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Business of the House

12.30 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 (Mr. Robin Cook): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 2 July--Second Reading of the Homelessness Bill.

Tuesday 3 July--Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Wednesday 4 July--Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

Thursday 5 July--Motions relating to the Senior Salaries Review Board report and related issues.

Motion to amend the Standing Orders relating to Select Committees.

Friday 6 July--The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 9 July--Second Reading of the Export Control Bill.

Tuesday 10 July--Second Reading of the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Wednesday 11 July--Consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill (1st Day).

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 12 July--Opposition Day [1st Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition Motion; the subject to be announced.

Friday 13 July--Debate on small firms on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for July will be as follows:

Thursday 5 July--Debate on the role of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Thursday 12 July--Debate on the report from the Agriculture Committee on organic farming.

Thursday 19 July--Debate on youth justice.

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Friday 20 July and return on Monday 15 October.

Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Given the concern on both sides of the House about the current political situation in Northern Ireland, will he, as a matter of urgency, ask the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement to the House on Monday? We are all aware of the discussions that the Prime Minister is having today, and the issues that will come up in the next few days in relation to the future of the political situation in Northern Ireland are of great concern.

Will the Leader of the House also ask a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box next week to confirm, or at least dismiss, the reports that we have read with great alarm in the press this week about the imposition of VAT

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on residential care home charges? This matter affects all of us as constituency MPs, and clearly has an important read-across for the public sector finances in relation to social services departments. It will also be a matter of great concern to individuals who are either paying for their own residential care or planning and making provision to do so.

The Leader of the House will also be aware that, in the concluding debate on the Gracious Speech yesterday, the Home Secretary, in answer to some very probing questions from the Conservative Benches, confirmed the new calculation by which the Government record asylum applications and the numbers of those denied asylum here. This matter has never been debated on the Floor of the House or announced in the House. We would welcome an opportunity to hear why the formulae have been changed, and to hear how the calculations are now made.

In giving the business for the coming two weeks, for which I am grateful, the Leader of the House announced that Wednesday 11 July will be the first day of consideration in Committee on the Floor of the House of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has announced the possible date of the House rising for the summer recess, can he confirm exactly the number of days on which that Bill will be considered in Committee on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Cook: On the question of Northern Ireland, the whole House will understand the gravity of the circumstances and, whatever our party, we all hope that the Prime Minister, on his visit today, is able to make progress with those who are party to the disagreement over the Good Friday agreement. I can assure hon. Members that the House will be kept fully aware and informed of the developments.

At this stage, it would not be helpful to any of us to commit ourselves to making a statement on Monday, but I assure the hon. Lady that the Government are fully seized not only of the gravity of the situation, but of the importance of keeping the House fully informed, in the hope that we can best preserve a cross-party approach.

As regards VAT on care home costs, the hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the decision of a VAT tribunal in an individual case. The Government's position is clear: we do not believe that vulnerable people provided with care in residential homes should have to face VAT or be subject to it. There will be an appeal against the judgment. Whatever the outcome, we shall ensure that those in residential homes do not have to face increased costs as a result of the ruling.

On the asylum statistics, I am assured that there has been no change in the practice, but if the hon. Lady is in some confusion as to what is the practice or when it was introduced, we shall take every possible care to disabuse her and make it plain that there has been no change under this Administration in the basis on which such figures are counted.

Lastly, the House will of course have a full opportunity to debate the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, and we shall ensure that a motion to that effect is before the House when it considers Second Reading next week.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend knows that setting up the Select Committees is tremendously important, and we welcome

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the arrival on the Vote of the suggestion that we should take forward that essential part of our work as quickly as possible. May I have his assurance that Her Majesty's Government intend to get the Select Committees up and running before the break, so that they may not only decide on the subjects that they want to consider, but be able to gather information when the House resumes in the autumn?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments, and I hope that I commit no indiscretion by saying that I consulted her and some of her colleagues in considering what proposal we should table on the Standing Orders. That motion is on today's Order Paper and, apart from the modest question of the size of a Select Committee, they will find that the recommendations that they put to us are faithfully reflected there.

I take it that my hon. Friend was expressing the view that the Select Committees should be up and running before the recess. As I told the House last Thursday, that is my intention and the Government's wish. We want to get them up and running and we intend to try to achieve that by the week commencing 16 July. If we succeed, that will be the shortest time in any Parliament in which Select Committees have been set up. I stress again that that is a tight timetable that requires two separate motions and debates in the House, so I shall require co-operation from all parts of the House if we are to meet it.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I press the Leader of the House a little further? He said last night and again today that he will use his best endeavours, but can he give us a guarantee that he has had the assurance of full co-operation from the Conservative party? He will recall that, after the 1997 election, when there was another hiatus on the Conservative Front Bench, there was a long delay before the House was able to return to its normal practice of scrutinising the work of Departments and, indeed, other matters of Government concern. That represented a considerable problem in respect of Parliament carrying out its business.

In particular, does the Leader of the House have an assurance that the Standards and Privileges Committee will be set up in that time scale? There is important unfinished business, as he is only too well aware. I draw his attention to the fact, of which I am sure he is aware, that Standing Orders provide that, while the domestic and departmental Select Committees require nomination from the Committee of Selection, any Member or any group of Members can nominate for other, important Select Committees, such as the Standards and Privileges Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. If Front Benchers cannot agree by 16 July--that was the assurance that the right hon. Gentleman gave us--perhaps other Members will take matters into their own hands. That, I hasten to say, is not a threat; it is just a promise.

Mr. Cook: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about its being not a threat but a promise. I am sure, however, that what he said has been heard on both sides of the House.

It is not for me to speak for the official Opposition, nor would I seek to do so; but I do not think I am misrepresenting the position if I say that they have been

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fully co-operative in trying to ensure that we make reasonable progress with the setting up of Select Committees. I hope that, in offering that support and making businesslike progress, they are carrying with them all Members, not just Front Benchers.

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