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Mrs. Shephard: I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. As I have made clear, we are glad that she has managed to make three days available on the Floor of

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the House for consideration of the Finance (No. 2) Bill. The rearrangement of business to allow consideration of the Scotland Bill is also welcome.

The right hon. Lady said at the last Business Questions before the recess that she would consider making Government time available for a debate on foreign affairs. As I pointed out then, we are more than halfway through Britain's presidency of the EU, and there have been important and significant developments in foreign policy, not least in the middle east, and human rights issues. I am sure that she will agree that it is time that we heard from the Foreign Secretary and had an opportunity for a debate.

When does the right hon. Lady intend to publish the Bill on the registration of political parties? It is becoming increasingly farcical that the House is asked to debate constitutional issues without knowing the content of that important Bill.

Will the right hon. Lady arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement on payments to her private office from a blind trust and from the Industry Forum? I hope that the right hon. Lady will resist the temptation--which she does not always successful do--to reply with counter-accusations, because these are serious matters.

We are talking about Ministers, Members of a Government elected amid many fanfares about openness, whose Prime Minister said that his President of the Board of Trade will abide by the rules, and a party whose general secretary was reported in the press as telling the Neill committee that all blind trusts had been wound up. It would be helpful to the House and to the cause of open government if the President of the Board of Trade would explain just what the current position is regarding the funding of the right hon. Lady's office.

Will the right hon. Lady ask the Minister of Agriculture to come to the House to make a statement on the Government's ban on beef on the bone? Not only has the ban proved deeply unpopular with the public, including at least one bishop, but the legislation putting it into place has been questioned.

It is worth asking whether the legislation might have been better had the Minister of Agriculture bothered to attend his own debate when the ban was introduced, instead of lolling about in the Smoking Room. I have much sympathy with the right hon. Lady's difficulties in getting any Agriculture Minister to come to the House, given that one of their debates had to be answered by an Education Minister, which was not appreciated by the farming community throughout the country. Beef producers and the beef industry have the right to know just where they stand in the light of this week's legal developments.

Would the right hon. Lady like to confirm that the terms of reference of the BSE inquiry make it clear that it is an independent inquiry? Does she agree that it should be independent? Will she remind the Prime Minister that his repeated statements in the House show that he for one has prejudged the outcome of the inquiry?

Will the right hon. Lady arrange for a statement on the Government's policy on equal representation for men and women in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, and in particular clarify whether the Lord Chancellor is right to say that the proposal is illegal?

Mrs. Taylor: I shall try to deal with all the points that the right hon. Lady has raised. As I said on Monday, I am

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pleased that we were able to accommodate the request for three days in Committee to consider the Finance (No. 2) Bill. As she pointed out, I have said when we shall be taking the day that we missed yesterday on the Scotland Bill.

The right hon. Lady asked when it would be possible to have Government time for a foreign affairs debate, in particular to discuss some EU matters. We shall be discussing some EU matters in the near future. With regard to a more wide-ranging foreign affairs debate, the programme is very busy at the moment, and will remain so certainly until Whitsun, but I am looking for an opportunity for a debate on foreign affairs, or some aspect that would be of particular interest to the House.

I hope that the Bill on the registration of political parties will be published shortly. The right hon. Lady will know of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's offer to discuss that Bill with other parties in the House, so as to try to proceed on the basis of agreement as much as possible.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was in full compliance with the rules of the House with regard to her blind trust, and she has made it clear in a public statement that that blind trust will be wound up in the near future. I do not think that there has ever been any question that she has broken any of the rules of the House.

With regard to beef on the bone, the right hon. Lady will be aware that Agriculture questions will be on Thursday, and I remind her that the legislation to which she referred was approved by the House. She mentioned that at times Agriculture Ministers are not available in the House. That did happen on one occasion, and I gave the explanation. I am sure that, as a former Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Lady appreciates the demands on the time of any Agriculture Minister, especially on EU matters.

With regard to prejudging the BSE report, I simply repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday--that we should take notice of scientific and medical advice. It is only a shame that the previous Government did not do so in the way that this Government are doing.

The Government will take no lectures from Opposition Members on equal representation for men and women.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend is a nice mum, and looks after the interests of her family. Will she find time during the coming week to consider a debate on the growing numbers of children, some as young as five, who have been excluded from schooling? That does not solve the problem for anyone except the school. It is frightening that not a great deal of effort is being made to get large numbers of children back into education. That is a worrying matter.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend is right to say that the problem of exclusion causes concern. It is an issue which has grown in recent years, for a variety of reasons. My hon. Friend will know that the Department for Education and Employment and the social exclusion unit at No. 10 take the matter seriously, and I know that Ministers are

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extremely committed, as are many teachers, to tackling the problem, minimising exclusions and trying to bring back into education those children who, for a variety of reasons, have particular difficulties. However, I cannot promise a debate on the subject in the near future.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the House of Lords report on the use and misuse of antibiotics? Will she arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a full statement to the House outlining the Government's intentions on the matter?

The Leader of the House may be inclined to say that that is not necessary because a press release has been issued, but I invite her to agree with a view which is widely held in the House, that there has been an increasingly blatant bypassing of the House in the statements given to the press and the media by the Government.

Will the right hon. Lady make time available for a debate on the environment? That will give the official Opposition an opportunity to state whether they support the efforts of a former Conservative Minister to wreck various environmental Bills being put forward by private Members tomorrow.

Mrs. Taylor: Opposition Members can sort out the problem raised by the hon. Member's last point. We should like to have debates on a range of issues, including the environment and many others, and the Modernisation Committee has spent a little time considering the problem of how to find time for them.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the House of Lords report on antibiotics. Health questions take place next week. However, he must be realistic about what he expects from the Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health put out a press release welcoming the report and sharing the Committee's concern, and also said that, in due course, he would provide a full response to it. He has not done anything other than welcome the report and acknowledge that there is a problem. That cannot be described as bypassing the House.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the other parties that were involved in the change of business to enable progress to be made yesterday on important matters relating to Northern Ireland. When will time be made available for the next legislative steps relating to the peace process?

Mrs. Taylor: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I share his appreciation of the agreement, and the assistance that was provided by other parties in the House on the legislation. It is too early to say precisely when further legislative measures will be taken, but I welcome the comments of the leader of the Conservative party and others on their willingness to co-operate on those issues. It is important that the House acts on a multi-party basis, so far as is possible, on Northern Ireland.


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