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Mrs. Beckett: The whole House will share my hon. Friend's pleasure at the decision that has been reached and the outcome for those whose jobs have been saved. We should pay tribute to my right hon. and hon. Friends who, I understand, engaged in 40 hours of discussions to secure the arrangements to which he refers. I fear that I cannot find time for a special debate, although I note that Scottish questions will take place on Tuesday week, and he may seek to raise the matter then. One thing is quite clear: I recall that less than courteous remarks were made by some on the Conservative Benches at the previous Scottish questions about what role and functions my right hon. and hon. Friends would undertake in future. I think they have demonstrated admirably both their usefulness and their skill.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 405, on the royal commission on long-term care:

[That this House congratulates the Government for its commitment to tackling the inequalities and inefficiencies of the present system of funding long-term care for older people; commends the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care for reporting within 14 months after consultation with over 2,000 organisations and experts in the field as well as members of the public; and joins with Age Concern in calling on the Government to produce a clear timetable for introducing long overdue changes to the system in recognition of the fact that older people do not have the time to wait for further debate.]

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In the light of earlier questions, when will the House have the opportunity to debate the royal commission's recommendations, not least because of the Secretary of State's desire to have such a debate? Will a debate be held before the Government come forward with their conclusions and response to the royal commission?

Mrs. Beckett: As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the royal commission has produced a detailed report and the commissioners themselves called for a full debate across the country about its implications. I anticipate that that debate will continue for some time, and we should like to use it to inform the decisions that the Government may take on the matter. I am aware of the pressure for a debate in the House, but I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for it in the near future. However, I am sure that this will be one of the issues that is on everybody's list of matters for debate after the recess.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I appreciate that there will be a wide-ranging health debate next week, but can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate so that we can review the progress of NHS Direct? One of the original NHS Direct pilot schemes took place in Milton Keynes and more than 250,000 phone calls have been made to it since then. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the general practitioners in my constituency now put NHS Direct's phone number on their ansaphone messages to direct people to it outside surgery times? Can she find time for a debate so that we can review the progress of the NHS roll-out?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The experience of his constituency, where one of the early pilot projects took place, is particularly interesting. I am most encouraged by what he says about the partnership that is developing between general practitioners in his area and NHS Direct, as the House will be. It is particularly interesting because, as he will recall, of late there have been comments in the news media suggesting that general practitioners oppose NHS Direct. It is clear from an area where the scheme has been piloted that not only is it successful with the public, but it is adding an extra, useful dimension to health care provision.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): May I support the plea of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) for a debate on junior doctors' hours and specifically request the attendance of a Northern Ireland Health Ministerfor Tuesday's debate? At a recent British Medical Association conference in Belfast, a Belfast graduate speaking of the situation in an English hospital made a tremendous speech on this issue and actually said that the situation in Northern Ireland was even worse.

The Leader of the House will be aware that there has been a delegation dealing with human rights in Pakistan in the House this week. Concern has been expressed about cultural and political apartheid, with separate lists. I welcome Pakistan back into the Commonwealth, but will it be possible to have a statement shortly so that we can see whether we are encouraging political apartheid within the Commonwealth?

Mrs. Beckett: I believe that the hon. Gentleman may be able to raise that last matter at Question Time on Tuesday. I cannot undertake to find time for a special

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debate on it now, although I know that the House has had discussions of the kind that he indicates and that many hon. Members have taken part.

As for junior doctors' hours, I understand that the debate on Tuesday, as the hon. Gentleman anticipates, will be taken by Department of Health Ministers. It is not at present within my knowledge whether it is possible for a Northern Ireland Minister to attend. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's wish to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I am sure that, if she and her colleagues can accommodate it, they will do so.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): In view of the letter yesterday from the Leader of the House to the Leader of the Opposition regarding the tax fiddle arrangements of Michael Ashcroft, the Treasurer of the Tory party, will there be a statement on the matter at some point? Will all the relevant authorities make all the necessary inquiries to find out how the previous Tory Government arranged the tax fiddle? Can we have assurances that every single Foreign Office Minister and other Ministers in other Departments at that time will be investigated about the role they played in arranging for Michael Ashcroft to divert money away from the British taxpayer and into Tory party coffers? Can we know how much money the Tory party has had over the years from this person who seems to own and run it?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend has asked a series of questions, many of the answers to which are not in the public domain, as he will know. Papers on whatever exchanges took place are not available to Ministers in this Government. They would have to be released by a decision--

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Leak them.

Mrs. Beckett: We cannot leak the papers. I am just making the point that there is no access to them. It is not open to Ministers in this Government to see them or to have access to their contents, let alone to leak them. They are the property of the previous Government. They could be released--[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is not paying attention or perhaps not bringing his scintillating intelligence to bear on the matter. Ministers in this Government do not have access to those papers. They have not been released, although presumably they could be, if former Ministers were prepared to allow that.

As for how much money Mr. Ashcroft gives to the Conservative party and what proportion it is of Conservative party income, until now the Conservative party has refused to release any information on this subject, although it claims to be committed to the principle of openness about party funding. This morning, the Leader of the Opposition gave an indication of a sum that Mr. Ashcroft had recently given, but the whole picture is not clear. If the right hon. Gentleman means what he says about openness in party funding, presumably it shortly will become clear.

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Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 796?

[That this House is deeply concerned by the findings of the investigation by the Computer Weekly magazine into the fatal crash of RAF Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994; notes that the Ministry of Defence did not inform Air Accident Investigation Board personnel that they were suing the manufacturer of a problematic engine control system at the time of the accident; notes further that problems with safety-critical engine software were not resolved before the Chinook Mk 2 was released into service; believes that new evidence from the United States demonstrating that other factors may have been responsible for the accident undermines the burden of proof required to sustain the verdict of gross negligence against the deceased pilots; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to re-open the Board of Inquiry.]

The early-day motion refers to the RAF Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994. I urge the right hon. Lady to bring some pressure to bear on the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House and make a statement on the attitude of the Ministry of Defence to the recent report and inquiry carried out into the crash by Computer Weekly. If he is not prepared to make a statement to the House, will the Leader of the House prevail on the powers that be to allow a debate, so that at long last we can do justice to the memory of the two pilots who were killed by providing some answers? Air safety could be improved generally when the causes of the crash are publicly announced once and for all. Anything short of that is a disgrace to the memory of all the people who died in that helicopter, and continues to put at risk the lives of the men and women who fly Chinooks on behalf of this country.


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