HC Deb 14 December 2000 vol 359 cc803-20 12.31 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Will the Leader of the House give 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 is as follows:

MONDAY 18 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Vehicles (Crime) 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.

TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER—Motion relating to the Draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulation 2000

Estimates Day [1st Allotted Day—Half Day]. There will be a debate on Urban Regeneration in England. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Hunting Bill.

THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER—Motions on the Social Security Benefits Up-rating (No. 2) Order and the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase (No. 2) Order.

Motion on the Christmas Recess Adjournment.

FRIDAY 22 DECEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

Hon. Members will wish to be aware that the House will meet at 9.30 am on Thursday 21 December for questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The provisional business for the first week back after the Christmas Recess will include:

MONDAY 8 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Homes Bill.

It is not possible at the moment to give the House all the business for the week beginning 8 January. That will be announced next week following discussion through the usual channels.

The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 17 January, there will be a debate relating to sport in European Standing Committee 'C'. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the last Thursday this year will be:

THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER—Debate on British Trade International.

[Tuesday 19 December 2000:

Class Vote III, Vote 1 (Housing, construction, regeneration, regional policy, planning and countryside and wildlife, England)

Wednesday 17 January 2001: European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union documents: COM (99) 644:The Helsinki Report on Sport; COM (99) 643: Doping in Sport; Unnumbered EM dated 23 November 2000: Declaration on Sport. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-viii, HC 23-xiii and HC 23-xxxi (1999–2000).]

Mrs. Browning

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. I wish to make two comments about it. First, the Second Reading of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill is scheduled for Monday whereas the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill will be on Wednesday. That will cause a great deal of inconvenience to Members who had hoped to attend the House to hear the Hunting Bill debated on Monday. I hope that the right hon. Lady has not changed the order in which the Bills will be debated simply to pray in aid the fact that the Government have put the issue of law and order before that of hunting.

Secondly, I have said several times before that it would not have been acceptable for the House to have debated embryology and then had a deferred vote. I thank the right hon. Lady for ensuring that the debate will be held at a time when Members can cast their votes following the debate on the subject. Conservative Members will have a free vote on the subject, and I am sure that she will confirm that Labour Members will have a free vote, too. It is a matter of conscience, and individual Members should cast their vote as they think fit.

Despite the fact that we are near the end of term, an important matter has occurred this morning and it merits the House's attention. Will the Leader of the House consider whether we should have a debate on the matter shortly? I am referring to this morning's Home Office press release announcing the names of the electoral commissioners. That was a surprise because on 6 December my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) tabled a written question asking when commissioners were to be appointed. The answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department yesterday at column 181W gave no hint of the names or when they would be released. Surely that should be corrected and the House should have a chance to discuss the matter because it is relevant to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which was guillotined in the last week of the previous Session, so restricting the opportunity for hon. Members to address that issue.

Why will the House have to wait until mid-January before the electoral commissioners are appointed, as the Home Office press release states? Surely we could debate that in the coming week and have them in place for the new year. Will the Leader of the House consider that because it is important and needs to be addressed? Will that decision not further complicate the implementation of the Bill's main provisions on donations and expenditure on 16 February if the matter is not dealt with until January next year? I hope that the Leader of the House will share my concern about the way in which the business has been handled and the disrespect it shows to Members of the House for announcements to be made without providing a written answer or an opportunity for us to discuss it.

Mrs. Beckett

First, I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that we moved the debate on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill because we wanted to change the order of business; the decision had no relevance to the issue of what might come first. Looking back as, sadly, Opposition Members rarely do, to their last Queen's Speech in the 1996 Session, it is clear that the first Bill they tabled for debate was the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Bill. The notion that there is something unusual about the order in which we take Bills is not well founded. However, I assure her that the decision was simply a matter of trying to get a good pattern of debate for the following week, which business managers always strive to do.

The hon. Lady also asked whether the Labour party was committed to a free vote on embryology. I am pleased to hear that her party is to have a free vote, although I would have anticipated that. However, I remind her that when the Donaldson report was published on 16 August, the Government said that they would lay regulations to give effect to its recommendations so that they could be followed through, and those regulations would be laid before the House so that it could reach its decision on the basis of a free vote. There is no question that it will be anything other than a completely free vote.

As for the Home Office press release, I am afraid that I am not familiar with precisely what was said or why, and, to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure of the hon. Lady's point. However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 has been extensively discussed. People are aware of the issues that arise from it. I understand that the House is interested in who the commissioners may be, but I am not aware of a suggestion that we should debate those appointments. Indeed, successive Governments have not thought that there should be accountability, other than through Ministers, for appointments that are made through the proper public appointment process.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Four of the five wettest years on record in the United Kingdom occurred in the 1990s, but in other parts of the world the desert is advancing at a truly alarming rate. Given that there is a United Nations conference in Bonn on desertification as I speak, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently published a White Paper that touches tangentially on the issue, can we have an early debate on it?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not entirely sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that we should have an early debate on desertification. I understand that there are frequent discussions about climate change, of which desertification is one aspect, and I share my hon. Friend's view, as I am sure all hon. Members do, that it is a serious matter. I fear, however, that especially as, happily, whatever our other problems up to now, no one has suggested that deserts are spreading in Britain, I cannot find time for an early debate on that.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Will the Leader of the House pay attention to concerns expressed throughout the House about the constitution of the Human Rights Joint Committee, which is on the Order Paper? Do the Government intend to allow the Committee to have a completely free choice of its Chair? The Committee will have a role similar to that of the Public Accounts Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, so will the Government make certain that its Chair is taken by an Opposition Member, rather than a Government supporter, in common with those other Committees?

I endorse the congratulations to the Government on listening to the views of many Members about the timing for the motion on the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulation 2000, which is now in a much better place in our programme.

When will we receive a comprehensive response to the royal commission on long-term care? Statements have been made, and references were made during the debates on the Gracious Speech, but is the coming crisis in the national health service, which is causing so much concern to Members and their constituents, being viewed in the context of bed blocking and the relationship between health and social services authorities?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, we are making progress on appointing the Human Rights Joint Committee, and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is always Committees that deal with such issues. As for the comparison that he drew with the Public Accounts Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, I am not aware of any suggestion that the Human Rights Joint Committee is in the same category and should therefore be chaired by an Opposition Member, but that will no doubt emerge in due course.

It is widely understood in the House that bed blocking is causing difficulties in the NHS. The hon. Gentleman asked for a further statement on long-term care, but that will be dealt with when the NHS Bill comes before the House, so I anticipate that there will be opportunities to discuss the issue then and it is unlikely that there will be a further, separate statement on it.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the delay in, and possibly even the postponement of, the publication of the long-awaited Green Paper on radioactive waste management. Does she accept that the delay means that the Government effectively have no policy on radioactive waste management, and have not had one since the previous Government's abandonment of the plans to build an underground repository at the Sellafield complex? Will she assure the House that the Green Paper will be published early next year? If that is not the case, will she find time for a debate on this most important environmental issue?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important issue. It has considerable implications for the long term, and it will take considerable time to implement once policy details have been thrashed out. It is important that we try to get the first steps right. I anticipate that when the consultation paper is published there will be a major programme of discussion and research, as well as decision making. I fear that I am not up to speed with the intended timing of that, but my colleagues will want to bring the Green Paper to the House when it is ready, although they no doubt hope that that will be as early as possible. I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. and hon. Friends so that if they have any further information, they can let him know.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the textiles industry? She will know that there have been severe job losses in the industry in the east midlands. We often have statements from Ministers when large job losses are announced, but the losses of several companies in the textiles industry can have a devastating effect on a region.

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware that there is great and long-standing concern about the future of the textile industry. I am also aware of the specific concerns the hon. Gentleman raises—indeed, the other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) highlighted the concern felt in the midlands. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government office for the east midlands is seeking to co-ordinate help from various public bodies in the area and that a rapid response unit is in place to help and support people through the difficulties in the region. As he is well aware, the problems in the textiles industry are of long standing; successive Governments have struggled to overcome them from time to time and with some success, but there is no easy solution.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

I know that the parliamentary timetable is extremely full, but has any progress been made on finding time for a debate on Lord Phillips' report on BSE? The families of those who have died of new variant CJD in my constituency are anxious for Parliament to debate the report, and there are worrying reports in today's media about another potential cluster. Can my right hon. Friend provide any reassurance?

Mrs. Beckett

I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government have every intention of providing time for a major debate on the subject. She will recall that, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the outcome of the Phillips inquiry, he made it plain that the Government would find time for a debate, after a reasonable period had elapsed. He was anxious to ensure that sufficient time was allowed for people to study the 16 volumes of the report and take full account of the in-depth study that the inquiry team carried out, and for discussions to take place with families that have been affected. Therefore, although I anticipate a debate taking place, I cannot say when it will take place. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will bring the matter to the House.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

The right hon. Lady will be aware of growing concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the fact that human cloning matters are to be introduced by regulation on Tuesday. Bearing in mind that those matters were not discussed during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and that many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that they should be the subject of primary legislation rather than regulations, will she be courageous and postpone the debate until those matters can be fully considered?

Mrs. Beckett

With respect, last week the Opposition were pressing for the debate. I should say first that the regulations are not human cloning orders and it should not he allowed to slip on to the record of the House that they are. Indeed, if the hon. Lady reads the Department of Health memorandum, which, as she may be aware, is already in the Vote Office, she will see that it states explicitly and in terms: These regulations do not permit research leading to human reproductive cloning. Therefore, the matter is not as she describes it.

As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) a minute or two ago, the report that recommended that regulations should be laid before the House was published in August, at which time the Government made it plain that we would give the House an opportunity to reach its decision on the recommended regulations on a free vote. The Government made time for a debate in principle and we published the regulations in draft—which we were not by any means compelled to do. The draft regulations have been amended following representations, which proves the value of publishing them in draft form. There will be a further debate tomorrow on the broad issues, but focusing on the draft regulations, without the House being required to reach a conclusion. Then, on Tuesday, we shall have a further, fuller debate, followed by the House having an opportunity to vote.

I do not think that the Government can, in the slightest degree, be criticised for having provided some 10 hours now in which to debate the issues and the substance of the regulations, for having published them in draft, and for requiring the House to reach a conclusion only later and after a longer debate than is usual. The Government are perfectly entitled to take regulations on an hour and a half debate after 10 o'clock, but we have not done so because we recognise the concern and the interest felt in the House. I know that the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) disagrees violently with our proposals and she is perfectly entitled to do so, but it is not quite fair of her to pretend that the Government have not more than done our duty by the House in giving the House an opportunity to decide.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that it is about a year and a half since the minimum wage was introduced nationally. Is it not time to have a debate so that we might review its implementation? Those of us who served on the Committee that considered the National Minimum Wage Bill are aware of the scaremongering of Conservatives, who said that 1 million jobs would be lost and that pensioners, the disabled and people working for charities in the voluntary sector should not receive the minimum wage. While we debate the operation of the scheme now, might we not consider a timetable for the removal of the temporary youth rate?

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend and others served long hours on the National Minimum Wage Bill in Committee and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, thereby giving the lie to any suggestion that Members are not prepared to work hard for a worthwhile cause. They are, however, reluctant to spend long hours on trivia. It is right that the minimum wage arouses great interest on both sides of the House.

I understand the attraction that my hon. Friend sees in having an opportunity to debate the errors of the Conservative party, and, as far as I am aware, the continued wish of Liberal Democrats to have a regional rate rather than a national rate. I understand also her wish that there should be a review of the youth rate. She will know that the Low Pay Commission is taking evidence about it. In that sense, perhaps a debate would be timely. I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor of the House, but my hon. Friend might use the opportunities afforded by Westminster Hall.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Leader of the House will know that irrespective of the outcome of the decisions that will be made in the Fisheries Council today and tomorrow about total allowable catches for pressure stocks next year, the fishing and processing sectors of the fishing industry are facing a uniquely difficult year. There are some conservation and technical issues that will flow from the decisions on TACs today and tomorrow. Will the right hon. Lady try to find time early in January for a debate on the Floor of the House so that these important matters can be considered against the background of the uniquely difficult circumstances that the industry is facing?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand fully the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses. He will know that the Government regretted the fact that, owing to timing of information coming from Brussels, it was not possible to have the normal pre-Council debate on the Floor of the House. I take his point fully on board and I understand his anxiety for a debate relatively early in the House. The Government will have to balance that—we have already introduced 10 of the Bills in our programme, and obviously we are anxious to get them through their Second Reading stage and start to feed them into Committee—against perfectly proper pressure for the debate that the hon. Gentleman seeks. We take seriously the point that he is making.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on miners' compensation payments? We know that the Government have ring-fenced the money and put it aside. It is not good enough that some miners, especially the older ones—26,000 since court proceedings began—have died without receiving a penny. Is it not about time that we had a debate to ascertain what is happening with the scheme and who is holding back its implementation?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a source of considerable irritation to me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that something that we sought to get under way as speedily as possible in the early months of this Government is still not going through at the speed that everybody wishes. I hope that my hon. Friend will know that there have been some expedited offers since September, and that some increased offers were made in mid-October. I share his concern, as do my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Trade, that there is continued delay. I can assure him that they are doing everything they can to speed things up. I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter on the Floor of the House; my hon. Friend may think that Westminster Hall might be a good place to discuss it.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Given the curious innovation of the Secretary of State for Defence being absent from the Queen's Speech defence debate, which had an H. M. Bateman quality and caused no little embarrassment to those on the Treasury Bench during the winding-up speeches, why have the Government not afforded him the opportunity to come to the House next week to clarify the ambiguities in the current European defence imbroglio?

Mrs. Beckett

First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was abroad on Government business, and it was, I believe, business that Conservative Members might welcome. I fear that the right hon. Gentleman weakens his case by suggesting that it is necessary for my right hon. Friend to come to the House to clarify confusion as no confusion exists on the issue to which he refers, except in the minds of Conservative Members.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Government's youth policy? There has rightly been much emphasis in the past few weeks on young people and crime, but the youth policy involves so much more than that. Many young people in my constituency in Nottingham are concerned about the provision of recreation and leisure facilities, and we have heard today about the impact of the minimum wage on young people. Young people want to be involved in decision making. This is a huge subject, and we should talk not just about young people and crime but about the range of services that the Government offer young people in general.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that he has done much campaigning on the issue locally in his constituency. Although he raises some important issues, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House, where time is always very short, as he knows. That is precisely the reason why the Government—together with the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery)—proposed, through the Modernisation Committee, to hold debates in Westminster Hall to air the many worthwhile issues for which we cannot find time on the Floor of the House.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of yesterday's High Court decision, which means that the involvement of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions in determining town and country planning appeals was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. As that will have a profound effect on planning and development control, and indeed may extend to other legislation across the Departments of State, will she arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement as early as possible next week to explain his intentions in that regard?

Mrs. Beckett

I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend, but I suspect that the Department will want some time to consider the implications of that decision. Environment questions will take place relatively soon after the Christmas recess, and perhaps that will provide a better time than the next few days to discuss the matter.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

May I tell my right hon. Friend that the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, which represents people working in the construction industry, is extremely concerned about the health and safety crisis in that industry? Since 27 November, there have been six fatalities, including that a 16-year-old new worker who was crushed to death on a site. She will be aware that the Queen's Speech includes a proposal for a health and safety Bill, but as it will embrace rail safety, it cannot proceed until the Cullen report is available and has been digested. Will she therefore ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he would be prepared to hive off the matter and proceed with a health and safety Bill to revitalise construction safety, which would introduce higher fines and the crime of corporate manslaughter in cases where a breach of legislation caused death? Then, at a later stage, when we proceed with rail safety legislation, we could consolidate that measure in a safety Act.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The House is aware that the construction industry has long had some safety problems. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. Friend. I am not sure that it would be possible to separate the issues in the way he suggests, but, as he said, the Government have proposals for a draft Bill on safety, timed to take account of the Cullen report, but I hope that work will be done on other aspects before that report is available. Although I cannot offer my hon. Friend the reassurance that the legislation can be separated as he suggests, he might look for other opportunities, perhaps in Westminster Hall, to focus attention on such issues and to inform the work on other aspects of safety.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

Will the Leader of the House make time at an early opportunity for us to debate the growing threat from dissident republican groups? Is she aware that Joe Fee—a man briefly detained in the Republic after the seizure of weapons in Croatia, destined for the Real IRA—was sent in 1997, as an Irish Government employee, to be an aid worker in the former Yugoslavia, alongside the charity Refugee Trust?

Given that the BBC's "Spotlight" programme is shortly to broadcast a film about the origin of those weapons, is the right hon. Lady aware that Fee's employment in the Balkans occurred some 10 years after Garda intelligence had identified him as the leader of the Continuity IRA? Is she also aware that Joe Fee has been identified by police as the vital point of contact between the leader of the Croat smugglers Ante Cubelic and the Real IRA? Will she provide time for a debate on those important issues?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman time for an early debate, although he has raised issues of considerable concern that I know will greatly interest my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He will note, however, that as a result of cross-party agreement Northern Ireland questions will now take place next week, and he may have an opportunity to raise the matter again then.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate on the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector? As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) suggested, it is a complex relationship, involving support for both social and youth services at different times. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind particularly the threat of a £10 penalty for the carrying out of police searches in England, but not in France, Northern Ireland and Wales?

Mrs. Beckett

I think the whole House agrees that the voluntary sector is very important, and the Government have done a great deal to try to develop and strengthen their relationship with it.

I know that much concern has been expressed for some time about the issue of searches, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given it considerable thought. I fear I cannot find time for a special debate on the Floor of the House, given that the matter has already been aired extensively, but my hon. Friend may wish to seek an opportunity to raise it in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Can the right hon. Lady find time for an urgent debate on the Government's management of crises? Does she recall that, during the summer, the Prime Minister intervened to try to sort out the fuel crisis, and that after a summit at Downing street he announced that fuel would be returned to the petrol pumps within 24 hours? It was not.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that three weeks ago the Prime Minister called another summit, this time to sort out rail timetables? He said that they would be sorted out by Christmas. Christmas is just 12 or 13 days away, and the timetables are still in chaos. British Rail, Railtrack, trains—all are in chaos. Will the right hon. Lady find time for a debate, so that we can discuss why this Government are so incapable and irresponsible in their management of crises?

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Who privatised the railways?

Mrs. Beckett

I recall very well what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the occasion of the increase in oil prices internationally, and the problems that it caused here. He said he had been informed that fuel would be flowing again in 24 hours, and he clearly had been so informed, by oil companies and others; but, as the hon. Gentleman says, the undertaking was not followed through. Ultimately, however, the matter was resolved.

As for the problems in the rail industry, I share the incredulity of my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) that any Conservative Government has the gall to go on raising them.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

May we have a debate on the role of the Opposition in a healthy democracy, especially in relation to the millions of pounds of taxpayers' money given to the Leader of the Opposition, supposedly to develop policy? It seems to be being spent on U-turns, about-turns, financial black holes and a plethora of jokes which, by my reckoning, are costing the taxpayer at least a grand a time. May we have a debate on that misuse of public money?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I fully supported the move to increase and, in fact, treble the public money available to the Opposition. I believe that that was the right thing to do. I share my hon. Friend's regret that more effective use is not being made of that money, and I notice that the Conservative party does not seem to think that it should have to answer the types of questions that it asked the Labour party in opposition. That is an error into which the Tories have fallen. However, I fear that I cannot find time, tempting and amusing as it would be, to debate the role of the Opposition. My hon. Friend might try to find another occasion on which to raise such matters, but I am afraid that I cannot help her today.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

First, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for granting me an Adjournment debate a few weeks ago on the subject of residents at Chester's Croft, Cheadle Hulme in my constituency, who live in homes classified as mobile homes. During that debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), announced that regulations granting those residents the right to claim compensation as mobile home owners living adjacent to a new road will be laid before Parliament, after a nine-year wait. However, I have discovered from a letter that I received from Stockport council legal services department—it emanated from the Minister—that, once laid, those regulations were withdrawn and altered. Effectively, that means that promises made to my constituents nine years ago will not necessarily be honoured, as they have been for residents living in permanent homes. Will the Minister come to the House to explain why promises made to my constituents are apparently at risk of being broken?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I am not familiar with all the detail of the regulations to which the hon. Gentleman refers, although of course I understand his concern on behalf of his constituents. On the basis of his figures, I judge that he received a faster response to that concern from this Government than from the previous Government, whom he supported—but there we go. Nevertheless, I shall draw his concerns to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is not clear to me that it will be thought appropriate to make a further statement on the regulations, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister, in the hope that he will be able to clarify the position for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Could we have a debate on cases of serious job loss? Coats Viyella, in the east midlands, is one such case. A statement on Vauxhall, in Luton, was made yesterday. We need further debate on that matter. At Biwater, in Clay Cross, which is in my constituency, 700 jobs have been or will be lost.

We need to consider the Government's response to the situation. The rapid response unit does not always work perfectly, and regional selective assistance needs to be discussed, as does the question of who receives local government funding and lottery grants and the availability of objective 1 and 2 funding. All those are serious issues in my constituency. Although the issues can be discussed by Members with the DTI, the Prime Minister's office and other bodies, is it not also important that they be discussed on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is right, but those issues are discussed on the Floor of the House. As he will know, the Queen's Speech economic debate took place only yesterday. As he is also right to say, no organ of human creation operates perfectly, and the rapid response unit is no exception. I know, however, that he will strongly support steps taken by the Government to secure objective 1 and 2 funding, through the rapid response unit and so on, to try to help people through what can be a painful process of change that it is not always possible to resist.

Although I recognise the importance of the issues that my hon. Friend raises, I fear that I cannot, in the short term, find time for such a general economic debate. I know, however, that he is experienced in finding other ways of raising such issues.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the huge administrative burden and the wholly disproportionate cost imposed on small local authorities by the best value regulations? May we have an early debate so that the concerns of councillors in rural areas can be voiced and so that representations can be made on behalf of hard-pressed council tax payers who face wholly unnecessary and totally avoidable increases in their council taxes?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman will know that although there are those, including him and no doubt some of his local authorities, who are unhappy with the procedures of best value, far more authorities were even more unhappy with the regulations which it replaced for compulsory competitive tendering, which were also thought to be much more bureaucratic, costly and ineffective. So whatever reservations there may be—and I have already said that no system is perfect—best value is definitely better than the system it replaced. I fear that I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter, but I am sure that hon. Gentleman will find opportunities to raise it in Environment questions and elsewhere.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the worrying case of Russell Griffiths, the lecturer acquitted of raping an 18-year-old student in Lincoln, but jailed for lying about his criminal past to get a lecturer's job in Lincoln? His convictions relating to ex-girlfriends included threats to kill, criminal damage and sending obscene material. Will my right hon. Friend find parliamentary time to debate measures which would ensure that employers such as universities would have access to criminal records when making appointments to posts such as that of lecturer, which is clearly a position of trust, as there is clearly insufficient legislative provision at present?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point about a serious case which I know has aroused great concern in her constituency. Although it is an important issue which no doubt will merit further serious consideration, I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter. Although, like others, my hon. Friend may wish to pursue the opportunities of Westminster Hall, it is not impossible that she will find an opportunity to raise the matter under the various pieces of Home Office legislation that are being introduced.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to see early-day motion 37, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) and has been signed by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties?

[That this House notes that when introducing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill at Second Reading, the then Secretary of State for Health, the right honourable Member for Rushcliffe, assured the House that 'all honourable Members would like to prohibit certain activities, which include cloning and other science fiction possibilities. There can be little doubt that infringing such prohibitions should attract severe penalties provided by the Bill' (7th April 1990, Official Report, column 920); notes in that debate the statement by the late Right honourable Sir Bernard Braine, honourable Member for Castle Point that 'apart from cloning, genetic engineering and producing animal hybrids, the scientist will be able to do what he likes under the Bill' (column 934); notes that nowhere throughout the debates was any differentiation made between cloning by cell nuclear transfer and other techniques, or between therapeutic and reproductive cloning; notes nonetheless the claims made by the Under Secretary of State that those matters were fully debated in 1990; invites the Government to cite those sections of the debates on the Bill covering such matters; further calls on the Government to cite that section of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which makes cloning legal by any technique including cell nuclear transfer and for whatever purpose; and calls for the withdrawal of the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulation 2000, until such evidence has been provided and Right honourable and honourable Members have had adequate opportunity to consider these issues of profound ethical importance.]

The motion refers to the Official Report of 2 April 1990 where, at column 920, the then Minister introducing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill referred to certain activities, which include cloning— not human cloning— or other science fiction possibilities; and added: There can be little doubt that infringing such prohibitions … should attract the severe penalties provided in the Bill.—[Official Report, 2 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 920.]

Is the Leader of the House aware that the statutory instrument that we are discussing next week will introduce cloning, as it deals with cell replacement technology which creates a new cloned cell. There could well be a legal challenge on this. The right hon. Lady should be aware that the statutory instrument that will be introduced on Tuesday is ultra vires under the Bill. Certainly, the courts can look at it under Pepper v. Hart. The words of the then Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), could well make the statutory instrument ultra vires. Surely that shows that we should have had primary legislation and that the matter is proceeding in a rushed and chaotic way. Will the right hon. Lady think again, and remember that there could well be a legal challenge to what she is doing?

Mrs. Beckett

If the legal challenge that the hon. Gentleman envisages is brought forward—and I remind him that next Tuesday we will be having our third debate on the matter, so the House has had ample opportunities to debate the issues—it will be a matter for the court and those concerned in the action. However, the court might be well advised to take account of the fact that the Donaldson report has been available since August and right hon. and hon. Members and everybody else have known since August of the Government's announced intention to introduce regulations as recommended by Donaldson rather than primary legislation. If someone wanted to bring a case saying that those regulations would be ultra vires, why did not they get round to it between August and now?

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

I refer my right hon. Friend to Question 1 at today's Treasury questions, which asked about trends in United Kingdom productivity. Could we have a debate on productivity? Many Labour Members would like to draw attention to the fact that, although the mining industry's productivity levels went through the roof in the late 1980s, the reward was closures, job losses and the decimation of the industry. Those problems were caused by Conservative Members, not for economic reasons, but because of narrow, craven, political vindictiveness, led by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and a few of the apparatchiks around him. I, for one, would love to have a debate on productivity so that Labour Members can draw attention to that.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the mining and other industries, where harm and damage sometimes occurs despite productivity improvements. I understand his analysis of why that happened in the mining industry. Productivity is a hugely important economic issue in the UK. We must continue to pursue and address it, even though resentment is caused when people know that they have improved productivity but that problems are still occurring and that jobs are lost, as has recently happened in Luton. Nevertheless, I fear that I cannot find time for the specific debate to which my hon. Friend referred. I am sure, however, that he will find other opportunities to raise these matters in economic and other debates, as well as in Treasury Question Time.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

Will the right hon. Lady consider further the request for an early debate on volunteers? Such a debate could take place on one of the blank Fridays. Early-day motion 101, which was signed by members of all parties, draws attention to the Scottish Parliament's agreement, only two days ago, to fees for the Criminal Records Bureau not being levied on volunteers in the youth movements.

[That this House welcomes the decision of the Scottish Parliament that criminal record checks for volunteers working with children in Scotland will be free; notes with regret that volunteers in England and Wales will still be required to pay £10 for identical checks to be made with the Criminal Records Bureau in the coining year; and urges the Government to emulate the excellent example of the Scottish Parliament.]

Does the right hon. Lady agree that a decision by the Government not to introduce a tax on volunteers would be a wonderful gesture for the international year of the volunteer, which is next year? Can we have an early debate to discuss that matter?

Mrs. Beckett

I can tell the hon. Gentleman only what I have already told my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter). The Government are aware of the concern expressed by the voluntary sector and the matter has been the subject of full consideration and discussion. It will no doubt continue to be aired. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have not yet announced the precise arrangements that will apply to such checks in England and Wales. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but the question of how the costs of such tests and checks are to be met is a matter for delicate decision. Such a decision is not as easy to make as it is to call for.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Korean war and, in particular, of the battle of Imjin. Much as it is pleasing to see reconciliation after many years between the north and south of the country, is there time for a debate on how to commemorate the Korean war and the role played by the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire arid Wiltshire regiment, which was known in those days as the Glorious Gloucesters? Its members have been invited to participate in various ceremonies in Korea, but are not currently allowed to take up that opportunity. Will my right hon. Friend speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see how the matter can be taken forward?

Mrs. Beckett

I have taken on board my hon. Friend's remarks about volunteers and I understand the pride that he and his constituents properly take in the record of those who served in our armed forces during a difficult conflict. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but I fear that I cannot find time for any other opportunity to discuss the matter. He will be aware that the Armed Forces Bill was introduced on 11 December; he may find an opportunity to raise the issue during debates on that Bill.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Can we please have a focused, and possibly brief, debate to clarify how many of our vetoes have been given up by the Prime Minister in exchange for qualified majority votes? The Prime Minister, with his slender grasp of reality and his ignorance of his briefs, made great play of the fact that the only matter that he thought of any importance to have been given up to qualified majority voting was something to do with the pensions of members of the Court of Auditors, which he found very amusing.

A debate on the matter would allow us to flush out, if the Prime Minister were here and if he had read his brief, whether qualified majority voting now applied, for example, to the appointment of the European Commission President or of members of the Court of Auditors, to the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice, to the rules for structural funds and the cohesion fund, and to Community financial assistance to the member states. These matters should be clarified for the House. The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to get away with his rather trite dealing with a matter which, in the end, is going to be one of huge national importance.

Mrs. Beckett

We had a debate before the Nice summit, and a statement was made to the House after it.

Despite the right hon. Gentleman's uncharacteristically ungracious remarks, the Prime Minister is totally in command of these matters, as the House well understood when my right hon. Friend made the Nice statement on Monday. My right hon. Friend also mentioned some of the other issues to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. However, if I may respond in kind, I cannot find time for a further, special debate on the matter. Furthermore, if the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take part in such a debate, it would be unlikely to be brief.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

The quality of life in hundreds of communities throughout the country is adversely affected by the operations of nearby airports—for example, by night noise, air pollution and land take. Those communities will have noted with interest the publication this week of the Government's consultation document "The Future of Aviation". They will, however, be puzzled by its timing, in that it has arrived too late to influence the terminal 5 inquiry at Heathrow, but too early to reflect its conclusions.

Can the Leader of the House find time, before the end of this Parliament, for a detailed debate on aviation and airports policy, so that communities whose lives are so seriously affected can look forward to the prospect of a more level runway, in terms of their dealings with the powerful aviation industry lobby?

Mrs. Beckett

I thought that runways were mostly level. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns entirely. For most of us who live in the area, the East Midlands airport is both convenient and successful, but I understand that many of his constituents feel the consequences of that. I understand his desire for a debate on the matter, although he lost me slightly when he referred to the Heathrow fifth terminal inquiry, which seems to have been going on interminably. The idea that we might have to discuss that issue further fills me with horror.

I cannot undertake to find time for the special debate that my hon. Friend seeks, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, with regard to the timing of the consultation document. My hon. Friend might like to raise the specific circumstances of his constituency in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

A fortnight ago, at Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister gave me an uncharacteristically straightforward response, when he gave a clear guarantee that the Government would veto European Union moves to include worker representation in company management structures. Given that the French Government now intend to introduce such a measure next week for discussion by the Council of Ministers, and that there is considerable speculation that the Government have now changed their position, can the Prime Minister be brought to the House to make a statement as to why he is to renege on that promise?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course the French Government will continue to pursue the matter, because that is a change that they wish to make. However, I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. The Government have no intention of changing their position, and, in consequence, there is nothing for the Prime Minister to report.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I am sure that the whole House joins me in wishing the Leader of the House a very happy Christmas and a very happy and prosperous—if not too successful—new year. May I ask her to reconsider the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) for a full debate in Government time on the implications of the court decision this week, ruling that the Deputy Prime Minister cannot be both judge and jury—both policy maker and decision taker—in planning matters? I am sure that the right hon. Lady must agree that the issues and implications raised by this go beyond anything that could possibly be considered in Environment questions. Will she acquiesce to our request for an early debate on this, if for no other reason than to convince the House that her beleaguered colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, is in control of his Department, which is probably far too big?

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks and return my good wishes to all right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those who regularly attend these events. I am grateful to her for giving me an opportunity to clarify the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I did not intend to convey the idea that I was committing the Government either for or against a debate in the fulness of time. I simply identified the fact that this was quite a recent decision and no doubt the Department will wish to consider the matter carefully. It is not clear to me what action may be proposed.

As for my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister being in charge of his Department, I think that the hon. Lady has chosen an unfortunate example, as surely none of us wishes to see Ministers in charge of the courts in this country.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

I welcome next week's opportunity to debate and vote on the embryology research regulations, but many seriously ill patients and their carers will find it difficult, given the short notice, to make direct representations to their Members of Parliament, which they regret. However, I urge the right hon. Lady to reject allegations that the matter has not been given full consideration, bearing in mind the fact that the first report came out in December 1998, the Donaldson report was published in August, and the matter has been before the House since 31 October.

Finally, I ask the right hon. Lady to join me in pointing out that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and his colleagues can hardly call for primary legislation when, on 31 October, they voted against a First Reading calling for primary legislation as one way of getting these important regulations on the statute book.

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman brought forward a ten-minute Bill on the issue and that it was opposed by those who oppose the regulations. He is right that the matter has been before the House for some time, which is why I do not wholly share his view about short notice. People know that there is a debate this Friday; they are aware that the draft regulations have been around for some time. It is regrettable if those who might have wished to make further representations find it a little more difficult to do so in the time available. However, this is a warning to us all that when issues are around for a considerable time, it is important for people to address them when it is known that they are in contention and will be decided at some point.

I gently remind the hon. Gentleman, and the Opposition Members who have raised the matter, that when we were first pressed on the Floor of the House as to when the matter would be coming forward, most right hon. and hon. Members anticipated that the order would be introduced and that there would be one debate on it, probably relatively early in the new Session. So in fact more time has elapsed than people might have anticipated, because the Government have allowed more time for discussion and debate.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for Wales told the House: the bicentenary of the 1801 Act of Union falls next year, and the Government will recognise the significance of that.—[Official Report, 13 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 621.] Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a statement next week, perhaps by the Minister for Patriotism, telling us how and when the Government will recognise the significance of this very important bicentennial for the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid not.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on the BBC's compliance—or lack of compliance—with its charter obligations on impartiality? Regrettably, that matter was not covered in the exchanges that followed the Secretary of State's statement earlier this week on the communications White Paper. Does the right hon. Lady not agree that in the light of the twin principles that no organisation should be judge in its own cause, and that it is desirable for the BBC and independent broadcasters to play on a broadly level playing field, such a debate would afford an opportunity for the Secretary of State to explain without delay whether the BBC will in future be accountable to Ofcom, and whether Ofcom will be able to judge it in terms of its accountability?

Mrs. Beckett

From what I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport say last week when he announced the communications White Paper, my impression was that those are precisely the issues that the Government are considering. The intention is that broadcasters will have proper duties, and that Ofcom will be the supervisor of those duties. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend's attention, but I fear that I shall not be able to offer him any debating opportunities other than those that are likely to arise in the context of discussing the communications White Paper and what may flow it—unless he would like to seek a special debate in Westminster Hall, if he thinks that the subject merits one.

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