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Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) on raising this matter, and I thank the Secretary of State for Health for the way in which he is dealing with it. In view of the anxiety in Devon on this important matter, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can answer two questions. First, can he reassure me and my constituents that the problem does not relate to women who have had breast screening at Derriford hospital in Plymouth, but relates specifically to the one in east Devon and to other private hospitals in the east of the county? Secondly, in view of that concern and in the context of the track record of this unit, will he think again about his action on the matter and consider going straight to a full, independent inquiry, so that the truth can be exposed and public confidence can be restored?

Mr. Dobson: I shall have to be careful that I do not raise concerns that do not need to be raised. To the best of my knowledge, the shortcomings have been, in the

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national health service, in the Royal Devon and Exeter Healthcare NHS trust and the South Devon Healthcare NHS trust, and in some private hospitals across Devon. As far as I know, I am glad to say that the problem does not affect Derriford hospital.

The hon. Gentleman asks about an inquiry. As I said at the beginning of my statement, I am determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and I shall not hesitate to use my statutory powers to set up and carry through an independent inquiry if I judge that to be necessary after I have received a preliminary report from the chief medical officer. As I have said, if I am as dissatisfied after I receive that preliminary report as I am now, I shall certainly set up an independent inquiry.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I thank my right hon. Friend for his swift action in this matter and assure him that the women covered by that trust will be very grateful indeed, as will women all over the country. However, I point out to him that there is another group of women--older women who are not on the recall cancer screen--who would be grateful if the current pilot scheme were speeded up in some way.

Mr. Dobson: I take my hon. Friend's point--she has been very active in this field, to her great credit. I hope that the chief medical officer's general review of breast cancer screening provision will take her concerns into account.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell): My right hon. Friend spoke of the matter being referred to the centre in Nottingham on 1 April and a report coming from that centre on 28 May. Is not that an undue length of time, given the urgency of action when someone's false diagnosis is revealed?

Mr. Dobson: I do not know whether it is a customary length of time, but, as far as I am concerned, it is a wholly undue length of time and cannot possibly be tolerated any further.

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Points of Order

3.50 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the end of last week, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made two important policy statements, one with regard to specified ovine material and the other with regard to a possible policy of prohibiting the import into the United Kingdom of European beef. Both policy statements are wholly sensible, but the problem relates to whether they should have been the subject of a statement in the House. "Erskine May" is curiously silent as to the principles that govern the making of statements by Ministers. You, Madam Speaker, in your capacity as custodian of the rights of the House would, I feel sure, wish to say that it is important that important policy statements are made to the House by way of statement. I ask you to consider making a ruling setting out the principles that should govern the making of statements by Ministers to the House with regard to policy initiatives.

Madam Speaker: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that no Speaker has authority to command a Minister to make a statement to the House; the Speaker is always told when the Government wish to make statements about policy changes. He refers to an event that took place last week. Perhaps I could remind him and the House that, although I cannot command that a statement be made, I have full authority in determining whether or not I accept or reject a private notice question. I would point out to the House that I have not yet had a private notice question from the official Opposition.

Mr. Hogg: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I would suggest that it might be helpful if, at a more leisurely moment, you could consider making a ruling setting out the principles that should govern the making of statements.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope that you are not going to take too much dictation from a bloke who spent his time in government over there in the Common Market cocking everything up--almost everything he touched he made a mess of and now--

Madam Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. I listen very carefully to what is said in the House. Perhaps the subject raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is one that the new Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons could consider.

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European Union

[Relevant document: The Thirteenth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation of Session 1996-97, HC36-xiii, on the Draft Protocol on The Role of National Parliaments.]

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.52 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move,

It is now only six months since our last debate before a European summit, but it is, of course, not those six months but the past six weeks that have transformed the nature of today's debate. It was only five weeks ago that many Conservative Members, hoping to escape the wrath of the electorate, stood not as the party opposed to new Labour, but as the party opposed to Europe. I say many, but many more tried it than are able to take their seats with us here today. One of the great newspapers in our land, whose recent change of tone requires us to speak of it with respect and veneration, published on the eve of the election a list of all those Conservative candidates in its roll of honour in the battle of Britain against Europe. It published 308 Conservative candidates' names. Two hundred and thirty-four of them were rejected the next day by the British people.

I read today that the Conservative director of communications has let out the information that the former Prime Minister

He must feel wry satisfaction that the electorate sent them into orbit much more satisfactorily than he ever did.

In the five weeks since then, the air has been heavy with the sound of pennies dropping. I am delighted to see the former Health Secretary with us today, supporting his favourite candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party. The former Health Secretary staked out his leadership bid before the general election by signalling that he was as Euro-sceptic as the rest of them. Yesterday, I read that he now supports the former Chancellor. The article appeared under the headline, "Forget Europe: back Clark".

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I hope that the rules of the Tory leadership election allow me to mention one leadership candidate without naming them all.

The more intelligent Opposition Members have grasped the fact that they were too busy listening to their own prejudices to hear the voice of an electorate who wanted a Government who could deliver in Europe and speak with a single, clear voice in Europe. The new Labour Government are now doing that.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, on his first meeting with the heads of the other European Governments, our Prime Minister said that he had learnt on the doorstep, as every candidate had, throughout the general election, of the visceral hostility of the British people to any further movement towards a Federal Europe?

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