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Madam Speaker: Is the right hon. Gentleman seeking a debate in the next two weeks on that issue? Perhaps he would make that clear.

Mr. Clarke: I hope that it may be possible, Madam Speaker.

Mrs. Beckett: I know of the great interest that my right hon. Friend takes in such matters and the great concern that he has always shown. I am not sure whether the matter was raised during questions to the Secretary of State for International Development yesterday, but I will undertake to draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

I know that the House will share the concern expressed by my right hon. Friend. He will know that it is the Government's aim to make sure that all the assistance and support that we give goes to the people who need it.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): As the Member representing Smithfields, may I reinforce the request for a debate on BSE from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), given the consternation that will have been created in the industry by the contrast between privately expressed, highly optimistic departmental spin, and the contrasting disappointing reality today?

Mrs. Beckett: I have heard the right hon. Gentleman. I understand the disappointment of hon. Members who are concerned about the matter. I understand that only some 4 per cent. of our consumption in recent times has been of beef on the bone. But, of course, I understand the concern that is expressed at anything that causes continued anxiety. I shall certainly undertake to take the right hon. Gentleman's concerns, too, into account.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 102?

[That this House condemns the appalling and deplorable trade practice at establishments which breed cats and kittens for the vivisection industry and sell them to laboratories world-wide; notes that some of these kittens are only six weeks old when they are subjected to horrific experiments; and calls upon the Home Secretary to investigate this cruel trade with a view to banning these barbaric practices which put profit before humanity.]

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Many of those animals are subject to horrific experiments. If my right hon. Friend cannot arrange a debate on that, will she now join me in condemning those establishments that put profit before humanity?

Mrs. Beckett: There is concern on both sides of the House about the use of animals in experiments and other scientific procedures--a matter on which my hon. Friend has long and staunchly campaigned. Any hon. Member would condemn any suggestion of animals being treated cruelly or inadequately cared for, whether for profit or in any other circumstances. The Government endeavour to ensure that there is stringent inspection of such establishments so that such things do not happen.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May we have an urgent debate on Britain's long-standing traditions of religious tolerance and freedom of speech? Would that not give the House an opportunity to reaffirm the fact that, in Britain, for as long as anyone can remember, people have been free to express their religious views, however eccentric, cranky--or even, occasionally, distasteful--they may appear to the majority of people? May we, therefore, reaffirm the principle that, in Britain, protection is provided from persecution in respect of those things, particularly by the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Beckett: I think all hon. Members support religious tolerance and freedom of speech, including the Prime Minister. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman extends his views to the treatment in the press of reports of the schooling of the Prime Minister's daughter, which itself is based on a religious decision.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): Will my right hon. Friend allow time during the next two weeks for a debate on domestic violence, an important matter which the British Medical Association estimates affects the lives of one in four women in Britain? In my constituency in Luton tonight, it is estimated that the police will be called out to no fewer than six incidents of domestic violence involving women being beaten. Will she allow time for such an important debate and join me in congratulating Women's Aid on its launch today of a website, as another valuable tool for giving advice to women who are victims of that cruel and cowardly crime?

Mrs. Beckett: That is an issue in which my hon. Friend has taken great interest and about which she has shown concern, and I share her welcome for anything that can help to give the right kind of advice and support. I understand that a cross-Government response, drawing in the views of the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Women, has been published this week, and I hope that that, too, will help to inform and support those who might be affected.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): In the light of press reports today, may I reinforce the plea by the shadow Leader of the House for a statement on Northern Ireland next week, in particular to discover whether the Secretary of State believes that the Chief Constable is giving evidence when he speaks unequivocally on television, or whether it is just hearsay, and whether the

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chief medical officer for Northern Ireland has given any guidance about the possibilities of death by lead poisoning or sadistic punishments?

Mrs. Beckett: I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's wish for a discussion on those matters. He will know that all hon. Members deplore the continuing level of violence and brutality. I know that he takes these matters seriously, but I should say that I share strongly the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday that, if the peace process were to come to an end, the result would not be less violence in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we debate early-day motion 254?

[That this House notes that since 1974, 140 Government posts have been held by unelected members of the House of Lords; and resolves that as part of the wider reform of the House of Lords, such appointments should cease and that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission should be enlarged to enable such a recommendation to be made.]

Although there is a great deal of humbug from the Opposition about the quality of answers to parliamentary questions, and although in their period in office they zealously pursued a denial-of-information policy in respect of this House, there is concern when Ministers who are refusing to answer questions are not available and are not Members of this House. In one particular instance, I have had great difficulty over many months with answers to letters and questions while trying to put into the public domain a matter of some importance: the amount, and details, of medicinal drugs issued to prisoners.

Three deaths have occurred in Brixton prison, which was the subject of a case this week, and last year there were two deaths of women in prison. Strangely, the Minister involved refuses to publish details of how many, and what type, of medicinal drugs are issued in prison, on the extraordinary ground that the information is available locally but would be expensive to collect centrally.

I have obtained the help of a trust, which is offering to put up money to pay for that information to be available, but it is absolutely outrageous that a Minister who is not responsible to this House should deny Members of this House that information.

Mrs. Beckett: All Ministers, of course, are responsible on behalf of the Government as a whole and endeavour to give answers that are as full as they can be. I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern that full answers should be given wherever possible. Indeed, he and I well remember when the previous Government began to divert answers to questions away from this House. I have taken on board the point that he makes. It is not always as easy as it sometimes sounds to accumulate information, which may be gathered on a different basis in different localities.

My hon. Friend's observations about the previous Government are entirely right. A lot of the fuss that Conservative Members make--for example, about answers on ministerial travel--would certainly give people the impression, which my hon. Friend knows is entirely incorrect, that the rules have in some way changed. I suppose that, by Conservative Members'

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standards, they have changed, in that the rules that normally apply now apply to us, because we are Ministers; indeed, that seems to be the basis of their objection.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will the Leader of the House enable us to debate the £90 tax on food, which will affect about half a million small businesses and voluntary organisations? In the light of what the Prime Minister said yesterday, would not that give an opportunity for Government policy on that issue to be clarified? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be disowning his own Government's policy, which has been to push ahead with imposing this unpopular tax on people who are in a poor position to pay it.


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