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Mrs. Beckett: I understand that my hon. Friend was asking for a debate specifically on what is happening in that part of the world, but he will recognise that, from my point of view, that somewhat strengthens the argument for a general foreign affairs debate. Equally, I am sure that he has not overlooked the fact that we have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday. I am afraid that I do not recall what is on the Order Paper, but I am sure that he will find an opportunity to raise these issues then.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I add my voice to the call by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for an early statement on mobile phones and their safety, which would give us an opportunity to clear up some of the allegations made in the Financial Times yesterday, that the report was selectively leaked in order to give the impression that mobile phones would get an entirely clean bill of health during the auction for the third generation licences, and that Ministers were deliberately kept in the dark until after the auction. It would also give the Government an opportunity to say whether the fact that they are the licensing authority for mobile phones might lead to their having some legal liability should serious medical harm be found at some date in the future.
Mrs. Beckett: I undertake to convey the hon. Gentleman's concerns to the relevant Department. I did not see the Financial Times article to which he refers, and I am always a little wary of articles alleging that there is a deep-laid plot. I know that it happens sometimes, but experience suggests to me that it is more often a cock-up than a conspiracy.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): If the Leader of the House cannot find time for a debate on Sierra Leone in the coming week, can she ensure that we at least have a statement, and possibly a statement from the Ministry of Defence? I am sure that the House will want to know that HMS Ocean was about to go on exercise with the strike force south, with both NATO and French forces. It seems somewhat strange, considering the overstretch in our armed forces, that it is only British ships, the British Royal Marines and the British Fleet Air Arm that have gone to help, especially considering that all those other forces are sitting there waiting for an exercise and could immediately deploy to the area. When we are working with our allies in this way, we want to know why our allies are not supporting the action that we are taking.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. It is something of a compliment to the British armed forces that they are asked to participate, but it is sometimes a double-edged compliment. I will certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Although, as I pointed out, it is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next week, the hon. Gentleman is asking specifically about the defence implications. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do what he can to keep the House informed if there are developments.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): May I return to the Liaison Committee report, which was described by my right hon. Friend earlier as weighty and far-reaching? It is only 23 pages long and was published two months ago, but it is indeed far-reaching, as it would fundamentally alter the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. She is aware that early-day motion 476, which I tabled, has attracted no fewer than 203 signatures.
[That this House warmly welcomes the first report of the Liaison Committee, published on 2nd March, which observes that the membership of select committees is effectively under the control of the Whips and that this has led on occasion to long delays in setting up committees at the start of a parliament and in replacing members thereafter and that members have been kept off committees because of their views; agrees that this is wrong in principle; and believes the implementation of the report's recommendations would strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive to the positive benefit of both.]
Mrs. Beckett: The report may be only 23 pages long, but any report that calls for substantial changes in the relationship not just between Government and Executive, as my hon. Friend rightly says, but between one hon. Member and another, as well as having substantial implications for the ordering of our debates and for the
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Is there any prospect of a debate on participation in the political process, given the worrying reports in this morning's papers that Labour party membership in the Prime Minister's constituency, Sedgefield, has fallen by half since the general election? Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity of such a debate to announce whether there will be an allocation of Short money for what the Deputy Prime Minister on Tuesday night called the real Opposition on the Benches behind him?
Mrs. Beckett: It should be a matter of concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House that there is such a low level of participation and interest in the political process. With regard to levels of party membership, the words "motes" and "beams" come to mind. On the link that people make or do not make between what happens in the political process and what happens in their daily lives, I have long taken the view that it is a great weakness of our democracy that people do not more readily make that connection.
The hon. Gentleman will have observed that one of the things that the Government are endeavouring to do is to make sure that information about the steps that the Government are taking gets across more fully and in a more understandable form than in the past. I understand that the Opposition regard that as re-announcing, double counting, spinning and many other things, which I sometimes fear are designed to obscure from the British people the facts about the difference that a Labour Government are making to their lives.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The exceptional medicines fund initiative announced by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) this morning would end the cruel practice of postcode lottery medicine, whereby beta interferon is denied to my constituents Julia Eckersley, Kate Sweetman and Sue Brierley. Will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the subject of postcode lottery funding and finding a way to end a practice that is condemned across the nation as cruel and heartless?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand the concern that is felt at differences that grew up under the previous Government, and which were to a large extent encouraged by the previous Government, in the way that the national health service operates in different parts of the country. I am glad that the Conservative party is thinking seriously about such matters.
However, I hope that anyone who looks closely at the Opposition's policy and takes on board the exceptional medicines fund will also take on board the fact that they are proposing what I would call a two-tier national health service, except that it is not a national health service at all. For common ailments, including particularly those experienced by the elderly, people would be driven into the private sector. The Conservative policy should be
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): On 2 May, in a statement about the demonstration in London, the Home Secretary said that English Heritage, which was responsible for the Cenotaph, had decided not to board it off. Shortly after that I visited the Cenotaph, and had discussions with a senior director of English Heritage.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me, and the rest of the House, in congratulating English Heritage and its contractors on the splendid and skilful way in which they have restored the Cenotaph, but, at best, a genuine misunderstanding has occurred. The agents of English Heritage left a meeting with the Metropolitan police on 20 April with the clear impression that the police had told them not to board up the Cenotaph. Alarmingly, during his statement the Home Secretary said: