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Business Statement

4.32 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for the rest of this week.

Tuesday 3 April--Second Reading of the International Criminal Court Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 4 April--Allocation of time motion relating to the Elections Bill and the Election Publications Bill [Lords].

Proceedings on the Elections Bill and the Election Publications Bill [Lords].

Thursday 5 April--Remaining stages of the Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords].

Friday 6 April--Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will now include:

Monday 9 April--Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 10 April--Remaining stages of the International Development Bill.

Motion on the Easter recess Adjournment debate.

It may be convenient for the House to know that the Government will propose that on Tuesday 10 April, we have Thursday sitting hours and that, in consequence, the Westminster Hall debates scheduled for that day will not take place.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I wonder whether the Leader of the House could explain why the Election Publications Bill [Lords]--a measure introduced only because an Act passed during the previous Session of this Parliament was so badly flawed that it needs change and amendment before the coming elections--will be subject to an allocation of time. The reason for the flaws in the original Act was that the measure was guillotined; a specific part of the then Bill, which was so flawed that it is the subject of the new Bill, was guillotined such that the House gave it no scrutiny whatever. Given that fact, it seems wrong that the Leader of the House should propose that the Bill be guillotined under an allocation of time motion.

On the Elections Bill, which has just been the subject of discussion in the House, the Leader of the House will know that although we can understand why it needs to be processed reasonably quickly given the deferred date of the local elections, a lot of questions remain and it needs proper scrutiny none the less. When denying that there was a need to defer the date of the local elections, she referred to the seriousness of such an action. That is on the record of the House, so I hope that she accepts that the Elections Bill needs proper scrutiny and debate, otherwise we shall be in the same position as we were with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was an absolute mess.

Mrs. Beckett: Opposition Members sometimes ought to give a little more thought to the words that they use. That Act was not badly drafted--that would be an insult to parliamentary draftsmen. Indeed, the issue is one not

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of the Act, but of the commencement order, which the House must now consider. There was consultation on the handling of the Act and, in particular, on the order. Perhaps Opposition Members did not take part in it, but those who do not take part in the consultation cannot complain about the outcome.

This must be certainly the third time, if not the fourth, in this Parliament that, yet again, on legislation that the Opposition said they would facilitate through the House--the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act and its order--there appears to be a wish to impede it when it is introduced. Finally, the hon. Lady draws attention to my remarks on the seriousness of the decision that has now been announced. She will remember, if she casts her mind back, that I have always referred at the Dispatch Box to the different voices and the different opinions that were being given to the Government and the need to weigh seriously all those voices and opinions, one set of which were not often represented from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Does the Leader of the House recall that, on 22 March, I asked her whether she would find time to consider the Review Body on Senior Salaries report on the office costs allowance? At that time, she rightly reminded me that the report had been available only for a short period, but that was a fortnight ago and we now have some extra time in which the House could consider such matters. If the House were to accept the main body of the report, the officers of the House could prepare themselves for the new intake and, if there were to be a general election sometime in June, they could get the procedures ready to induct new Members in the measures on the office costs allowance contained in the report.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has, of course, made that point to me on a previous occasion, and I fully understand his concern for the staff of the House. However, all I can say is that, although I hear the case that he makes, I cannot anticipate a further business statement.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I think that we all recognise that this business statement is an inevitable consequence of the Home Secretary's statement, but we also recognise that the real implication of that statement is that the general election will not now be held any sooner than 7 June. We may or may not be allowed to say that in good order, but that is the fact of the matter. Does the right hon. Lady accept that there are now increased opportunities for the House to consider matters that might otherwise have escaped its notice? Will she give an undertaking that several of the measures that are currently shuttling between this House and the other place will now have an opportunity for debate and resolution, including the Hunting Bill, the Health and Social Care Bill and--perhaps closest to my heart--the Adoption and Children Bill? Such legislation is long outstanding, but the House may now be able to deal with it effectively.

Mrs. Beckett: Although the hon. Gentleman talks about Bills shuttling between the House and the upper Chamber, certainly at least one of those that he

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mentions--the Hunting Bill--is still in the upper Chamber, and I cannot quite recall where we are with the others, but they are still in the upper Chamber.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I spent all weekend talking to farmers and people in the tourism industry in my constituency, and I have to report that the situation is utterly desperate, especially in the tourism industry. Now that we have all these extra days and, indeed, weeks before the great day, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can have a debate on that as a matter of great urgency, because many Members of Parliament are affected? May I suggest that a Treasury Minister be asked to attend that debate?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend will have heard me say that I am not in a position to anticipate the content of further business statements, nor would he expect me to do so. I shall, as ever, take heed of his remarks.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I am stunned that the Leader of the House did not use the business statement as an opportunity to announce that there would be a full day's debate in Government time on foot and mouth, at which the Minister of Agriculture, the taskforce Minister--the Minister for the Environment--and a Treasury Minister would be available to answer questions. There is an opportunity now for the Leader to look at the business and announce such a debate. A national crisis is taking place and the general public will be staggered to learn that we shall go into recess from 11 April until 23 April and will not be here. Will she look at opportunities and procedures so that the House can be recalled at short notice to continue to look at ways of ameliorating the awful situation throughout the country?

Mrs. Beckett: I have taken heed of the remarks about subjects that Members wish to debate. However, I announced last week that the recess would commence on 10 April and I made it plain that that was in consideration of the dates of school holidays. If Conservative Members did not take that seriously, I cannot help that.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): In view of the serious problems in agriculture, can we have an early debate on the concept of set-aside, in which we could deal with that issue, the subsidy from urban areas to rural areas and those people who seem to be advocating the set-aside of democracy in this country indefinitely?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend asks for a number of issues to be discussed, certainly in his final remarks. I have taken heed of the pressing demand from the Leader of the Opposition that we should postpone an election without coming to the House to tell hon. Members when that election might take place. That is an interesting insight into his view of what is constitutionally proper. I shall take heed of my hon. Friend's request for a debate on these fundamental issues, but I cannot undertake to find time for one in the near future.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Will the right hon. Lady allow time for a debate on the

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increasing contempt that the present Government show for the House of Commons? A perfect example of this is the handling of the terribly important constitutional issue of the date of the local government elections, news of which was first leaked to The Sun and then to the BBC. We then had the Prime Minister making a statement at No. 10 and answering questions from newspaper reporters only. Is not that insulting to democracy and to the Home Secretary, who had to come here today to make a statement that has been announced three times before?

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