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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Could I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 27 March--Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 28 March--Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill.

Motion on the Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000.

Wednesday 29 March--Progress on remaining stages of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

Thursday 30 March--Second Reading of the Learning and Skills Bill [Lords].

Friday 31 March--The House will not be sitting.

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

Monday 3 April--Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill [Lords].

Conclusion of remaining stages of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

Tuesday 4 April--Progress on remaining stages on the Freedom of Information Bill.

Wednesday 5 April--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Freedom of Information Bill.

Thursday 6 April--Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill.

Opposition Day (7th Allotted Day) (Second part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Ulster Unionist party. Subject to be announced.

Friday 7 April--Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to be reminded that, on Wednesday 29 March, there will be a debate on the aid system for flax and hemp in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Tuesday 4 April 2000:

European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Union document: 13048/99, Banana Imports; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-v and HC 23-x (1999-2000).

I should like to inform the House of business to be taken in Westminster Hall for April.

Thursday 6 April--Debate on the Second Anniversary of NHS Direct.

Thursday 13 April--Debate on the Ninth Report from the Education and Employment Committee Session 1998-1999 on Opportunities for Disabled People.

Thursday 20 April--There will be no debates in Westminster Hall.

Thursday 27 April--The House will not be sitting.

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The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the end of business on Thursday 25 May and return on Monday 5 June.

Sir George Young: The House is grateful to learn next week's business, the provisional business for the week after and the provisional dates of the Whitsun recess. We hope that the right hon. Lady's voice lasts for the next half hour.

I am grateful for the response to the request that I made last week for more time to be given to consideration of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill, and welcome the fact that we have been given that extra time. I am also grateful for the opportunity to debate on Tuesday the television licence fee increase.

May we expect a statement on Monday from the Prime Minister on the Lisbon summit? If we can expect that, might it be sharper in focus than the statement that we heard yesterday? When the Chief Secretary to the Treasury winds up the Budget debate on Monday, will he clarify the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday? He asserted:

According to many independent health analysts, the figure of 7.6 per cent. can be reached only by including private health spending. We need some clarity on that.

Does the right hon. Lady understand our disappointment that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will no longer be taking part in the Budget debate? With concern about the impact of the high pound on exports--a subject that the Chancellor of the Exchequer skated over in his Budget--we would have welcomed the Secretary of State's participation in a debate that could have dealt with the plight of manufacturing industry. At the very least, might we expect a statement from him following his discussions with BMW? We also regret the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister from the Budget debate--left out, no doubt, because his Department was a significant loser.

The programme for 6 April looks congested, particularly if there is interest in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. Might the right hon. Lady reflect on thinning it out?

Finally, almost all the business for the next two weeks is devoted to the Government's legislative programme, with no time whatever to debate other matters such as the Wakeham report, the intergovernmental conference White Paper, the Liaison Committee report, separate debates on the Armed Forces and the Dame Fritchie report on the abuse of patronage. Is not the Government's ambitious programme seriously distorting the work of the House?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's welcome for the extra time, for which the Opposition asked, to debate the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill and the television licence prayer.

I anticipate that the Prime Minister will be making a statement after the Lisbon summit. I am slightly surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's less than generous remarks about yesterday's statement, given that it is only now, for the first time since Lady Thatcher's day, as I recall, that Prime Ministers have again started to come to the House.

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I think that I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend is the first Prime Minister to do so in order to deal with a domestic, as opposed to an international, matter. Considering how, however inaccurately, Opposition Members are always complaining about the Prime Minister not coming to the House, I would have thought that they would have welcomed him doing so. Of course we know that they do not welcome any announcement on health or education--or, indeed, on pensions--because they do not wish the British public to make a link between the improvements that they are seeing and the actions of this Government.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will no doubt take note of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I have not seen the analysis to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was of course before the House only a few days ago, and I anticipate that he will do what he can to keep the House informed on the progress of any discussions in which he is engaged.

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the Deputy Prime Minister; there are a limited number of Budget debates and we wish to concentrate on its key themes. However, to describe my right hon. Friend's Department as a loser, when it has just been given an extra £280 million, seems rather an odd choice of words, but there we are.

The right hon. Gentleman said, "Oh dear; there is a lot of Government legislation." Yes; that is one of the key purposes for which the House exists. I remind him that, contrary to what is often said from the Opposition Benches, there is nothing unusual or heavy about the Government's legislative programme. It is substantial because there is much work to do, but there is nothing unprecedented about the number of Bills that the Government are seeking to deal with in this Session.

The issue of abuse of patronage is interesting. It would be nice to have time to look back over the previous Government's record in those matters, but I fear that we shall have to deny ourselves that luxury.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the increasing number of early-day motions protesting at the proposed closure by Barclays bank of branches that are of vital interest to some of its most loyal customers--pensioners--and of particular concern to small businesses. In the light of the recent Cruickshank report, which alleged excessive profits by high street banks, is it not time that the House had a full-scale debate on services that are continually declining while customer charges and profits seem to be ever increasing?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. She is absolutely right about the interesting conclusions of the Cruickshank report. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time on the Floor of the House in the near future for such a debate; as she knows, that is always a problem for any Government. However, I draw her attention to the extra debating opportunities in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Does the Leader of the House recognise the bitter disappointment in the north-west at the decision to site the replacement of

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the Daresbury synchrotron in the south of England? Does she agree that, given the problems described by the shadow Leader of the House on the value of the pound and investment and development, it is essential that a replacement Government research programme is soundly based in the north-west? Will she persuade the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to assure the House that the Government have recognised the issue created by the decision?

I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report, "Whatever Happened to News at Ten?" and particularly recommendation 56, which states:

Can the right hon. Lady give us a report and bring a Minister to the House to say what pressure the Government have brought to bear on the Independent Television Commission to implement the recommendations in that Select Committee report?

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