HC Deb 27 January 2000 vol 343 cc579-92 12.30 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 31 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Utilities Bill.

TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on immigration and asylum followed by a debate entitled "The Two Britains: the run down of Northern Cities and over-building in the South". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Motions on the Police Grant Reports (England and Wales).

Motions on Local Government (Finance) Reports.

FRIDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Motions on Social Security Orders.

TUESDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Discipline) Bill. [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill.

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

FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 9 February there will be a debate on an unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 30 November 1999, relating to common strategy on Ukraine, in European Standing Committee B. Also on Wednesday 9 February there will be a debate on European Document No: 10948/99, "State Aid to the Coal Industry" in European Standing Committee C. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 9 February 2000:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Union document: Unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 30 November 1999, Common Strategy on Ukraine; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 23-iv, (1999–2000).

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union document: 10948/99, State aid to the Coal Industry; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 34-xxx (1998–99).]

I should like to inform the House of business to be taken in Westminster Hall for the next four Thursdays when the House is sitting.

THURSDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Debate on children's social services.

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Fifth Report from the Agriculture Committee Session 1998–1999 on Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis.

THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Debate on UK engagement in Africa.

THURSDAY 2 MARCH—Debate on the Twentieth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on town and country parks.

Sir George Young

The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the likely business for the following week.

Next week is an important week for Northern Ireland, with the de Chastelain report expected. Can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland outlining the Government's response? Also, can we expect statements next week from the Home Secretary on his decision on Senator Pinochet, and from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport on his proposals for a new tax on digital television?

When will we have a debate on the Wakeham report on reform of the House of Lords? Can the Leader of the House say when she will set up the promised Joint Committee to take that forward, and whether Ministers will sit on it?

Finally, can we have a debate in Government time on the Government's policy on the euro to clarify the growing confusion in the Cabinet, with those at the back shouting "Forward" and those at the front shouting "Back", and with the Prime Minister saying as little as possible? Is not a debate now essential, so that the House and the country can try to discover what on earth is going on?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that neither he nor I—nor, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—can yet know what is likely to be the content of the de Chastelain report. At present, I cannot say what the position will be, but I undertake to pass on to my right hon. Friend the right hon. Gentleman's request for such a statement, should that seem to be the right thing to do.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for a statement on Senator Pinochet. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated consistently that, when he makes a decision, he has every intention of coming to the House to make a statement. However, the right hon. Gentleman and the House may not be aware that, apparently, there has been a challenge from the Belgian Government to the way in which the issue has been handled. It is my understanding that this may make the matter sub judice again.

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has always made it plain that he has every intention and desire to come to the House to give a full explanation of any decision that he is able to make, but he will now have to steer his way through that particular thicket. That is the best that I can do to inform the right hon. Gentleman of the position.

On digital television, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is considering a report to him and not a proposal from the Government for anything, let alone a new tax. I am confident that my right hon. Friend will seek to make a statement to the House when he has something to announce.

I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman when I anticipate that it might be possible to debate the Wakeham report, or when it is likely that the proposal for a Joint Committee will be taken forward. As for whether Ministers will serve on it, I freely confess that I had not given the matter a moment's thought. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for notice of the fact that the idea had crossed his mind—it had not crossed my mind, I must admit.

Of course, Madam Speaker, it is for you to decide whether something is tedious repetition as opposed to just repetition. However, I say yet again to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no confusion on the Government's policy on the euro. It remains what it has always been. I know that it is a matter of great unhappiness for the news media and for the Conservative party that that is so, but there we are.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

The Government have excellent policies to deal with social exclusion. In London, Louise Casey is taking people—including many with drug and alcohol problems—off the streets, but elsewhere in the country people are locked up for doing a similar job. Yet again, in London people are developing dual diagnoses for dealing with psychiatric cases who use drugs, but elsewhere people are locked up on psychiatric wards for using drugs. Will my right hon. Friend arrange, in the near future, for a debate on the way in which social exclusion policies are enacted on the ground?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the concern that lies behind the issues that my hon. Friend has raised. He will know, I hope, that apart from what is being done in London, similar action is being taken across the country. For example, 4,000 new beds nationwide are being brought into use for people sleeping rough, compared with the 850 which are specifically in London. The Government are endeavouring to ensure that there is a consistent approach to both the prevention of the problems arising and to the matters that we hope will help to resolve them. I cannot give my hon. Friend the undertaking that we shall have an early debate. However, he will be aware that, these days, there are more opportunities for such debates and he may seek to pursue them.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I endorse the request for as early a statement on the decommissioning of arms as is physically possible from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As soon as the de Chastelain report is available to him, will he make a statement to the House?

In the light of the experience of the past two days, will the Leader of the House re-examine the case for a Business Committee to see whether—on some occasions at least—we can reach agreement with Back Benchers as well as with the usual channels on the best way to deal with business? I have seen the letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister, so will the right hon. Lady reconsider the possibility of opening new channels of communication with other parts of the Conservative party? Clearly, the Leader of the Opposition does not speak on behalf of his Back Benchers.

In that context, may I suggest that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is nothing like as bad as he is painted? It might be sensible for the right hon. Lady to discuss with him the management of business in the House. His bark is nothing like as bad as his bite—he is a man of great charm. As a new business manager for the Conservative party, he might be able to deliver what he promises.

Mrs. Beckett

First, I have taken on board the hon. Gentleman's point about Northern Ireland. As I said to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), I shall take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be more than willing to make a statement, but my only caveat is that we must preserve some room for manoeuvre for him if, for some reason, he feels that that is not quite the right way to proceed. I shall certainly draw the concerns to his attention.

With regard to the proposal to have a Business Committee, my immediate reaction is that it is interesting. However, the problem is not that we cannot reach agreement—we do and, indeed, arrangements are made, as the shadow Home Secretary made plain only on Monday. The problem is that the agreement then falls into disrepair and is not heeded. When the hon. Gentleman made his suggestion, the thought crossed my mind that whether or not the committee served any useful purpose would depend on who sat on it.

I entirely take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that I have ever abused the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—although I have, from time to time, expressed happiness at not having been present for all his contributions. I do not doubt that he has some good points: most human beings do. While I understand the concern for the good order of the House that leads the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) to make his suggestion, I do not think that it is for the House to sort out the problems of the Conservative party. It is time that it sorted them out itself.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the negotiations on the biosafety protocol, held in Montreal last week and this week, are of enormous significance to future policy on genetically modified foods? Given the huge and continuing public interest in food safety and the impact of GM foods, does she further agree that it is time we had a statement on GM foods, especially following the discussions in Montreal?

Given that multilateral, international and environmental agreements are of increasing importance to domestic policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a matter of routine, a statement should be made on the outcome of all such conferences?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's concern on those matters; he has expressed it on many occasions. I am aware of the importance of the discussions in Montreal, but I have not had an opportunity to see a report of any sort or to have a conversation with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who led for the Government in those discussions. Therefore, I do not know whether sufficient conclusions were reached to enable my right hon. Friend to make a report to the House on anything other than that discussions are continuing.

I share my hon. Friend's view that it is a good thing for the Government to keep the House informed of what is happening when there are practical outcomes to report. However, I fear that I cannot undertake always to have a statement on all such meetings, because, as I am sure he appreciates, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of them.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Given the Leader of the House's confidence in the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on his response to the Davies report, can the right hon. Lady remind the House of when her right hon. Friend received the report?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot recall—there are so many such reports—but I believe that it was in the summer. I am aware that the report made some interesting and, in some ways, controversial suggestions. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would want my right hon. Friend to give it proper consideration and to come to the House when he has firm decisions to announce.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Can we have a debate on the need to review the arrangements for the chairmanship of debates in Westminster Hall, especially in the light of what happened in the Chamber last night, when two Deputy Speakers came into conflict and, in my view, undermined internationally the credibility of the United Kingdom's arrangements?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend raised that matter last night. I accept that unfortunately it sometimes happens in the House relatively late in the day—especially when that day has extended over two chronological days—that hon. Members do or say things which, with the benefit of more mature thought, they would not have done or said. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has certain responsibilities, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is always very conscious of those responsibilities. As I said, these things happen from time to time; I hope that we can all move on.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is familiar with recommendations 19 and 20 of the sixth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, especially with the strong recommendation, No. 20, which states: Pending the enactment of the Civil Service Act, the Government should put before both Houses of Parliament for debate a limit on the total number of special advisers that can be appointed within Government. I do not think that the right hon. Lady said that such a debate would be held in the next fortnight. Does she have plans to hold such a debate in the next fortnight? If not, when will it be held?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly have no plans for such a debate in the next fortnight. I am aware of the recommendation and I am also aware—contrary to what Conservative Members seek to imply—that nothing was said to suggest that there is anything wrong with the number of special advisers that the Government have at present. As I have reminded the hon. Gentleman before, the amount of money received by the Conservative party has been trebled, so it is now able to employ more advisers.

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman when a debate will be held. When I am ready to tell him, I shall do so from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by allied forces in 1945. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that from next year this date will be commemorated as national holocaust memorial day. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate so that we can discuss the objectives of the day, which are to commemorate all the victims of the holocaust, to educate today's generations on the lessons of that defining moment in world history and the relevance of it to today's world, and to reaffirm our national commitment to confront racism, anti-semitism and genocide whenever and wherever those issues raise their ugly heads?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the Government's proposal for a holocaust memorial day. I am aware also of how much work my hon. Friend has done in this regard and of his strong support and advocacy for such a commemoration. I share his view, as do the Government, that it is important that we learn lessons from some of the most dreadful events that have happened in human history, so that we may do our utmost to strive to avoid any circumstances in which they are repeated. I cannot undertake now to find time for a debate, but I share his view that this is an important issue.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Given the importance of decommissioning in the Opposition's support for the Good Friday agreement, may I add my support for the requests for a statement on the de Chastelain report? In asking the Secretary of State for such a statement, will the right hon. Lady convey to him the concerns of those of us who are worried that if all arms are supposed to be decommissioned by the end of May, there seems to be no progress in decommissioning any of them by the end of January?

Mrs. Beckett

As the hon. Gentleman rightly identified, that is a matter for the decommissioning commission and for General de Chastelain. We are awaiting his report. We have precisely charged him with the responsibility of assessing the circumstances that he finds and reporting on them to the Government. I know that the hon. Gentleman will have taken on board the fact that I am not in any sense resisting the notion of a statement on this matter. I am simply seeking to reserve some freedom of manoeuvre for my right hon. Friend to do what he believes is in the interests of the peace process, which is supported on both sides of the House.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

On Monday, we debated at some length a private Bill, the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, which gives votes to owners of property—more buildings, more votes. I discovered during the debate that private legislation does not need to be certified as being in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998, unlike public legislation. The Bill, to which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends deeply object, will return to the House at some stage. Is my right hon. Friend able to reassure me that there is a possibility of a one-line Bill coming before the House that will put private legislation on the same footing as public legislation?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I take my hon. Friend's point. However, the fact that a Bill is a one-line Bill is no guarantee of anything. I will share with my hon. Friend and the House the information that, having read Madam Speaker's selection of amendments, which were debated over the previous two days, and seeing that there was a reference to clause 4, I hunted for the clause for some considerable time before I could find it. It is one short and unimportant line in the Bill, which nevertheless was debated for some hours by Opposition Members yesterday.

I return to my hon. Friend's point of substance. I am aware that there are those who oppose the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill. It is for right hon. and hon. Members to express their points of view. However, my hon. Friend will know that agreement has been reached among—I think I am correct in saying—Labour local authorities in that part of London that the balance of arrangements in the Bill is something that they would support.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understand the right hon. Lady's position on giving the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland freedom of movement, but perhaps she does not realise that speculation is rife in the media in Northern Ireland. Will there be an early statement in the House so that we can understand what will happen after General de Chastelain makes his report? I hope that we shall not have to wait as long as we have awaited a statement on Indonesia, where people continue to perish and where trade routes in the area could be put in jeopardy.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that he has been pressing for a statement on Indonesia. I am sorry that it has not been possible to find time for it.

For good or ill, there will always be speculation in the media. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that it lends weight to his request for a statement on decommissioning.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the role and powers of the Charity Commission? My request arises from a problem with a charity called Integrate Services in my constituency. The Charity Commission has been slow to investigate the problem, or, has lacked the necessary powers or has been reluctant to use existing powers. The only people who have suffered are those with learning difficulties, for whom the charity cares, and the whistleblowers who made allegations about the running of the charity.

Other hon. Members have experienced similar problems. On some occasions, the Charity Commission has been as much use as a chocolate fireguard, as we say in my neck of the woods. Is it not time we reviewed charity law so that vulnerable people can be properly protected?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the anxiety that my hon. Friend expresses and the concern that she shows for vulnerable people. I understand her anxiety about the difficulties that she outlined. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate. I suspect that Governments of all political shades have contemplated a fresh look at charities law, winced and turned away for the time being because of its enormous complexity. I suggest that my hon. Friend seeks other opportunities for a debate. The Charity Commission is based in Liverpool. My hon. Friend may find that a visit and a discussion helps.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Have the Government abandoned the practice of holding an annual road safety debate? Is the right hon. Lady aware of the growing concern about the way in which police forces investigate motor cycle accidents that involve fatalities? I am involved with two cases: one in Leicestershire and one in Derbyshire. There is grave concern about the way in which the police have investigated those accidents. Is not it time that we reinstated the annual road safety debate in the Chamber?

Mrs. Beckett

I freely confess that the notion that such a debate is held annually rather than from time to time had passed me by. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I suspect that, as a major Transport Bill is to be considered this Session, the hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunity to air those matters.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the debates in Westminster Hall recently, especially the debate that was introduced on 11 January by my excellent right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on poverty in London? Can we have an early debate in this Chamber on the future of London and its government to enable my right hon. Friend and others to point out the need for team work and co-operation between all those elected in London to make this great city effective and to tackle the problems of poverty, crime and poor health in our capital city?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right and I am aware of the debate that was held in Westminster Hall. Indeed, I have a feeling that I have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—whose concern on such matters is well known and whose very real feel for them has been evident throughout his career—speak about them in the Chamber, possibly in the Queen's Speech debate. Although I share my hon. Friend's admiration for our right hon. Friend's record, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for such a debate. However, I am confident that, whenever the opportunity arises, he will continue to express those concerns as effectively as he always has done.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

Will there be time for an urgent statement on the chaotic state of asylum in Britain so that the debate announced for next week will be better informed and we will know the background to the arguments for no more amnesties, more international co-operation and increased use of detention to deter bogus applications?

Mrs. Beckett

I do not see the need for a special debate or a statement at the moment because we are to have a debate. The hon. Gentleman says that we need to know the background, but the House is already familiar with it. The Government continued to operate the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which was introduced by the previous Government. It was not working and we tightened its provisions. The only two proposals made by the Conservative party would weaken the controls that the Government have announced so far. In consequence, we know quite as much as we need to know about the background to the debate, on which the Conservative party's record is totally inconsistent and totally incompetent.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the extraordinary and possibly even alarming recent statements that human life expectancy might stretch to 140 years? Will my elderly constituents have to wait that long before we debate the Sutherland report on care for the elderly, which was published in March 1999? Does she agree that we should have an early and urgent debate?

Mrs. Beckett

I was not aware of that forecast, which is slightly daunting, but I fear that my hon. Friend is uncharacteristically not quite accurate, as we have debated the issues that underlie and surround long-term care. I can assure him that the Government continue to pursue those issues and over the ensuing year—various proposals are already before the House—there may be opportunities to air them. I fear, however, that I cannot give him further news about the special debate he seeks.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

With the polls today showing plummeting public confidence in the Government's ability to run the health service and the country's transport system, the Prime Minister dragged the Chancellor off to Southwark last week, and the Deputy Prime Minister off to Southall last night, in an increasingly desperate and apparently unsuccessful campaign to block the mayoral ambitions of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Was that an appropriate use of the right hon. Gentleman's time? Could we please have a statement next week confirming that he will stop gallivanting around London after the mayoral appointment has been made, and that Ministers will concentrate on their portfolios, as they are paid to do by the taxpayer?

Mrs. Beckett

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is unaware that it is almost my right hon. Friend's habit—there is certainly a consistent pattern—to continue to maintain a dialogue with members of his party. He holds many meetings up and down the country, and has always done so—and very successful they are. In view of the events of the past couple of days, I suggest that maintaining a dialogue with one's party is perhaps something that the Leader of the Opposition should consider.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 277, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), on staff shortages in the London fire brigade?

[That this House is concerned that the London Fire Brigade is currently 132 persons under strength; believes that these positions should be filled by recruitment rather than by members of the Fire Brigade Union working excessive overtime; is very concerned indeed that the management of the London Fire Brigade have suspended 11 FBU members at Homerton Fire Station for supporting their union's ban on overtime; believes that the action of management was both provocative and unnecessary; and calls on the Chief Fire Officer for London to reinstate the 11 members and get on with the business of recruiting the shortfall in staff so as to protect the public.]

During that suspension, a fire call came to Homerton fire station and those 11 firefighters were physically prevented from attending by senior officers. That bullying and intimidation comes when the London fire brigade is dangerously under strength and has undergone cuts year on year. Could we have an urgent debate on fire safety and the London fire brigade?

Mrs. Beckett

I know of my hon. Friend's longstanding concern about firefighting and safety. I was not aware of the events to which he referred. These issues are managed locally by the fire authority. I understand that there is an intention to have an intake of firefighter recruits at the end of this month. The whole House will share my hon Friend's concern for fire safety and will hope that this will continue to be addressed.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I did not intend to rise during business questions today, but I feel obliged to do so because of the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) who referred to an exchange last night between myself and a Deputy Speaker when I sought to express my concern about the Government's misrepresentation of a letter sent by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister. Is it not time that the House was made aware of the difference in the role, responsibilities and status of Deputy Speakers who serve directly under you and of the newly appointed additional Deputy Speakers for sittings in Westminster Hall? Perhaps the Leader of the House could make a statement at an early date to ensure that all hon. Members are aware of the difference so that such questions would be unnecessary.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman knows that these matters were aired when we decided how Westminster Hall would be brought into being and the nature of the arrangements for chairing its sittings. I accept that not all hon. Members have studied the distinctions closely. He knows that I take the view, as he usually does, that it is important that we strive at all times to lower the temperature here and to do our business expeditiously and with some fairness. I was sorry and surprised to learn that he believed that the Government had misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition's letter since I had an enjoyable few hours yesterday showing it to journalists and Members who had no knowledge of its contents. Every one of them interpreted it entirely spontaneously in precisely the same way as the Government did. I have re-read it since his remarks because I could not understand why he thought that we had misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition—I am not saying that I am unwilling to do so, but I was not aware of having done so on this occasion. If the hon. Gentleman is right, I struggle to see how we have misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps it would help if the right hon. Gentleman sent another letter.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was great concern in my constituency about the planning legislation surrounding the siting of mobile phone masts and that 160 hon. Members from all parties have signed an early-day motion on the matter? Would it be possible to find time for a debate on the health, planning and environmental consequences of mobile telephony, particularly as the technology has far outstripped the legislation, which is looking more and more out of date as time goes on?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the great interest and concern about these matters. Indeed, having had such an issue raised in my constituency I, probably like my hon. Friend, have ploughed through the literature and am well aware how far from clear the position is. The matter is being kept under review, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Can we please have a full debate as soon as possible in Government time on cancer services? Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be made particularly timely by tonight's palace of varieties' concert in which no fewer than 21 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum are participating, including the right hon. Lady, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and me? Does she accept that members of the public would think it appropriate that, whatever our views about the solutions to the problem, the House should have a full debate as early as possible about a disease from which at some stage in life no less than one person in three has the misfortune to suffer?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is right. The whole House shares the concern about cancer services and is anxious that they are provided to the highest possible standards. I am not sure that I am entirely grateful to him for drawing attention to the fact that such a large number of us are making fools of ourselves in a good cause. My participation is not entirely voluntary as the invitation was accepted by my husband without consulting me, but there you go.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although I profoundly disagree with what the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said yesterday—there was no justification for his remarks—I also disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? The trouble with the hon. Member for Macclesfield is that, unlike me, he is an excitable person.

Remembering the exercise that was organised by Opposition Back Benchers yesterday, when, clearly, Opposition Front Benchers were not in control of matters, will she bear it in mind that, as we near what could be a crisis point over Northern Ireland, many Members on the Opposition Back Benches—not the Front Bench—together with some Unionists, are determined to do what they can to undermine the Good Friday agreement? They are not just arguing about the lack of decommissioning. They were against the Good Friday agreement from the beginning.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is correct—I do not think that any hon. Member would dispute it—that some of those who took part in the activities of the past couple of days oppose many of the things that have taken place in Northern Ireland, as they have made plain in the House. I do not think that anyone would argue that that is a misrepresentation. However, my hon. Friend will be aware, as we all are, that the official Opposition have continued to say that they support the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Winnick

Front Bench.

Mrs. Beckett

Indeed. That is what I mean when I say the official Opposition. Most Members in every party support the Good Friday agreement and wish the peace process to succeed. We all understand that anxieties and fears are raised. That is inevitable when there are such difficult issues to be resolved in a dispute that has gone on for so long, but we must all hope that those matters are resolved—that, in future, in the House, as elsewhere, they are no longer matters of dispute.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The right hon. Lady referred to the debate on Thursday on the police grant. She will know that, in the Home Office, there is a working party report on sparsity. The Home Secretary sent me a copy. Will she ensure that it is generally available by putting it in the Library before the debate? She says that she will talk to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about a statement. Will she urge on him the desirability of telling the House what the genesis of the Disqualifications Bill was because, most of us believe that we have not yet been told the facts?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point about the working party report. I do not know whether it is possible for it to be placed in the Library. I undertake to draw his request to the attention my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who, as he knows, is always keen to keep the House informed. I am sure that the Home Secretary will carefully consider that proposal.

I am sorry to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman returning yet again to the issues that have been discussed over the past couple of days. I am not entirely sure whether he was here for the Second Reading debate on Monday.

Mr. Hogg

I spoke in it.

Mrs. Beckett

In that case, I beg his pardon, but if he spoke in it, he will have heard the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, say on behalf of the official Opposition that they did not object to the Bill and that the rest of the discussion would be given a fair wind. It is unfortunate that that did not happen. However, it is not for us to grieve when the Conservative party insists on shooting itself in the foot.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate in the House on rural policy? I gather that the Prime Minister will make some statements in the next week, which would be useful. [Interruption.] I should welcome such a debate, if for no other reason than to clear up the misrepresentations that characterise the comments of Conservative Members and inform the debate in the run-up to the White Paper on rural policy.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot undertake to my hon. Friend to find time for a special debate in the near future, but he is right that a White Paper is in train and to seek to highlight the extra investment in, for example, rural buses that has been made under the Government. I am sure that there will be opportunities for such a debate.

I hope that I will not offend you, Madam Speaker, if I briefly take the opportunity to tell Opposition Members—who, not for the first time, are heckling hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) who make serious and sensible points by making remarks about a Tory gain—that the last person I heard say that before the general election was the then Conservative Member for Wirral, West. He said it to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman). The one who is still here is my hon. Friend.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Do the Government have any intention to bring before the House legislation to amend the Oath sworn by hon. Members?

Mrs. Beckett


Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

A constituent of mine claims that his son was abused in a McDonalds restaurant, by a McDonalds employee, in the McDonalds play-zone for children. When will there be an opportunity to debate the screening of prospective employees of organisations that look after our children, when our children may be at risk, so that such incidents do not occur in future?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry to hear about the experience of my hon. Friend's constituent. I can certainly tell him that, in the very near future, there will be a debate in Westminster Hall in which he may find an opportunity to raise such issues.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

If the right hon. Lady is minded to reconsider the request made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), will she bear it in mind that, throughout the recent debates on the Disqualifications Bill, Liberal Democrat Members both voted and spoke, and that one of the speakers was the hon. Gentleman himself?

Will the right hon. Lady therefore reject that idea, but consider instead a debate on the proposals by the Lord Chancellor to reduce the number of magistrates courts in Devon by more than half? Would not such a debate give us the opportunity to realise that what the Lord Chancellor should be doing is providing a proper criminal justice system as expeditiously and cheaply as possible—rather than simply working out the tiny sum that he is prepared to throw at the system and producing whatever criminal justice system results? That is not in the tradition of this country, and it is not how criminal justice should be administered.

Mrs. Beckett

Leaving aside the issues yet again of what was discussed in the past couple of days, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point on rural courts. He may be aware that the matter was debated last week, in Westminster Hall. I can only say that the Lord Chancellor fully shares the goals and principles that the hon. Gentleman expressed of having an efficient and effective justice system and believes that his proposals will assist in achieving them.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

The Financial Services and Markets Bill is to be allocated two days on Report. Is the right hon. Lady aware that, in those two days, we shall have to consider no fewer than 464 amendments, 43 new clauses and two new schedules, the vast majority of which were tabled by the Government? Although I realise that parliamentary scrutiny is unfashionable with the Government, will she guarantee that if two days prove to be insufficient to debate a highly technical and detailed Bill which has been in Committee since July, she will make extra time available, rather than using the guillotine and thereby denying the House the opportunity properly to scrutinise an entirely new raft of clauses?

Mrs. Beckett

No, I shall give the hon. Gentleman no such undertaking. He is right that the Bill has been the subject of considerable debate and discussion. However, he should know that the Bill's provisions and passage on to the statute book are much sought by those whose interests are affected by it. They are anxious for it to be dealt with as expeditiously as is reasonably possible.

The hon. Gentleman should also know that there has been extensive discussion about how much time should be needed to deal with those matters. The proposals that I put before the House today were made by agreement. He talks about the number of amendments, but he did not draw to the House's attention the fact that, although two thirds of the amendments are Government amendments, many of them deal with matters that arose in Committee, where the Government made a commitment to table them on Report. He also did not mention the fact that one third of the amendments were tabled by the Opposition.