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Mrs. Beckett: Let me make these points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, the Conservative party claims that the measure is some kind of poll tax. If the poll tax had been as little as £90, it would not have been nearly as unpopular as it was. Secondly, his request for a debate suggests that he cannot have been paying any attention: if he had, he would realise that what has been announced is that there is a process of examination of the draft Food Standards Agency Bill by a parliamentary Committee set up for that purpose. What my right hon. Friend said yesterday was that the process of that examination and the consultation about the Bill is genuine, and we shall listen to the views expressed. That is not confusion; it is a clear statement that the Government will take heed of concerns that are expressed. If the Conservative party had done that, it might still be in power.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Will my right hon. Friend make time next week for a debate on the betting industry? Ladbroke's, in my constituency, is creating 80 new, very welcome posts to run its expanded call centre. Can I tempt her to take advantage of the new, improved betting service offered by my constituents? She may, for example, like to join intelligent rugby fans nationwide and back Wales to win the five nations championship this year, or she might like to bet on which Conservative Front Benchers will survive the coming, much-needed shake-up in their ranks.

Mrs. Beckett: I am only too happy to welcome the creation of new jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency, particularly because they are part of more than 200,000 new vacancies that are being notified to jobcentres every month and part of a picture in which total employment has gone up by more than half a million since the general election.

With regard to my hon. Friend's pressing invitation to join him in a bet, I certainly would not dream of getting involved in predicting the results of rugby matches or Conservative Front-Bench reshuffles. My stance on gambling generally, as someone who has always had a highly marginal seat, is that I gamble only with my entire life and livelihood.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): If we follow the logic of the last question, is it not a sure-fire, odds-on certainty that, if the right hon. Lady continues to stonewall on the question of the Chancellor's travel arrangements,

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the story will become bigger than it is at present? It is of direct interest to the House that the Chancellor is the only Minister in his Department to refuse to give accurate information about the excessive travel arrangements made by him and his colleagues. When will he come clean to the House, and give details of those arrangements? I know that Labour Members think that this is a joke--the Parliamentary Private Secretary certainly appears to--but it involves the Royal Air Force, whose members are currently under great stress and strain, and are about to go into harm's way. They have better things to do than bus around the Chancellor and his cronies.

Mrs. Beckett: Ministers in this Government have better things to do than waste their time, and that of their civil servants, answering nitpicking, mischief-making questions that are costly for the taxpayer. When Opposition Members descend to asking about the precise reasons for, and circumstances of, one 10-minute journey, the position is set clearly in context; but let me set it in a slightly wider context.

During the last Government's final three years in office, expenditure on ministerial overseas visits was in the region of between £6.5 million and £8 million a year. Under the present Government, it is running at about£4 million. The rules on travel have not changed in the slightest. During the last Government's final two years, 10 Ministers travelled on scheduled Concorde flights; under the present Government, only eight have done so. All this is rubbish. It is a phoney campaign by Conservative Members whose only aim seems to be to make it more difficult for Ministers to do their job. We shall resist that.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Yesterday morning, I was trapped in a lift here with five Conservative Members. Discussion inevitably turned to my Right to Roam Bill. One Member representing a Derbyshire constituency said that the Conservatives would not be here for the Second Reading debate on 26 March, because my Bill would be scuppered by my own Government. Hon. Members can imagine my shock and disbelief.

As my Bill--of which I am very proud--is to be published next Monday or Tuesday, and given today's newspaper coverage speculating on the Government's position, would it not be a courtesy to the House for the Minister responsible to make a statement here on the Government's approach to the right to roam on open countryside?

Mrs. Beckett: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's devotion to the issue. I am afraid that I represent the city of Derby rather than any of the beautiful Derbyshire countryside represented by, for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but I know that the House will take great interest in the Bill. I can only say gently to my hon. Friend that, because--as he said himself--the Bill will not be published until next week, I feel that it would be premature for the Government to reach a view now, whatever press speculation may suggest.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made

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about the Government's preparations against the possibility of our joining the single currency? Do they intend to publish a White or Green Paper?

Mrs. Beckett: I had not given much thought to whether a White or Green Paper would be published, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of my right hon. Friends. As for the preparations, the hon. Gentleman probably knows that, shortly after coming to power, the Government set up a joint committee containing representatives of business organisations, initially to prepare for the launch of the euro--a matter much neglected by the last Government, but one that will affect many in the business community, irrespective of whether Britain joins the currency. That is still under discussion; technical and other matters remain to be resolved, and discussions will continue. But I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's request for a Paper of some sort to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): In view of the welcome announcement by the Government of their campaign to recruit more nurses and the general interest in that matter, will my right hon. Friend find time for us to discuss nurse recruitment on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a discussion of nurse recruitment in the near future, although I share my hon. Friend's pleasure at the scale of both the effort that is being made by the Government and the response. He and the House may like to know that, up to now, some 8,000 calls have been made to the NHS hotline as a result of the Government's initiative.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): In view of this afternoon's serious and misguided announcement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, can we have an early debate on the plight of the United Kingdom beef industry? As late as last weekend, the Ministry was spinning the line that the beef ban would be lifted soon, yet today we are told that the ban is not even to be reviewed for six months. Can we have a debate urgently on the UK beef industry, so that we can review that matter, as well as the serious and looming problem of the spread of tuberculosis in the beef industry in the south-west?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when that question was discussed for some 20 minutes. He will know that the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food follows the very clear advice of the chief medical officer not to lift the ban. There is understanding of the concern of the industry among hon. Members in all parts of the House, but the hon. Gentleman will surely accept that my right hon. Friend--[Interruption.] I see the hon. Gentleman shake his head. I fear that the Government do not share his disregard for advice in those terms from the chief medical officer.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Can we please have a statement next week by the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, to whom I have written on the subject, to clarify his position in respect of the filing of accounts?

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The right hon. Lady will be aware that, at Trade and Industry questions a fortnight ago, the Minister declared confidently:

    "Every company with which I have been associated has filed its returns in compliance with the deadlines set by Companies house."--[Official Report, 21 January 1999; Vol. 323, c. 1008.]

As it has since emerged that that is not true--as demonstrated in the media and in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)--because Juniper Communications Ltd. filed late on at least three occasions, does the Leader of the House accept that the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry should do the House the courtesy of coming here to make a statement to explain himself and, if necessary, to apologise?

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