HC Deb 01 February 2001 vol 362 cc443-56 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 of the House is as follows: MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "Failure of the Government to Address Social Exclusion, Poverty and Job Losses in Wales" on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru, followed by a debate on personal care for the elderly on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill.

Motion on the Draft Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties, etc) Order 2001.

WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Homes Bill.

THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Social Security Contributions (Share Options) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill.

FRIDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows: MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [5th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill.

Remaining stages of the Capital Allowances Bill.

WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill.

THURSDAY 15 FEBRUARY—We hope that there will be a debate on the report of the BSE inquiry by Lord Phillips on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 16 FEBRUARY—The House will not be sitting.

The House will wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 14 February, there will be a debate in European Standing Committee A relating to the prevention and control of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 14 February 2001: European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union document: 5196/99, Control of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 23-xxxi (1999–2000) and HC 34-xiii (1998–99).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on Thursdays for the next four weeks will be as follows: THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Debate on social security fraud.

THURSDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Debate on the reports from the Education and Employment Committee on standards and quality in education and the annual report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools.

THURSDAY 22 FEBRUARY—The House will not be sitting.

THURSDAY 1 MARCH—Debate on the report from the Health Committee on provision of NHS mental health services.

Perhaps I can take this opportunity to remind the House that not only will the House not be sitting on Friday 16 February, but it will not return until Monday 26 February.

Mrs. Browning

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. It comes as something of a surprise to find that after just a week the Government have changed their mind about holding a debate on Thursday 8 February on standards and privileges. That is an important debate which, as the right hon. Lady knows, has the support of those on the Conservative Benches. What has happened in the past week to change her mind about that being an appropriate subject for debate by the House? Is it that standards, as far as Ministers in this Government are concerned, are their own standards, and that privileges mean the exploitation of their office?

During the past week we have seen the Prime Minister dismiss a Cabinet Minister in the morning for not telling the truth, and tell the House in the afternoon, with tears in his eyes, that that is a tragedy, while two days later the Prime Minister's press secretary described that tragic figure as "detached" and "lacking focus". No one could describe the right hon. Lady as detached and lacking focus, so will she explain why we are to be deprived of that very important debate next Thursday?

May I also ask the right hon. Lady to explain why a debate on social security fraud scheduled for next Thursday is to be taken in Westminster Hall and has not been allocated time on the Floor of the House? It is a very important debate, not least because since the Government came to office they have made no fewer than 46 announcements about tackling benefit fraud. It was a major pledge in their election manifesto, yet it is clear from parliamentary answers that social security fraud is out of control. The issue deserves the scrutiny and consideration of the whole House in the Chamber, rather than being kicked into Westminster Hall in the hope that it will not be noticed.

I refer the right hon. Lady to the request that I made on 21 December last year. There is a need for a debate on the intelligence services; she will be aware that members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are very anxious to have such a debate. Last year, the Government were late in holding that debate and promised that it would be held on a more timely occasion in this Session. Will the right hon. Lady look very carefully for a slot for that debate in the near future?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

We can't tell the hon. Lady, it's a secret.

Mrs. Browning

There is another secret in which I am even more interested; perhaps the right hon. Lady can help us with it. Can she prevail upon the Chancellor to disclose publicly the date of the Budget? We are now into February and the date must be in the Chancellor's diary. Could I prevail upon her to persuade him to disclose that date so that next week when she comes to the Dispatch Box she can share that information with us?

Finally, will the right hon. Lady arrange for a statement in the House early next week on the public-private partnership that the Government have proposed for the tube? We have recently heard from Mr. Kiley—a man who knows something about these matters—that the Government's proposal is undeliverable. If that is the case, the House would like to discuss the matter in some detail.

Mrs. Beckett

First, the hon. Lady asked me about the provisional business that I had announced. I always make it very plain that provisional business is exactly that.

The hon. Lady is right that we have moved the debate that was originally proposed on standards and privileges. However, she seems to have overlooked something, which I think that the Conservative Members who raised the matter last week also overlooked. When we eventually have that debate, it will be on the recent report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. As I said to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who raised the matter last week, I am very mindful of the prerogatives of the Chair to decide what is in order. However, as the report does not deal with the behaviour of Ministers, because that is not a matter for the Register of Members' Interests, and their conduct, it would be hard to argue that it would be in order to raise such matters.

I think that the hon. Lady is clutching at straws, in a desperate attempt to find yet another excuse to raise the events of the past 10 days or so. However, I can tell her of the two other factors that have led the Government to decide to move the debate. First, we are ready to deal with the remaining stages of legislation, which, as she will know, has to be a priority for the Government. Secondly, I understand that the Committee is continuing to take evidence from Conservative Members on the report that it is proposed that we should discuss. The Chair of the Committee let me know that although it was obviously a matter for discussion, there would nevertheless be merit in letting the Committee finish taking evidence before the House discussed the matter. That is the view of the Committee's Chairman, and it is obviously a legitimate point of view.

The hon. Lady asks me why we did not find time on the Floor of the House for the debate on fraud, which will be held in Westminster Hall. As she will remember, the Conservative party did not seek to hold that debate on the Floor of the House. Indeed, if it is such a vital matter and as neglected as she suggests, it is surprising that the Conservative party has not found the time to raise it, given that it has had several Opposition day debates already. Furthermore, she seems to have forgotten that we have introduced a Bill on social security fraud, so the notion that there is a lack of opportunity to discuss that matter seems somewhat flawed, to put it no higher than that.

I accept, of course, the need for a debate on the intelligence and security services, and the Government will seek to find time for one at some point. I cannot enlighten the hon. Lady about the date of the Budget, and I do not think that that is unreasonable.

The hon. Lady will know that there have been constant statements about the tube from Mr. Kiley and from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and that such matters are under discussion. No doubt when those discussions are at a more refined stage, there may be something to announce to the House.

Mr. Mackinlay

May I take the Leader of the House back to the reply that she gave me a couple of days ago? I reminded her of the Prime Minister's promise to the House on 13 July, that we would have a free vote on the proposals in the Liaison Committee report, "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive". She said: I am entirely familiar with the Hansard reference that my hon. Friend quotes. I am familiar also with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said because I was sitting two places away from him at the time."—[Official Report, 30 January 2001; Vol. 362, c. 171]. I was watching her when he made that statement. She grimaced because he was speaking off-message; it was not part of the script. The fact is that the Prime Minister unequivocally gave an undertaking that we would have a free vote on the matter. No other construction can be put on it but that we would have that vote this side of the general election. There would be no purpose in having it after the general election, because the whole idea was to have those measures in place when we return—if we return—after the general election. Will she think about that again?

Mrs. Beckett

With great respect to my hon. Friend, when he has already raised a matter some half a dozen times with me, there is no need to ask me to think about it again. I have thought about it repeatedly. He knows what my view is; I have expressed it, I hope, with clarity as well as with courtesy. I simply say that the position remains as I have told him on many occasions.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Did the Leader of the House notice that Conservative Members did not welcome the BSE debate? We on the Liberal Democrat Benches warmly welcome that debate, which is on an issue of huge importance to the countryside and particularly to the much damaged livestock industry. However, will a statement be made well in advance of that debate about the Government's response on BSE and to the Phillips report? Obviously, that it is extremely important.

Will a statement be made, and can we have a debate on the politicisation of the civil service, not just in relation to the role of Mr. Alastair Campbell, but more generally? Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Cabinet Office and the Treasury have now admitted that civil servants have been used to calculate the cost of various Opposition policies, yet the House has not been given access to that information? Civil servants are doing a job at taxpayers' expense, yet we, who represent taxpayers, cannot question Ministers on the work being undertaken.

Given that the right hon. Lady is reviewing various matters in her role as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, will she review the arrangements for recording abstentions? She will be aware that, especially since the Queen's Speech, those on the Conservative Front Bench have been recommending abstentions so regularly—indeed, they did so even last night—that we do not know whether Conservative Members are abstaining on principle or simply going home.

Mrs. Beckett

I really must take the hon. Gentleman to task for that foul slur. Given the massive number of occasions on which those on the Opposition Benches call for us to sit ever longer days and ever longer hours, it surely cannot be that they have gone home—even if they are not registering their numbers in vast quantities in the Division Lobby.

The hon. Gentleman asks me about the BSE debate. I recognise that Liberal Democrat Members, at least, have raised that matter repeatedly. That is why I was anxious to give an indication as to when the Government hope to be able to schedule the debate. Of course, I understand the wish to see the Government's response in a timely period before that debate; that is partly why I stressed that the date I mentioned was when we hoped to hold the debate. The Government are anxious to put before the House the right combination of information, and, of course, to hold a debate on it.

The hon. Gentleman also asks about the politicisation of the civil service. On that, I have to take issue with him. The Prime Minister's official spokesman is on a special adviser contract and his role is in accordance with that contract. There is no suggestion of it being politicised or in any way outwith the rules.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the use of the Treasury to cost policies, but nothing whatever is new or untoward about that—it has happened since time immemorial. In consequence, it does not seem to me that the matter requires any special statement.

As for recording abstentions, I have already dealt with that issue. From my observations, the hon. Gentleman may be entirely right; a large number of Tory Members are not always here for the long hours that they claim to be in this place, but that—I am happy to say—is a matter for them.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

May I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the terrible earthquake in India, and also in the south and south-east of Pakistan? Does she recall that, following similar earthquakes in Turkey, the relationship between Greece and Turkey improved considerably? Does she agree that a debate in the House might encourage India and Pakistan to work not only on their recovery programme, but on wider issues to their mutual advantage? That would have the support of the whole Commonwealth and, indeed, of the wider international community.

Mrs. Beckett

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. It has often been said that the aftermath of the tragic events in Greece and Turkey was to encourage recognition of the degree to which they benefited from assisting each another. I entirely take his point that the same argument has validity in the case of India and Pakistan. At present, the great concentration of concern in both countries must be to deal with the aftermath of that appalling event. I hope, however, that in the long term, it will indeed have the effect suggested by my right hon. Friend, although I fear that I cannot find time for a debate on the matter at present.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Yesterday, the Prime Minister referred to the appalling plight of millions of people in Africa suffering from HIV and AIDS. Recent figures have also shown a developing problem in this country, although, obviously, it is not on the same scale. May we have a debate in the House on Aids and will the Government make a statement on what they are doing to help to combat the challenge both in this country and overseas?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that I cannot find time for an early debate on AIDS, although as we are hoping to take the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill on Wednesday 14 February, the right hon. Gentleman may find an opportunity to air the subject during debate on the issues raised in that Bill. I take his point that it is a matter of great concern in Africa. I fear that I cannot find time for a special debate, but I recommend to him the attractions of Westminster Hall.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Could the Leader of the House arrange a debate on admission policies to primary schools? That is a problem for many local education authorities at present—including mine in Durham. Four and five-year-old children living in Coxhoe in my constituency—a village that has expanded over the years—cannot obtain places at the local school because the maximum class size is 30. The children have to attend local schools two or three miles away where there are many empty places. It is not acceptable for four and five-year-olds to have to travel such distances in bad weather because they cannot get a place in a local school; there are sound educational reasons why they should not. I fully support the Government's policy of having a maximum of 30 children in a class, but can we have a debate on the issue to see whether a solution can be found?

Mrs. Beckett

I understand my hon. Friend's concern for his constituents who face those difficult circumstances. I recall that, in my city of Derby, a fast-developing new estate caused the same type of difficulties because sufficient provision for children had not been planned under the Conservative party.

My hon. Friend will know how much work the Government are doing to try to improve the position in education. For example, we have the highest number of teachers employed for more than a decade—7,000 more than there were in January 1998. He will also know of the substantial programme of capital investment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced recently.

I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the particular problems that my hon. Friend has identified in his constituency. However, I remind him that oral questions to the Department for Education and Employment will be held on Thursday next.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

When the Leader of the House replied to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) about the Prime Minister's promise of a free vote on the Liaison Committee report, "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive", might she not, for the sake of clarity and courtesy, have added the word "contempt"? There has been contempt for members of the Liaison Committee and contempt for the House, which is owed a debate and a free vote on those measures. She should find Government time for such a debate.

Mrs. Beckett

I did.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 181 on the price of industrial gas, which has almost doubled in recent months?

[That this House notes the near doubling in the price of industrial gas over the last 12 months and the detrimental effect this increase is having on energy intensive sectors of manufacturing industry; expresses concern about the operation of the gas supply interconnector between Bacton in East Anglia and Zeebrugge in Belgium, which links a de-regulated market in Britain with a continental market where the price of gas is still linked to the price of oil; views with alarm allegations of collusion between the gas supply companies; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ask the Office of Fair Trading to carry out a full scale investigation into the wholesale gas market.]

The price rise has been the last straw for a factory in my constituency that makes paper. It employs 170 people but, this week, it has announced its closure. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe makes a statement about that, so that hon. Members can fully understand the complex reasons for that huge hike in industrial gas prices?

Mrs. Beckett

I have great sympathy for my hon. Friend and his constituents. I know that others in industry are similarly affected. The Government are conscious of the importance of gas prices and of the impact of the recent rise, which, I understand, is primarily due to high oil prices. The Government take the view that, if anti-competitive activity is identified in this sector, they will not hesitate to refer the matter to the appropriate competition authorities. My hon. Friend might like to monitor developments with a view to making such information available to my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe if he thinks that that is appropriate.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider the rather terse reply that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) about the Liaison Committee report? Will she reconsider what she said on Tuesday, when she made it clear that it was very unlikely that there would be a debate on the report before the end of this Parliament? Does she recognise that, if we do not take a decision in this Parliament and we want to set up the Select Committees quickly in the new Parliament, we will have to use the current system? Although she may be able to persuade the House on a free vote to retain the present system, it is not right for her to stifle both a debate and a vote on this important matter.

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman has more cause than anyone to know that what I have said about a free vote has not changed from the very beginning. He has asked me this question more often than most, although the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is seeking to catch up with his record. I take his point entirely that—if, as it may be, there is a general election some time in the next 18 months—it will be important for Select Committee appointments to be made speedily. I am not at all sure that a new system of making those appointments is likely to be speedier, but I certainly assure him that everyone will bear his remarks in mind.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the cuts being made by many Tory-controlled councils? In Calderdale, the Tory council proposed massive cuts to social services and education. It is attacking the weak and defenceless, yet it received a reasonable settlement. One of the worst cuts is to the Scope outreach service, which looks after elderly disabled people. The council is also scrapping free school milk, which is particularly mean, and increasing council tax by far more than the party promised in its election manifesto. It is about time that these people were exposed.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least because one of the moves that, in theory, everybody wants to see is towards a better balance between health and social service care, so that we can, in particular, care for the elderly in their own homes, as most of them would wish. She is right to point out that cuts in social services undermine that objective. She is also right to indicate that in the four years since the general election, the Government grant to local government has gone up by 14 per cent. in real terms, compared with a cut of 7 per cent. in the previous four years, so that stability in grant distribution and a substantial increase in investment mean that councils should be able to plan ahead for good services.

I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the issue, but my hon. Friend may find that the attractions of Westminster Hall beckon.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Pursuant to the opening exchanges after the statement by the Leader of the House, can she give an assurance that after three and three quarter years, we shall get a definitive statement on the Government's policy on the tube before the general election, so that we can verify whether their handling of the tube is actively intended to sacrifice Labour seats in London or whether it has some other motivation?

Mrs. Beckett

I think that most Tory Members, and perhaps even the right hon. Gentleman himself, would acknowledge that the underlying problems of London Underground are due to years of neglect and under-investment. Dialogue about the tube's future continues. As for when it can be concluded, obviously we all hope that that will be as soon as possible, but I am afraid that I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a date.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The Leader of the House will be as keen as we are that Members are not kept here unnecessarily and that they do not have their time wasted. She will be aware that Hansard shows that three times this week the number of Members opposing a Government motion in the No Lobby was zero. She may be interested to know that in the whole of the previous Session and up to Christmas in this Session that never happened. Does she believe that the Opposition are totally falling down on their job in that they call votes but fail to produce any of their Members in the Lobby?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which chimes in with the earlier point made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). Of course, although it is open to any Member—or rather any two Members, since two names are required for the tellers—to call a Division, people have always wondered whether it is wise to call attention to the fact that support for the stance being adopted is as little as two Members. Although our procedures allow for that, I share my hon. Friend's view that it is perhaps a less than constructive use of time, but the Opposition do not seem to be very good at making constructive use of their time.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office to explain how equality and law and order issues arising from the Belfast agreement are being dealt with? One person who was out on licence was readmitted to prison because of perceived involvement in activities contrary to that licence. By contrast, another, a murderer, was released and has committed that crime again in murdering Trevor Kells, but he has not been called back under licence, although I understand that some of his republican colleagues have exercised their own summary justice. Surely the law of the land should be maintained.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses. I cannot undertake to ask a Northern Ireland Minister specifically to deal with the issues that he raises in the very near future. He will know, however, that there is shortly to be a meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, and he may find the opportunity within the parameters of that meeting to raise these issues.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend, after liaising with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, try to bring forward at an early date the student nurse review, especially with regard to bursaries? A group of colleagues and I met some student nurses at the recent south-west conference of Unison, and to a person they were saying, "Can we have the review brought forward and a debate to discuss how nurses can be properly rewarded to ensure that we get the proper number of nurses on our wards?"

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend will know that the Government have already recruited significant extra numbers of nurses, and expanded the number of training places so that more potential nurses are coming forward. I understand his concern and I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I remind my hon. Friend that we hope to take the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill on 14 February. He may have an opportunity then to air these matters.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Will the Leader of the House accept from me, as one who has been fairly criticised by the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, and therefore has some understanding of the difficult task that members of that Committee have to undertake, that by moving next Thursday's debate for what every objective observer will perceive as purely party political and partisan reasons, she has done much to undermine the integrity of the Committee? There is nothing that the right hon. Lady knows today about that debate that she did not know last Thursday. Moving the debate will give credence to those who think that it is a Committee with an in-built Labour majority that is acting on party political reasons. That is a tragedy for the Committee and a tragedy for the House.

Mrs. Beckett

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not follow fully the point that I made earlier, which is that since— [Interruption.] I am mindful that it is for the Chair to determine what is in order. As the report that we would have been discussing, and which we may still have an opportunity to discuss, does not deal with the conduct of Ministers, it is difficult for me to see how that matter could possibly be in order. I do not see where the hon. Gentleman's point about partisan treatment of the Committee arises. I utterly reject his suggestion that the Government are seeking in any way to take, or have taken, action that will inadvertently affect the integrity of the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman's reference to the fact that the Committee has a Labour majority, as do all Select Committees, is somewhat unfortunate. All Select Committees reflect the pattern of the House. His reference to that was particularly unfortunate because he may have noticed that recently there has been a growing tendency in the press to refer to decisions of the Committee as being made by the Labour majority, when the Committee was unanimous. That undermines the integrity of the Committee.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

May I join the shadow Leader of the House in calling for an early debate on MI5, MI6 and GCHQ operations, especially as new Official Secrets Act legislation is to be brought forward? I ask my right hon. Friend to prevail upon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary himself to reply to such a debate. That is the unanimous request of members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot find time to schedule a debate in the near future. My hon. Friend will know of the considerable pressures on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's diary, inevitably often dictated by events elsewhere. However, I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House if she could find time for a debate on what was going on in the murky waters of the millennium dome. Those waters have got even muddier this week with press reports of the difficulties of Mr. Bourne, who is said to support the Government with personal donations, and is unable to find the money to buy the dome or to find some activity to go inside it. We also learn that further calls may be made on public funds to deal with expenses connected with the dome

We still have not had an opportunity to probe more thoroughly the role of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) in determining what went in the dome. When can we have a debate on the matter so that we may know more clearly what is going on?

Mrs. Beckett

One of the few criticisms that I have not yet heard of the dome is that it is full of water. However, the issues surrounding the dome have been aired extensively in the House on many occasions and, no doubt, will be aired again in future. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on them in the near future.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the tragic case of Mark Thorne, a young man in my constituency who was electrocuted while working at Fatty Arbuckle's, a fast-food restaurant in the city of Lincoln? The coroner returned a verdict of unlawful killing; clearly, this was a tragic and terrible case of employer negligence. Will my right hon. Friend press the Government to introduce legislation as soon as possible to make corporate killing an offence? The family of Mark Thorne want that and I strongly support its introduction.

Mrs. Beckett

The whole House will sympathise with my hon. Friend's constituents in their tragic loss and the terrible circumstances that led to the death of that young man. It will share her view that those difficult issues ought to be investigated thoroughly.

My hon. Friend will know that the Government recently issued a consultative document on corporate killing. I believe that the consultation period has now ended and the Government are studying the responses, which we take seriously and with which we will deal carefully. I will, however, draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the relevant Ministers.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

Does the Leader of the House agree that every school and local authority in England eagerly awaits the School Teachers Review Body's decision and that of the Government on how they will fund school teachers' pay awards this year? Is it not bizarre that last night there was agreement on the local government settlement, without the teachers' pay review award being included? Today, there was to be a statement at 1 o'clock, announcing the outcome of the teachers' pay review. That was suddenly pulled and it will now be made at 9.30 am tomorrow. Will the Leader of the House tell the House that there will be no statement about that on the "Today" programme tomorrow morning, and that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will come to the House at the start of business to make a statement on that incredibly important issue?

Mrs. Beckett

I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, of course, seek to make that announcement in the proper way. At present, I am not aware whether he hopes to make it through the medium of a written answer, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is perfectly in order. I do not recall whether any changes were made to today's business; I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is correct about that. However, we are shortly to have an important statement on the steel industry and the entire House will think it proper that that statement is made today.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we used to have some terrible local government financial settlements under the Conservatives. However, we did have lengthy debates on those inadequate settlements. Now we have better settlements for Derbyshire and other areas, but we do not have such lengthy debates. We had an inadequate set of debates last night, which lasted just three hours. Why cannot we have the best of both worlds—better settlements still for Derbyshire and long, full debates?

Mrs. Beckett

I take my hon. Friend's point. He is quite right, and I know how strongly he and other Derbyshire Members have pressed those issues in the House over the years. I understand his regret that, last night, we had only two one-and-a-half hour debates on local government funding. He will know, I hope, that that was the result of objections from Conservative Back Benchers to the Government motion, which sought to provide more time for those debates. Whether their objections stem from the fact that they do not wish to discuss better settlements for local government is a matter for my hon. Friend to consider.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

The Leader of the House keeps telling us that she cannot find time for this debate or that debate, but she could find time for all the debates if she was prepared to order the House to sit during half-term week. Is not it increasingly clear that Labour Members are trying to hide behind half-term week in order to deprive the public and the House of the chance to hold this awful Government to account?

Mrs. Beckett

The recommendation that the House should not sit during what is most schools' February half-term, if that were at all possible, was made by the all-party Modernisation Committee at a time when I was not one of its members. I believe that that recommendation, which was also proposed by the Jopling report, was unanimous. As for the suggestion that the Government are seeking to avoid the scrutiny of the House, we have provided 200 extra opportunities for debate in Westminster Hall, so that is a pretty ludicrous accusation.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

May I ask my right hon. Friend for an urgent debate on the future of the steel industry, following this morning's announcement by Corus of 6,000 job losses—1,200 of which will occur in Llanwern, near my constituency—and the closure of Ebbw Vale? Does she agree that Sir Brian Moffat, the chairman of Corus, has treated the House, the Government and the unions with contempt? Should not the matter be publicly and urgently debated in the House?

Mrs. Beckett

I am aware of the serious concern that is felt by all hon. Members—a concern that is likely to be expressed when we move on to the next business. I am also conscious that my hon. Friend has had the forethought to secure a Westminster Hall debate, in which I believe that he hopes to air the issues. I fear that I cannot undertake to find in Government time the opportunity for a special debate in the near future. However, I have little doubt that, as matters unfold, hon. Members will continue to press for various opportunities to scrutinise the unfortunate developments that have occurred. The Government have tried to engage the company in constructive discussion, but without the success that we would have liked.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I was touched by the right hon. Lady's explanation of why she took the extraordinary decision to cancel Thursday's debate on standards and privileges. She said that the motion might not be wide enough to allow the House to discuss the funding of the dome, the granting of passports and all the other topical matters relating to ministerial misconduct and allegations of such misconduct. If such are her reasons, why will she not ensure an early debate on a wide motion? I am sure that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) would value the opportunity to counter the allegations of dishonesty that are currently circulating against him from Cabinet members. I am sure that the many Ministers who are clinging precariously to their jobs would also like the opportunity to set the record straight on their own misconduct. Surely providing such a debate would be the right thing to do, instead of sweeping the matter into the long grass and sending Parliament away for far too long to ensure that the public do not see proper scrutiny of this miserable Government.

Mrs. Beckett

Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he either does not listen to what is said, or does not follow it properly. I did not give the reasons that he described in respect of not pursuing the debate at the present time. Opposition Members are clearly desperate to discuss the Hammond inquiry before its work is finished and have argued that many other issues need addressing, so I simply pointed out that we now have the opportunity to discuss two items of Government legislation on the day to which he refers. Given Opposition Members' comments on the need to scrutinise the Government's actions, I would have thought that even he might have thought that such business was more important.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the progress of legislation to establish through ratification and into full law the International Criminal Court? Does she accept that there is unnecessary delay in the House of Lords? Will she do her best to persuade the relevant authorities there to ensure that the measures pass rapidly into Committee, so that they can come to this House and be passed into law? They can then be used to bring to justice the international criminals who can currently go free.

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend has for some time expressed a great interest in those matters and pressed for the measure's introduction. I am not aware of any untoward delay in the House of Lords, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of relevant colleagues. I assure him that the Government are anxious to make progress on the matter.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The transport commissioner for London is today meeting the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the future of the underground, for whose long-awaited modernisation the Government promised a public-private Partnership. Will the Leader of the House at least induce the Deputy Prime Minister to provide progress reports, if that is the correct term? Will she encourage him not to wait for what she earlier called a somewhat refined stage in discussions? Knowing the Deputy Prime Minister as we do, we cannot help but expect that we might have to wait an inordinately long time for such a stage to be reached.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the modernisation of the tube has been long awaited. It is unfortunate that it waited 18 years under the Government whom he supported. However, I assure him that the Labour Government are keen for the constructive negotiations that are taking place to be successfully concluded. If that happens, we shall be only too anxious to make it known.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of worrying reports today about a former Conservative immigration Minister who admitted receiving papers from the Hinduja family for a passport application and was employed by them as an adviser after leaving office? Does she agree that, for the Hammond inquiry to be full, thorough, transparent and fair, the House must have access to papers from the previous Administration that show the involvement of Conservative Ministers in the matter? That would ensure that all the issues were brought to light and that the House had confidence in the inquiry.

Mrs. Beckett

I had seen the reports to which my hon. Friend refers. The papers that Sir Anthony asks to see and their release are matters for him, not the Government. I am sure that he will wish to examine thoroughly the facts about a series of events, which, from my reading, are of long standing. However, I know that Sir Anthony is anxious to complete his inquiry speedily, and we must therefore strike a balance.

Sir Anthony has expressed a wish for Ministers to avoid making comments that appear to prejudge any aspect of the inquiry before it produces any details. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend understands if I do not comment further on her question.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


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