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Mrs. Beckett: I think that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Prime Minister intends to meet representatives of agriculture on 30 March. I take it that his remarks constitute a call for more resources for the industry. I note that Conservative Members continually call for more resources, which strikes me as incompatible with their other policies.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): May I return to the Government's inexplicable decision to transfer the synchrotron project to Oxfordshire from the north-west, a subject that was raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell)? The decision may now be irreversible, but the Prime Minister told me only on Tuesday that the Wellcome Trust said that it would withdraw from the partnership if the decision were taken to locate the project at Daresbury. However, there is some confusion about the Wellcome Trust's position and that of the French Government. Many Labour Members--in the north-west group and in other parts of the party--would welcome an early debate so that there is full transparency and we understand all the reasons why the decision was taken to transfer technology from the north-west to Oxfordshire.

Mrs. Beckett: However much I know that my hon. Friend and other north-west Members are rightly expressing concern about the decision on behalf of their constituents, I fear that I cannot accept that it is inexplicable. Sadly, it is all too explicable. Nor, indeed, am I aware that there is any confusion at all about the reasons for it or about the position of the Wellcome Trust or the French Government. I either remind or tell him--I am not sure which--that the French Ministry of National Education, Research and Technology issued a press notice on 13 March saying:

In a letter to The Guardian, the French ambassador said:

    The French Government has consistently made clear its preference for the Rutherford Appleton site.

I understand that that has also always been the position of the Wellcome Trust. As I say, I understand the anxieties and concerns expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but, unfortunately, the decision is all too easy to understand.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to make a statement

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next week to correct the mistaken information that the Prime Minister gave the House yesterday? He said that national health service expenditure would increase

    to 7.6 per cent. of gross domestic product.--[Official Report, 22 March 2000; Vol. 346, c. 981.]

However, the Red Book clearly shows that the real figure is 6.4 per cent. He arrived at his figure by including private health expenditure. That is a simple drafting mistake--there is no big deal about it--and a statement would clarify the matter. However, that increase represents a doubling in private NHS expenditure and, therefore, a great departure from Government policy. We need a statement.

Mrs. Beckett: We had a statement and a debate yesterday and I do not think that the House needs any further opportunities to discuss the matter. Indeed, the point has already been made in this Question Time.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the bright and multifaceted diamond that was the Budget, there was possibly one face that was slightly darker than the others? Naturally, I shall advert to that. As we know, many pensioners who are just above the minimum income guarantee are poorer than those on the minimum income guarantee. They do not receive income support so they do not get various other benefits that come with it. When the Secretary of State for Social Security said that a report dealing with their difficulties would be made in the next Parliament, did he mean the Session beginning after the Queen's Speech in November or the Parliament beginning after a general election? Will she ask him to make a statement in the near future to clarify the position?

Mrs. Beckett: There will be questions and a debate on social security matters on Monday and my hon. Friend will find time to raise the matter then. However, he may be mistaken in thinking that no one who is not already on the minimum income guarantee is affected by yesterday's announcements. After all, those who are not in a position to take advantage of it--because of capital, for example--will find their circumstances substantially improved. One other group remains particularly difficult to assist and it is to those people, who have a small additional income as opposed to capital, to whom my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is turning his attention. I am sure that he will make proposals that he believes to be workable and effective at an earlier date if he is able to do so. Yesterday, he said what he anticipates to be the likely timetable for what is a particularly difficult policy area to resolve.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): With regard to the right hon. Lady's comment that we should be ashamed of our child poverty, may I remind her that the Rowntree Foundation has said that the divide between rich and poor has increased in the past two or three years under the Labour Government? When he returns from Munich, will the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry make a statement not only on the future of the Longbridge plant, but on the concerns over the future of the Dagenham Ford plant? Is she aware that there is growing and informed speculation that engine production will be transferred from the Ford plant at Dagenham to the newly acquired Ford Land Rover plant?

Mrs. Beckett: As Ford has not yet acquired the Land Rover plant, as far as I am aware, and as the matters are

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still being discussed, that may be a little premature, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry keeps all those matters under review.

On the hon. Gentleman's remarks on the divide between rich and poor, I am sure that it has not escaped his memory that the Rowntree Foundation figures were on the first two years of the Government's life, during which they were following the Budget guidelines that were set by the party that he supports.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): May I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motion 547:

[That this House regrets the Government's decision to award the £200 million Diamond Synchrotron project to Oxfordshire and not to the existing synchrotron facility at Daresbury in Cheshire; notes that the long-term cost to the North West economy will be £550 million; notes that it will damage the science base of the North West risking the loss of over 200 high-skilled jobs, likely to go overseas; further notes that the Science and Technology Select Committee found no scientific case to favour Oxfordshire over Cheshire as a site for the new investment; and believes that this decision taken personally by the Prime Minister, shows that he has not given sufficient weight to the importance of regional policy or to the need to promote science and encourage investment in the North West.]

It stands in my name and has the support of Members of her party. It raises concern about the Government's decision to site the synchrotron project in Oxford and not in Cheshire. Is she aware that that will take some £500 million out of the north-west economy and that it is a major blow for regional policy? Following the comments of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), I hope that we may secure all-party support for the motion, not just by-partisan support.

The Prime Minister was prepared to come to the House earlier in the week to explain to north-west Labour Members why he will ignore their views on the matter. Would it not be a courtesy for him to make time to come to the Chamber to make clear his reasons for taking that decision?

Mrs. Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) yesterday and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) today were less than welcoming to the Prime Minister coming to the Chamber to make statements, other than at Prime Minister's Question Time. The Prime Minister has made plain his regret at the impact of the decision on the north-west.

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The hon. Gentleman will know, I hope, that the Government commissioned a review of the science base in the north-west and have committed in advance some £25 million from the science budget to implement the review recommendations. Therefore, the Government are aware of the concern and will do what they can to address it.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is the Leader of the House aware of the report that was submitted by foreign policy supremo Solana at the European Union in which he describes the way in which the security situation in Kosovo is spiralling out of control? As she is unwilling to grant a single service debate at an early date, will she at the very least allow the House a foreign affairs debate, as our armed forces are gravely at risk and Mr. Solana's prognosis is dire in the extreme?

Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and that that leads him to call for a foreign affairs debate, but one of the things that led the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to recommend the creation of the experiment in Westminster Hall was the anxiety that a foreign affairs debate, which would cover, naturally, the entire world, was perhaps of less value to all participants than more focused debates of the type that we envisaged Westminster Hall accommodating. I warmly recommend that the hon. Gentleman seeks such a debate on Kosovo, if he wishes to.

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