HC Deb 05 March 2003 vol 400 cc819-20 12.32 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will be aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer today announced that he intends to deliver his Budget statement on 9 April. You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that that is the day before the date on which the House is due to rise for the Easter recess. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that it would be entirely unacceptable for debate on the Budget to be curtailed or postponed until after the recess. May I therefore ask whether you have had any indication that the Easter recess will be postponed, so that the customary four days of debate will take place immediately after the Budget? The House must be able to discuss the Budget's implications for the black hole in the Government's finances, the imminent and substantial rise in taxation, and the burgeoning pensions crisis—all of which lie directly at the Chancellor's door.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am as concerned as everyone else about the Easter recess. However, the Leader of the House will answer business questions tomorrow—[Interruption.] Order. It would be more appropriate for hon. Members to put that matter to the Leader of the House tomorrow.[Interruption.] Order. What I am trying to say is that it is not a matter for me.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter which, if I may say so, is even more important than the Easter recess. That is that 9 April is right in the middle of the election campaigns in Scotland and Wales. Either the Chancellor has forgotten about that—which seems unlikely, as he is frightened of losing the elections—or he is showing breathtaking arrogance. My point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is that a previous Government ended up losing in the Scottish courts when they tried to abuse the local electoral process in Scotland, never mind the parliamentary one. Is not the Chancellor in danger of ending up in exactly the same position?

Mr. Speaker

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman answered his own questions. That matter is not for me—it is for the Scottish courts.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Leader of the House knows the proposed dates for tomorrow, surely he must know them today. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman—who is in his usual place—share with you and the rest of the House the Government's proposals, so that right hon. and hon. Members may know as soon as possible, then perhaps follow up the matter in business questions tomorrow? Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), there are severe implications for the rules governing the politicisation of the run-up to elections and they should be fully considered. When will we get proper guidance? Why do we have to wait?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the Leader of the House wants to come in on a point of order.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having said that it would be more appropriate to make the announcement at business questions, you will forgive me, I hope, if—in response to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—I share with the House the information that I intended to announce tomorrow. That may be for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members, so that there is no mystery about it.

It is standard procedure that there should be four days of debate following the Budget statement. It would be our intention to make sure that the House will have the opportunity to debate the Budget over four full days. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is correct that it would be wrong to delay. That was never our intention. We shall therefore be tabling a motion for the House to sit on the Friday of that week for a day's debate on the Budget. The Budget debate will continue until the Monday of the subsequent week—14 April—when it will conclude. There will be, as always, four days' debate on the Budget.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be the first time that there has been such a partitioning of the Budget debate, with its deferral until April. That seems to coincide with the changes made to the sittings of the House. Will you please investigate the relationship between those changes and the appalling decision to defer the Budget debate?

Mr. Speaker

This is in danger—[Interruption.] Order. This is in danger of turning into a debate. The hon. Lady asked me to look into the matter. Perhaps I will look into the matter. That would be the best way.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that it is not on the same subject. Is it different?

Lembit Öpik

My point of order refers to the talks on Northern Ireland over the past two days. Given that some Northern Ireland parties have not seen the full content of that which was agreed—certainly the Opposition parties in this House have not done so—is there any mechanism that would cause the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to the House to make a statement on what has been agreed for our consideration?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps that is something that the hon. Gentleman could raise in business questions tomorrow.