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Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): This morning, I accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs to No. 10 Downing street to present a petition. Just before Christmas, their eight-year-old daughter and her grandmother were killed on the A249, which is a notoriously dreadful road. The county council has finally agreed to build a bridge to join the two halves of their village, and the petition asks the Government for financial assistance. Given that today the Deputy Prime Minister said on the radio that he is commissioning the second half of the channel tunnel rail link--a project that, as far as one can tell, will cost £70 per passenger in subsidy--will he come to the House and explain the Government's transport priorities?
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Does the Leader of the House believe that the way in which the serious announcement that has led to her statement today was made first to The Sun, before being made to the Cabinet and Parliament, is satisfactory?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that consideration of the remaining stages of the International Development Bill has been deferred from this week to next and that an opportunity has thus inadvertently been created for sober reflection, will the right hon. Lady undertake to speak to the Secretary of State for International Development and then to guarantee that there will be adequate time in next week's consideration fully to debate the issue of whether to incorporate into that Bill the OECD convention against international bribery in business dealings?
Mrs. Beckett: I certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. However, as the Bill is well prepared and has already had a great deal of sober reflection, I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will share the hon. Gentleman's view that it should be amended. As someone who wishes legislation to go through the House in good order, I do not seek to encourage people to amend legislation.
Last Thursday, Marks and Spencer announced a restructuring programme, including the closure of its direct catalogue business. That closure will have more impact on my constituency than on any other, as both the call centre and the fulfilment business in Warrington, North will close with the loss of 686 jobs. Most of the staff who work in those operations are recruited locally. In view of the impact that that will have, it is important to have an urgent debate on the matter in the House so that we can hear from Ministers what consultations they have been able to have with the company, and discuss how to mitigate the impact on Warrington, North.
The implications for the local area are serious, so it is vital that we have an opportunity to discuss what assistance can be given to find alternative jobs for those staff and the possibilities of bringing into the area another firm or firms that can make use of the premises and find employment for those who are already well trained and well motivated. The matter is urgent; if we act quickly, we have a very good chance of finding employment for many of the staff involved, especially the call centre staff, of whom there is a shortage nationally. It is also important that we resolve the dilemma in which many people in the firm now find themselves, as they do not know what their future will be. Like the rest of us, they have bills and mortgages to pay, but they have been left in limbo. It is important that the House takes an early opportunity to discuss the matter so that their future can be assured and we can play our part in making that future secure.
Mr. Speaker: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady has said and have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that she has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance. As you are aware, the Prime Minister graciously agrees to come to the House once a week for Prime Minister's Question Time on a Wednesday. As it now transpires that, more than 48 hours ago, certain people outside the House and the Government knew more than the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about what was happening to the local elections, would it be possible for the House to be kept better informed about important issues by arranging a question time for Mr. Trevor Kavanagh? That would enable us to be better informed of what is going on.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a common courtesy for Members of Parliament who visit another constituency to advise the Member of Parliament for that constituency of their visit? Does not that apply to Front-Bench spokespeople as well? May I advise the House that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, came to my constituency on Saturday and spoke--in my opinion--in a way that was just for the Tory party? She did not tell my constituents the truth about how the Tories cut the police budget in the past and how we have increased it. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, that that discourtesy should go unchallenged? The right hon. Lady was discourteous in not advising me, and neither the local authority nor the police authority knew of her visit.
Mr. Speaker: Any hon. Member visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency should have the courtesy to inform him, but that is not a matter for the Chair to get involved in. The argument should be settled without involving the Chair.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), Mr. Speaker. Not only have we all been observing over the weekend the extraordinary spectacle of the newspapers carrying reports about the postponement of the local elections, but by consulting Ceefax earlier today, I found out that the Prime Minister apparently made a statement at No.10, instead of coming to the House. Surely it is a grave discourtesy to the House for the Prime Minister, who has made such an issue of moving the elections, to announce the postponement on the steps of Downing street and then fail to turn up here himself, sending the Home Secretary instead, as his running boy, to do the job for him.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that there is a point of order for your consideration, because of the discourtesy to the House. On "The World At One" today, Mr. Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun admitted that he had been briefed, by a source that he has found reliable, that the local elections were to be put off. For The Sun to have carried that headline on Saturday, he must have been briefed on
Mr. Speaker: I have dealt with that matter. It is not for me to find out where a journalist got his information from. In fact, it is refreshing to know that some journalists actually go and seek information before writing an article.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the helpful explanation by the Leader of the House about the Bill that will deal with the local elections, can you confirm that, in view of the fact that we have not seen the Bill yet--presumably it will have its First Reading either later today or tomorrow, and go through all its other stages on Wednesday--it will be acceptable for amendments to be tabled in advance of Second Reading, so that you can consider whether they are in order for consideration in Committee and on Report? Bills being shoved through all their stages on the same day is becoming a regrettably regular occurrence--something that I hope you would deprecate in normal circumstances. I hope that you will confirm that we will be able to table amendments in advance of Second Reading, because I think that they will be very necessary for such a Bill.