|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for those announcements. We very much welcome the fact that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be making a statement to the House following business questions. Events in the foot and mouth outbreak move
In the coming week, is an announcement--or even a debate--planned regarding the Government's proposed cross-party Committee to consider the proceedings of the upper House? The House will be aware that the other place dealt with the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill this week. The Government made an extraordinary proposal: they tabled a procedure motion in the other place to allow only amendments approved by the Government to be debated. That is as great a concern to hon. Members in this Chamber as it is to my noble Friends. Given the precedent that the Government have set, will the right hon. Lady consider sharing with the House what their intentions are for proceedings in another place?
Will the right hon. Lady say whether the Government intend in the coming week's business to allow time for a debate on remaining order No. 50 on the Order Paper, with which she will be familiar? It has been tabled in her name and concerns the reprimand to the Westminster Four. Conservative Members would certainly welcome the opportunity to debate the order--[Hon. Members: "At length."] I agree with my hon. Friends. Extraordinarily, we had anticipated that the debate would take place on Monday because of what was seen to be almost a business announcement by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), on Report on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. He informed my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe):
I wonder whether the right hon. Lady can confirm that the Government intend to provide time, certainly within the next week or two weeks, for the House to debate the conduct of the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). It is an astonishing situation. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has stated clearly that only half the complaints that were put before her in respect of the hon. Gentleman were dealt with because he has failed or has refused to answer any further questions that the commissioner has put to him. Clearly, the House cannot condone such conduct. I hope that the right hon. Lady will ensure that we get a chance to debate that matter.
We would also like to debate the conduct of the Foreign Secretary and the relationship between him and the media during the period that he had possession of a leaked Select Committee report: he had possession of it before it was made officially available. The subject of that report was Sierra Leone, which is an important matter to hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that, in the spirit of the reprimand that the right hon. Lady has tabled
Mrs. Beckett: I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome for the statement that will be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. She is right to say that it is important for Ministers to come to the House to keep it informed. I recognise fully that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the situation and about how it changes day to day. I know that she acknowledges that Ministers are doing everything that they can to spread information and to keep hon. Members up to date with the changing situation by placing updated information continually on the Department's website and by placing in the Library the daily briefings that they are giving.
Formal reports to the House, which allow for questions from hon. Members, are part of that process, but I know that the hon. Lady recognises the importance of Ministers balancing their duties to help to tackle the outbreak with their duties to keep the House informed.
The hon. Lady asked about the handling of debates in the upper House. I have not followed the detail of what has been happening in the upper House. My understanding, however, is that the procedures that were adopted for the Hunting Bill were welcomed and supported by representatives of every part of the upper House--those on the Bishops Bench, the Cross Benches and others--with the sad exception of those on the Conservative Front Bench.
Mrs. Beckett: I thought that majorities ruled, even in the upper House. That probably suggests that it was all right, but I emphasise that it is not a matter for me and that the Government are not making proposals for the procedures of another place, which are a matter for that House. That House took the decision, not us. The hon. Lady will also know that the Government do not have a majority in the upper House; indeed, the Government have only one third of the Members of the upper House. Noble Lords took their decision; that is a matter for them.
The hon. Lady asked me about the issue of the conduct of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)--rather unwisely, I should have thought, but that is a matter for her. She also asked me about the issues that have been raised in relation to the conduct of my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. She has raised issues that are highlighted in the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. What she does not recognise, and what the House must at all times take into account, is that the reports of the Standards and Privileges Committee are unanimous and have always been unanimous, although there have been some--not least in the news media, but, occasionally, also on the Opposition Benches--who try to give a different impression.
The House charges that Committee with a heavy and very difficult responsibility, which is to weigh the evidence that is put before it and to come to its views. As I had no part in deciding the framework within which
The hon. Lady asked also about a debate on the conduct of the Foreign Secretary. I read four or five times--because I thought that I must be missing something--the stories that appeared over the weekend about his conduct, and what he said and what he answered to the House, without being able to discover within them any contradiction with what actually happened. Of course it is open to hon. Members to seek to pursue opportunities to discuss his conduct, but I suspect that the content of any such debate would be extremely short and that most normal members of the public would find the matter extremely boring.
I should like to say one other thing to the hon. Lady about her suggestion--I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for this lengthy reply but I think that it is such an important issue for the entire House--that we should have a debate on such matters. Two things, I think, are of great importance to all hon. Members. The first and by every standard the most important is that there should not be corruption in our public life, and that if there is corruption it should be stamped out--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] That has to be--[Interruption.] I am glad to know that Opposition Members support that contention, and I say to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) that he should be more cautious in what he says.
Secondly, however, while it has to be the prime role of this House to ensure that corruption is identified and removed if it exists, every single hon. Member has an interest in ensuring that frivolous or unsubstantiated allegations are not made or encouraged. I say--I have said it to hon. Friends and I say it publicly as I would say it privately to Opposition Members--that allegations should be neither made nor pursued for what is thought to be either personal or party advantage or vendetta. I think that that is damaging to the House and damaging to hon. Members, and it is something that all hon. Members should bear in mind.
The final issue that the hon. Lady raised was whether we should debate the behaviour of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. I recognise that this is not a Question Time for the hon. Lady, but there is a question for her to consider in her role as shadow Leader of the House. It is the question that I put to her the other evening about whether Conservative Members uphold the authority of the Chair. I remind her and other Opposition Members of the words of Mr. Speaker a few days ago--which were that the right hon. Lady had no business to be in that Committee, and that he disapproved strongly of her being there. That has always been the rule of this House, and it is a rule that all hon. Members would be well advised to bear in mind.