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Mrs. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman ought to recall the fact that, following the judgment, leave of appeal was given. I am surprised that Opposition Members are so insistent that the Government should ignore medical advice. Only today, we have seen reports in the newspapers of yet another tragic death of a young person from CJD. That reminds us all that we are well-minded to take the medical advice, and to err on the side of caution.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Tory Members did not mention that person who died so tragically.

As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest blessings the country has ever had--the creation of the national health service by a Labour Government, against fierce Tory opposition--I hope that my right hon. Friend will provide time for a debate on what the NHS has done for the people of our country. Perhaps, at the same time, that debate will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister who introduced it, one of the most dedicated and talented of all the British democratic socialists this century.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend makes a strong case, and I have had requests on other occasions for a debate on the health service. I hope that it will be possible to find an opportunity in the not too distant future, but, as I have explained, the programme is very full, and it will certainly not be possible in the next couple of weeks.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Will the right hon. Lady bring forward to the earliest opportunity the debate on the draft Cathedrals Measure dealing with governing bodies and financial provisions? Those of us with cathedrals in our constituencies are concerned about it. We would like to see the debate held not after 10 o'clock but in prime time, particularly in view of the unfortunate circumstances over at Westminster abbey, of which we are all too painfully aware. Can the right hon. Lady ensure that we have an opportunity to amend that draft legislation to consider whether the abbey should no longer be a so-called royal peculiar, but subject to the same regulations of the deans and chapters as everybody else?

Mrs. Taylor: I would not claim to be an expert on the detailed measure to which the hon. Gentleman referred. He knows the pressures on time. I will look at the draft measure, but I cannot give him any guarantees at present.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Is the Leader of the House aware that, at a press conference this morning, two Ministers pledged to introduce legislation as soon as possible for the licensing of minicabs in London? As an attempt to do that is likely to be blocked tomorrow by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst(Mr. Forth), can she tell us exactly when this urgent matter of public safety in London will be discussed, and when the legislation will be introduced?

Mrs. Taylor: I am certainly not willing to anticipate events tomorrow, and the right hon. Gentleman to whom the hon. Lady referred must answer for himself.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): We attach considerable importance to the annual report on human

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rights published earlier this week. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is a great shame that Ministers were not able to make a statement on that report, and will she find time for us to discuss it on the Floor of the House? I draw her attention to page 36 of the report, which states that Britain will encourage those states which have signed the Ottawa convention to ratify it as soon as possible. As Britain has not yet ratified it, will she find time for that important process to take place, so that we practise first and preach later?

Mrs. Taylor: Again, the hon. Gentleman is aware of the pressure on our time. I referred to the Bill that will incorporate the European Convention on human rights into our law, and perhaps some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised will be relevant to the debate on that Bill.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we signed the Ottawa convention in December. He will also know that we intend to ratify it as soon as parliamentary time allows for the passage of the necessary legislation. We want to ratify it as soon as possible, but he will appreciate that the timetable is very crowded at the moment.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Now that we are coming to the end of the time allowed in the parliamentary year for private Members' Bills, will the Leader of the House make a statement on what the Modernisation Committee intends to do about the timetabling problems for those Bills? Will she consider the possibility of increasing the time available on a Friday, so that we can have two Second Readings on that day? Will she consider the possibility of using some Wednesday mornings to debate private Members' Bills instead of using them all for Adjournment debates? Will she also consider having more Committees to take account of those Bills? That would resolve some of the problems that we have experienced for many years, and it would be a modernising feature from the Government which would go down very well.

Mrs. Taylor: In every Parliament, there are private Members' Bills that attract a great deal of support and arouse a great deal of emotion, and there are many that people would like to see reach the statute book. The rules that govern the time available for private Members' Bills are set out by the House itself. The Modernisation Committee has made it clear that it will at some stage want to consider the matter.

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My hon. Friend raises one especially important point. If we give extra time to one aspect of the work of the House, we lose time for another, so we always have to balance the rights of all hon. Members. Of course, the Modernisation Committee may well turn its mind to this issue, and I am sure that in doing so it will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is well able to look after himself, and would no doubt have done so had he been informed in writing, in advance, by those hon. Members who wished to criticise his conduct and motives. Perhaps the hon. Members who criticised him are ignorant of the customs and practice of the House, but will you take this opportunity to remind hon. Members that, if they wish to criticise the conduct and motives of any hon. Member, which they are perfectly free to do, they should observe the courtesy of informing the victim of their attacks beforehand?

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) rose--

Madam Speaker: Is it a similar point?

Mr. Stunell: Yes. I hope that you will take note, Madam Speaker, that some of us did indeed notify the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst(Mr. Forth) before we spoke.

Madam Speaker: It seems that the point of order has been dealt with on my behalf.


Tax Credits (Initial Expenditure)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Secretary Harriet Harman, Mr. Alistair Darling, Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson and Mrs. Helen Liddell, presented (under Standing Order No. 50 (Procedure upon bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue)) a Bill to authorise the incurring of expenditure in connection with the replacement of certain social security benefits with income tax credits: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 178].

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Royal Air Force

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Ms Bridget Prentice.]

4.3 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Dr. John Reid): It is an honour and a privilege to open this afternoon's debate on the Royal Air Force, particularly in its 80th anniversary year. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I express the gratitude of Parliament, the people and many overseas for the stalwart work of the RAF in the past eight decades. It has been a testimony not only to its strength and adaptability, but to the commitment that RAF members have shown in the service of their country. It is also fitting that we are debating this gallant service on St. George's day, and I hope, Madam Speaker, that the House will forgive a Scot his temerity in alluding to that fact.

Many hon. Members who will speak in the debate will wish to make particular reference to the strategic defence review, but, given that this is a single service day, it would not do the RAF justice if I did not spend the bulk of my introductory remarks referring to its activities throughout the year. If I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Madam Speaker, I shall refer to the comments made on the wider strategic context when I wind up.

The eight decades of the RAF's existence are short compared with those of its illustrious sister services. However, the junior service has a gallant and heroic place in this country's history during the 20th century. From the dark days of the second world war--when the bravery and skill of RAF pilots and crews helped to secure our freedom--it has been apparent that no modern conflict can ignore the importance of air power.

The long-distance air strikes during the second world war which struck a blow at our enemies proved that air power was here to stay. However, we also learned then that air power has a humanitarian face. While they were delivering fatal blows to our adversary--in a manner that has been well publicised--the aircraft of Bomber Command were carrying out a less aggressive, but no less vital role; dropping more than 7,000 tonnes of food to starving Dutch civilians.

The House will recall many such episodes, but one other anniversary deserves a special mention today. Fifty years ago next month, the Berlin airlift began. It was unprecedented for a beleaguered city, surrounded by hostile forces, to be sustained entirely by air, month after month. More than 2 million tonnes of supplies were flown into Berlin, nearly a quarter of which were carried by the RAF and British civilian aircraft, which flew more than 300 million miles and spent more than 200,000 hours in the air. They brought more than 130,000 people out of that besieged city.

That that great undertaking was begun and pressed to a successful conclusion was a tribute to a range of people, from those who expressed the political will and determination of this nation and of western leaders--Clem Attlee and Ernest Bevin prominent among them--to the airmen who flew those hazardous missions under constant threat. We remember in particular those who lost their

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lives in the noble operation, because, sadly, 70 airmen were killed during the airlift, including 17 members of the RAF.

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