HC Deb 20 July 2000 vol 354 cc537-48 12.30 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

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

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

MONDAY 24 JULY—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Government Resources and Accounts Bill.

TUESDAY 25 JULY—Remaining stages of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No.2) Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Learning and Skills Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 26 JULY—Remaining stages of the Census (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill.

THURSDAY 27 JULY—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Utilities Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Postal Services Bill.

FRIDAY 28 JULY—Motion on the Summer Recess Adjournment.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

The House will also wish to know that on Monday 24 July there will be a debate on a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, in European Standing Committee C. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Monday 24 July 2000:

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union Document: 13540/99; A general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-vii; HC23-xix and HC 23-xxiv (1999–2000)

Sir George Young

The House is grateful to the Leader of the House for the business for next week. Can she confirm that on Monday, the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House on his return from the G8 summit? What other statements will be made by Ministers next week? On that subject, is it not slightly absurd that the House was formally told only at 11 o'clock today that there would be a statement on transport by the Deputy Prime Minister, whereas the media have known for days that that would happen? Is not there a better way of letting the House know about planned statements? I think that the right hon. Lady will find that the Chancellor mentioned the publication.

The Deputy Prime Minister's statement is, of course, not yet available to the House, but is it not clear that the details have already been released to the press? The Evening Standard must have had all the details before 9 o'clock, because they are set out in that newspaper. Will the right hon. Lady conduct a leak inquiry into how that discourtesy to the House could have occurred?

I understand that a decision is imminent on the future ownership of the dome. There is much public interest in how much it is being sold for and in the new owner's future plans for the site. Could the House have a statement on that?

Finally, can the right hon. Lady confirm that on Wednesday, there will be valedictory tributes to Madam Speaker and that on Thursday. there will be a business statement giving the business for the first two weeks back after the recess?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, I anticipate that the Prime Minister will make a statement on the G8 summit.

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about formal notification of statements, but he will know that those are the procedures of the House. Whether a statement is to be made is always in the balance until the morning in question because, apart from anything else, Madam Speaker and others may have decisions to make about the progress of business, so the final decision is not made until that morning. However, I take his point that there may be merit in giving advance notification if it is fairly certain that a statement is to be made. I endeavour to do that in the business statement, but I shall consider his point.

I fear that I have not seen the Evening Standard, so in consequence I do not know whether what is in it is accurate or a leak. Whatever the case may be, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be making a statement in the not too distant future, the opportunity to raise that issue will arise. Nor is it clear how imminent is the decision about the dome, but I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct to say that on Wednesday, we expect the formal valedictory from and for Madam Speaker. The whole House is looking forward to that. I have forgotten what the right hon. Gentleman asked me about Thursday.

Sir George Young

Will there be a business statement?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes. I anticipate making a business statement on Thursday.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Seven days ago I raised with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the subject of the cluster of new variant CJD victims in the north Leicestershire village of Queniborough, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). Will my right hon. Friend urge the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement before the recess on the background to that incident; to reassure the House and the people of Leicestershire that enough is being done to investigate this worrying occurrence; and to reassure them that sufficient resources are being devoted to it so that we can learn from what has happened?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raised this matter last week. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. My hon. Friend will know that some quite detailed investigations and research are under way. While I understand his anxiety to have a statement before the recess, if possible, I am sure that neither he nor anyone else would wish my right hon. Friend to make a statement before there is a clear understanding of the situation.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the contrast between the way in which the House conducts its business in relation to the comprehensive spending review and its treatment of the Budget? The Budget covers one year and is followed by a three or four-day debate concentrating on various elements within it. The comprehensive spending review, which covers three years, is followed by a half-day Adjournment debate and some statements and questions. Bearing in mind the greatly increased significance of the CSR in the Government's planning and organisation, will the right hon. Lady consider whether in future its exposure to debate in the House might be more equivalent to that of the Budget? That might also give the House an opportunity to consider one or two elements that were not in the CSR, such as the omission of any improvement to pensions, which is certainly deeply felt by people in the country and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Will the Leader of the House look carefully at the business for tomorrow as there is a list of 58 private Members' Bills for consideration? Will she bear in mind the request that has been made through the Modernisation Committee and elsewhere for the House's procedures on private Members' business to be given careful scrutiny? Perhaps she will undertake that the Modernisation Committee and others will give that serious consideration in the coming weeks.

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which the Budget is followed by several days' debate whereas the CSR does not follow the same pattern. However, the big difference between the two is that the Budget deals with the revenue-raising side of policy and looks in depth at what that means over a number of days. The comprehensive spending review, particularly one that looks three years ahead, is only a broad outline. Whereas the Budget is followed by the Finance Bill, which looks in detail at tax measures, the CSR is followed not only by a number of departmental statements, but by the unfolding of what those general totals mean over time.

I recognise that some silly statements have been made, particularly in the news media, about the CSR being a reannouncement and not involving new money. That is why it must be made clear to people what it means in terms of the impact on their local community—something that some people have an interest in obscuring.

With regard to the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about pensions, of course I understand the great interest on both sides of the House in what is happening in terms of pension policy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that there would be further announcements in due course, but I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing at least as much as the Liberal Democrats promised in their last manifesto when they said that they would increase pensions only in line with inflation. As far as I am aware, no one in the House—certainly not in the three main parties—proposes to increase pensions by more than inflation, or at least to link them with earnings. Every party would have given the same increase because of this year's low inflation—something that, again, people are perhaps more anxious than they should be to obscure.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about private Members' Bills. No doubt it will be raised again. I simply say that, under successive Governments, over many a decade, people have examined our procedures for such Bills, but have not thought fit to make major changes.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on women's representation in Parliament? She will know that all political parties have difficulties in finding candidates who represent the whole of their communities—women and men. She will also know that Labour has been the most successful party in promoting women candidates. However, I am sure that she knows, too, that in Wales, the six seats held by Labour where the sitting Members are retiring have all chosen Labour candidates who are men. Can she find time for a debate in which we could discuss and find a solution to this very important issue?

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What about some more hermaphrodites?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend may have heard, as I did, some of the heckling from Conservative Members, who are of course embarrassed by the lack of representation of women in their ranks. Somebody—fortunately anonymous, as far as I am concerned—said that we needed more hermaphrodites. I remind the whole House, and Conservative Members in particular, that women are more than 50 per cent. of the population. They might bear that in mind when they make some of their less polite remarks.

I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor of the House, but my hon. Friend might look to the opportunities in Westminster Hall, which offers double the time for Adjournment debates.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement next week on the implications for policing of the investigation that led to the discovery of the body of Sarah Payne? Her family are constituents of mine, and I think that their resilience under what was ultimately a tragic event was remarkable.

Will the Leader of the House also ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the Dispatch Box and perhaps lead a debate on the future of cottage hospitals? Three cottage hospitals in my constituency—Emberbrook, Cobham and Walton—are suffering from cuts that could lead to the ending of the use of intermediate beds, much to the disturbance of local people.

Mrs. Beckett

I know that the whole House will want me to express our sympathy for the family of Sarah Payne and our horror at her tragic death. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is conscious of the implications for policing, although we all know that there will always be tragic cases that, no matter how efficient our policing, will fall through the net. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that we have questions to the Home Secretary on Monday, and he might find an opportunity to raise the matter then.

The issue of cottage hospitals is, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I am well aware of his, and everyone's, wish to see the best and most efficient provision in health care, and I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

What plans does my right hon. Friend have for a hectic week ahead in terms of the timetabling of business and the programming of motions to ensure that we have a speedy and effective week of legislating?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is important that the House should deal with its business expeditiously and well. She is also right to identify the fact that proper programming of discussion is the most effective way of achieving that. The Government hope that it will be possible to achieve business and get a proper pattern of debating by agreement, but we of course reserve the right to table any motions that might be required to ensure that business is indeed secured.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

It is evident from her statement that the Leader of the House has not been able to find time next week for the promised debate on defence procurement. Hundreds of aerospace workers lobbied Parliament this week, anxious about their future. What reassurance can she give me that, when the House returns, we will have an early opportunity to hold that debate?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman may or may not have heard me say last week that the Government have every intention of scheduling a debate on defence procurement. He will know that, in recent days, the Secretary of State for Defence has made a number of procurement announcements, all of which were welcomed. He will know also that the review announcement on Tuesday conveyed that more resources would be available for defence. In other ways, the Government have made resources available to the aerospace industry. All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman's constituents is that the Government are endeavouring to make the right decisions for our defence needs—decisions that have a proper regard for the national interest and a continued rise in employment.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When will we have a chance to debate early-day motion 985, on a matter that my right hon. Friend possibly has not had a chance to study?

[That this House welcomes the statement of the Government Actuary that the link between the basic pensions and the earnings level could be restored for the next five years without any increase in National Insurance contributions; notes the answers to parliamentary questions that confirm that keeping contributions at their present level, as a proportion of earnings, would allow the link to be paid until 2011 while producing a surplus of £4 billion; and believes that this evidence fully justifies an immediate restoration of the link and a declaration of the Government's intent to increase pension levels at the true rate of earnings inflation.]

There seems to have been a significant change in Government policy late last night in another place, where the Government accepted, for the first time, a welcome amendment by Baroness Castle of Blackburn which instructed the Government Actuary to investigate the results of restoring the link between earnings and the pension level. The Government Actuary has indicated to the Select Committee on Social Security that the link could be restored without any additional spending and without any increase to the national insurance scheme for the next five years. Other parliamentary answers have indicated that the link can be restored up to the year 2011. This long-awaited act of justice for pensioners should be carried out within the foreseeable future. It is now, as we know, affordable and can be done without any additional public cost.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend and I are probably among the few in this House who have ever read the reports of the Government Actuary with interest. I recognise the basic point that he is making and the Actuary will no doubt flesh out the information that is needed. My hon. Friend will know that any such decision would have a major impact on other potential changes in social security. He will know also that, during the course of the Parliament, the Government will have spent £2 billion more on support for pensioners than would have been required by restoring the link with earnings. We have done so by concentrating the greatest amount of help on those who were already in the greatest need. The Government recognise other areas of need and are moving to deal with them appropriately.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

Will the Leader of the House bear it in mind that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food intends next week to announce a major reorganisation of its regional service centres, which will include the closure of some centres? Will she bear it in mind also that the Select Committee on Agriculture intends to vote on a report on this very matter next Wednesday? In light of the debate on the relative powers of the Executive and the legislature, will she ask MAFF to bear in mind the appropriateness of the two announcements?

Mrs. Beckett

I will do so, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is Agriculture questions next Thursday when he may have an opportunity to make those points himself.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

Following the advice of Advocate-General Siegbert Alber that European member states should impose VAT on tolls, I have established that the final decision is expected on 12 September. As this is during the recess, I urge my right hon. Friend that nothing should be done on this serious issue until we have come back from the recess and had a chance to debate it, so that those of us with interests—including bridges, such as the Humber bridge—can press our case that we should exempt this country from that levying of VAT.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the strength of feeling of my hon. Friend on the matter and she will know that the measure would have a more major impact on many other member states than it would on the UK. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the near future, but she may find later today, and on other occasions, the opportunity to raise the issue. In case she does not, I promise to draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Yesterday, while responding to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in columns 365–69 of the Official Report, the Prime Minister made six references to Opposition spending cuts of £16 billion. Thereafter, in columns 371–74—while responding to lesser mortals—the Prime Minister changed gear upwards to Opposition spending cuts of £24 billion at the next election. Can we have a definitive statement next week on the second figure, so that some of us who are interested parties can from it work out the date of the next election?

Mrs. Beckett

I have not seen the text of Hansard to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but it is occasionally true, as I know to my cost, that Hansard very, very rarely does make errors. [Interruption.] I have vivid memories of having referred to someone as a "mugger" and seeing it represented in Hansard as "mother". It did rather spoil the sense. However, I heard clearly what the Prime Minister said. What he said was, £24 million per constituency. In other words, it was a breakdown of the £16 billion to show the impact in the constituencies of individual Opposition Members. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety on that point and feel confident that it is something that the Conservative party will hear much of between now and the election.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May we please have an urgent debate on leaks—not the Welsh kind, but the Gould kind—because the nation is now surely entitled to know just where all these leaks are coming from? Is it from Downing street, from Millbank, or, as I have seen in one newspaper, from the Daily Express? The reason why it is important to know is that, in this age of alleged freedom of information and alleged open government, it would appear that the Government are nevertheless concerned to cover up ever more of what goes on at the highest level, rather than be open, transparent and honest with the people. Can we please have an urgent debate on that matter, so that we can eliminate all the suggestion of leaks and enter a period of genuine open government?

Mrs. Beckett

It is entirely clear in whose interest these leaks are being printed at the time that they are being printed. It is to try to ensure that the British people do not hear the news about the substance of the Government's policies. What is becoming increasingly clear is which party is really interested in substance and which in spin.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

May we have an early debate on the Ilisu dam in Turkey, from which the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) and I have just returned, on a visit funded by Kurdish human rights groups? The project involves shoving 45,000 people out of their homes without proper consultation. It infringes most of the World Bank guidelines. It is bad for the environment; it is bad for human rights. It would be very bad if the British taxpayer, through export credit guarantees, were to get involved in that project, particularly as the Turkish Government are not likely to adhere to the conditions set down by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mrs. Beckett

I of course understand the concern that my hon. Friend and others, including the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, have expressed. She will know that the Government have indicated that we would take the most careful note of the concerns expressed, but she will also know that, as yet, no decision has been made or announced.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have a problem with losing important pieces of paper, but it has become more serious lately, according to reports in The Guardian: the Government have lost 5 million pieces of confidential information—the tax records of 5 million people. That was brought to light by The Guardian from, apparently, a copy of an internal departmental memo.

As Ministers have known about that grave error and concern for so long, why have they not come to the House to explain the matter to Members—who will have to deal with the problems of our constituents, many of whom will be affected—and, indeed, to the 5 million people who will be seriously affected? When the right hon. Lady has explained why Ministers have not come to the House already, can she explain when they will come to the House to explain?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not entirely sure, but it strikes me as possible that, if some records are not at present identifiable, no one can let the people who are involved know because no one knows who they are. That seems to follow rather logically from the loss of those records. However, what is truly remarkable is that, given how many tax records it is said the Inland Revenue has at least temporarily mislaid, it was able to find Lord Levy's records when it needed them.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Does the right hon. Lady agree that there are many unsung heroes in the United Kingdom? Can she find time for a debate on the honours system, so that the brave soul who is exposed to fear, loathing, ego, cant and sheer hypocrisy at the heart of 10 Downing street can be justly rewarded?

Mrs. Beckett

I should certainly like to see that person justly rewarded.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

In the context of next week's debate on resource accounting, can my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that there are some new towns, which include Hemel Hempstead, whose resource base is almost entirely derived from land devoted to housing stock in the past? As a result, they have a very low resource base which is not funded initially from housing. In the context of changes about ring-fencing housing resources, those new towns are now faced with potentially catastrophic cuts. There is an impending 41 per cent. cut in the resource base in Dacorum in my area. Will my right hon. Friend draw that to the attention of the Treasury so that, with a bit of luck, true resource accounting will not be invidious for the new towns?

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly undertake to draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends in the Treasury team. He may find some opportunity to flag up the issue during debates on the matter next week.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Can we please have an early debate in Government time on the important doctrine of collective responsibility, the Government's current interpretation of which seems to be neither collective nor responsible? Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants the Prime Minister's job, the Foreign Secretary wants the Chancellor's job and the Northern Ireland Secretary wants all their jobs, would it not be helpful to have an early debate in which all those Ministers were present so that we could see them on the Treasury Bench united in fraternal detestation of each other's guts?

Mrs. Beckett

I do not think that the House will wish to spend time on such a debate. If the hon. Gentleman's definition of fraternal support is the way in which the shadow Chancellor's policy has totally scuppered the career of the Leader of the Opposition, all I can say is that they are welcome to it.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the Leader of the House persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on his ministerial code? In particular, could he explain to the House and the country why it has disappeared off the web? It used to be found on the Cabinet Office website, but it has now been reorganised out. One can hunt around the web for as long as one likes. One can turn to something which is misleadingly called the opengov.com site, but the statement is not there—nor is there very much else there. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the code to be put back on the web, perhaps on the Deputy Prime Minister's own website, at least for paragraph 113?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not aware of the ministerial code's destination at this time, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the relevant authorities. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not worry too much about its applying to him for a while yet.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

Given the comment by Lord Rogers in The Independent today that the Chancellor has singularly failed to stop the haemorrhaging of people from our rundown inner cities and his continued frustration that not a single recommendation of his urban taskforce report has yet been put into effect, will the Leader of the House promise the House an urgent debate after the recess so that the Government can account for what they are actually doing to tackle deprivation in our inner cities, rather than just appointing talking shops to talk about what should be done?

Mrs. Beckett

As I recall there will be Question Time to the relevant Department in the near future. The hon. Gentleman should know that it is not the case that nothing has been done to carry out the recommendations in Lord Rogers's report. A great deal of work has been done in that direction. The hon. Gentleman should also know that our inner cities got into their present state under the Government whom he supported.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the future of the steel industry? As she is no doubt aware, 1,200 redundancies have just been announced in Teesside and South Yorkshire, and 1,400 were announced only a few weeks ago. Will she ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House for a debate on the future of the steel industry?

Mrs. Beckett

I know of my hon. Friend's great concern for the steel industry and for employment in that industry. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a great interest in these matters and does what can be done to assist and support that industry. We remain in discussions with the steel industry. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a further debate on the matter on the Floor of the House in the near future, but my hon. Friend might seek a debate in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I declare an interest in the question that I am about to ask, as I am an owner of a convenience store in Swansea. Will the Leader of the House arrange for somebody from the Department of Trade and Industry to come to the House within the next few days to make a statement on the sale of loose goods in shops and supermarkets? She may be aware that Tesco announced on Monday that it was going to reverse its decision, and would sell loose goods using imperial weights and promoting pounds and ounces.

Some 38,000 small stores in this country are still using imperial weights. Officials in local authorities up and down the country will be confused about what they should be telling those stores. A number of the stores will be operating on the margins of profitability, and they simply cannot afford to buy new scales to replace existing usable scales. Will the right hon. Lady clear up the confusion and arrange for a statement to be made in the House in the next few days?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I understand and sympathise with the concerns of small traders, who may be confused. However, it is a little surprising that neither the hon. Gentleman nor his right hon. and hon. Friends have been able to clear up this confusion, as it is as long ago as 1989 that the then Government agreed that these measures should be phased out by 1995, and they then imposed a delay until 2000. So people should have been aware of this matter for at least 10 years.

I understand—and I know that the House will wish to have this information—that it was as long ago as 1862 that a Select Committee of the House recommended that Britain should go metric, so we have had some time to adjust. Although, as I say, I fully understand and sympathise with the difficulties of small traders, I do not think that "confusion" is the right way to describe what they are experiencing. We should be trying to get people to accept the variation of usage, with one set of measures alongside the other, but we must recognise that among young people in particular, the use of imperial measures is disappearing.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

When the House returns in October, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on one aspect of parliamentary reform that has not had enough attention? I refer not to the hours in the day that we sit, but the days of the year on which we sit. Is it not a fact that the parliamentary calendar is completely out of balance, with far too much business being taken between January and July? Would it not be much better if the recess was from June to September? What advice does the Leader of the House have for Members who are parents, whose children will be on half-term the week that we return?

Mrs. Beckett

I am very conscious of the difficulties faced by parents. There is, and long has been, a discussion about whether we can establish a firmer parliamentary calender and whether there should be a slightly different balance to the parliamentary calendar. There is only one set of circumstances under which a firmer parliamentary calendar would be possible—that is, if we were able to make firmer arrangements for the programming of our debates. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman being in the same Lobby as me when we debate the Modernisation Committee report.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the right hon. Lady seek to persuade the Minister for the Cabinet Office to make a statement about the extent to which publicly funded special advisers at No. 10 Downing street are being used to wage faction fights among the leading personalities of the Labour Government? I have in mind not only the infamous "TB" memorandum, of which so much has been heard, but the remarks reported last weekend, when No. 10 had a senior special adviser quoted as saying of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: He is poisoning relations with half the Cabinet and the sooner he goes the better. Although I have every sympathy with people holding that opinion, that is a matter for their internal faction fighting. It should not be something that I and other taxpayers are funding.

Mrs. Beckett

I remind the House that it has long been the case that those who are political rather than civil service appointees have worked with Governments of every political shade—very useful it is too. Indeed, a large number of them now occupy the Opposition Benches. Furthermore, we trebled the resources available to the parliamentary Opposition to enable them to be better staffed—something that the Conservative Government denied us when we were in opposition.

It has been truly remarkable that, during business questions today, Opposition Members, with a couple of honourable exceptions, have not wanted to talk about the extra money going to hospitals, schools or the police—any of the matters in which the British public are really interested. That is what people will notice.

Mr. Swayne

It might have escaped the right hon. Lady's notice that we shall have opportunities to question Ministers on those matters—not least after business questions today.

Is there any substance to the press reports that Labour Back Benchers who are not expected to hold their seats are receiving counselling to help them to adjust psychologically? Will the right hon. Lady make a statement to the House setting out the counselling services that she will make available to Back Benchers who, notwithstanding the fact that they will continue to hold their seats, will have no further role in holding the Government to account as a consequence of the plans to programme all legislation?

Mrs. Beckett

I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender in this place. I am sorry that, despite the fact that we have offered to conduct seminars on how to be a good Opposition, so many Opposition Members seem not to have been able to take them on board.

Dr. Julian Lewis

You had enough practice.

Mrs. Beckett

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, given the way the Opposition are going, they will have plenty of practice too.