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Mrs. Beckett: Again, I heard that part of what the American Defence Secretary said. He made it plain that if we did not get the negotiated agreement that we are seeking and for which we have been arguing from the beginning--and I see little prospect of it not being agreed--that would represent some underlying danger to NATO. He also made it clear in exactly the same statement that the United States and he personally supported the initiative, despite the efforts of Opposition Members to pretend otherwise. As for whether or not we will be giving away sovereignty in Nice--a matter that was also raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)--it is a matter of record and history that more sovereignty has been given away by the Conservative party in these exchanges in Europe, not least with 30 extensions of qualified majority voting in the aftermath of the Single European Act, so it is not for them to chide us on these matters.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): May I return the Leader of the House to the subject of stem cell research and ask her to clarify what is in her mind? It appears from the many replies that she has given today that we are to have an Adjournment debate at very short notice this Friday, following a previous short-notice debate on a Friday, and followed by yet another full day, debate on the orders, with a substantive vote at the end of the debate rather than on the deferred vote procedure. Will she try to clarify the matter so that we know exactly how long we are likely to debate it as huge interest groups outside this place regard it as extremely important? They will be very interested to know precisely what is in the right hon. Lady's mind as to how long the House should debate it.

Mrs. Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is getting more than a week's notice of the debate.

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The Government have made it clear from the beginning that we will seek to provide a measured way for the House to discuss these matters and approach its decision. I cannot and will not add anything to what I have already said about the matter.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): As most of this afternoon's debate is likely to be taken up with a wider discussion of the Government's failures in health policy, will the Secretary of State for Health make a specific statement on the systematic politicisation of public appointments in the national health service? It is only eight months since the Commissioner for Public Appointments found that a gross abuse of the appointments system had been going on. Now that she has found evidence that, since then, political crony appointments to primary care trusts are being made in exactly the same way, as if nothing had happened, can the Secretary of State give a full statement, in Government time, on this abuse of process?

Mrs. Beckett: I always think that it is quite mind-boggling for Conservative Members to raise this point, given that one of their Ministers is famously on record as saying that she never knowingly appointed a Labour party supporter to anything. That is not the Government's attitude. Everyone who is appointed, whatever the trust, has to go through the proper process of public appointments, which, I remind the hon. Gentleman, was put in place by the Government that he supported. It has resulted in the appointment of a great many more women and people from ethnic minorities. If his view is that they are all Labour people--well, fine.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Will the orders for debate on 18 December be taken under the deferred voting procedure? Will the right hon. Lady put in place a system by which the results of such votes can be separately identifiable for the purpose of participation statistics? She will realise that those statistics are eagerly awaited and avidly read by our constituents. It would generate some cynicism if the lacklustre participation of some Members was suddenly to shoot up as a result of their turning up on a Wednesday and signing the visitors' book. Will she ensure that the vote on stem cell research will not be taken under this defective procedure?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman's final point has been made by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, and I have nothing to add to what I have already said. His first question was whether it is intended that the orders to which he referred would be taken under the new procedure. The answer is yes, and those votes will of course be recorded. I take heed of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about whether they should be separately

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identified. I had not previously contemplated the idea. I am willing to consider it, although I fear that I do not entirely share his view that the statistics are read avidly--or, indeed, at all--by our constituents.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): May I ask the right hon. Lady once again to reconsider and to accede to a request for a full day's debate on the outcome of the Nice summit, not just a short statement? The power of self-government, the right to hire and fire our rulers and the capacity freely to chart our own destiny as an independent nation are inalienable birthrights of every Briton and should not be traded in for a mess of pottage called the heart of Europe. Therefore, does she accept that a full day's debate would give us the chance to probe why the Government are conniving at giving up power, acceding to the request for a European constitution and working hand in glove with member states of the European Union to create a federal state by stealth--a state that is opposed by the majority of the British people?

Mrs. Beckett: I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that there will be a full day's debate after the report from the Nice summit. It will be the debate on the Queen's Speech on foreign affairs, when no doubt he will be able to refer to these matters.

The hon. Gentleman makes powerful points; he clearly feels very strongly about these matters, and that is perfectly legitimate. What a shame it is that he was not here during all those years when Conservative Governments were doing all the things that he is now complaining about.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): At a meeting this morning of Surrey and Sussex Members of Parliament from all parties and Church leaders in the region, stem cell research was of prime interest. When I was elected to this place, I understood that we would, on occasion, debate an issue, on a free vote, and that the force of the argument would help us to make up our minds when we voted at the end of the debate. Does the Leader of the House agree with that principle, and will she follow it in deciding how to deal with the orders on stem cell research?

Mrs. Beckett: Hon. Members on both sides of the House have different views on and a different approach to these matters. I am confident that they are all being flooded with information and that they will consider it carefully. Many of them have listened to the debates that have already been held and will listen to those yet to be held. They will come to their own firm views and cast their votes accordingly. There is nothing unusual about that. There is nothing unprecedented in the House debating those matters in that way. What is a little unprecedented is the sheer amount of time that the Government have made available because we understand how strongly people feel about these matters.

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Points of Order

12.10 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the beginning of business questions, the Leader of the House suggested in her response to me that I had raised within the confines of that tool of Government, the Modernisation Committee, the fact that holidays and recesses should be announced so that Members could order their business. I must put on the record the fact that I have never raised that subject in the Select Committee. I raised it in business questions on 16 November, at columns 1069 and 1070, to ensure that Ministers could discharge their duties to the House before it rose for Christmas.

I also seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Is it correct under the rules of the House that matters debated within the confines of a Select Committee in closed session--whether they are true or not--should not be raised on the Floor of the House?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) apparently feels hurt and that she felt it necessary to raise the matter in a point of order from the Dispatch Box. I will look at the record. I am not sure whether I inadvertently misrepresented her. I was referring to remarks that she made in a debate on the Floor of the House on the report of the Modernisation Committee. I was not referring--perhaps my words were sufficiently unclear that it was not apparent--to anything that she might or might not have said in the Select Committee.

Mr. Speaker: I think that that should clarify the matter for the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning).

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that after the statement on the rural White Paper on Tuesday 28 November I raised a point of order about the fact that I had been contacted before the statement by a journalist who gave me detailed information about the content of the White Paper. You responded by saying that I would

At that, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said that he would be able to supply you with an e-mail containing the relevant information, which he did.

I have now seen your reply to my hon. Friend, in which you state:

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Will you reaffirm for the benefit of the House and reassure me that it is not simply that a Department must not give journalists advance sight of a White Paper, but that it must not give them advance knowledge of its contents before it has been made available to us in the House?

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