Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Beckett: I do not think that the House will wish to spend time on such a debate. If the hon. Gentleman's definition of fraternal support is the way in which the shadow Chancellor's policy has totally scuppered the career of the Leader of the Opposition, all I can say is that they are welcome to it.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the Leader of the House persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on his ministerial code? In particular, could he explain to the House and the country why it has disappeared off the web? It used to be found on the Cabinet Office website, but it has now been reorganised out. One can hunt around the web for as long as one likes. One can turn to something which is misleadingly called the site, but the statement is not there--nor is there very much else there. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the code to be put back on the web, perhaps on the Deputy Prime Minister's own website, at least for paragraph 113?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not aware of the ministerial code's destination at this time, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the relevant authorities. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not worry too much about its applying to him for a while yet.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Given the comment by Lord Rogers in The Independent today that the Chancellor has singularly failed to stop the haemorrhaging of people from our rundown inner cities and his continued frustration that not a single recommendation of his urban taskforce report has yet been put into effect, will the Leader of the House promise the House an urgent debate after the recess so that the Government can account for what they are actually doing to tackle deprivation in our inner cities, rather than just appointing talking shops to talk about what should be done?

Mrs. Beckett: As I recall there will be Question Time to the relevant Department in the near future. The hon.

20 Jul 2000 : Column 546

Gentleman should know that it is not the case that nothing has been done to carry out the recommendations in Lord Rogers's report. A great deal of work has been done in that direction. The hon. Gentleman should also know that our inner cities got into their present state under the Government whom he supported.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the future of the steel industry? As she is no doubt aware, 1,200 redundancies have just been announced in Teesside and South Yorkshire, and 1,400 were announced only a few weeks ago. Will she ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House for a debate on the future of the steel industry?

Mrs. Beckett: I know of my hon. Friend's great concern for the steel industry and for employment in that industry. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a great interest in these matters and does what can be done to assist and support that industry. We remain in discussions with the steel industry. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a further debate on the matter on the Floor of the House in the near future, but my hon. Friend might seek a debate in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I declare an interest in the question that I am about to ask, as I am an owner of a convenience store in Swansea. Will the Leader of the House arrange for somebody from the Department of Trade and Industry to come to the House within the next few days to make a statement on the sale of loose goods in shops and supermarkets? She may be aware that Tesco announced on Monday that it was going to reverse its decision, and would sell loose goods using imperial weights and promoting pounds and ounces.

Some 38,000 small stores in this country are still using imperial weights. Officials in local authorities up and down the country will be confused about what they should be telling those stores. A number of the stores will be operating on the margins of profitability, and they simply cannot afford to buy new scales to replace existing usable scales. Will the right hon. Lady clear up the confusion and arrange for a statement to be made in the House in the next few days?

Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand and sympathise with the concerns of small traders, who may be confused. However, it is a little surprising that neither the hon. Gentleman nor his right hon. and hon. Friends have been able to clear up this confusion, as it is as long ago as 1989 that the then Government agreed that these measures should be phased out by 1995, and they then imposed a delay until 2000. So people should have been aware of this matter for at least 10 years.

I understand--and I know that the House will wish to have this information--that it was as long ago as 1862 that a Select Committee of the House recommended that Britain should go metric, so we have had some time to adjust. Although, as I say, I fully understand and sympathise with the difficulties of small traders, I do not think that "confusion" is the right way to describe what they are experiencing. We should be trying to get people to accept the variation of usage, with one set of measures

20 Jul 2000 : Column 547

alongside the other, but we must recognise that among young people in particular, the use of imperial measures is disappearing.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): When the House returns in October, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on one aspect of parliamentary reform that has not had enough attention? I refer not to the hours in the day that we sit, but the days of the year on which we sit. Is it not a fact that the parliamentary calendar is completely out of balance, with far too much business being taken between January and July? Would it not be much better if the recess was from June to September? What advice does the Leader of the House have for Members who are parents, whose children will be on half-term the week that we return?

Mrs. Beckett: I am very conscious of the difficulties faced by parents. There is, and long has been, a discussion about whether we can establish a firmer parliamentary calender and whether there should be a slightly different balance to the parliamentary calendar. There is only one set of circumstances under which a firmer parliamentary calendar would be possible--that is, if we were able to make firmer arrangements for the programming of our debates. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman being in the same Lobby as me when we debate the Modernisation Committee report.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the right hon. Lady seek to persuade the Minister for the Cabinet Office to make a statement about the extent to which publicly funded special advisers at No. 10 Downing street are being used to wage faction fights among the leading personalities of the Labour Government? I have in mind not only the infamous "TB" memorandum, of which so much has been heard, but the remarks reported last weekend, when No. 10 had a senior special adviser quoted as saying of the Chancellor of the Exchequer:

20 Jul 2000 : Column 548

Mrs. Beckett: I remind the House that it has long been the case that those who are political rather than civil service appointees have worked with Governments of every political shade--very useful it is too. Indeed, a large number of them now occupy the Opposition Benches. Furthermore, we trebled the resources available to the parliamentary Opposition to enable them to be better staffed--something that the Conservative Government denied us when we were in opposition.

It has been truly remarkable that, during business questions today, Opposition Members, with a couple of honourable exceptions, have not wanted to talk about the extra money going to hospitals, schools or the police--any of the matters in which the British public are really interested. That is what people will notice.

Mr. Swayne: It might have escaped the right hon. Lady's notice that we shall have opportunities to question Ministers on those matters--not least after business questions today.

Is there any substance to the press reports that Labour Back Benchers who are not expected to hold their seats are receiving counselling to help them to adjust psychologically? Will the right hon. Lady make a statement to the House setting out the counselling services that she will make available to Back Benchers who, notwithstanding the fact that they will continue to hold their seats, will have no further role in holding the Government to account as a consequence of the plans to programme all legislation?

Mrs. Beckett: I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender in this place. I am sorry that, despite the fact that we have offered to conduct seminars on how to be a good Opposition, so many Opposition Members seem not to have been able to take them on board.

Dr. Julian Lewis: You had enough practice.

Mrs. Beckett: I assure the hon. Gentleman that, given the way the Opposition are going, they will have plenty of practice too.

20 Jul 2000 : Column 547

20 Jul 2000 : Column 549

Next Section

IndexHome Page