HC Deb 21 January 1999 vol 323 cc1021-32 12.32 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 25 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY 26 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Tax Credits Bill.

WEDNESDAY 27 JANUARY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on Terrorist Mutilations in Northern Ireland. Followed by a debate on the London Underground. Both debates will arise on opposition motions.

THURSDAY 28 JANUARY—Motions on The Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order, The Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating and National Insurance Fund Payments) Order and the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order.

FRIDAY 29 JANUARY—The House will not be sitting. The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the House of Lords Bill.

TUESDAY 2 FEBRUARY—Conclusion of Second reading of the House of Lords Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Until 2 o'clock there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition day [5th Allotted Day].

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

THURSDAY 4 FEBRUARY—MOtiOn on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales).

Motions on the English Revenue support Grant Reports.

FRIDAY 5 FEBRUARY—The House will not be sitting.

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for the business for next week, and for an indication of the business for the following week.

On the House of Lords Bill, may I ask—I hope for the last time—that the Government respect the convention that all the Committee stage of that constitutional Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? The right hon. Lady has come to the altar on that point, but she has not yet said yes. Will she also explain who will answer parliamentary questions on constitutional issues, and when? May we have a debate, in Government time, on the White Paper published yesterday?

The right hon. Lady has announced a debate on the police grant for England and Wales, and she will be aware of widespread concern about the level of provision. Will she assure the House that we may have a full three-hour debate on that subject?

Can the right hon. Lady give the House the date for the Budget?

Can the right hon. Lady tell us the position on the constituency week in February, the notional date for which is fast approaching?

Finally, the right hon. Lady has announced two Opposition day debates. If one so-called Opposition party both deepens and broadens its co-operation with the Government—and there are more and more areas on which that party is in effect part of the Government—is it not time to reallocate Opposition days to a party that is not compromised in that way, and which will oppose the Government without pulling its punches?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman asks me about House of Lords reform. I can now give him an answer about the handling of the Bill, although I was not willing to do so before. The short and simple nature of the Bill enables me to say that we will take all of it on the Floor of the House, which will be for the convenience of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman should know that views differ in the House as to whether we are required to take all the Committee stages of all such Bills on the Floor, but this is such a short and simple measure that we certainly accept that it is for the convenience of the House to do so, although, for example, we thought it right to split the Greater London Authority Bill.

The Minister with responsibility for constitutional issues will answer questions on those issues, which means me on questions of House of Lords reform. As to when, it will be at the appropriate time. The right hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on the White Paper as such. As the House will appreciate, I have just announced a two-day Second Reading debate. Subject to the views of the Chair, some of those issues might well be raised then and we will certainly discuss the matter through the usual channels if it is thought that it needs to be considered further.

Similarly, the right hon. Gentleman asked for a longer debate on the police support grant and on various other issues. Again, that is a matter for discussion through the usual channels. I am not unfavourable to the idea of giving greater time to the police support grant debate and we can consider it. I cannot give him a date for the Budget—I will do so as soon as I can—nor can I add to what I told him about the constituency week in February. I understood his final remarks about Opposition days to be an opening in a general passage of arms about political matters, not a serious application to change such days.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Has there been any progress on the debate that I have been calling for on the treatment by National Westminster bank of its customers, in particular the Tanning Shop franchisee customers? Is my right hon. Friend in a position to join me in asking the Chairmen of the Select Committees on Treasury and on Trade and Industry to take evidence in joint session from the management of that bank—in particular, Mr. Robert Munn and Mr. Peter Stern, who know the truth about how shabbily NatWest has treated many of its customers nationally?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot accede to my hon. Friend's request for a debate, although he is right to say that he has raised the matter on a number of occasions. He will know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a review of banking services in the pre-Budget report. My hon. Friend raises a particular case on behalf of his constituents and asks me to invite the Chairmen of two of our Select Committees—Treasury and Trade and Industry—to have a joint session on the matter. With the greatest possible respect, it is not for me to set the agenda for Select Committees. However, I am confident that if he contacts my hon. Friends who hold those posts, they will give him a sympathetic hearing.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I suggest to the Leader of the House that it would be somewhat bizarre if we could not extend the debate on the House of Lords Bill to wider consideration of House of Lords reform? I hope that that will be possible. Perhaps some discussions can take place through the usual channels to ensure that it is. Clearly, since all parties want the Bill to be a first step towards more comprehensive reform, it would be extraordinary if we were prevented from having such a discussion.

Is it the present intention of the Government in due course to put the fuller proposals for reform of the House of Lords to the people in a referendum? Do they intend to do so in this Parliament, if that can be achieved? Does the right hon. Lady agree that it would be curious if the House of Lords were subjected to effective reforms that made it more accountable, democratic and representative, but the House of Commons were not given that opportunity at the same time?

Mrs. Beckett

First, the hon. Gentleman asked me to give an indication of the handling of the debate. I was somewhat cautious in my response to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) earlier. The Government have provided time for a two-day debate, thus facilitating a very full debate which we hope will enable hon. Members to air several matters. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am in no way seeking to fetter the discretion of the Chair in the difficult decisions that must be made.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was our intention to have a referendum, perhaps in this Parliament. We are in no way at the stage of announcing such conclusions to the House. On reflection he will probably agree that there may be a creative tension between those who want to see speedy progress on this matter and those who wish to insert a referendum into the process, since that in itself would have a legislative requirement, apart from any other.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman said that the outcome of the process might be to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative than this Chamber. I do not for a second accept that that could possibly be the outcome. It certainly could make the second Chamber have some tenuous link with democracy and representation of a kind that it certainly lacks now. If, however, his remarks were a reference to a perceived lack of legitimacy of this House because of our electoral system, that is not a view I share.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. After hearing the last two questions put to the Leader of the House I must remind hon. Members that we are asking about the business for next week. The use of this period is deteriorating and I take the opportunity of putting it on record that business questions must relate to next week's business. It is not an occasion to make long comments about personal or constituency cases. Nor should matters be raised that relate to the right hon. Lady's ministerial responsibilities as President of the Council, for which a separate question period is set aside. Hon. Members will be aware of that. Today, I expect brisk questions relating directly to next week's business. I know that I shall also get short responses from the Leader of the House, who is sympathetic to my approach on this matter.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

In view both of the publication today of the House of Lords Select Committee report and of next week's business on the future of the House of Lords, can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether there will be an early opportunity to discuss genetically modified foods, particularly given the concerns of those who wish to have the choice not to buy GM foods?

Mrs. Beckett

I welcome the Select Committee's report as a useful contribution to the debate. Not everyone will agree with it and I am not committing myself about the attitude that the Government will take. I am simply saying that anything that contributes to the debate is welcome. I fear that I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate on this matter, but we shall take her request into account.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that it is not too late to put into next week's business an urgent debate on the corruption of EC Commissioners? Her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dismisses any criticism of the EC Commission by attributing to those who make it a desire to pull out of the whole show immediately, but enormous sums of taxpayers' money have been misappropriated by individual commissioners, in particular by the French commissioner Madame Cresson. It is to be hoped that in such a debate right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House would be rather less docile than those who followed the instructions of the Prime Minister in the European Parliament last week.

Mrs. Beckett

I fear I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on that matter in the near future. Nor do I share the right hon. Gentleman's rationale for having such a debate. My perception is that the European Parliament and, indeed, representatives from many parties in that Parliament have expressed great concern and taken a tough line on fraud. Certainly this Government have done so. Those representatives emerge from last week's events with a strengthened means of scrutiny. I do not doubt that they will use those means and, if necessary, return to the subject.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of Monday's Adjournment debate on sanctions against Iraq and Tuesday's ten-minute Bill on parliamentary approval of military strikes, could a Minister see Denis Halliday, the former United Nations co-ordinator, who happens to be in Britain on Tuesday? He resigned his job on principle because he disagreed with the policy on Baghdad.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) has invited all hon. Members to a meeting with Mr. Halliday on 26 January. I cannot know at this moment whether any of my ministerial colleagues will be able to meet him, but my hon. Friend is a classic example of how a Member's assiduity can obtain opportunities for debate on the Floor.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Does the Leader of the House accept that the announced departure of the leader of the Liberal party, which causes us all such sadness, gives the House an opportunity urgently to consider the anomalous position, largely created by him, whereby he was attempting to be at the same time part of the Government and part of the Opposition? Is she aware that that is causing concern not only among Opposition Members but among senior Labour figures? Will she provide time in next week's business to sort the matter out once and for all and decide whether the Liberal Democrats are part of the Government or a serious Opposition party?

Mrs. Beckett

If I were a Conservative, I would be cautious about making remarks about a serious Opposition party, because if the Conservatives were judged on performance, they might find themselves in some difficulty. It is not the act of a serious Opposition Member of any party to veto private Members' Bills through frivolous activity, as the right hon. Gentleman did in the previous Session. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the private affairs of any political party, no matter how dear the subject may be to the heart of many Members.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on the position of the textile industry, following the announcement by the American Government that tariffs are to be imposed on textiles produced in Britain for import to America? Is not that an important subject for debate next week?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, which I know is shared. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate next week, other than the one that is taking place on Wednesday morning.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Will the Leader of the House pay attention to early-day motion 188, on the EU Commission, which requires urgent debate next week?

[That this House deplores the failure of Socialist MEPs to support measures to protect taxpayers' money from fraud, preferring instead to protect members of the EU Commission accused of fraud and nepotism; and applauds the efforts of Conservative MEPs to hold certain Commissioners to account on behalf of the taxpayers of Europe.]

Further to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), I hope that the right hon. Lady will also pay attention in planning next week's business to the widespread public disgust at the behaviour of 52 Labour Members of the European Parliament who did not have the courage of their convictions in pursuing their own motion. Would not that debate allow the Government to confirm that the behaviour of Edith Cresson does not accord with what we would expect of one of our Ministers?

Mrs. Beckett

I repeat that I will not be able to find time for a debate on that matter; nor do I share the hon. Gentleman's view of the premise for such a debate. There is a reform plan. We utterly condemn, as anyone must, any suggestion of fraud, corruption or incompetence and have supported measures to deal with them. As for the attempt to pretend that what happened resulted solely from the actions of Labour representatives in the European Parliament, he should know that members of his party saw the sense of our representatives' actions and voted with them.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

The Prime Minister would like people to become middle class, which is difficult for those who do not have a job, house or, in some cases, a vote. The homeless normally fall into all three categories. Can we therefore have a debate next week on homelessness and particularly on the inability of the homeless to vote? That ability could be delivered quickly to homeless people, even though it is more difficult to achieve jobs and houses.

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly know of my hon. Friend's long campaign to encourage people to ensure that they have the opportunity to exercise their voting rights. It is a campaign that every hon. Member from every party should support. I appreciate that one of the effects of being homeless, among other damaging effects, is that someone can be disfranchised.

I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary currently has these matters under review. I think that the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have been to some extent misreported. He is saying that we ought to move further and further away from seeing barriers of class as a barrier to advancement. I hope that all hon. Members support that.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the defence industry? I am sure that she will understand that, as a Member of Parliament for a significant British Aerospace factory in a sector undergoing rapid restructuring, I was deeply concerned by the Prime Minister's comments yesterday at Question Time, in which he seemed to suggest that he would give primacy to European rather than British interests in the restructuring of the defence industry. Such a debate would enable Opposition Members to express their deep concern at the implications of that approach.

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot find time next week for a debate on the defence industry. Nor do I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the Prime Minister said anything yesterday that caused the need for such a debate. My right hon. Friend perfectly properly takes a robust attitude to the defence of Britain's armed forces and to their exercising the role to which their professionalism and skill entitle them in international deliberations and events.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Will my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend reconsider next week's business to include a whole day's debate on the transfer of functions order for the National Assembly for Wales? It is a document of enormous constitutional significance. The corresponding functions were transferred to Scotland by means of a schedule to the Scotland Bill and were therefore subject to scrutiny. Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that there will be proper scrutiny of the order and a full debate on it?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot undertake to give my hon. Friend such a day's debate in the near future. He raises some matters of considerable importance, and I undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

The right hon. Lady has said that she cannot now announce the date of the Budget, but will she say that she is seeking an early date from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? She will know that yesterday's figures from a survey of independent forecasters predicted 0.6 per cent. growth in the United Kingdom this year compared to the Budget forecast of up to 1.5 per cent. So a central part of the pre-Budget report has been proved wrong already and it is urgent that the Chancellor come forward with a new economic forecast at an early date.

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I am still not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a date for the Budget. Nor is it part of my role to press for an early Budget. The timing of the Budget is a matter for consideration by the Government as a whole, and especially the Chancellor.

Nor does the case that the hon. Gentleman makes provide the justification for an early Budget. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the point yesterday. One of the ways in which the Conservative party is making itself faintly ridiculous is, in the light of what happened not only in Asia and subsequently in Russia but in Brazil, to pretend that the Government are causing any problems that might beset the British economy.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

May we have a debate or at least a statement next week on the new guidelines issued on education action zones? The new guidelines are specifically designed to make it easier for businesses to take over and lead the zones, which presents the fairly nauseating prospect of companies such as McDonald's or the Edison project taking over the powers of local education authorities.

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I cannot provide time for an early debate on the matter. I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend raises about the guidelines. I feel confident that he will have a number of opportunities to raise those concerns. There are a number of examples of businesses with a strong local presence becoming involved and contributing to the local education system, and most hon. Members would not object to that.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on the 175th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution? Hon. Members on both sides of the House would like the opportunity to discuss the institution's good work. It is based on public subscription and is not funded by the taxpayer. It saves many lives in the seas around this country and southern Ireland. The headquarters are in Poole, and those of us with coastal constituencies would like an opportunity next week to express our appreciation for the good work that the institution does.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that the whole House shares the hon. Gentleman's words of commendation for the RNLI's work. I am sorry that I cannot find time for a debate next week. Had we had a little more notice, we might have looked for an opportunity to press for the matter to be touched on in some way. The whole House shares the congratulations and encouragement that the hon. Gentleman has offered. Perhaps there is no need for a debate and we can simply record our thanks and congratulations.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

In view of last week's decision by the new German Government to terminate their nuclear reprocessing contract with British Nuclear Fuels, the subsequent ministerial meetings this week, and the traditional culture of secrecy that surrounds all matters of nuclear power in this country, does my right hon. Friend agree that next week is the right time to debate the implications for the nuclear industry of the current question mark over reprocessing?

Mrs. Beckett

I can understand the concern that lies behind my hon. Friend's question and why he is pressing for an urgent debate. When a matter arises which clearly raises serious issues, it is always difficult to know when to press for a debate on it. I certainly cannot find time for one next week. Matters might not yet be sufficiently resolved for there to be as constructive a debate as my hon. Friend would wish. I feel confident, however, that he will use any opportunities available to him to continue to press the matter.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will the right hon. Lady use her ingenuity to fit into next week's debate on the social security uprating the issue of long-term unemployment? The problem is that the long-term unemployed are claiming a lot of social security benefits. I have written to the Prime Minister pointing out that, despite the 70,000 people who are supposed to have got into some sort of scheme or back to work through the new deal, the long-term unemployment statistics published by the Government show that the number of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds remains static, and the number of long-term unemployed whom the new deal is supposedly helping has risen by 46 per cent. in one category. The matter is of great urgency to all hon. Members and should be dealt with urgently.

Mrs. Beckett

I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not for me to use my ingenuity to fit other issues into next week's debate; rather, it is for hon. Members to use their ingenuity, subject to the generosity of the Chair. The hon. Gentleman quotes figures on the unemployment record and some categories of unemployed. I must admit that I am not familiar with them, so I am not in a position to query them. My understanding of the overall position, on which I have seen a great many figures, is that it is steadily improving, although not, of course, as fast as all hon. Members would like.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

My right hon. Friend has announced a debate on transport in London next week. Can that be extended to include security at Heathrow airport in the light of yesterday's reports of further lapses in security? This is the third time in the past decade that lapses in security have been exposed. They put at risk not only my constituents but the whole travelling public.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that this matter has occurred before, as all hon. Members will recall. The Deputy Prime Minister has ordered an immediate and full investigation. He has also made it plain that tough action will be taken if security is breached, and that there will be a wider check of security procedures at other airports. However, although my hon. Friend is welcome to try, I suspect that it might test the Chair if he were he to attempt to work that matter into a debate on London Underground—unless he can tie it to Heathrow station.

Madam Speaker

Which I do not think the hon. Gentleman would be able to do.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

May we have a debate on the Government's energy policy? Commitments on Kyoto and on achieving the cheapest price of electricity possible for each consumer, and commitments to the Government's friends in the mining industry have, according to reports in The Times yesterday, run slap-bang into another policy dear to the Government's heart: the working time directive. Such a debate would allow the right hon. Lady's successor at the Department of Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who is just leaving the Chamber, to explain the policies that he put into practice.

Mrs. Beckett

I do not accept that there is a difficulty. The implementation of policy is always a balancing act. I also do not accept—nor, I am sure, does my right hon. Friend—that there is an inherent contradiction in the Government's approach to these matters. I fear that I cannot find time for a debate on the issue in the near future.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

Can my right hon. Friend find time next week for an urgent debate on the London fire service and its funding? The service is threatened because of the budgetary crisis. In New Addington in Croydon it serves an isolated community with many young families and a history of fires. There have been cases of arson in local schools and in a local chemical factory. There is great concern, so can she consider finding time for such a debate?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I cannot find time next week for a debate specifically on the fire service, but my hon. Friend will have noted that there is to be a debate on English revenue support grant orders the following week. He may be able to work it into that.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we have an early statement to clarify the Government's intentions on the handling of the Second Reading debate on the Bill to reform the House of Lords? Yesterday afternoon, the Leader of the House invoked the precedent of Dick Crossman in November 1968 to justify the fact that she, rather than her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, was making the statement on reform. Is she aware that, in the instance to which she referred during the last major legislation to reform the House of Lords, the Second Reading debate on the Bill was opened by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson? In view of her admirable respect for precedent, will she guarantee that the Second Reading debate next Wednesday will be opened by the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Beckett

One should always respect precedent, but not necessarily be bound by it. In our exchanges yesterday, I was correcting misinformation given to the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who I am sure did not intend to mislead the House when he referred to other precedents. It is 30 years since that debate was instigated by the then Prime Minister.

There are a variety of precedents concerning who has spoken in debates on this and other constitution reforms. If the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has looked at the record, he will know that in those days matters were handled differently between Prime Ministers and departmental Ministers. Most of the subsequent changes were introduced during the premiership of Baroness Thatcher, who now sits in the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman is a great admirer of hers, so I am sure that he would not wish us to discard those precedents.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the timing and details of the implementation of the recommendations of the Jenkins commission? This has been official Labour party policy since the time of the late John Smith, and it would give the Government a chance to show that they are in the business of honouring their manifesto promises.

Mrs. Beckett

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are indeed in the business of honouring our manifesto promises. It is entirely possible that there will be a referendum on this matter before the end of this Parliament. I fear, however, that it will not be in this Session, so I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Leader of the House at least try to prevail on the Prime Minister to come to the House next week and make a statement on the recent announcement that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is to retire—and, in particular, tell us whether that retirement signifies the welcome demise of plots to replace our successful first-past-the-post electoral system with the outrageously undemocratic system of proportional representation, which has given the Green party in Germany control of the Foreign Ministry on the basis of less than 7 per cent. of electoral support?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I could not possibly encourage my right hon. Friend to come to the House to comment on the political affairs of another party. Indeed, I am sure that he would refuse to do so. As for the hon. Gentleman's other comments, no doubt we shall return to those matters during the months ahead.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

In your statement earlier today, Madam Speaker, you said that business questions should relate solely to next week's business. Nowadays, business for the next two weeks is always announced, although the business for the second week is provisional. Do you intend to bar all questions about business for the second week?

Madam Speaker

No. My point is that Members should refer to business that is before us—business for next week, or for the week after. At present, Members are asking the Leader of the House questions that do not relate to business at all. That has been the habit in recent times. I am anxious for Members to discuss the business for the next week and for the week after, if the Leader of the House has announced it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, during the debate on the House of Lords reform Bill, a Minister will open and close the debate on each day? Is that the intention? Will the right hon. Lady also try to ensure that the point about the White Paper is clarified in next week's business statement, so that we know whether we are debating just the Bill or both topics?

May I raise an important matter that relates directly to constitutional business? Will the right hon. Lady make a statement next week about the Government's intentions on the taking of questions on constitutional matters, which are at the forefront of their legislative programme? At present, in her capacity as Lord President, the right hon. Lady answers questions only once a month, sharing a quarter of an hour with the House of Commons Commission and sometimes being given less than 10 minutes. I am sure she agrees that is wholly inadequate for such a crucial issue. Can the Order Paper be rearranged; and will the right hon. Lady announce her intentions to the House so that constitutional questions are properly dealt with?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the handling of a debate. All the matters that he raised can be examined through the usual channels. It is entirely possible that the debate will be opened and closed each day by a Minister, but if it is thought convenient to the House for fewer Front-Bench speeches to be made, that too can be considered. No firm conclusions have been reached, but the matter can be cleared up through the usual channels. The same applies to discussing the White Paper in the context of the debate.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up question. I was slightly puzzled as to what his right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) was getting at, but I understand now. Speaking off the cuff, I do not think it necessary for us to seek so much more time for questions on constitutional matters—I feel that the present structure provides enough opportunities for such matters to be raised if that is considered necessary—but I shall undertake to look at the matter again; it, too, can be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

My right hon. Friend will know that the report on events following the murder of Stephen Lawrence may well be handed to the Home Secretary next week, or during the following week. The issue has implications for policing in London and in the country as a whole, and also for race relations. If the report is handed to the Home Secretary next week, will my right hon. Friend allow the fullest possible time for a debate, given the amount of concern expressed by several Members on both sides of the House?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is right that there is great concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about that matter. I was not aware that the report might be with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as early as my hon. Friend suggests, but I will draw his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

I know that my hon. Friend will appreciate, as I am sure the whole House will, that it is a matter for consideration as to whether my right hon. Friend will wish to encourage a debate very early when the report has just been received and there has not been much time to consider it, or think it better to have the debate a little later when there has been more time to come to a mature view. Those are matters on which there is merit on both sides. As I say, I undertake to ensure that they are given consideration.