HC Deb 07 February 2000 vol 344 cc21-2 3.31 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

With permission, I shall make a short business statement. The business for the rest of the week will be as follows:

TUESDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Programme motion followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland Bill 2000, instead of the Armed Forces (Discipline) Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Programme motion followed by conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

Apart from tomorrow, all the business will be as previously announced. However, the House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

As the right hon. Lady knows, the Opposition have called for the suspension of the Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly, following the lack of satisfactory progress on decommissioning. We therefore agree with the proposed change in business and will support the Bill tomorrow.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

There is a sense of foreboding in my party about the necessity of undertaking the Northern Ireland Bill. We do not approach the matter with any enjoyment or glee; we are worried about the course on which it takes all parts of the United Kingdom. However, we believe that the measure is necessary, and we support the Leader of the House.

Mrs. Beckett

The Government are grateful to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) for their remarks. They are right to say that the matter is difficult and important. However, we are glad to have support on it across the House.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Does the right hon. Lady agree that our consideration of the Bill tomorrow would be greatly assisted if we had sight of the de Chastelain report? Will she use her good offices to ensure that the report is available before tomorrow's debate begins?

Mrs. Beckett

I shall draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that those matters were aired during my right hon. Friend's statement the other day; they will, no doubt, be aired tomorrow.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

I cannot conceive that any hon. Member would wish to delay unduly the passage of the Bill tomorrow, given the seriousness of the issues that it addresses. I therefore urge the Leader of the House to allow as generous a programme motion as possible. There are advantages to allowing a reasonable debate here within the limits that the Government set, rather than leaving hon. Members to feel that they have not had the opportunity to say what is on their hearts at this time.

Mrs. Beckett

The Government are not seeking to curtail debate unduly. The right hon. Gentleman will note that I have announced a programme motion. With good will across the House, hon. Members will have the opportunity to raise the points that they wish to make.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can the right hon. Lady say when Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Discipline) Bill will take place? Will it be next week, or will the measure be kicked into the long grass? Many of us have little sympathy for bringing British service discipline into line with the view of the European Court of Human Rights.

Mrs. Beckett

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I shall make the ordinary business statement on Thursday.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will there be an opportunity tomorrow to discuss whether we should suspend the release of terrorist prisoners at the same time as suspending the Executive?

Mrs. Beckett

The scope of the debate is a matter for the legislation and for the Chair. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I hope that tomorrow's debate will be conducted in the spirit and the mood that is, I think, that of the House and the country. Everyone wishes to facilitate the continuation of the peace process, not bring it to a halt.