in 1996 that a Freedom of Information Act 'is not some isolated constitutional reform' but 'a change that is absolutely fundamental to how we see politics developing in this country over the next few years'; congratulates the Government on its Freedom of Information White Paper; expresses concern at the prospect of any delay in bringing the measure forward; and calls on the Government to publish its draft Freedom of Information Bill before the end of the current session and to ensure that the actual Bill is introduced in the coming session.]

Can we have either a debate or a statement when we return in the autumn, so that we can remind ourselves that, before the election, we campaigned on the basis that a freedom of information Act was crucial to restore trust between Government and the people? I understand that that is a major theme of the Prime Minister's annual report.

Mrs. Beckett

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks.

May I say to the Opposition Member—I did not identify the culprit—who said that my stint at the Department of Trade and Industry had not been welcomed by business, that he is wrong, and that I have had a number of nice letters from people in the business community, expressing their appreciation.

Of course I am aware of the great interest across the House in proposals for freedom of information legislation. As my right hon. Friend will know, I cannot promise at this stage an early debate or a statement when the House returns, but I shall bear his views in mind. He is entirely right to say that that pertains to trust, which is central to the Government's record and understanding. The annual report has been published today so that the Government can make it plain how they are delivering against the benchmarks we set ourselves before the general election. I understand why that is so objectionable to the Opposition, just as I understand why they never did it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

With regard to the House of Lords, has my right hon. Friend seen the comments of her former Cabinet colleague, Lord Richard, who said that an elected second Chamber would undoubtedly be troublesome for the Commons? As Leader of the House of Commons, will she bear in mind that there are differing views about that?

Although I am strongly in favour of getting rid of the hereditary peerages, as there is no justification for such people to remain in the House of Lords, it would be unacceptable, to some of us at least, that there should be an elected second Chamber, which would be a direct challenge to the authority of this House. I hope that that will be borne in mind when the Government consider proposals for the House of Lords.

Mrs. Beckett

I share my hon. Friend's view, as do the whole Government, that the continuation of the hereditary principle in another place, and of it being the basis of the right to vote there, is unacceptable. As he rightly says, there are differences of view about what should be done in place of the present situation. It would be unacceptable for those differences of view to be used as a further excuse to prolong the process of reform, as has happened when the issues have been debated in the past.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Leader of the House. Will she ensure that, before the debate on the strategic defence review in October, the Ministry of Defence publishes all its estimates on expenditure for this year which have not yet been published?

In response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), will my right hon. Friend also ensure that the Ministry of Defence publishes all the costs of nuclear weapons, which under section 13 notices it has tried to hide by refusing to reveal them to the House? Without all the details of nuclear weapons research expenditure by the Ministry of Defence and by my right hon. Friend's former Department, a debate on defence expenditure and its implications would be rather unbalanced.

Mrs. Beckett

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. He has made a number of requests for information that he considers should be available before the debate in the autumn. I shall draw those views to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who I am sure will take them on board.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

May I join my hon. Friends in calling for an early debate on the Government's annual report, and in particular the choice of illustrations and the words put into the mouths of the people illustrated? I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to page 17 of the annual report, which shows a lady pushing a supermarket trolley owned by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The lady is portrayed as expressing views about the Government. Does the Leader of the House think that perhaps she was expressing views about the quality of the supermarket produce?

Mrs. Beckett

I only glanced at the cover and the photographs in the report. My understanding from that glance was that a photographer went around, took photographs of people, and asked them to comment on the Government's record so far. It is therefore wrong to suggest that words were put into anyone's mouth. Those words were, I understand, their words.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

I join others who have congratulated my right hon. Friend on her new position. May I bring to her attention the issue of private Members' business? Even after just a couple of days, she will be aware that this year little private Members' business has completed all its legislative stages in the House, primarily because of the blocking manoeuvres of the Opposition. Can the process be examined by the Modernisation Committee? Will my right hon. Friend make a statement about the matter early in the new Session?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can confirm that my predecessor told the House that she thought that the Modernisation Committee should consider the handling of private Members' business. I am happy to share that view. However, as the Committee has not yet done so, I fear that it is unlikely that we will be able to make a statement early in the new Session. I have taken on board my hon. Friend's comments. I share his view that it is always a sadness, and it is difficult for people outside to understand, when worthy and sensible pieces of legislation are lost as a result of maverick behaviour by Members of the Opposition.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

In the current climate of pay restraint, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about boardroom pay excesses, in particular the example set by some company directors, including none other than: the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer who, as a director of Gartmore Shared Equity Trust, gave himself a 13 per cent. pay rise; the deputy leader of the Conservative party, whose board gave themselves a 40 per cent. pay increase; and the shadow Home Secretary, whose board of directors on Aggregate Industries plc gave themselves an astonishing 64 per cent. pay increase?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent and powerful point on an issue to which he and others will no doubt wish to return in the new Session.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post. In line with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), may I ask the Leader of the House whether she will find time in the new Session for a debate on a Select Committee report published today on the welfare of former British child migrants? That excellent report outlines the appalling scandal that took place under the auspices of British Government agencies and the receiving agencies. Many children, supposedly in care, were subjected to appalling physical and sexual abuse.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am indeed aware of that report, and understand that it identifies some appalling treatment and practice. I share his view that it is an issue of importance. I cannot at present say whether or when we might find time for a debate, but I shall bear his views in mind.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position, after an outstanding stint at the Department of Trade and Industry. Is she aware that today the Association of Professional Political Consultants described Derek Draper as "a rogue elephant" who brought the lobbying industry into disrepute, and that the chairman of the firm that formerly employed him, GPC Market Access, has written to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and to you, Madam Speaker, calling for a statutory register of lobbyists?

Given that the Prime Minister on Monday issued advice to civil servants on how they should deal with approaches from lobbyists, who are absolutely everywhere these days, is there not a compelling case for an early debate on the role of lobbyists when the House returns from the recess?

Mrs. Beckett

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I was not aware of the report to which he has just drawn attention, and I do not think it will be easy to find time for a debate early in the new Session or in the overspill. All I can say is that it is an issue to which various agencies of the House—perhaps even the Modernisation Committee—will have to pay attention at some point, as it seems that it is a developing role.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the answer that she gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) about the Government's annual report—this colour supplement to end all colour supplements.? Is she aware that the first page states that it is "presented to Parliament"? Should it not be presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister in person? Should there not be a debate in which he answers to Parliament rather than to a small coterie in the rose garden at No. 10?

If this is to be an innovation—I am not opposed to it as an innovation—does the right hon. Lady agree that there should be an end-of-term debate in Parliament led by the Prime Minister, so that hon. Members from all parts of the House have the opportunity to probe, scrutinise and criticise, and to expose the fallacies within the document?

Mrs. Beckett

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the document reports on issues that have been thoroughly debated in the House—indeed, it makes a point about the scale and size of the Government's legislative programme—and that, in that sense, the Prime Minister has been available to discuss these issues on many occasions. I also remind him that the matter was laid before the House in answer to a parliamentary question. It is, of course, open to the Opposition to use some of their own time to debate the Government's annual report—they have no policies of their own, so they might as well debate ours.

I find it interesting that Opposition Members are so keen for the Prime Minister to lead a debate in the House. It was, after all, during the 18 years of the Conservatives' period in office that it became so rare that Prime Ministers took part in debates. I agree that it is important that the Prime Minister is available to the House to be questioned, and he is regularly, every week. Full advantage is taken of that.