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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House please give the business for the coming week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business of the House for next week is as follows:

Monday 22 January--Second Reading of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill.

Tuesday 23 January--Second Reading of the Social Security Contributions (Share Options) Bill.

Motion relating to the establishment of an Inquiry into the deaths of patients of Harold Shipman.

Motion on the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000.

Wednesday 24 January--Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day].

Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on "Job Losses in Manufacturing Industry", followed by a debate entitled "The Government's Failure to deliver its Public Health Agenda". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Thursday 25 January--Debate on fisheries on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 26 January--Debate on rural and urban White Papers on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 29 January--Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

Tuesday 30 January--Remaining stages of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill.

Wednesday 31 January--Motion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales).

Motions on Local Government (Finance) Reports.

Thursday 1 February--Opposition Day [3rd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Subject to the approval of the House, Private Members' Bills will be taken on Friday 2 February.

The House will wish to be reminded that on Monday 29 January, there will be a debate relating to Members of the European Parliament and the Audit of Expenditure by EP Political Groups in European Standing Committee B. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

Monday 29 January 2001:

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Union documents: (a) 9712/00, Statute for Members of the European Parliament; (b) 9560/00, Audit of expenditure by EP political groups. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 23-xxvii and HC 23-xxix (1999-2000) and HC 28-ii (2000-01).]

Mrs. Browning: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. In the Queen's Speech debate, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition drew to the House's

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attention the glaring omission from the Speech of a Bill to reform adoption law. In February 2000, No. 10 Downing street said that the Prime Minister had personally taken charge of Government policy on adoption law. As the Leader of the House will be aware, yesterday, at Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister promised to legislate in this Session to reform the laws on adoption.

Therefore--although I do not wish to put the Leader of the House in a position in which she has to be coy about the general election date--I was rather surprised that she did not say in today's business statement when such a Bill will be presented to Parliament. Given the seriousness of the issue, and the fact that such a Bill would have cross-party support, I hope that the Prime Minister's promise of a Bill was not yet another of his promises; that, yesterday, he was not simply jumping on another bandwagon that he saw rolling; and that we can expect that, however short may be the time between now and the end of the Session, the Prime Minister's word is his bond.

I wonder, too, whether the Leader of the House could throw some light on the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) (No. 4) Order 2000, which was listed for debate on Tuesday's Order Paper. That debate had only started when, because of time pressure, under Standing Order 17(2), Mr. Speaker decided that further debate on the order should be deferred. The House has waited a long time to debate the order. In a High Court case, the judge, Mr. Justice Jackson, found on behalf of the National Union of Teachers against the Department for Education and Employment, and said that the Secretary of State had improperly bypassed Parliament. Therefore, when the opportunity to debate the order last Tuesday night was lost, we expected that the order would have been reinstated pretty rapidly for next week's business. I hope that the Leader of the House will reassure us that there will be a full and proper debate on that very important matter.

The right hon. Lady will know, as will the rest of the House, that hon. Members' postbags are full of constituents' letters about matters appertaining to Equitable Life. This the third week running that I have raised this matter, and the right hon. Lady said last week that she would pass on to her colleagues the grave concern in the House about the advice given by the Treasury to Equitable Life, and about the conduct of the Financial Services Authority. I hope that the right hon. Lady will find Government time for a debate on this important matter.

Finally, will the Leader of the House note that no fewer than 43 MPs representing Scottish constituencies voted in the third Division after the hunting debate last night? The vote was on banning hunting in England and Wales, and 37 of those hon. Members supported that ban. I hope that the right hon. Lady will find Government time to complete the Government's unfinished devolution business. The present situation is clearly unfavourable to England and needs to be sorted out.

Mrs. Beckett: First, the hon. Lady asks about the issue of adoption. She is right to say that the matter was not included in the Queen's Speech. I can assure her that a great deal of serious work is under way to try to prepare fresh legislation on adoption, but the House will recognise that it is extremely important to get the matter right. We will take the time that is needed to prepare that legislation.

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The hon. Lady spoke about people jumping on bandwagons. There was a classic example of that yesterday, and I am not sure that she was entirely wise to raise the matter. The Leader of the Opposition yesterday made the generous offer to support a piece of legislation and ease its passage through the House. The same offer must have been made three or four times by the right hon. Gentleman or other Opposition Front Benchers--most recently in respect of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. I see that the hon. Lady is nodding in agreement.

However, what happens is that the Opposition do not deliver the promised support. Indeed, they spend time filibustering and opposing those Bills, claiming that they have discovered something wrong with them. The precedent is not encouraging, but the reason why the hon. Lady may have been unwise to raise the matter is that, at the moment, we have no time for private Members' legislation. That is because Opposition Members keep objecting to the motion to provide time for private Members' Bills.

It is hypocrisy for the Leader of the Opposition to offer support to a private Member's Bill--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is out of order for the right hon. Lady to use that word. Perhaps she should withdraw it.

Mrs. Beckett: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It is not a word that I should have used. However, the House as a whole understands the purport of the Leader of the Opposition's observations.

The hon. Lady asked what would happen with the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) (No. 4) Order 2000. Yet again, the words that come to mind are "hoist with your own petard". The order was not debated at greater length on Tuesday because Opposition Members took so much time debating other issues. Obviously, it is open to them to make that choice, but the Government are under no compulsion to reintroduce subjects for debate which Opposition Members do not debate because they spend time wasting time.

The hon. Lady asked about Equitable Life. I hope that she is aware that, on 19 December, the Economic Secretary announced that the Financial Services Authority is preparing a report on these matters, which will be published. She should also be aware--although I fully accept that it has not had a great deal of publicity--that the Treasury Committee announced this week that it will hold an inquiry into these matters. Clearly, the matter is under consideration and I fear that I cannot offer time in the immediate future for such a debate.

Finally, the hon. Lady referred to Members of Parliament from Scottish constituencies taking part in the votes yesterday evening. We do not have two-tier membership of the House--we are all full Members here at Westminster. Whenever the hon. Lady or her friends raise the matter, they talk about how wrong it is to have Scottish or Welsh MPs taking part here when we have devolved government in Scotland and Wales, but, remarkably, they never mention Northern Ireland. Not only do we have devolved government there now, but we had devolved government when the votes of Northern Irish MPs brought down the last Labour Government.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): What opportunities will there be next week to raise the very real

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and serious difficulties in Wales with regard to steel? Does my right hon. Friend know that Corus, Europe's largest steel producer, is proving to be a brutal, cynical and shareholder-orientated company, which has cast a dark cloud over the future of Shotton steelworks in my constituency? Will she tell the chairman of Corus that Shotton steelworks cold strip mill must not close? The 300 jobs there are very valuable. Britain needs a strong steel industry--Corus will destroy it.

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