|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the contrast between the way in which the House conducts its business in relation to the comprehensive spending review and its treatment of the Budget? The Budget covers one year and is followed by a three or four-day debate concentrating on various elements within it. The comprehensive spending review, which covers three years, is followed by a half-day Adjournment debate and some statements and questions. Bearing in mind the greatly increased significance of the CSR in the Government's planning and organisation, will the right hon. Lady consider whether in future its exposure to debate in the House might be more equivalent to that of the Budget? That might also give the House an opportunity to consider one or two elements that were not in the CSR, such as the omission of any improvement to pensions, which is certainly deeply felt by people in the country and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Will the Leader of the House look carefully at the business for tomorrow as there is a list of 58 private Members' Bills for consideration? Will she bear in mind the request that has been made through the Modernisation Committee and elsewhere for the House's procedures on private Members' business to be given careful scrutiny? Perhaps she will undertake that the Modernisation Committee and others will give that serious consideration in the coming weeks.
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which the Budget is followed by several days' debate whereas the CSR does not follow the same pattern. However, the big difference between the two is that the Budget deals with the revenue-raising side of policy and looks in depth at what that means over a number of days. The comprehensive spending review, particularly one that looks three years ahead, is only a broad outline. Whereas the Budget is followed by the Finance Bill, which looks in detail at tax measures, the CSR is followed not only by a number of departmental statements, but by the unfolding of what those general totals mean over time.
I recognise that some silly statements have been made, particularly in the news media, about the CSR being a reannouncement and not involving new money. That is why it must be made clear to people what it means in terms of the impact on their local community--something that some people have an interest in obscuring.
With regard to the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about pensions, of course I understand the great interest on both sides of the House in what is happening in terms of pension policy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that there would be further announcements in due course, but I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing at least as much as the Liberal Democrats promised in their last manifesto when they said that they would increase pensions only in line with inflation. As far as I am aware, no one in the House--certainly not in the three main parties--proposes to increase pensions by more than inflation, or at least
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about private Members' Bills. No doubt it will be raised again. I simply say that, under successive Governments, over many a decade, people have examined our procedures for such Bills, but have not thought fit to make major changes.
Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on women's representation in Parliament? She will know that all political parties have difficulties in finding candidates who represent the whole of their communities--women and men. She will also know that Labour has been the most successful party in promoting women candidates. However, I am sure that she knows, too, that in Wales, the six seats held by Labour where the sitting Members are retiring have all chosen Labour candidates who are men. Can she find time for a debate in which we could discuss and find a solution to this very important issue?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend may have heard, as I did, some of the heckling from Conservative Members, who are of course embarrassed by the lack of representation of women in their ranks. Somebody--fortunately anonymous, as far as I am concerned--said that we needed more hermaphrodites. I remind the whole House, and Conservative Members in particular, that women are more than 50 per cent. of the population. They might bear that in mind when they make some of their less polite remarks.
I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor of the House, but my hon. Friend might look to the opportunities in Westminster Hall, which offers double the time for Adjournment debates.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement next week on the implications for policing of the investigation that led to the discovery of the body of Sarah Payne? Her family are constituents of mine, and I think that their resilience under what was ultimately a tragic event was remarkable.
Will the Leader of the House also ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the Dispatch Box and perhaps lead a debate on the future of cottage hospitals? Three cottage hospitals in my constituency--Emberbrook, Cobham and Walton--are suffering from cuts that could lead to the ending of the use of intermediate beds, much to the disturbance of local people.
Mrs. Beckett: I know that the whole House will want me to express our sympathy for the family of Sarah Payne and our horror at her tragic death. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is conscious of the implications for policing, although we all know that there will always be tragic cases that, no matter how efficient our policing, will fall through the net. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that we have questions to the Home Secretary on Monday, and he might find an opportunity to raise the matter then.
The issue of cottage hospitals is, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I am well aware of his, and everyone's, wish to see the best and most efficient provision in health care, and I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley): What plans does my right hon. Friend have for a hectic week ahead in terms of the timetabling of business and the programming of motions to ensure that we have a speedy and effective week of legislating?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is important that the House should deal with its business expeditiously and well. She is also right to identify the fact that proper programming of discussion is the most effective way of achieving that. The Government hope that it will be possible to achieve business and get a proper pattern of debating by agreement, but we of course reserve the right to table any motions that might be required to ensure that business is indeed secured.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): It is evident from her statement that the Leader of the House has not been able to find time next week for the promised debate on defence procurement. Hundreds of aerospace workers lobbied Parliament this week, anxious about their future. What reassurance can she give me that, when the House returns, we will have an early opportunity to hold that debate?
Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman may or may not have heard me say last week that the Government have every intention of scheduling a debate on defence procurement. He will know that, in recent days, the Secretary of State for Defence has made a number of procurement announcements, all of which were welcomed. He will know also that the review announcement on Tuesday conveyed that more resources would be available for defence. In other ways, the Government have made resources available to the aerospace industry. All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman's constituents is that the Government are endeavouring to make the right decisions for our defence needs--decisions that have a proper regard for the national interest and a continued rise in employment.
[That this House welcomes the statement of the Government Actuary that the link between the basic pensions and the earnings level could be restored for the next five years without any increase in National Insurance contributions; notes the answers to parliamentary questions that confirm that keeping contributions at their present level, as a proportion of earnings, would allow the link to be paid until 2011 while producing a surplus of £4 billion; and believes that this evidence fully justifies an immediate restoration of the link and a declaration of the Government's intent to increase pension levels at the true rate of earnings inflation.]
There seems to have been a significant change in Government policy late last night in another place, where the Government accepted, for the first time, a welcome amendment by Baroness Castle of Blackburn which instructed the Government Actuary to investigate the results of restoring the link between earnings and the pension level. The Government Actuary has indicated to the Select Committee on Social Security that the link could be restored without any additional spending and without any increase to the national insurance scheme for the next five years. Other parliamentary answers have indicated that the link can be restored up to the year 2011. This long-awaited act of justice for pensioners should be carried out within the foreseeable future. It is now, as we know, affordable and can be done without any additional public cost.