DEFENCE – SCHEDULING OF DEBATES – 11 May 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: How does the Leader of the House reconcile the answer she has just given her hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr Chaytor) with the fact that the most important defence debate of the year – the armed forces, Defence in the World debate – was this year scheduled to coincide with local elections and the Romsey by-election, and last year scheduled to coincide with European elections? Is it not about time that the Government listened to representations of the all-party Select Committee on Defence, of which I am privileged to be a member, which asked for that important debate to be held on a date that allowed Members of Parliament to attend in significant numbers? Will she undertake that such cavalier treatment of the most important defence debate of the year will not occur three times in a row?

[Margaret Beckett: Of course I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but, as a member of the Defence Committee, he will know that the Government try to accommodate the pressures on hon. Members –especially those who are members of Select Committees – their other concerns, their travel arrangements, and so on. He will also recognise that, although he regards the Defence in the World debate as the most important defence debate of the year, we – quite rightly – have a fairly large number of defence debates to fit into the schedule each year. We always try to take account of the concerns of members of the Select Committee and other right hon. and hon. Members, but it is not always possible to balance them in a way that suits everyone. However, I take his point that this year was the second time that the Defence in the World debate coincided with local elections.]