|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend raises the issue of Serco contracts and I am glad to learn that she has had information generally. I was not aware of the particular difficulty that she identifies with the MOD and, of course, I will draw her remarks to the attention of Ministers there. She may like to bear in mind that it is Defence questions on Monday week, when there may be an opportunity to raise the matter. On a cautionary note, since it has recently become apparent that hitherto there has been no central record of the great range of Government procurement, it is always possible that some of these matters are ones of error as much as of design. But, naturally, I entirely take my hon. Friend's point.
My hon. Friend asked whether a further inquiry is intended into the circumstances surrounding the work of Sir Anthony Hammond. Obviously, that is not a matter for me. No doubt someone may give it consideration somewhere. There has been a long history of inquiries into how information is leaked and I am only thankful that on this occasion it was information that was not even in the possession of the Government.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I warmly thank the Leader of the House for arranging a debate on the second report of the Procedure Committee relating to the procedures governing the election of a Speaker, and for tabling the necessary amendments to Standing Orders. In responding as she has, the right hon. Lady has met the wishes of the majority of Members on both sides of the House. Will she join me in thanking the Committee Members for their dedicated hard work in producing the report?
Bearing in mind the visit over the last few days of Mr. Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, to Europe and, in particular, to France, and the fact that he is behaving in the most tyrannical and despotic way in his country and is directly responsible for the deaths of people, will the Leader of the House get the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to make a statement on the apparent red-carpet treatment that the French have meted out to him? We should be giving thought to removing his country from the Commonwealth for the foreseeable future until his behaviour and that of his Government improve.
Mrs. Beckett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thanks. I am glad that we have been able to arrange a debate on the Procedure Committee report. I cannot always grant these requests as readily as I have been able to on this occasion. I am pleased to have been able to do so. It is my hope that the motions on the Standing Order changes that will allow the House to reach conclusions on this matter will be on the Order Paper as soon as possible. That is certainly our wish and intention. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the hard work of the Committee Members. I hope that they will be able to take part in the discussions, although, obviously that is a matter for the Chair.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of Zimbabwe and the concern that exists on both sides of the House about the behaviour of the Government of Zimbabwe. Certainly, anxiety has been expressed about some of the problems that have arisen in that unhappy country. How others deal with the issues is a matter for them, but we all hope that they have raised with President Mugabe the great concern that is felt across the European Union. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intends to raise the issue at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Ministers.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): Will my right hon. Friend consider making time for a debate on United States-United Kingdom relations, with particular reference to the proposal to build a reservoir in Virginia that will result in the destruction of 437 acres of wetlands and the loss of the livelihood and the homeland of the native American Mataponi tribe? Is she aware of the importance of this issue to my constituents in Gravesham, because the Mataponi are the direct descendants of Pocahontas, who died in 1617 off Gravesend and who is at rest in the churchyard of St. George's church?
As my right hon. Friend will know, the borough of Gravesham is rich in history and heritage, of which Pocahontas is an important part. My constituents would like to show their support for her descendants, the Mataponi, so will my right hon. Friend give us an opportunity to consider this matter in the House?
Mrs. Beckett: The whole House is clearly lost in admiration at the creativity of that link. It is certainly a different concern from those that are usually raised at business questions. The whole House endorses my hon. Friend's remarks about the importance of Gravesham and acknowledges the concern that he has expressed on behalf of his constituents. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time on the Floor of the House for the debate that he seeks, but Westminster Hall might relish it.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Last month, the Government signed the treaty of Nice. Have the parliamentary draftsmen completed the necessary work for the ratification Bill to be presented to the House? When it is presented to the House, can we be assured that there will be no guillotine attached to it, since it is a constitutional measure that must receive very full consideration?
Mrs. Beckett: I cannot, off hand, recall the answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions. He is right: the treaty of Nice has now been signed. On the questions of when and how it might come before the House, I shall, of course, bear his remarks in mind.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order that is to be the subject of a debate under the affirmative resolution procedure next Tuesday evening? I am sure that she will recall that I raised this question with her last Thursday and asked her to consider how sensible it was to put such an order through in a one-and-a-half-hour debate under the affirmative resolution procedure, with no opportunity for amendment.
Twenty-one organisations are due to be banned from operating in this country, causing a great deal of disquiet in the Islamic, Turkish and Tamil communities. That is not because people support terrorism, but because they want to encourage a peace process. They recognise that some of the organisations are currently engaged in ceasefires in their own countries, and are actively engaged in the search for long-lasting peace that will bring about the resolution to conflicts. Does my right hon. Friend not accept that a one-and-a-half-hour debate, with no possibility of amendment, is not a sensible way to deal with such a serious issue?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but he will know that this order represents the inauguration of the process. If the list were to be amended in the future, that might be done on a one-off basis to add or to remove organisations from it. A number of organisations are covered, but my hon. Friend will also know that there has long been discussion about many of them, so the issues that will be aired in the debate are not, in that sense, completely new.
My hon. Friend will also know that statutory instruments are not amendable; that is not the way in which the House proceeds. I understand his concern, and I assure him that the issue has been given careful consideration. However, it remains the case that the Government are giving the order the normal amount of time for debate.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): The right hon. Lady will remember that the Broadcasting Committee's report was published several months ago and that before Christmas I raised on the Floor of the House the possibility of debating it. I understand that the appointment of a new contractor for broadcasting the House of Commons is imminent. Will she assure us that the report will be debated before the contract is signed?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Surprisingly, the Opposition have not pressed my right hon. Friend on the election. Does she agree that when there is election fever and a great deal of speculation, there is much to be said, as there was in the 1980s, for getting it over and done with? [Interruption.]
Mrs. Beckett: I note with some amusement--as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend--that Opposition Members refer to panic. There is no sign of panic on the part of the Government, but I thought that those Members were a bit gloomy yesterday.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The consequences of foot and mouth disease are often unpredictable and widespread, as was made clear earlier this afternoon. For example, the people of Chippenham and Malmesbury are disappointed by Her Majesty the Queen's correct decision to cancel the visit to my constituency a week on Friday. None the less, that highlights the necessity for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House as often as he can to answer questions on what is a difficult issue. Of his two most recent appearances,