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Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): In light of the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on poverty, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to examine what the Government have been doing to eradicate poverty and put right 18 years of Tory misrule and the fact that the Tory Government hid from the British people the fact that they knew that they were plunging families into greater poverty?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that, whether through the private remarks of Saatchi and Saatchi or the OECD study, it is now clear that, despite the fact that it was consistently denied by Conservative Members during their years in government, they presided over a catastrophic widening of the gap between rich and poor. One of the most challenging and radical goals that the Government have set themselves is to work towards the elimination of child poverty in particular over the next 20 years. I have no doubt that it is right to do so and that we have already made substantial strides in that direction.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): The early-day motion is an overrated parliamentary device, with some honourable exceptions used mainly by Back Benchers to gain column inches in local papers. Therefore, the right hon. Lady may not have seen early-day motion 147.

[That this House notes with concern that the incompetence of Kent County Council's Conservative administration has led to a serious shortfall in social services funding that threatens winter provision in the county and which will create difficulties for local health authorities by causing bed blocking in hospitals; notes that the Conservatives have attempted to blame these problems on the cost of supporting asylum seekers even though this Government, unlike its predecessor, reimburses the County for at least 90 per cent. of these costs; notes that the real problem is that Kent's Conservative Council has failed, for political reasons, to plan for factors that were known well in advance such as the impact of the national minimum wage, has diverted over £5 million into largely unnecessary corporate initiatives, has based its finances on unsustainable and unworkable budgets which failed to make efficient use of the most generous Government settlement in the county's history and which inevitably have lead to a substantial overspend; notes that the Conservatives who control the council intend to resolve the problems they have created by diverting funds ring-fenced for voluntary organisations, reneging on promised regeneration funding for East Kent and cutting services for the elderly and vulnerable; and calls on the county council's Conservative leadership to work with the Government and with other political parties in Kent to devise a new budget and business plan for Kent that truly meets the needs of the county's population.]

It was tabled by six Kent Labour Members criticising Kent social services department for a budget shortfall. Exceptionally, will the right hon. Lady find time for this particular early-day motion to be debated so that the House can learn how the budget shortfall is not £170,000, as some Labour Members seem to have suggested,

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unfunded by central Government, but £4.5 million--virtually the entire shortfall--unfunded by Government and spent on economic migrants? Will she give those Members the opportunity to come to the House to apologise to their constituents for short-changing them and to join Kent's Conservatives in seeking to press the Government for the repayment of that money in full?

Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I cannot undertake to find time to debate that or any other early-day motion. The Government understand the pressures on authorities such as Kent. Indeed, that is one reason for some of the changes that we have made in the handling of asylum seekers, for example, changes which at the last minute were opportunistically opposed by Conservative Front- Bench Members--although the hon. Gentleman may have voted in opposition. With regard to local government funding generally, those issues must be seen against the background of the most generous settlement since the council tax was invented.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) in asking for a debate on vibration white finger?

In view of three factors: the re-entry of the International Atomic Energy Authority into Baghdad; the visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kharrazi, who suggested that, in spite of the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian Government favoured the lifting of sanctions against Iraq; and the Turkish dam that, if it goes ahead, could cause a water war in the middle east--may we have a statement on the forgotten actions of sanctions and war against Iraq?

Mrs. Beckett: As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings), the Government are mindful of concerns about vibration white finger cases. As I understand it, payments on those cases are going comparatively well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raises primarily the issue of sanctions on Iraq and their effects. As I have already said to others, I cannot find time for a special debate or focus on that issue in the near future. However, Foreign Office questions will be held next week, and I am sure that my hon. Friend has not overlooked that point. As for saying that there are forgotten effects of the sanctions, he does himself less than justice because he has almost singlehandedly ensured that we do not forget the issue.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the location of the national athletics stadium? Following the fiasco of the proposed location at Wembley, is she aware that recent reports suggest that the Commonwealth stadium in Manchester could be altered, at relatively low cost, to make it a suitable venue for the national stadium? Is she also aware that Councillor Richard Leese, the Labour leader of Manchester city council, has talked of the Government's continuing "obsession" with staging major events in London? Is it not time that the Government woke up to the fact that there is a country outside London and started to stage some events in the rest of the country?

Mrs. Beckett: The handling of the national stadium at Wembley and the athletics stadium continues to be under

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urgent review. It has now become clear that it was not possible to provide a stadium that could stage both athletics and football events satisfactorily. We now have plans for what will be an excellent stadium for football and we are seeking to tackle urgently the issue of a stadium for athletics. Manchester will, of course, host the Commonwealth games. I have great respect for Councillor Leese and I understand his sentiments about the Government's obsession with staging events in London, but leaders of Manchester city council--most of them Labour, thanks to the common sense of the people of Manchester down the generations--have always felt that Manchester, not London, should be the capital of Britain.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): May I ask for an early statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the tragic drowning of seven members of the crew of the Scottish fishing vessel, the Solway Harvester, and the question of her retrieval from what are quite shallow waters? At moments such as this, people in fishing communities are reminded of the words of a character in Scott's "The Antiquary":

A statement might enable some of us to argue the case, as we have done for many years, that no fishing vessel should put to sea without the provision of a survival suit for every member of the crew. The provision of survival suits might have had no bearing on this tragic loss, but such safety measures should be given serious consideration by the Government. It is some years now since we had a debate on the safety of fishermen.

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of the tragic deaths that have recently been reported because it gives me the opportunity to express, on behalf of the entire House, our sympathy for the families and victims. He is right to make the point about the importance to those communities and families of the trade in fish which those of us who are not engaged in such pursuits so often take lightly.

I cannot promise my hon. Friend time for an early statement or debate on the matter, but I shall certainly undertake to draw his remarks and concerns to the attention of the relevant Ministers, who I know take the matter as seriously as he does.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The House is rightly jealous of its exclusive rights to decide taxation matters, so can we have a debate--or a statement from the Prime Minister--on the Government's stance with respect to the withholding tax? Reports have emerged that the Treasury is coming under severe pressure from the Foreign Office to back down on the issue before the conclusion of the Portuguese presidency.

Mrs. Beckett: I fear, Madam Speaker, that you must be as bored as I am with the withholding tax, about which there have been innumerable statements over the months and years, all arising from stories in the press that the Government were planning to give way on the matter at any minute. I assure the House that the Government do not plan to give way on the matter. We have made our stance on the matter quite plain, and we shall maintain that stance.

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