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Mrs. Beckett: My many right hon. and hon. Friends from the north-west have made plain to the Government how great is their concern about the decision on the partnership project, and the Government themselves have made it plain that they understand and sympathise with those concerns. However, I am confident that the hon. Gentleman will have observed that among the many proposals announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget were extra resources for various regions. I accept that the hon. Gentleman is also making a separate point about science, and I believe that my right hon. Friend has indicated that he is aware of those concerns and has the matter under consideration.

On "News at Ten", I know how strongly that view is shared in the House. The hon. Gentleman asked me to bring a Minister to the House to deal with the matter; it is Department for Culture, Media and Sport oral questions on Monday.

Angela Smith (Basildon): I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 556, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell).

[That this House believes the £6 return charge imposed by GNER for carrying passengers' bicycles is excessive, unnecessary and inconsistent with the promotion of environmentally friendly transport; and calls upon the company to adopt a more positive and sympathetic approach to those who wish to combine rail and cycle travel.]

Does she share my horror at the information that Great North Eastern Railway is charging passengers a £6 return fare to put their bicycles on the train? When we are trying to encourage integrated, environmentally friendly and healthy transport, is that not a disgrace?

I am pleased to announce that my local railway, LTS, does not charge for bicycles, and neither do many other companies. Could we have an urgent debate on this matter to ensure that we get integrated transport, and that we are not being kiboshed by railway companies trying to force people to use their cars rather than their bicycles?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's concerns and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). Train operators are required to provide facilities for the carriage of cycles; they are free to make

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a charge, although it should be reasonable. However, it sounds to me like a classic subject for a Westminster Hall debate.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the right hon. Lady do her best to find out whether it is possible to have a separate day's debate on the urgent matter of the funding of defence? Is she aware that so serious is the situation that defence manufacturing companies are having to lay people off because of the slow down in defence procurement, and that major top-level budget holders in the Ministry of Defence are seeing their budgets slashed in a manner that is wholly unacceptable not only for the good order of matters such as property management, but for operations and exercises? Does the right hon. Lady understand that there is real concern and anxiety about that, and that we should have an urgent debate?

Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand that anxiety. However, my recollection is that, although the defence budget is scheduled to fall by some 3 per cent. over the next three years, under the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member, it fell by a third.

Mr. Soames: That is not the point.

Mrs. Beckett: It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that it is not the point, but it is the truth.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln): In view of the Chancellor's welcome announcement this week that many thousands of extra pounds will be going direct to schools, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on ensuring that extra Government resources get to children in schools and are not diverted or blocked by Conservative-run county councils such as Lincolnshire?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that there is always concern about whether education resources are being used for the purposes for which they are allocated, and I am well aware of Lincolnshire county council's track record on that. I always thought that it had something to do with the fact that, at least in my day, there had never been a chair of the education committee, under Conservative party rule, who had attended a state school or sent their children to one.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the right hon. Lady ensure that we are encouraged to send her our views on specific issues relating to the decision on whether to continue and make permanent the arrangements for sitting in Westminster Hall or to discontinue the experiment, if not next week, then well before she makes an assessment and a decision and puts a motion before the House? I am thinking in particular of what I consider to be the absurdity of the House, as it were, sitting in two places at the same time. That usually happens on Thursday afternoons.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, which I chair, is anxious to hear Members' reactions to the current experiment.

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We hope to assess it towards the end of the summer but, if Members have specific concerns of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has identified, they are more than welcome to send them to the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the remarks of Mr. Martin Barnes, director of the Child Action Group? He says:

Given the stark contrast between the two main parties' approach--the Government seek to lift children out of poverty, whereas the Opposition, when in government, created the conditions that took them into poverty--could my right hon. Friend possibly find time for a debate on this important subject?

Mr. Soames: Answer that!

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Child Poverty Action Group has welcomed the response to what he rightly describes as a major problem. Notwithstanding the laughter that I heard from Conservative Members, it should be a source of shame to them that, during their tenure of office, so many children ended up living in the poverty from which this Government will need to try to rescue them.

The Budget was also welcomed by representatives of pensioners and single parents, as well as representatives of the business community. Indeed, it was welcomed by nearly everyone except the Conservative party.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Given the problems of the immigration directorate, which are turning the constituency offices of a minority of Members into outstations of the Home Office because the latter cannot answer letters, may we have a statement next week? Can we be told why not a penny of the £285 million which, according to Tuesday's statement, is to be devoted to law and order, will go towards reinforcing the directorate?

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman is more up to speed than I am in regard to how the allocation will be used. I do not know whether it will be used for the immigration directorate, but I am aware of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and he is right to say that many Members experience them. As he will know, the system is a source of long-standing difficulty, and the Government are working hard to overcome it.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Further to my right hon. Friend's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), is she aware that the Conservative leadership of Redbridge council, supported by the Liberal Democrats, has adopted a budget allowing money made available under the standard spending assessment for education not to be directly passported to schools in my constituency? Will my right hon. Friend give us an early opportunity to debate the relationship between central Government and local government, and education spending? That would enable us to welcome the

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provision in the Budget for money to go directly to schools in my borough, rather than being frittered away on other matters by the Conservative council.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a strong point. I know of his long-standing concern for the welfare of the schools in his borough, and the children who attend them. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate in the near future, but opportunities to question my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Deputy Prime Minister will give my hon. Friend a chance to air his worries.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Leader of the House will be well aware of the desperate plight of Britain's pig farmers. Will she arrange for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement to the House explaining exactly what the Budget has done for them? It should not take very long.

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