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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Have the Government abandoned the practice of holding an annual road safety debate? Is the right hon. Lady aware of the growing concern about the way in which police forces investigate motor cycle accidents that involve fatalities? I am involved with two cases: one in Leicestershire and one in Derbyshire. There is grave concern about the way in which the police have investigated those accidents. Is not it time that we reinstated the annual road safety debate in the Chamber?

Mrs. Beckett: I freely confess that the notion that such a debate is held annually rather than from time to time had passed me by. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I suspect that, as a major Transport Bill is to be considered this Session, the hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunity to air those matters.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the debates in Westminster Hall recently, especially the debate that was introduced on 11 January by my excellent right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on poverty in London? Can we have an early debate in this Chamber on the future of London and its government to enable my right hon. Friend and others to point out the need for team work and co-operation between all those elected in London to make this great city effective and to tackle the problems of poverty, crime and poor health in our capital city?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right and I am aware of the debate that was held in Westminster Hall. Indeed, I have a feeling that I have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)--whose concern on such matters is well known and whose very real feel for them has been evident throughout his career--speak about them in the Chamber, possibly in the Queen's Speech debate. Although I share my hon. Friend's admiration for our right hon. Friend's record, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for such a debate. However, I am confident that, whenever the opportunity arises, he will continue to express those concerns as effectively as he always has done.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Will there be time for an urgent statement on the chaotic state of asylum in Britain so that the debate announced for next week will be better informed and we will know the background to the arguments for no more amnesties, more international co-operation and increased use of detention to deter bogus applications?

Mrs. Beckett: I do not see the need for a special debate or a statement at the moment because we are to have a debate. The hon. Gentleman says that we need to know the background, but the House is already familiar with it. The Government continued to operate the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which was introduced by the previous Government. It was not working and we

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tightened its provisions. The only two proposals made by the Conservative party would weaken the controls that the Government have announced so far. In consequence, we know quite as much as we need to know about the background to the debate, on which the Conservative party's record is totally inconsistent and totally incompetent.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Has my right hon. Friend seen the extraordinary and possibly even alarming recent statements that human life expectancy might stretch to 140 years? Will my elderly constituents have to wait that long before we debate the Sutherland report on care for the elderly, which was published in March 1999? Does she agree that we should have an early and urgent debate?

Mrs. Beckett: I was not aware of that forecast, which is slightly daunting, but I fear that my hon. Friend is uncharacteristically not quite accurate, as we have debated the issues that underlie and surround long-term care. I can assure him that the Government continue to pursue those issues and over the ensuing year--various proposals are already before the House--there may be opportunities to air them. I fear, however, that I cannot give him further news about the special debate he seeks.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): With the polls today showing plummeting public confidence in the Government's ability to run the health service and the country's transport system, the Prime Minister dragged the Chancellor off to Southwark last week, and the Deputy Prime Minister off to Southall last night, in an increasingly desperate and apparently unsuccessful campaign to block the mayoral ambitions of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Was that an appropriate use of the right hon. Gentleman's time? Could we please have a statement next week confirming that he will stop gallivanting around London after the mayoral appointment has been made, and that Ministers will concentrate on their portfolios, as they are paid to do by the taxpayer?

Mrs. Beckett: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is unaware that it is almost my right hon. Friend's habit--there is certainly a consistent pattern--to continue to maintain a dialogue with members of his party. He holds many meetings up and down the country, and has always done so--and very successful they are. In view of the events of the past couple of days, I suggest that maintaining a dialogue with one's party is perhaps something that the Leader of the Opposition should consider.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 277, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), on staff shortages in the London fire brigade?

[That this House is concerned that the London Fire Brigade is currently 132 persons under strength; believes that these positions should be filled by recruitment rather than by members of the Fire Brigade Union working excessive overtime; is very concerned indeed that the management of the London Fire Brigade have suspended 11 FBU members at Homerton Fire Station for supporting their union's ban on overtime; believes that the action of

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management was both provocative and unnecessary; and calls on the Chief Fire Officer for London to reinstate the 11 members and get on with the business of recruiting the shortfall in staff so as to protect the public.]

During that suspension, a fire call came to Homerton fire station and those 11 firefighters were physically prevented from attending by senior officers. That bullying and intimidation comes when the London fire brigade is dangerously under strength and has undergone cuts year on year. Could we have an urgent debate on fire safety and the London fire brigade?

Mrs. Beckett: I know of my hon. Friend's long- standing concern about firefighting and safety. I was not aware of the events to which he referred. These issues are managed locally by the fire authority. I understand that there is an intention to have an intake of firefighter recruits at the end of this month. The whole House will share my hon Friend's concern for fire safety and will hope that this will continue to be addressed.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I did not intend to rise during business questions today, but I feel obliged to do so because of the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) who referred to an exchange last night between myself and a Deputy Speaker when I sought to express my concern about the Government's misrepresentation of a letter sent by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister. Is it not time that the House was made aware of the difference in the role, responsibilities and status of Deputy Speakers who serve directly under you and of the newly appointed additional Deputy Speakers for sittings in Westminster Hall? Perhaps the Leader of the House could make a statement at an early date to ensure that all hon. Members are aware of the difference so that such questions would be unnecessary.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman knows that these matters were aired when we decided how Westminster Hall would be brought into being and the nature of the arrangements for chairing its sittings. I accept that not all hon. Members have studied the distinctions closely. He knows that I take the view, as he usually does, that it is important that we strive at all times to lower the temperature here and to do our business expeditiously and with some fairness. I was sorry and surprised to learn that he believed that the Government had misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition's letter since I had an enjoyable few hours yesterday showing it to journalists and Members who had no knowledge of its contents. Every one of them interpreted it entirely spontaneously in precisely the same way as the Government did. I have re-read it since his remarks because I could not understand why he thought that we had misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition--I am not saying that I am unwilling to do so, but I was not aware of having done so on this occasion. If the hon. Gentleman is right, I struggle to see how we have misrepresented the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps it would help if the right hon. Gentleman sent another letter.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was great concern in my constituency about the planning legislation surrounding the siting of mobile phone masts and that 160 hon. Members from all

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parties have signed an early-day motion on the matter? Would it be possible to find time for a debate on the health, planning and environmental consequences of mobile telephony, particularly as the technology has far outstripped the legislation, which is looking more and more out of date as time goes on?

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