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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the Leader of the House reconsider her answer to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House on a debate on foreign affairs? Does she recall that a Minister from the

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Department for Education and Employment made a statement to the House announcing the expenditure of £45 million on new lavatory facilities for children? After a successful visit to the middle east, it is apparently not possible for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on matters that touch on the strategic, political and commercial interests of this country, which are of the first importance. Does she agree that such bypassing of the interests of the House is wholly unacceptable to my right hon. and hon. Friends, and will she please do something about it?

Mrs. Taylor: Madam Speaker, you said yesterday that it was for Ministers to decide, after considering the circumstances, whether it was appropriate to make a statement to the House. We must consider on each occasion the time that we would take from other business, and such decisions are not always easy to make. This is a matter of judgment. The attitude of Ministers towards informing the House when important matters have been raised has been extremely good. It is not necessary for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House after every visit, however successful it might have been.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Can my right hon. Friend find time to debate the management of private Members' Bills, especially given the prospect of the wrecking by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) of Bills on energy efficiency, on minicab licensing and on waste minimisation, which are crucial to all of us, especially Londoners? The policies are apparently supported by the Opposition, despite the activities of that rogue parliamentarian.

Hon. Members: Oh.

Madam Speaker: Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not mean that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was a rogue--a parliamentarian, perhaps.

Mr. Geraint Davies: I accept your interpretation of my meaning, Madam Speaker.

Mrs. Taylor: I think that we know what my hon. Friend meant. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has been active in that respect. He must answer for his actions, especially if he is blocking Bills which have widespread support in the House and in the country.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I support the call by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) for an urgent debate on foreign affairs? This is a matter of priority.

I recently visited Egypt with Labour Members and Members from my own party. Having had a lengthy and worthwhile meeting with the President and the Foreign Minister of that country, I believe that Egypt is playing a major part in seeking to take the peace process forward. While Britain holds the presidency of the European Union, it is critical that hon. Members should be able to make representations to the Government on the importance of the peace process and the part that can be

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played by the United Kingdom, which has such knowledge of and such a history of involvement in that area of the world.

Mrs. Taylor: I am glad that so many Conservative Members appreciate the initiative taken by the Prime Minister, but I really do have nothing to add to whatI said earlier about the need for statements. I did say that I was looking to find time for a foreign affairs debate, but it certainly is not possible in the next two weeks.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): I am sure that my right hon. Friend read with alarm the results of a recent survey that said that a significant number of people arrested on assorted offences were on drugs. Can she tell us, or give us any indication, when the Government's White Paper on drugs is likely to be published?

Mrs. Taylor: I know that that is an issue of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We will publish that White Paper next week. On present plans, we anticipate that it will be published on Monday, with a statement in the House.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will possibly have heard the news that one of the people on the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland has resigned, apparently on the ground that he could not face the pressures of the media. Those of us who know how he has dealt with the media can suspect only that he might be joining those who show some economy with the truth. In the light of the request of the shadow Leader of the House about independent inquiries, would it be possible for someone to come to the House and explain how independent an independent commission is when it seems to react to letters from the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Taylor: It is important to make it clear that the Prime Minister did not tell the commission what to do. It was a matter for the commission to decide when it would publish its report and, on this occasion, it happened to agree with the Prime Minister. He did not know even the contents of the report, so there is no suggestion of the Prime Minister undermining the commission's position, although it is a problem if individuals get a great deal of pressure from the press. I do not think that anyone would think that that would be desirable in the circumstances.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): Over the Easter weekend, there was some severe flooding in Leamington Spa in my constituency, causing millions of pounds worth of damage to private and commercial properties. We were grateful for a visit from the Deputy Prime Minister, which happened very quickly, but there are outstanding issues to be dealt with in the aftermath: financial assistance for local authorities that are now dealing with the consequences, and whether the warning systems were adequate. Will we have any statement on this subject, or will there be time for a debate on the issue?

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister assured the House yesterday that local authorities and others that face extraordinary claims due to the flooding would be able to make claims under the Bellwin scheme. On the point about warning systems, my

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hon. Friend may know that the Minister of Agriculture has asked the Environment Agency for a full report on the events and on any lessons to be learned. That may be of help to my hon. Friend and to others who are concerned about the matter. It might also be possible for him or others to apply for an Adjournment debate, so that they can highlight some of the problems, and perhaps some of the lessons that need to be learned.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Given the significant local government elections on 7 May, would it not be courageous if the Government arranged a debate on local government before then? We could then consider, among other things, the recent letter to The Guardian by the Labour spokesman on social services on Oxfordshire county council, Tom Richardson, who expressed anger that the county council had to cut benefits and help for disabled people and their carers in Oxfordshire more savagely in the first year of a Labour Government than at any time in the county council's history.

Having to respond to hundreds of letters and telephone calls from disabled people in Oxfordshire, he wrote inThe Guardian that he felt that all he wanted to do was dump the whole lot on the desks of Blair, Brown and Prescott and say, "Do your own dirty work." Perhaps it would be good if the Government gave us an opportunity to hold them to account on how they have dealt with local government in their first year.

Mrs. Taylor: We have already had debates on the settlement this year.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Human Rights Bill will return for further discussion, and whether there will be a long gap, or any gap, between Royal Assent and the enforcement of the legislation?

Mrs. Taylor: We have had requests to take the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House. That inevitably causes some delay when other business is scheduled. I am hoping that we will be able to make progress before very long. I cannot recall the details of the commencement orders, but I will write to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): May I take the Leader of the House back to her response to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) seeking further clarification on the subject of beef on the bone? Her response was to suggest that we should raise these issues at Question Time. With no disrespect to the House or to Question Time, that may not be the best vehicle to explore some of the detailed points raised by the Selkirk judgment.

The Leader of the House may not have had an opportunity to read that judgment, but it cast doubt on the legality of processes such as chilling or cooking of beef, because the sheriff said that people did not know where they stood as a result of the way the legislation was drafted; and he said that, in his view, it was defective.

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Is it not time to ask the Minister of Agriculture or his Minister of State to come to the House and make a clear statement on where people stand on the issue of beef on the bone? If that does not happen, we will have a continuing recipe for chaos and confusion.


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