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House of Commons

Thursday 7 December 2000

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business of the House

11.33 am

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): You, Mr. Speaker, informed the House yesterday of the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. The business for next week will be:

Monday 11 December--Continuation of debate on the Queen's Speech (Foreign Affairs and Defence).

Tuesday 12 December--Continuation of debate on the Queen's Speech (Home Affairs and Inner Cities).

Wednesday 13 December--Conclusion of debate on the Queen's Speech (The Economy).

Thursday 14 December--Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 15 December--Debate on embryology on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 18 December--Second Reading of the Hunting Bill.

Motions relating to the Draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order and the Draft Apportionment of Money in the National Lottery Distribution Fund Order 2000.

The House will wish to know that on Monday 11 December, there will be a debate on Fisheries: Total allowable catches and quotas 2001 in European Standing Committee A.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall following conclusion of debate on the Queen's Speech will be:

Thursday 14 December--Debate on the Quadripartite Committee Reports on Strategic Export Controls.

[Monday 11 December:

European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-xxxi (1999-2000)

Thursday 14 December:

The 39th to 41st Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 1998-99, of the 1st to 9th and 11th to 37th Reports of Session 1999-2000, and of the

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Treasury Minutes on these Reports (Cm 4576, 4593, 4656, 4695, 4688, 4732, 4758, 4798, 4822, 4863, 4886 and 4901).]

I announced previously that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House will rise for the Christmas recess at the end of business on Thursday 21 December until Monday 8 January. That remains our intention.

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will not sit during the week commencing Monday 19 February.

Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business.

May I raise with the right hon. Lady for the third time the matter of stem cell cloning, the importance attached to that debate and the vote that will ultimately need to be taken in respect of the legislation? As the House knows, we had a full day's debate on a Friday on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Will she make it clear that next Friday's debate will not be the only time that the House will have to debate the subject, and that the Government will guarantee that there will be a debate followed by a vote in Government time, not after 10 pm, so that the whole House may vote on a free vote on this important matter?

May I also raise with the Leader of the House the concern that although the Department of Trade and Industry published a Green Paper today, which I fully understand does not necessarily qualify for a statement on the Floor of the House, it was none the less flagged up on television this morning, before the information was available to hon. Members on today's Order Paper? Will the right hon. Lady ensure that Members of Parliament are notified in a timely manner of important announcements such as today's announcement on paternity and maternity arrangements in the DTI Green Paper, as it is a great discourtesy on the part of a Minister not to allow the House to have first sight and sound of such an important matter?

Again, I raise with the Leader of the House the Government's approach to holidays of the House. As there were some notable omissions of legislation from the Queen's Speech yesterday, much of which would have had cross-party support--an important, long-promised consumer Bill, reform of the licensing laws, a water Bill and possibly an adoption Bill--it is extraordinary that the right hon. Lady announced today that in February the House will take yet another week's holiday in order that hon. Members can be at home, instead of dealing with unfinished business that the House would rightly have expected to be in the Queen's Speech.

On that subject, if, in the coming Session, as a result of the private Members' ballot, an hon. Member decided to introduce an adoption Bill in private Members' time, would it have Government support?

Mrs. Beckett: It should be placed clearly on the record that although the hon. Lady says that this is the third time that she has raised with me the issue of stem cells and their use in research, the way in which the question was phrased may have given the impression that the Government were resisting such a debate. She will know that any such impression would be wholly contrary to the truth. The Government have been more than willing to

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have a proper debate on the matter, on which, of course, there will be a free vote. As the hon. Lady said, we have already had a one-day debate on the matter on a Friday. She will know that that was followed by publication of draft regulations, which the House and those outside could study. The debate that I have just announced is a follow-up debate, in which the draft regulations can be discussed and in which Members can air their views. Of course, there will have to be a proper debate and there will be a free vote on the orders. I can certainly give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks--as I did when she last raised the matter. A decision will be made by the House on a free vote in Government time.

The hon. Lady asked about a statement on a Green Paper. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced his Green Paper in a written answer, which, as several Speakers have confirmed, is perfectly proper. We make sure that information is made available to the House, but it is also important to convey it to the public. We endeavour to make sure that Members are fully informed. She will know that there is always creative tension between the time that the House wants to spend on statements--as opposed to other things--and the number of statements that might be required.

The hon. Lady asked, rather extraordinarily, about what she called my approach to holidays, to which I shall return. The Queen's Speech gives an outline of the major Bills that will come before the House. She talked about Bills that would attract cross-party support. With respect, her party's record on delivering cross-party support promised on Second Reading is not very good. Indeed, I would go further and say that it is non-existent.

Mrs. Browning: Because of poor drafting.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady claims that the Bills are bad. Support is given for Bills on Second Reading but, as they get down the road, it mysteriously evaporates. I therefore take with a pinch of salt her assurance of cross-party support on those issues.

The hon. Lady asked me to comment on a possible private Member's Bill. We have not even had the ballot on private Members' Bills, so we do not who will win it. I am therefore reluctant to commit myself to support in advance something that is wholly hypothetical.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of what she called holidays. I remind her of a long-standing recommendation that, if possible, the House should seek to give time to Members during half-term for most schools, although that is subject to the progress of business. I remind her that, not very long ago, she asked me to give as much notice as possible of such proposals for the convenience of staff of the House as well as Members. She chided us all during the last Modernisation Committee debate, and said how important it was to get debates better spaced and to make more time available to Members so that they could manage their affairs better. What she has just said is inconsistent with that.

Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West): May I return to the issue of stem cell research? Does my right hon. Friend recognise the strength of feeling on both sides of the

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debate about the proposed creation and destruction of cloned embryos for research purposes? Does she agree that many Members of Parliament do not feel that those issues were properly debated when they last came before the House in 1990? Given the profound ethical implications of stem cell research on embryos, will she ensure that more than one and a half hours of prime parliamentary time is allocated to such a debate when these matters are discussed?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand the strength of feeling that my hon. Friend mentioned. She is right: the debate has moved on, more information is available and the background has changed since these matters were last debated. Before the orders come before the House, and given the timing of the debate that I announced, there will have been some 10 hours of prime parliamentary time in total, as well as publication of the regulations in draft and in final form. We cannot therefore agree that the matter will not have been aired and that Members will not have had a proper opportunity to debate it. However, I take on board my hon. Friend's comments.

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