HC Deb 08 May 2001 vol 368 cc72-5

7 pm

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

Following the Prime Minister's announcement earlier today, and following discussions through the usual channels, the business for tomorrow will now be as follows: a procedural motion relating to the business of the House, followed by the remaining stages of the Finance Bill and remaining stages of the Rating (Former Agricultural Premises and Rural Shops) Bill. At 10 o'clock, the House will be asked to approve all outstanding estimates. and we will take proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords Messages that may be received. I hope that the business for later in the week will be announced tomorrow, following further discussions.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I thank the Leader of the House for making her business statement available to me earlier. Following the Prime Minister's valedictory address earlier today, will the right hon. Lady confirm that what is in the second statement tomorrow will be the subject of tomorrow's procedural motion, because it is not clear at the moment whether the procedural motion tomorrow will deal only with tomorrow's business or with the business for the remainder of the week? If that motion will deal with business for the remainder of the week, it is important that the Government should allow sufficient time for it to be debated by the House. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that that will be the case?

Will the Leader of the House also confirm that all the scheduled oral questions for the remainder of the week will take place, including those tabled for Thursday, and will she also tell the House whether the business in Westminster Hall will continue as announced for the rest of the week? Is she able to make a statement tonight about a possible date for Prorogation, as that is obviously a matter of interest on both sides of the House? Also, does she anticipate there being a gap between Prorogation and the Dissolution of Parliament?

Mrs. Beckett

First, on the assumption that the hon. Lady was asking me about a further business statement tomorrow, and about a time for the motion to be debated, was she referring to the business motion?

Mrs. Browning

I am sorry that I did not make that clear. I asked whether the motion that the right hon. Lady has announced today—the procedural motion relating to the business of the House—would include tomorrow's business and any subsequent business.

Mrs. Beckett

My anticipation is that it will certainly include tomorrow's business. It is not yet certain whether it will include business for later in the week, because there will—as I have said—be a further business statement. [Interruption.] I suggest that Conservative Members bear in mind the fact that these are matters for negotiation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No.'] Yes, they are.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asked me whether oral questions would take place as scheduled. 1 anticipate that they will. I also anticipate that the business in Westminster Hall that has been scheduled will take place. 1 fear that I cannot give the hon. Lady any of the other information that she seeks.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Given that my right hon. Friend has said that she will make a further statement tomorrow about business for the remainder of the week, which includes Thursday, and given that Thursday is at present scheduled to be an Opposition day, will she do her best to persuade the Opposition to maintain it as an Opposition day so that the House can have the opportunity to hear from the Conservative party how it intends to keep many thousands of people segregated on aeroplanes until the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has inspected their credentials?

Mrs. Beckett

My right hon. Friend makes an enticing case, but that it is not the business that I have announced—nor do I anticipate doing so.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I encourage the Leader of the House to make tomorrow's statement and the procedural motion as comprehensive as possible and to cover the whole period up to the Dissolution if possible? Otherwise it will be extremely difficult for the House to deal with unfinished business in an orderly manner. There is some very important unfinished legislative business, on accountability in the health service, for example, which I hope will be given proper accountability in the last few days of this Parliament. Some Executive business also remains, and it is extremely difficult for us to maintain our scrutiny of such Government action when the House is not sitting.

I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis, which is still with us, and to the effect of the crisis on the tourist industry, which is causing huge problems at the moment. I note that the Select Committee report on the funds available to the regional development agencies and the tourist boards is totally critical of the amount of funding available. Indeed, the report states, "We find this astonishing." We still require important statements from the Government before the Dissolution of Parliament, and I hope that we shall get a comprehensive programme tomorrow, rather than having to wait until the end of the week.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Lady's statement covered the business for tomorrow. Another statement will follow. Questions now should only be about the statement that the right hon. Lady has made tonight.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Of course I understand the House's anxiety to be fully informed. Certainly, it would be the Government's wish to put as much information before the House as we can, and we will do so.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

May I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that she will make a statement tomorrow on what is to happen on Friday to my excellent private Member's Bill, which will protect the interests of low-paid shop workers throughout the United Kingdom and which I am quite sure Her Majesty's Government strongly support?

Mrs. Beckett

I listen with sympathy to what I am sure is the first of many fervent pleas. I fear that it is not at present clear to me whether we shall be taking private Members' business on Friday, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's remarks in mind.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

To clarify that point, and in relation to the statement tomorrow, does the Leader of the House envisage that the House will sit from 11.30am to 7 pm on Thursday—or will it sit later? Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether she envisages any time for private Members' Bills on Friday, and does she envisage announcing the Dissolution on Friday or on Monday?

Mrs. Beckett

I fear that all those questions take me into the territory of what would be the business beyond tomorrow. I am not, therefore, in a position to assist the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is nothing in the business that she has announced for tomorrow—or, indeed, in the parliamentary business that she will announce tomorrow—that would keep the Deputy Prime Minister out of Scotland over the next wee while, or will he just be kept out because he would blow the gaff on the Government's plans to cut public spending in Scotland after the election?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman has been listening to misinformation. I fear that I am not familiar with the Deputy Prime Minister's present schedule.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange tomorrow to make a statement to the effect that the Government—or perhaps the House of Commons Commission—will refer to Sir Nigel Wicks and the Committee on Standards in Public Life the issue of the resourcing of the Commissioner's Office in the House and the procedure for the re-appointment of the Commissioner for Standards?

Mrs. Beckett

No, I am not aware that that is a prime matter in the business to be brought before the House.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Does the Leader of the House not think that she owes a public apology to Southend-on-Sea? Given that today is the first day in the history of Parliament that we have had an exhibition promoting the glories of Southend in the Upper Waiting Hall, will she urge all her colleagues to visit the exhibition before they go off to fight the election?

Mrs. Beckett

I sincerely apologise to Southend-on-Sea. I shall urge my colleagues to visit not only the exhibition but the town.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I raise a matter that is of concern to all Members of the House, whichever their party? The Prime Minister has announced an election. Although I accept that it might be necessary to wait until tomorrow for details of how the House will conduct its affairs for the rest of the Parliament, is it not possible for the Leader of the House to tell us when the Dissolution of Parliament will take place, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)

asked? It is necessary for Members of Parliament—although not for the Government— to make arrangements as to where their secretaries and equipment are going to be by the end of this week or the beginning of next week.

Mrs. Beckett

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I understand his point. However, he will be aware, as there has long been an excellent analysis in the Library on this point, that if the general election is to be held on 7 June, the House will have to be dissolved on or before 14 May.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Why is this such a shambles? Is the Leader of the House the only person in the country who did not know that an election was planned? Is she the only person who was not let in on the secret? Have not the Government been planning for this election for more than four years, and should they not be able to tell us when this miserable Parliament is finally going to be dissolved?

Mrs. Beckett

I can only suggest that, not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman is suffering from an extraordinarily selective memory. If he looks at Hansards relating to this stage of past Parliaments, he will find that nothing I have said is in any way unusual.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Will there be time for proceedings on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill to be completed tomorrow? If not, when will there be time for them to be completed? The Bill is widely supported by Members in all parts of the House, and the Welsh Assembly has worked closely with the Government in trying to secure its passage. If it is not possible to pass the Bill before dissolution, will that not constitute copper-bottomed evidence that the Assembly needs powers to make primary legislation?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that it will not be possible to deal with the Bill tomorrow—but, like other business that is before either House, it is very much in the Government's mind.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Can the Leader of the House guarantee that the rights of the House to scrutinise the Government and hold them to account will in no way be compromised by this unseemly last-minute dash into an unnecessary election?

Mrs. Beckett

Certainly the House will continue to enjoy the rights that it has always enjoyed. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that he, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), has clearly forgotten this stage of every Parliament in which he has served.