Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): With the approach of the general election, the electorate will clearly wish to form a view on the value of assurances given by the Prime Minister. That being so, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on his previous comments on foxhunting? The House would like to ask him why he has often said in public that the previous Bill was stopped in the other place, when the rest of us know that that was not the case.

Mrs. Beckett: I have always assumed that everyone knew perfectly well that that private Member's Bill was stopped because of the clear statements from the House of Lords that, were the Government to allow it to continue or be discussed in any way, not only would it never reach the statute book, but the other place would wreck the rest of the Government's legislative programme. As that included the national minimum wage, which the Conservatives now pretend to support, the Government were not prepared to allow that risk to be taken.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the current legal processes in Chile to bring General Pinochet to justice. Will she find time in the near future to have a debate on the Floor of the House about the situation with regard to William Beaosire and Father Michael Woodward, who were British nationals who died under Pinochet's regime? Will she also urge the Foreign Office and its Ministers to release all documents on Britain's relations with Chile between 1973 and 1990, and those that relate to Operation Condor, which was the terror regime that Pinochet instigated throughout southern Cone? The release of those documents will undoubtedly assist the cause of those people who seek to restore democracy and human rights to Chile.

Mrs. Beckett: The whole House was shocked and appalled at the treatment of those nationals, as well as of many other people in Chile under the rule of General Pinochet. I understand my hon. Friend's desire to have that matter further examined now, but I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on it in the near future. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, but my first reaction is that all the papers that he wants released are from the previous Administration's time in government and we have only limited access to them.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Leader of the House will know that, next week, 30 hon. Members--20 of whom are, on a proportional basis, Labour Members--are required by Parliament to attend the Council of Europe Assembly in Strasbourg and will therefore be unable to vote in the new-fangled deferred voting system on Wednesday. As that has constitutional

18 Jan 2001 : Column 519

implications, can she arrange for a debate--obviously not next week, but perhaps the week after--for that matter to be examined? If she says that that has always been the case in relation to votes, it is in fact a different constitutional matter with regard to deferred voting.

Mrs. Beckett: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who is a serious Member of the House, but on a first examination of his remarks, I do not perceive the constitutional difference that he detects arising as a result of deferred voting. I undertake to consider his remarks, but I fear that I do not detect the great concern that he has identified.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, yesterday in Prime Minister's Question Time, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) and I asked about compensation for miners? We received a decent answer from the Prime Minister, but unfortunately miners are still not being paid. Will she ask the Department of Trade and Industry to hold an inquiry into what has gone wrong with the compensation payments, so that we can find out why miners are not being paid and who is to blame? It seems that one person blames another. A good inquiry and a statement to the House would be not go amiss with many hon. Members.

Mrs. Beckett: The whole Government understand the concern that my hon. Friend and other Labour Members have frequently expressed. Indeed, he will know that action has been taken to try to speed up the payment of the claims. I fear, however, that much of the answer to his question probably lies in the fact that this is the largest body of personal injury litigation in the history of the United Kingdom. No matter how great the pressure that we exert on those responsible, it will take time to deal with the issues. Although I cannot find time for a further debate on the matter in the near future, I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will continue to keep up the pressure.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): On 19 December the House accepted a regulation to allow the extension of embryo research, which is usually to be done by therapeutic cloning. That decision was made on the basis of an assurance given by the Minister for Public Health that reproductive cloning would remain illegal. I understand that that statement is to be challenged in the courts. It is an extremely important matter, especially as the House of Lords will consider it next week. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister to come to the House in the week beginning 29 January to make a statement on the outcome of the court case?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and important point. He was right to say that it was made clear in the debate that we do not allow reproductive cloning in this country. There is serious concern about the issues raised by the court case, but it is always difficult--and perhaps risky--to prejudge the outcome of any such case. However, I assure him that the Government will keep the matter under review. Should the outcome of the case in any way call the matter into question, the Government will be prepared to take steps, because we remain strongly of the view that human reproductive cloning should not be allowed. It will not be permitted.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Will my right hon. Friend undertake to review the recent changes made by

18 Jan 2001 : Column 520

the House to the Standing Orders for the programming and timetabling of Bills, to see whether the changes are working as intended? Has she had time to consider the implications of the objection that was made last night to the motion on the change in membership of the Administration Committee? Does she consider, as I do, that it is another devious way of disrupting business, which the Opposition should not be allowed to get away with?

Mr. Day: Should we all just go home?

Mrs. Beckett: Actually, we would all be very grateful if some of them were to go home. Of course, I undertake to review the way in which the experiment is working. Indeed, I know that my hon. Friend will recall--unlike some of those present, she paid close attention to the debates on these matters--that the procedures were made experimental precisely so that we could see how they worked in practice and assess whether further refinements and changes needed to be made. Should that prove to be the case, we shall propose such changes to the House.

The implications of the unusual rejection of the proposal for changing the membership of the Administration Committee will have to be considered. Given the emotion that was clearly felt by some hon. Members about the issue that we debated yesterday, I am not sure whether that rejection was a cunning plan or simply a knee-jerk reaction by people in a bad temper late at night, but no doubt time will tell.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Will the Leader of the House consider a debate, if not next week then certainly in the near future, on the fate of the Kingskerswell bypass? She will recall that I have mentioned the matter before. With a view to trying to secure a debate and to find out what was happening, I raised it in the House on 21 December, when the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office said at column 677 that he could promise a letter from the relevant Minister straight away, but not the bypass. I commend him for being so straightforward.

I do not chide the Minister for not promising the bypass, but he rightly gave an assurance that I would receive a letter, and I have heard nothing. I understand that Christmas has intervened, but it is vital that my constituents know what the Government's attitude to the bypass is, and if the relevant Minister will not write the letter that he should have written, I hope that the Leader of the House will want to arrange a debate so that he can come here and justify himself.

Mrs. Beckett: I do indeed recall the hon. Gentleman's raising that issue, and I can perfectly understand his concern on behalf of his constituents, because if I remember correctly, he said that it has been a matter of contention for several years. I am extremely sorry to learn that he has not received the correspondence that he sought. I assure him that I will pursue the matter in the hope that I can get him a reply. Who knows? If a Labour Government are returned to office and investment continues, perhaps he will even get his bypass.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am conscious of the fact that this is an Opposition day, but I want to take the question

18 Jan 2001 : Column 521

of every Member who has risen, so I ask for hon. Members' co-operation in ensuring that all questions are brief.

Next Section

IndexHome Page