Business of the House
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst):
May I ask the Leader of the House to give the business for next 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 15 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill. Followed by proceedings on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.
Tuesday 16 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill. Followed by Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day, 2nd Half]. There will be a debate on the peace process in Northern Ireland on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 17 JulyDebate on defence procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Thursday 18 JulyMotion to approve a money resolution on the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Bill.
Friday 19 JulyPrivate Members' Bills.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 22 JulySecond Reading of the Mobile Telephones (Re-programming) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 23 JulyDebate on public expenditure on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Wednesday 24 JulyThe House may be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.
Motion on the summer recess Adjournment.
The House will wish to know that on Tuesday 16 July 2002, there will be a debate relating to 2003 Preliminary draft EC Budget in European Standing Committee B.
The House will also wish to know that on Tuesday 16 July 2002, the first meeting of the Committee on the convention on the future of Europe will take place to consider the First and Second Report of the United Kingdom representatives to the convention.
Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
[Wednesday 15 July 2002:
European Standing Committee BRelevant European Union document: Unnumbered EM, dated 5 July 2002, submitted by HMT; Preliminary draft budget 2003. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 152-xxxvi (200102)].
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I have no doubt that he will be aware of the publication today of the report by the Select Committee on Education and Skills, HC 445, on post-16 student support. As he always does his homework assiduously, I suspect that he will be aware that the
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conclusions and recommendations of the report of a Select Committee dominated, as they all are, by Government supporters and Labour Members include the following:
"It is our view that many of the problems encountered in the present system of student finance originate from a failure by the Government clearly in public to debate the essential elements of the Dearing proposals".
It goes on to say in paragraph 17:
"We believe that the current system of student support has failed in three important respects . . . The funding of institutions is a matter of grave concern . . . We have been disappointed in the Government's dismissal of the Barr and Crawford proposals."
I am sure that the Leader of the House, being a fair man, will want to make sure that the House has an opportunity fully to debate the conclusions of the Labour-dominated Education and Skills Committee. I hope that he will be able to give us an early date for that debatehe would not want to give us any impression that the Government wanted to avoid debating such an important Select Committee report.
On 4 July, the Leader of the House said in reference to the rather cloudy subject of the RMT union and hon. Members:
"I personally have no objection to putting in the Library exchanges with the RMT."
I stress that he referred to exchanges with the RMT. He went on to say, helpfully:
"For the avoidance of any doubt, I should perhaps say that we as a group acted collectively in responding to the letter from Mr. Crow the general secretary of the RMT. The collective response was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), who is with me on the Front Bench and has given me permission to say that his letter may indeed be placed in the Library."[Official Report, 4 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 397.]
I have just checked with the Library and, indeed, the letter from the hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) is there, but surprise, surprise, the letter from Mr. Crow has not yet reached the Library.
I wonder why we have only part of this story. There cannot possibly be anything to hide, can there? I believe that you got involved in this issue, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure that you would not want to be in possession of only partial information. The Leader of the House said that "exchanges with the RMT" would be placed in the Library, but I have seen only one exchange, not plural exchanges. I ask him again a very simple question: may we please have in the Library the letter from that nice Mr. Crow, of the RMT, to Labour Members of Parliament? That perfectly simple request is completely in accord with the undertaking that the Leader of the House gave.
I want to refer again to PMPs. In the exchange of 3 July, the Prime Minister said:
"Care homes have expressed worries about regulations on wheelchair access, room size, lifts and so on. I simply point out that those do not come into force until 2007".[Official Report, 3 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 220.]
On 10 July, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition took issue with that. He asked the Prime Minister:
"Of the 246 new rules that the Government are imposing, how many will take effect by 2007?"
The Prime Minister said:
"From memory, I said that provisions for matters such as widening rooms and bathing would take effect in 2007, and that those were the regulations about which people were complaining."
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My right hon. Friend pressed the Prime Minister on this point. He said that
"only four provisions do not come into effect until 2007. Almost all the otherssome 240came into effect on 1 April this year."
The Prime Minister replied:
"First, I said that the provisions that related to matters about which people were complaining, such as widening rooms, would not take effect until 2007."[Official Report, 10 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 879-80.]
Will the Leader of the House tell us who is right: the Prime Minister, or my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? It seems that, yet again, the Prime Minister changes his stories with great facility, shifts his ground and says the first thing that comes into his mind. May we have an explanation or an apology from the Prime Minister, or will the Leader of the House help to cure him of his apparent addiction to whoppers?
In a spirit of amity, I begin by recalling that, last week, the right hon. Gentleman celebrated Independence day with an appropriate tie, which resulted in exchanges in the House. May I take this opportunity to wish him a very happy forthcoming Bastille weekend? I am sure that he will wish to celebrate his enormous contribution to European equality, democracy and fraternity.
The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to describe me as a fair man, and as such I shall of course wish to consider the Education and Skills Committee's report fully and thoroughly. On the question of debating the report, I should point out that this Government have a good record in providing time for debating Select Committee reports. Of course, in the first instance the matter is one for the Liaison Committee, but there are a number of ways in which such a report can be debated. I am sure that many Members will want that report to be debated, and when it is, Labour Members will want to put it on the record that we are now spending a quarter more on education than did the previous Government. That has contributed to our having one of the highest rates of entry into higher education of any OECD country, and the second highest completion rate among students. A review of student finances is of course under way, and we can certainly consider the Select Committee report as part of it.
On the correspondence with the RMT, I am ashamed to say that it appears that I did not treasure, file and safeguard the letter that I received from the nice Mr. Crow as well as I perhaps should have done. However, I am now in a position to state that tomorrow the letter will be laid in the Library. Frankly, I doubt whether it will provide particular illumination for Members, or that they will wish to treasure it any more than I did, but it will be there for them to read when the Library receives it.
On the other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises, he will not be surprised to hear me say that the Prime Minister was of course right. Indeed, the Prime Minister made it specifically clear on 3 July that he was referring to room sizes, and the provisions relating to them do not come into force until 2007the year that he quoted. As the right hon. Gentleman asks, since yesterday I have checked with the authorities and I can confirm that the Prime Minister was also absolutely right to say that some 43,000 more households are now receiving intensive
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home care compared with when we took power. That is an increase of more than a third and is a tribute to our increased spending on social services.