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Mr. Hogg: I have never said that a copy of the final report was laid in the Library. What was laid in the Library was the annual report, which states in terms in paragraph 4 on page 18 that a review was carried out. As anyone who knows anything about government knows full well, a review generates a report. If anyone wanted the report, he had only to get on the telephone and ask for it. I would have sent him a lordly number.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Have we not seen today a deplorable exhibition of casuistry by the Minister,

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who admits that he has received a report in his Department which cost half a million pounds and made the most serious complaints about the state of the meat hygiene industry? He was unaware of the seriousness of the report, and neither he nor his Ministers asked to see the report. Is that not a confession of incompetence?

Does the Minister not think that the country is getting fed up with the weekly promulgation by members of the Government of their doctrine of ministerial infallibility? Why is it that everything that goes wrong is the result of the work of officials, and everything that goes right is the result of the work of Ministers?

Mr. Hogg: Just occasionally, Opposition Members should try to get their minds around the simplest of propositions. Just to encourage them, I will repeat it. Policy is a matter for Ministers. As this is a particular case, the implementation of policy is a matter for the agency. I have total confidence in the chief executive. He has put in hand a process which has informed the industry what needs to happen and is driving up standards. Had the matter been left as the Labour party wanted it, there would have been no improvement of any kind.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Most consumers will have welcomed the establishment of the Meat Hygiene Service and its drive for higher standards, and will have noted that its inception was opposed by the main Opposition party. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me and all other United Kingdom consumers that meat and meat products that are imported into Britain are slaughtered and transported to the same high standards that apply in this country?

Mr. Hogg: I have always said, because I believed it, that British beef, as now is, is the best and safest in Europe. The reason for that is the rules we put into place, such as the 30-month rule, controls on cattle rations and controls in abattoirs. I want to see, and I am pressing for, similar regimes in Europe. Until the Europeans have put those things in place, I shall continue saying and believing that British beef is the best and safest in the Community.

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Business of the House

4.23 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 10 March--Opposition Day [7th allotted day] (first part). Until 7 pm, there will be a debate entitled "Public Responsibility for Social and Economic Justice" on a motion in the names of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.

Second Reading of the Building Societies Bill.

Tuesday 11 March--Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 12 March--Until 12.30 pm, debate on the first report from the Scottish Affairs Committee on the removal of tariff rebate subsidy on Northern Isles Freight, followed by a debate on the first report from the Select Committee on Agriculture on the United Kingdom dairy industry and the common agricultural policy dairy regime. That will be followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

In the afternoon, there will debates on motions on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations, the Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations, the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations, the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order, the European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations and the European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations. Those are the regulations about which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) asked me last week.

Remaining stages of the National Health Service (Primary Care) Bill [Lords].

At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding excess votes, the spring supplementary estimates, and the defence votes A.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 13 March--Debate on future pensions policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 14 March--The House will not be sitting.

Once again, I am able to give the House only limited information about business for the following week.

Monday 17 March--Committee and remaining stages of the Building Societies Bill.

Remaining stages of the Birds (Registration Charges) Bill.

The House will also wish to know that, on Wednesday 19 March, there will be a debate on structural funds and cohesion policy in European Standing Committee B.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 19 March:

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community documents: 11382/96, Structural Funds; 12614/96, Cohesion Policy. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 36-xi (1996-97).]

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Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): I thank the Leader of the House for the limited information that he has, once again, been able to give us. He will recall that, last week, he told the House that the Easter recess would be

Does that mean that there will be an Easter recess? If so, surely the sooner the dates are announced, the better. Will the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges can meet during any recess?

Last week, the Leader of the House promised to draw to the attention of colleagues our request for a debate, before its privatisation, on the future of the Building Research Establishment. In view of the alarming facts that have been unearthed by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) about that privatisation and the contradictions contained in answers to parliamentary questions on the matter, surely we should have such a debate before the contracts are signed.

The Leader of the House has announced that next week the House will debate amendments to the regulations that govern elections. Have the Government considered improving the arrangements in polling stations, to reduce the number of spoilt ballot papers? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last time the general election was held on the same day as local elections, the number of spoilt papers for general election candidates rose threefold, mainly because electors voted for more than one candidate, as they are sometimes entitled to do in local elections? As we know that local elections will be held on 1 May, including those for the new unitary authorities, what steps are the Government taking to reduce the possibility of an unusually high number of spoilt ballot papers, should the general election fall on the same day?

Finally, may I thank the Leader of the House for arranging the debate on pensions, to be held on Thursday of next week, as I had intended to ask him once again whether we could have such a debate? May we hope that the Secretary of State for Social Security will confirm during that debate that the Government's proposals on pensions will mean the abolition of the basic state pension and the abolition of the state earnings-related pension scheme--SERPS--and that the Government intend to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money on privatising the pensions of millions of people? We welcome the debate, because it will be an opportunity to warn the young and the old alike that one cannot trust the Tories on pensions.

Mr. Newton: On the Easter recess, I thought that my statement last week was admirably clear, and I am certainly not in a position further to clarify it this afternoon. On the Standards and Privileges Committee, the hon. Lady knows the answer to her question, as we were together responsible for the regime under which it operates: it can, of course, meet during a recess.

On the question of the future of the Building Research Establishment and the associated points that the hon. Lady made, she will not be surprised to learn that I am not in a position to promise a debate, but I shall ensure that her comments are examined by my right hon. Friends in the relevant field. On the matter of spoilt ballot papers, I am not in a position to confirm whether the general election

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and the local elections will coincide, but I am sure that, were they to do so, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office who are responsible for electoral matters would consider her remarks with care.

Lastly, on pensions, to be perfectly honest I am slightly surprised that the Opposition were thinking of asking for a debate on pensions, because it is increasingly clear that they have no policy of their own on pensions. It is also clear that they do not understand our policy and therefore mis-state what that policy is.

Sir Roger Sims (Chislehurst): May I remind my right hon. Friend of the correspondence between us on the topic of the report of the national commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse, of which I was a member? Given the importance of that issue and current public interest in it, may I ask my right hon. Friend to find a slot between now and the end of this Parliament, to give the House an opportunity to debate the report and its recommendations?

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