The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): You, Mr. Speaker, informed the House yesterday of the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. The business for next week will be:
I announced previously that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House will rise for the Christmas recess at the end of business on Thursday 21 December until Monday 8 January. That remains our intention.
May I raise with the right hon. Lady for the third time the matter of stem cell cloning, the importance attached to that debate and the vote that will ultimately need to be taken in respect of the legislation? As the House knows, we had a full day's debate on a Friday on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Will she make it clear that next Friday's debate will not be the only time that the House will have to debate the subject, and that the Government will guarantee that there will be a debate followed by a vote in Government time, not after 10 pm, so that the whole House may vote on a free vote on this important matter?
May I also raise with the Leader of the House the concern that although the Department of Trade and Industry published a Green Paper today, which I fully understand does not necessarily qualify for a statement on the Floor of the House, it was none the less flagged up on television this morning, before the information was available to hon. Members on today's Order Paper? Will the right hon. Lady ensure that Members of Parliament are notified in a timely manner of important announcements such as today's announcement on paternity and maternity arrangements in the DTI Green Paper, as it is a great discourtesy on the part of a Minister not to allow the House to have first sight and sound of such an important matter?
Again, I raise with the Leader of the House the Government's approach to holidays of the House. As there were some notable omissions of legislation from the Queen's Speech yesterday, much of which would have had cross-party support--an important, long-promised consumer Bill, reform of the licensing laws, a water Bill and possibly an adoption Bill--it is extraordinary that the right hon. Lady announced today that in February the House will take yet another week's holiday in order that hon. Members can be at home, instead of dealing with unfinished business that the House would rightly have expected to be in the Queen's Speech.
On that subject, if, in the coming Session, as a result of the private Members' ballot, an hon. Member decided to introduce an adoption Bill in private Members' time, would it have Government support?
Mrs. Beckett: It should be placed clearly on the record that although the hon. Lady says that this is the third time that she has raised with me the issue of stem cells and their use in research, the way in which the question was phrased may have given the impression that the Government were resisting such a debate. She will know that any such impression would be wholly contrary to the truth. The Government have been more than willing to
The hon. Lady asked about a statement on a Green Paper. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced his Green Paper in a written answer, which, as several Speakers have confirmed, is perfectly proper. We make sure that information is made available to the House, but it is also important to convey it to the public. We endeavour to make sure that Members are fully informed. She will know that there is always creative tension between the time that the House wants to spend on statements--as opposed to other things--and the number of statements that might be required.
The hon. Lady asked, rather extraordinarily, about what she called my approach to holidays, to which I shall return. The Queen's Speech gives an outline of the major Bills that will come before the House. She talked about Bills that would attract cross-party support. With respect, her party's record on delivering cross-party support promised on Second Reading is not very good. Indeed, I would go further and say that it is non-existent.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady claims that the Bills are bad. Support is given for Bills on Second Reading but, as they get down the road, it mysteriously evaporates. I therefore take with a pinch of salt her assurance of cross-party support on those issues.
The hon. Lady asked me to comment on a possible private Member's Bill. We have not even had the ballot on private Members' Bills, so we do not who will win it. I am therefore reluctant to commit myself to support in advance something that is wholly hypothetical.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of what she called holidays. I remind her of a long-standing recommendation that, if possible, the House should seek to give time to Members during half-term for most schools, although that is subject to the progress of business. I remind her that, not very long ago, she asked me to give as much notice as possible of such proposals for the convenience of staff of the House as well as Members. She chided us all during the last Modernisation Committee debate, and said how important it was to get debates better spaced and to make more time available to Members so that they could manage their affairs better. What she has just said is inconsistent with that.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the strength of feeling that my hon. Friend mentioned. She is right: the debate has moved on, more information is available and the background has changed since these matters were last debated. Before the orders come before the House, and given the timing of the debate that I announced, there will have been some 10 hours of prime parliamentary time in total, as well as publication of the regulations in draft and in final form. We cannot therefore agree that the matter will not have been aired and that Members will not have had a proper opportunity to debate it. However, I take on board my hon. Friend's comments.