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Mrs. Beckett: I have had my attention drawn to the wording of those motions. They are not a matter for me, but we are all aware that the electioneering tactics adopted by the Liberal Democrat party sometimes cause concern in the ranks of other parties.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will my right hon. Friend consider an early full day's debate on the Government's response to the Liaison Committee report, particularly bearing in mind that the Government have rejected the Committee's substantive recommendations? That underscores the need for a debate in order that we may express the collective will of the House and prevail upon the Government to change their mind so that the changes can be enacted before the next General Election. In particular, there are the extremely important questions of the appointment of Chairmen of Select Committees; the Committees' membership, and how members are selected; the timetable for setting them up after the General Election; and their ability to scrutinise and ratify public appointments.

May I tell the Leader of the House something that I was saving for my memoirs? It is ingrained upon my memory. During the Sierra Leone inquiry, a Government Whip--a lovely gentleman--came up to me and said, without a note of sarcasm, but with genuine incredulity, "Mackinlay, I just cannot understand you. We put you on the principal Committee of the House of Commons and you insist on asking all these questions." He concluded, "Why don't you just enjoy it?"

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government's response has just been published, only about an hour ago. Although I understand his anxiety for a debate to be held, it is a little early for the House to

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have had an opportunity to digest the response. I agree that the matter is important, and I very much hope that the House will carefully examine and weigh both the report of the Liaison Committee and the Government's response.

I share the view, which I know that my hon. Friend holds, that the Liaison Committee's report has enormous implications for all hon. Members, and those implications are perhaps not as straightforward and simple as they may at first sight appear. I hope that hon. Members will not rush to judgment, but will look carefully at what is recommended and what that means for the operations of the House, and weigh the Government's response. I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): If it is true that the remarks of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the euro on Tuesday were not cleared with the Treasury, and if that means that Northern Ireland will get an independent economic policy even before the resumption of devolution, is it possible for that to be announced first to the House, rather than to an engineering conference in Northern Ireland?

Mrs. Beckett: As I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, if he has studied the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that they were completely in line with everything that the Government have been saying on the matter. He will know that the policy has not changed, as the Prime Minister made plain at the Confederation of British Industry dinner.

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West): My right hon. Friend may have noticed written question No. 3 on the Order Paper today, which is due to be answered today, and which concerns the Home Secretary's decision on Mike Tyson's application for a visitor's visa. In view of the considerable public interest in that decision, can my right hon. Friend say whether she has had an indication from the Home Secretary of when he will give his decision and whether he will make a statement in the House on the matter?

Mrs. Beckett: As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he hopes to make a decision reasonably soon on the application that has been received. I cannot tell her how soon that will be or whether my right hon. Friend will consider it right to make an oral statement to the House, but my hon. Friend knows that the Home Secretary is meticulous in keeping the House informed.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Next week it is Scottish questions again, when we have 25 minutes nominally for the Secretary of State and five minutes for the Advocate-General. The last five minutes usually consist of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Dr. Clark) saying that she cannot answer the questions asked because all her dealings and advice are confidential. Would it not be better and waste less of hon. Members' time if the two sessions were combined in one session of 30 minutes? If there were any questions for the Advocate-General, they could be answered along with the other questions to the Scotland Office team.

Mrs. Beckett: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the organisation of the Question Time. It is an issue

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for the House as a whole, and I am not sure how widely shared is his view that it would be better to roll the two Question Times into one. When next the Question Time schedule is re-organised, I shall bear his remarks in mind.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the rumoured takeover bid for Hyder, the water company for Wales, and the electricity company for south Wales? The rumoured bidder wants to break up the company, and that is likely to involve the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in Wales. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the regulators look at the suppliers of water and electricity in Wales, in the best interests of consumers in Wales, the company and the 9,000 people who are employed by Hyder?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate in the House, although, again, I recommend Westminster Hall.

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety for the interests of the consumers to take priority. As she will know, that is the thrust of the changes in the utilities regulations that the Government are introducing in the Utilities Bill. Although the rhetoric of the Conservative party suggested that the utilities would have to put the consumer first, that was not actually what the legislation said.

I understand the reason for my hon. Friend's anxiety, but I fear that I cannot find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House. However, Westminster Hall is available.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): May we have a debate on the politicisation of the civil service? That would enable us to draw attention to the scores of extra political advisers who have been appointed under the present Government, to point out that virtually all the departmental press officers have been replaced by those who will produce a line that is closer to that approved by Mr. Campbell, and to draw attention to the fact--freely admitted by the Prime Minister yesterday--that the civil service is now providing killer packs for the Prime Minister to use at Question Time.

Mrs. Beckett: I can only tell the hon. Gentleman this. He has been a Member of Parliament for quite a long time. If he nurtures the illusion that the civil service did not supply facts to previous Prime Ministers, right or wrong--which was part of the concern that he expressed--or that there were no special advisers, I can only say that I do not know where he has been.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks about departmental press officers are absurd. There are hundreds of press officers in Whitehall, just as there are hundreds of civil servants in Whitehall. While I bow to no one in my admiration for the work and skill of those who are employed by the Government as special advisers, the notion that they could run the Civil Service is ridiculous.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that some forthcoming legislation will be timetabled. Has not the time come for programming and timetabling of all legislation? That would enable the House to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As she knows, the programming of legislation, or

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legislative discussion, has been recommended to the House repeatedly, and has some distinguished authors on the Opposition Benches. From time to time, we have made successful use of programme motions, giving Opposition Members, including Back Benchers, an opportunity to steer the use of the time available. Many Members--I am one--believe that that is to the advantage of members of all parties.

My hon. Friend will know that that view is not shared by everyone. She will also know that if time is used on the Floor of the House in the way it has been used recently, that will raise questions of the kind that she has asked.

Mr. Forth: The right hon. Lady is silent yet again on the subject of House of Lords reform. How can she justify the fact that week after week has passed without the House of Commons being given an opportunity to discuss the matter? Can she give any indication at all to a waiting and anxious nation of where or when the matter will proceed and be resolved--or will we be left with the suspicion that the Government have no intention whatever of resolving the issue?


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