HC Deb 07 December 2000 vol 359 cc121-32 11.33 am
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

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

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

You, Mr. Speaker, informed the House yesterday of the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. The business for next week will be:

MONDAY 11 DECEMBER—Continuation of debate on the Queen's Speech (Foreign Affairs and Defence).

TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER—Continuation of debate on the Queen's Speech (Home Affairs and Inner Cities).

WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER—Conclusion of debate on the Queen's Speech (The Economy).

THURSDAY 14 DECEMBER—Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 15 DECEMBER—Debate on embryology on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 18 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Hunting Bill.

Motions relating to the Draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order and the Draft Apportionment of Money in the National Lottery Distribution Fund Order 2000.

The House will wish to know that on Monday 11 December, there will be a debate on Fisheries: Total allowable catches and quotas 2001 in European Standing Committee A.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall following conclusion of debate on the Queen's Speech will be:

THURSDAY 14 DECEMBER—Debate on the Quadripartite Committee Reports on Strategic Export Controls.

[Monday 11 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-xxxi (1999–2000)

Thursday 14 December:

The 39th to 41st Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 1998–99, of the 1st to 9th and 11th to 37th Reports of Session 1999–2000, and of the Treasury Minutes on these Reports (Cm 4576, 4593, 4656, 4695, 4688, 4732, 4758, 4798, 4822, 4863, 4886 and 4901).]

I announced previously that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House will rise for the Christmas recess at the end of business on Thursday 21 December until Monday 8 January. That remains our intention.

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will not sit during the week commencing Monday 19 February.

Mrs. Browning

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business.

May I raise with the right hon. Lady for the third time the matter of stem cell cloning, the importance attached to that debate and the vote that will ultimately need to be taken in respect of the legislation? As the House knows, we had a full day's debate on a Friday on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Will she make it clear that next Friday's debate will not be the only time that the House will have to debate the subject, and that the Government will guarantee that there will be a debate followed by a vote in Government time, not after 10 pm, so that the whole House may vote on a free vote on this important matter?

May I also raise with the Leader of the House the concern that although the Department of Trade and Industry published a Green Paper today, which I fully understand does not necessarily qualify for a statement on the Floor of the House, it was none the less flagged up on television this morning, before the information was available to hon. Members on today's Order Paper? Will the right hon. Lady ensure that Members of Parliament are notified in a timely mariner of important announcements such as today's announcement on paternity and maternity arrangements in the DTI Green Paper, as it is a great discourtesy on the part of a Minister not to allow the House to have first sight and sound of such an important matter?

Again, I raise with the Leader of the House the Government's approach to holidays of the House. As there were some notable omissions of legislation from the Queen's Speech yesterday, much of which would have had cross-party support—an important, long-promised consumer Bill, reform of the licensing laws, a water Bill and possibly an adoption Bill—it is extraordinary that the right hon. Lady announced today that in February the House will take yet another week's holiday in order that hon. Members can be at home, instead of dealing with unfinished business that the House would rightly have expected to be in the Queen's Speech.

On that subject, if, in the coming Session, as a result of the private Members' ballot, an hon. Member decided to introduce an adoption Bill in private Members' time, would it have Government support?

Mrs. Beckett

It should be placed clearly on the record that although the hon. Lady says that this is the third time that she has raised with me the issue of stem cells and their use in research, the way in which the question was phrased may have given the impression that the Government were resisting such a debate. She will know that any such impression would be wholly contrary to the truth. The Government have been more than willing to have a proper debate on the matter, on which, of course, there will be a free vote. As the hon. Lady said, we have already had a one-day debate on the matter on a Friday. She will know that that was followed by publication of draft regulations, which the House and those outside could study. The debate that I have just announced is a follow-up debate, in which the draft regulations can be discussed and in which Members can air their views. Of course, there will have to be a proper debate and there will be a free vote on the orders. I can certainly give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks—as I did when she last raised the matter. A decision will be made by the House on a free vote in Government time.

The hon. Lady asked about a statement on a Green Paper. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced his Green Paper in a written answer, which, as several Speakers have confirmed, is perfectly proper. We make sure that information is made available to the House, but it is also important to convey it to the public. We endeavour to make sure that Members are fully informed. She will know that there is always creative tension between the time that the House wants to spend on statements—as opposed to other things—and the number of statements that might be required.

The hon. Lady asked, rather extraordinarily, about what she called my approach to holidays, to which I shall return. The Queen's Speech gives an outline of the major Bills that will come before the House. She talked about Bills that would attract cross-party support. With respect, her party's record on delivering cross-party support promised on Second Reading is not very good. Indeed, I would go further and say that it is non-existent.

Mrs. Browning

Because of poor drafting.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Lady claims that the Bills are bad. Support is given for Bills on Second Reading but, as they get down the road, it mysteriously evaporates. I therefore take with a pinch of salt her assurance of cross-party support on those issues.

The hon. Lady asked me to comment on a possible private Member's Bill. We have not even had the ballot on private Members' Bills, so we do not who will win it. I am therefore reluctant to commit myself to support in advance something that is wholly hypothetical.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of what she called holidays. I remind her of a long-standing recommendation that, if possible, the House should seek to give time to Members during half-term for most schools, although that is subject to the progress of business. I remind her that, not very long ago, she asked me to give as much notice as possible of such proposals for the convenience of staff of the House as well as Members. She chided us all during the last Modernisation Committee debate, and said how important it was to get debates better spaced and to make more time available to Members so that they could manage their affairs better. What she has just said is inconsistent with that.

Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West)

May I return to the issue of stem cell research? Does my right hon. Friend recognise the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate about the proposed creation and destruction of cloned embryos for research purposes? Does she agree that many Members of Parliament do not feel that those issues were properly debated when they last came before the House in 1990? Given the profound ethical implications of stem cell research on embryos, will she ensure that more than one and a half hours of prime parliamentary time is allocated to such a debate when these matters are discussed?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the strength of feeling that my hon. Friend mentioned. She is right: the debate has moved on, more information is available and the background has changed since these matters were last debated. Before the orders come before the House, and given the timing of the debate that I announced, there will have been some 10 hours of prime parliamentary time in total, as well as publication of the regulations in draft and in final form. We cannot therefore agree that the matter will not have been aired and that Members will not have had a proper opportunity to debate it. However, I take on board my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

At the end of the last Session, the House put in place new arrangements for managing our business, including arrangements for the Legislative Business Committee, the aim of which is to achieve, as far as possible, a consensus on the key elements of different Bills and their relative priority. When is that committee to be convened? Bearing in mind the light programme facing the House in the next Session, will the Leader of the House confirm that this is an ideal opportunity to run that Committee in and for the House to gain experience of the way forward on such matters?

Mrs. Beckett

Discussions are taking place and will continue between the parties on general reactions to the proposed legislation and on how it will be reflected in our management of the House during the year ahead. I gently suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not attach too much credence either to what was said in the House yesterday or to what is reported in the press. I assure him that our programme is not a light programme; it is a proper and full one.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the interpretations of state aid that are now being made by the competition directorate in Brussels are threatening to halt or delay important objective 1 projects, including the development of a business centre in Toxteth in my constituency? Does she plan to allocate any parliamentary time to debate that important issue, which could have implications for the whole United Kingdom?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend raises an important issue that has an immediate impact in her constituency. We all recognise the need for such assistance and support in Toxteth. I fear, however, that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the near future, although my hon. Friend might like to use the opportunities provided by Westminster Hall, which have been further extended. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his colleagues are considering the matter with some urgency. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it has substantial implications.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will make a full statement to the House early next week on the outcome of the Nice treaty?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, I can certainly confirm that. As I repeatedly make clear, the Prime Minister always comes to the House after such formal councils, and will do so on this occasion.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Last year, a full report was produced after the publication of the UK anti-drug co-ordinator's annual report. This year's report was published later than last year's. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a full debate on that report in this Session?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I cannot give my hon. Friend the absolute guarantee that he seeks, although I recognise the importance of the issue and the number of hon. Members who have something worthwhile to say about it. He, too, might like to bear in mind the attractions of Westminster Hall.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House on postal services in London? It would give hon. Members the opportunity to question him about the disruption in NW1. For more than a year, substantial disruption has been caused to businesses and residents in that area by a dispute between Royal Mail and the trade unions. There is no point in publishing lots of wonderful urban White Papers if we cannot get right something as basic as a postal service in London. The matter is important for residents in NW1, and we should hear more about it in the Chamber.

Mrs. Beckett

I undertake to draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I cannot undertake to find time for a debate about it on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt, however, that the hon. Gentleman will find other ways of raising the issue.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

They say that it is not over until the fat lady sings; in this case, it is a matter of the thin man having an opportunity to change his mind. The House is going into recess on 21 December, before which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will have an opportunity to refer the takeover of Biwater by Saint-Gobain to the Competition Commission to see whether anything can be done to salvage the situation, which is causing devastation in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State make a statement or participate in a debate in order to deal with the matter?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be flattered to be described as thin; perhaps slender would be a more appropriate term. I understand my hon. Friend's determination to do all that he can to protect his constituents' interests. I am also well aware of his wish for the matter to be referred to the Competition Commission, but he will know that that view is not shared by the Director General of Fair Trading, and, as frequently happens, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken the director general's advice.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

May I revert to the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly)? Will the Leader of the House assure us that the orders to which the hon. Lady referred will be the subject not of deferred votes but of a full debate on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Beckett

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that those matters can be discussed through the usual channels, but I take his point on board.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on town and country planning issues? I ask because local residents have been campaigning to preserve a large and important area of greenfield space at Sty lane, Micklethwaite, in my constituency. I am extremely concerned that the Conservative-controlled local council is thinking about amending the unitary development plan and allowing development on that site.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand that it is always difficult for a Member of Parliament when constituents feel strongly about an issue such as this and there is a dispute with their elected representatives on the council. I understand my hon. Friend's concern that the views and anxieties of his constituents be aired in the House. However, I fear that I cannot find time for a debate on the Floor of the House. He, too, might like to bear in mind the virtues of Westminster Hall.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I press the Leader of the House yet again on embryology and stem cell research, which has been raised two or three times, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) from the Opposition Front Bench? The Leader of the House has just told my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) that the matter will be subject to discussions through the usual channels. However, this is a matter for the House as a whole and not just the usual channels. It is a moral issue of the greatest sensitivity and importance. Will she now give an assurance that the vote on the issue will be in prime time at the end of the debate and will not be deferred?

Mrs. Beckett

I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of Parliament, that of course I understand that this is a matter of the greatest sensitivity and importance. He is a fair man and he will recognise that the Government have not in any sense run away from the debate and have found time repeatedly to hear the views of hon. Members. The debate will be taken on the Floor of the House and I have undertaken that we will take seriously the representations that are made on the matter.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the scientific advice available to the Fisheries Council later this year in Brussels is particularly inauspicious for cod stocks in the North sea. From memory, I have never known the pre-Fisheries Council debate to take place anywhere other than on the Floor of the House. Will she assure those of us with fishing interests in our constituencies that every effort will be made to allow us to express our concerns this year, and that the downgrading of the subject to a European Standing Committee is not a signal that the Government are taking the issue lightly?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who enables me to clarify something that is important to the House. There was neither the intention nor the wish on the Government's part in any way to downgrade the debate. It is purely an unfortunate coincidence that we have had to take the debate in Standing Committee. I can assure him—without, I hope, breaching too many confidences or setting any precedent—that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been anxiously pressing for the information to be made available and has sought to convey to us the importance that he attaches to having the debate before the Council. Unfortunately, the timing of the receipt of the information meant that it was simply not possible to arrange the debate on the Floor in advance of the Council. That is why, exceptionally, the Government have agreed to hold the debate in Standing Committee. I remind the House that any hon. Member can attend such Standing Committee debates and I hope that those with an interest will do so.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Leader of the House clarify her answer on stem cell research? The first debate took place on 17 November and the Leader of the House has announced another debate for 15 December. We are asking for a full day's debate in Government time, followed by a vote. Surely it is not too difficult for the Government to give us a commitment here and now that that debate will take place on the Floor and not on a deferred vote.

Mrs. Beckett

No, I cannot add to what I have already said. Of course, I understand that this is an issue of great importance, sensitivity and concern to many hon. Members, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that there will have been 10 hours of debate before the orders reach the Floor of the House. That is not to be sneezed at. Hon. Members of all parties feel strongly and differently about the matter, and it would be unfortunate if anyone tried to create the impression that the Government were trying to curtail debate. We are not.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will the Leader of the House please reorganise the business for next week or the week thereafter, so as to make provision for a referendum Bill? If an agreement is reached at Nice, it will probably involve a surrender of sovereignty. Should not that surrender of sovereignty be subjected to popular consent, as expressed in a referendum?

Mrs. Beckett

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall what happened in 1972, and after Maastricht? I think that the precedents are not in his favour.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Has the right hon. Lady had a chance to read early-day motion 3, which is in my name? It is signed by 131 hon. Members.

[That this House welcomes the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology's report on complementary and alternative medicine; notes the widespread and increasing use of complementary and alternative medicine in the UK; supports improved regulatory structures and the development of single voluntary regulatory bodies for complementary and alternative medicine professions; encourages conventional healthcare professions to develop clear guidelines on competence and training in complementary and alternative medicine disciplines; welcomes the recommendation that the NHS Research and Development Directorate and the Medical Research Council should allocate research funding to develop centres of excellence for conducting complementary and alternative medicine research; supports the provision of better information for the public on what works and what is safe; and urges complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, GPs and other health care professionals to exchange information and work together to provide an integrated system of healthcare which puts patients' needs first.]

The early-day motion recommends and welcomes the report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on complementary and alternative medicine. The report makes recommendations about improved regulation, better information for the public and centres of excellence. Does not the right hon. Lady think that the time has come for a full debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on complementary and alternative medicine?

Mrs. Beckett

The recommendations of the Select Committee are being considered most carefully, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health hopes to respond formally early next year. Of course, I take on board the hon. Gentleman's wish to have a debate. I cannot give him that undertaking at present, but he will have observed that a health debate follows immediately after this statement. He might find an opportunity to raise the matter in that debate.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, when the European rapid reaction force was announced to the House, the Prime Minister was incandescent with rage? He accused those who warned of the dangers to NATO and of the threat that the force would pose to our relationship with the United States of all kinds of infamy and distortion. Since that time, our European partners have made it clear that the force is intended to be independent of NATO control. The United States has now made it clear that it believes that the force represents a threat to the NATO alliance. Will the Prime Minister therefore be coming to the House to apologise for his accusations?

Mrs. Beckett

No, my right hon. Friend will not, for the good and simple reason that there is nothing that he need apologise for. I heard a small part of the remarks made by Mr. Secretary Cohen, and it seemed to me that he was repeating precisely what he had said a few days earlier, and indeed what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in an article that was co-signed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. That is, quite simply, that the United States welcomes the initiative, but that it is anxious that there be no duplication. That is precisely what the Government's view has been from the beginning, and what the Prime Minister told the House. Hon. Members might not have been listening, but that is what he told the House.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

May I reinforce the valid points made earlier about the undue haste with which the Government are seeking to introduce regulations on human cloning for research purposes? That approach is not appropriate. The proposed regulations were not debated at all during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

The Leader of the House keeps saying that there will be 10 hours of prime-time debate on the matter, but it is not good enough to provide two Friday debates at very short notice. Will she undertake to hold a full day's debate in Government time, with a vote being taken at the end? That would ensure that the ethical and moral issues involved in the regulations were fully understood—by hon. Members, and by the people in the United Kingdom who are extremely worried about them.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand that the House feels strongly about those issues: the hon. Lady does, as do many other hon. Members. Some agree with her, and others do not, and that difference of opinion will be evident in every party. However, I reject utterly her apparent implication that the Government are attempting to curtail debate on these matters in some way. There is no justification for that whatsoever.

Conservative Members spend all their time complaining that it is an important and valid use of the House's time to hold debates on Fridays. That is true also when the Government propose to hold debates on that day.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

According to yesterday's Votes and Proceedings, a Bill for the more effectual prevention of clandestine outlawries was read the First time and ordered to be read a Second time. May I ask the Leader of the House when that Second Reading will be?

Mrs. Beckett

Not next week.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

May I press the Leader of the House again on embryology? It must not become a matter of party political divide across the Chamber, but she must understand that in my constituency at least there will be complete incomprehension if the Government regard two short-notice Friday debates, when many hon. Members cannot alter their arrangements to attend, as an adequate substitute for a proper full-day debate on the Floor of the House with a 10 o'clock vote at the end of it. I urge her to recognise that her failure to accept that could turn what should be a non-partisan issue into a partisan one, which would be most regrettable.

Mrs. Beckett

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that that would be regrettable. However, it is my feeling that the tone of today's exchanges has represented an attempt by some to turn it into a party political matter. I wholly share his view that that would be entirely wrong because, as he understands perfectly well, there are different views on the matter. Personally, I have not the faintest idea what the views of the majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends are, and it is not in any way a party issue. However, it would be entirely wrong of the House not to recognise that the Government have done the opposite of bouncing it into a decision on these matters. We found time for a debate without there being any proposals before the House so that the discussion could range freely over all the issues; we then published the regulations in draft and found time for a further opportunity to debate those draft regulations. After that, of course there will be a full and proper debate on the orders themselves and hon. Members will make up their own minds and cast their votes as they choose. It would be entirely wrong for anyone to give the impression that the matter was being handled in any other way than with the fullest possible consultation. It is rare that a Government find as much time as we are finding for issues of this kind.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Given that the American Defence Secretary actually said that a European Union rapid reaction force could turn NATO into "a relic of history", and given the latest results of the ICM poll this week showing that whereas only 30 per cent. support British participation in such a force a massive 56 per cent. oppose it, is there any prospect of the Foreign Secretary making a statement on this important matter on his return from giving away yet more of our sovereignty in Nice?

Mrs. Beckett

Again, I heard that part of what the American Defence Secretary said. He made it plain that if we did not get the negotiated agreement that we are seeking and for which we have been arguing from the beginning—and I see little prospect of it not being agreed—that would represent some underlying danger to NATO. He also made it clear in exactly the same statement that the United States and he personally supported the initiative, despite the efforts of Opposition Members to pretend otherwise. As for whether or not we will be giving away sovereignty in Nice—a matter that was also raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)—it is a matter of record and history that more sovereignty has been given away by the Conservative party in these exchanges in Europe, not least with 30 extensions of qualified majority voting in the aftermath of the Single European Act, so it is not for them to chide us on these matters.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

May I return the Leader of the House to the subject of stem cell research and ask her to clarify what is in her mind? It appears from the many replies that she has given today that we are to have an Adjournment debate at very short notice this Friday, following a previous short-notice debate on a Friday, and followed by yet another full day, debate on the orders, with a substantive vote at the end of the debate rather than on the deferred vote procedure. Will she try to clarify the matter so that we know exactly how long we are likely to debate it as huge interest groups outside this place regard it as extremely important? They will be very interested to know precisely what is in the right hon. Lady's mind as to how long the House should debate it.

Mrs. Beckett

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is getting more than a week's notice of the debate. The Government have made it clear from the beginning that we will seek to provide a measured way for the House to discuss these matters and approach its decision. I cannot and will not add anything to what I have already said about the matter.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

As most of this afternoon's debate is likely to be taken up with a wider discussion of the Government's failures in health policy, will the Secretary of State for Health make a specific statement on the systematic politicisation of public appointments in the national health service? It is only eight months since the Commissioner for Public Appointments found that a gross abuse of the appointments system had been going on. Now that she has found evidence that, since then, political crony appointments to primary care trusts are being made in exactly the same way, as if nothing had happened, can the Secretary of State give a full statement, in Government time, on this abuse of process?

Mrs. Beckett

I always think that it is quite mind-boggling for Conservative Members to raise this point, given that one of their Ministers is famously on record as saying that she never knowingly appointed a Labour party supporter to anything. That is not the Government's attitude. Everyone who is appointed, whatever the trust, has to go through the proper process of public appointments, which, I remind the hon. Gentleman, was put in place by the Government that he supported. It has resulted in the appointment of a great many more women and people from ethnic minorities. If his view is that they are all Labour people—well, fine.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will the orders for debate on 18 December be taken under the deferred voting procedure? Will the right hon. Lady put in place a system by which the results of such votes can be separately identifiable for the purpose of participation statistics? She will realise that those statistics are eagerly awaited and avidly read by our constituents. It would generate some cynicism if the lacklustre participation of some Members was suddenly to shoot up as a result of their turning up on a Wednesday and signing the visitors' book. Will she ensure that the vote on stem cell research will not be taken under this defective procedure?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman's final point has been made by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, and I have nothing to add to what I have already said. His first question was whether it is intended that the orders to which he referred would be taken under the new procedure. The answer is yes, and those votes will of course be recorded. I take heed of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about whether they should be separately identified. I had not previously contemplated the idea. I am willing to consider it, although I fear that I do not entirely share his view that the statistics are read avidly—or, indeed, at all—by our constituents.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May I ask the right hon. Lady once again to reconsider and to accede to a request for a full day's debate on the outcome of the Nice summit, not just a short statement? The power of self-government, the right to hire and fire our rulers and the capacity freely to chart our own destiny as an independent nation are inalienable birthrights of every Briton and should not be traded in for a mess of pottage called the heart of Europe. Therefore, does she accept that a full day's debate would give us the chance to probe why the Government are conniving at giving up power, acceding to the request for a European constitution and working hand in glove with member states of the European Union to create a federal state by stealth—a state that is opposed by the majority of the British people?

Mrs. Beckett

I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that there will be a full day's debate after the report from the Nice summit. It will be the debate on the Queen's Speech on foreign affairs, when no doubt he will be able to refer to these matters.

The hon. Gentleman makes powerful points; he clearly feels very strongly about these matters, and that is perfectly legitimate. What a shame it is that he was not here during all those years when Conservative Governments were doing all the things that he is now complaining about.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

At a meeting this morning of Surrey and Sussex Members of Parliament from all parties and Church leaders in the region, stem cell research was of prime interest. When I was elected to this place, I understood that we would, on occasion, debate an issue, on a free vote, and that the force of the argument would help us to make up our minds when we voted at the end of the debate. Does the Leader of the House agree with that principle, and will she follow it in deciding how to deal with the orders on stem cell research?

Mrs. Beckett

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have different views on and a different approach to these matters. I am confident that they are all being flooded with information and that they will consider it carefully. Many of them have listened to the debates that have already been held and will listen to those yet to be held. They will come to their own firm views and cast their votes accordingly. There is nothing unusual about that. There is nothing unprecedented in the House debating those matters in that way. What is a little unprecedented is the sheer amount of time that the Government have made available because we understand how strongly people feel about these matters.

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