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Mrs. Beckett: I am confident that if the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back he will understand the reasons very well. As I understand the matter--from memory--it was part of the package negotiated at Fontainebleau by the former Prime Minister, now Lady Thatcher, when she decided not to participate in that scheme.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Would the Leader of the House consider giving us an early full-day debate on the Select Committee on Liaison report, "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive"? There is a carrot for my right hon. Friend in granting the debate, because if that report is implemented by the Government, it will be her enduring legacy to Parliament. It will be much more important than the botch of the House of Lords reform, the introduction of the parallel Chamber, or Thursday sittings that end at 7 o'clock. Shifting the balance away from the Executive back to this place so that Back Benchers can control the Executive will be an enduring legacy. To hold such a debate would be a huge step forward. Will my right hon. Friend do all she can to advance that major constitutional reform?

Mrs. Beckett: I am touched by my hon. Friend's regard for my place in history. However, I fear that I am much more interested in what works effectively for better governance of the country than I am in my own track record or in how I am perceived.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): The Leader of the House will be familiar with the draft strategy, "A way with waste", produced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Ministers suggested that it would emerge in its final form early this year. Will she tell the House when that strategy will be finalised? Will she arrange a debate so that public concern about pollution and contamination from incineration plants, such as might affect the residents of Mountfield in my constituency, can be fully explored?

Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the subject in the near future, although I remind the hon. Gentleman of the 200 extra

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opportunities for debate that are offered by the proceedings in Westminster Hall. He will also have observed that Environment questions are scheduled soon and he might like to use that opportunity.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): A statement will no doubt be made next week, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the report of the Standards and Privileges Committee on the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), which has been debated in the House, and yesterday's report on the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) demonstrate that, at long last, Members' outside financial interests are being properly investigated? I emphasise the words "at long last", and I speak as a Member with 25 years' experience in the House.

Is there any reason at all why the annual tax returns of Members are not given to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards? If we have nothing to hide--I know that Conservative Members will object to the suggestion--why should the Parliamentary Commissioner not see our annual tax returns?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about the proper handling of our financial interests. The whole House has agreed to the way in which we handle such matters so as to make it clear that we pay high regard to our reputation and standing with the public. He made an interesting suggestion about tax returns, but I freely confess to him that, although he has made a serious point that should be carefully considered, many Members struggle to meet the new arrangements that have been made for the declaration of tax and the early filling in of forms. Certainly, I have never found it easy to make sure that I get all the information together in time to meet the deadlines, so the idea of having to meet the Parliamentary Commissioner's deadline as well is something to which I would wish to give a little careful thought.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I was disappointed with the response of the Leader of the House to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who raised with her the handling of this morning's lead news item on the amalgamation of the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service. The Leader of the House has a crucial job in protecting Parliament's interest in discussing important business. Will she tell us specifically why that business does not merit a statement today or a statement or debate next week? We have been told that the change is one of the most significant to the way in which benefits will be dealt with in future, yet so far she has offered the House no chance to discuss it.

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, I am afraid. I did not hear the report to which he referred, so I genuinely do not know whether I have sympathy for his complaint or whether I think that--and this is a sort of compliment--it is one of the bogus points frequently made by Conservative Members in pursuit of advancement of their political cause. [Hon. Members: "Unfair."] That is not a criticism, because they obviously think that that is their job.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there should be a special statement. He will have observed that there is the opportunity for debate. When Members have had a chance

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to consider whatever is being said, no doubt they will know whether the issue is one that they can legitimately raise in the debate and will seek opportunities to do so. However, we cannot make statements on everything that comes to mind.

Angela Smith (Basildon): My right hon. Friend may recall a lengthy and fascinating debate that we had in the House on 19 January on the Representation of the People Act 2000, including a rivetting discussion of about an hour on the meaning of the word "and" in legislation. Because of that, we could not, on that occasion, debate on the Floor of the House the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. My right hon. Friend made a statement and promised that she would bring the Bill back to the House as soon as possible. When is that likely to be and what plans has she to bring the Bill back to the House as soon as possible?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Although she may be completely right, I must admit that I do not recall using the precise words "as soon as possible". I am always a little cautious, knowing that sometimes other things intervene in the scheduling of business. However, her underlying point is absolutely right and was strongly made. The procedures of the House were used to make sure that we did not reach the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. I gave the House the undertaking that we expected the Bill to come before the House and, I hope, pass into law. That remains my view, although I cannot give my hon. Friend a date for that at present.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): We understand that the Government have to get their business through and we know from experience that Governments of both persuasions have made many blunders in trying to push business through the House and wasted more time later on. When we ask to debate certain subjects, it is a ploy of those on the Government Front Bench to tell the Opposition parties that they can use their Supply days. May I therefore plead with the Leader of the House to use her influence with the usual channels to grant a half-day Supply day to the Ulster Unionist party? It is four years since we had one, we are trying to get one and I trust that it will not be towards the end of the Session before that happens.

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to learn of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. He clearly appreciates that this is not a matter for me directly, but I am confident that his observations will have been heard on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): May I ask my right hon. Friend for an early debate on the future of the BBC World Service? It has now achieved a record 151 million listeners worldwide, reaching more than 100 cities across the globe, and its information and education work reaches some of the poorest communities in the world. I would welcome an early debate on its future.

Mrs. Beckett: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the more unfortunate features of the Conservatives' record in government was that they cut the funding for the World Service, which has always seemed

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to me to be not only a huge cultural but a huge economic asset to the country, so I thought that the cut in funding was an act of extraordinary folly. I entirely agree that the House should welcome, as I think it does, the improvement in the World Service and the additional funding that the Government have made available. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House, but I recommend to him the attractions of Westminster Hall.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): According to one of the many best-selling biographies of the Leader of the House, she was a distinguished member of the Labour common market safeguards committee. She will therefore appreciate the significance of yesterday's statement by the European Commissioner in charge of economic and monetary union, Mr. Pedro Solbes, who stated:


Will she find time for an early statement by the Foreign Secretary about those blackmailing tactics by unelected Commission officials, particularly in the light of the statement last October by the President of the Commission, Mr. Prodi, that the European Commission is in reality the Government of Europe?


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