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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): May I join the shadow Leader of the House in calling for an early debate on MI5, MI6 and GCHQ operations, especially as new Official Secrets Act legislation is to be brought forward? I ask my right hon. Friend to prevail upon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary himself to reply to such a debate. That is the unanimous request of members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Mrs. Beckett: I cannot find time to schedule a debate in the near future. My hon. Friend will know of the considerable pressures on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's diary, inevitably often dictated by events elsewhere. However, I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Last week, I asked the Leader of the House if she could find time for a debate on what was going on in the murky waters of the millennium dome. Those waters have got even muddier this week with press reports of the difficulties of Mr. Bourne, who is said to support the Government with personal donations, and is unable to find the money to buy the dome or to find some activity to go inside it. We also learn that further calls may be made on public funds to deal with expenses connected with the dome.
We still have not had an opportunity to probe more thoroughly the role of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) in determining what went in the dome. When can we have a debate on the matter so that we may know more clearly what is going on?
Mrs. Beckett: One of the few criticisms that I have not yet heard of the dome is that it is full of water. However, the issues surrounding the dome have been aired extensively in the House on many occasions and, no doubt, will be aired again in future. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on them in the near future.
Gillian Merron (Lincoln): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the tragic case of Mark Thorne, a young man in my constituency who was electrocuted while working at Fatty Arbuckle's, a fast-food restaurant in the city of Lincoln? The coroner returned a verdict of unlawful killing; clearly, this was a tragic and terrible case of employer negligence. Will my right hon. Friend press the Government to introduce legislation as soon as possible to make corporate killing an offence? The family of Mark Thorne want that and I strongly support its introduction.
Mrs. Beckett: The whole House will sympathise with my hon. Friend's constituents in their tragic loss and the terrible circumstances that led to the death of that young man. It will share her view that those difficult issues ought to be investigated thoroughly.
My hon. Friend will know that the Government recently issued a consultative document on corporate killing. I believe that the consultation period has now ended and the Government are studying the responses, which we take seriously and with which we will deal carefully. I will, however, draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Does the Leader of the House agree that every school and local authority in England eagerly awaits the School Teachers Review Body's decision and that of the Government on how they will fund school teachers' pay awards this year? Is it not bizarre that last night there was agreement on the local government settlement, without the teachers' pay review award being included? Today, there was to be a statement at 1 o'clock, announcing the outcome of the teachers' pay review. That was suddenly pulled and it will now be made at 9.30 am tomorrow. Will the Leader of the House tell the House that there will be no statement about that on the "Today" programme tomorrow morning, and that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will come to the House at the start of business to make a statement on that incredibly important issue?
Mrs. Beckett: I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, of course, seek to make that announcement in the proper way. At present, I am not aware whether he hopes to make it through the medium of a written answer, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is perfectly in order. I do not recall whether any changes were made to today's
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): My right hon. Friend will be aware that we used to have some terrible local government financial settlements under the Conservatives. However, we did have lengthy debates on those inadequate settlements. Now we have better settlements for Derbyshire and other areas, but we do not have such lengthy debates. We had an inadequate set of debates last night, which lasted just three hours. Why cannot we have the best of both worlds--better settlements still for Derbyshire and long, full debates?
Mrs. Beckett: I take my hon. Friend's point. He is quite right, and I know how strongly he and other Derbyshire Members have pressed those issues in the House over the years. I understand his regret that, last night, we had only two one-and-a-half hour debates on local government funding. He will know, I hope, that that was the result of objections from Conservative Back Benchers to the Government motion, which sought to provide more time for those debates. Whether their objections stem from the fact that they do not wish to discuss better settlements for local government is a matter for my hon. Friend to consider.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The Leader of the House keeps telling us that she cannot find time for this debate or that debate, but she could find time for all the debates if she was prepared to order the House to sit during half-term week. Is not it increasingly clear that Labour Members are trying to hide behind half-term week in order to deprive the public and the House of the chance to hold this awful Government to account?
Mrs. Beckett: The recommendation that the House should not sit during what is most schools' February half-term, if that were at all possible, was made by the all-party Modernisation Committee at a time when I was not one of its members. I believe that that recommendation, which was also proposed by the Jopling report, was unanimous. As for the suggestion that the Government are seeking to avoid the scrutiny of the House, we have provided 200 extra opportunities for debate in Westminster Hall, so that is a pretty ludicrous accusation.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): May I ask my right hon. Friend for an urgent debate on the future of the steel industry, following this morning's announcement by Corus of 6,000 job losses--1,200 of which will occur in Llanwern, near my constituency--and the closure of Ebbw Vale? Does she agree that Sir Brian Moffat, the chairman of Corus, has treated the House, the Government and the unions with contempt? Should not the matter be publicly and urgently debated in the House?
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware of the serious concern that is felt by all hon. Members--a concern that is likely to be expressed when we move on to the next business. I am also conscious that my hon. Friend has had the forethought to secure a Westminster Hall debate, in which
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I was touched by the right hon. Lady's explanation of why she took the extraordinary decision to cancel Thursday's debate on standards and privileges. She said that the motion might not be wide enough to allow the House to discuss the funding of the dome, the granting of passports and all the other topical matters relating to ministerial misconduct and allegations of such misconduct. If such are her reasons, why will she not ensure an early debate on a wide motion? I am sure that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) would value the opportunity to counter the allegations of dishonesty that are currently circulating against him from Cabinet members. I am sure that the many Ministers who are clinging precariously to their jobs would also like the opportunity to set the record straight on their own misconduct. Surely providing such a debate would be the right thing to do, instead of sweeping the matter into the long grass and sending Parliament away for far too long to ensure that the public do not see proper scrutiny of this miserable Government.
Mrs. Beckett: Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he either does not listen to what is said, or does not follow it properly. I did not give the reasons that he described in respect of not pursuing the debate at the present time. Opposition Members are clearly desperate to discuss the Hammond inquiry before its work is finished and have argued that many other issues need addressing, so I simply pointed out that we now have the opportunity to discuss two items of Government legislation on the day to which he refers. Given Opposition Members' comments on the need to scrutinise the Government's actions, I would have thought that even he might have thought that such business was more important.