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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that she is one of those who has campaigned with her local royal naval association. As was evident from the reaction across the House to her remarks, the whole House shares her view that those vessels are important war graves, and not something to be plundered. I undertake to draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate, but I can make sure that her request for international action is conveyed to the proper quarters.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House try to arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the Chamber next week to make a statement on the Criminal Cases Review Commission? Is she aware that there is growing concern about the delay in the commission's deliberations on the case of Stephen Downing? She will no doubt have seen much publicity about the case during the summer months. Stephen Downing has now been in prison for a considerable time, and his case has been with the CCRC since its inception.

Mrs. Beckett: I will certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the concern that lies behind them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I cannot undertake to suggest that there will be a statement on the matter in the near future, but obviously when my right hon. Friend has had a chance to consider his remarks, he will take them into account.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): My right hon. Friend will be aware that next Wednesday in Westminster Hall I have a debate on Saint-Gobain's takeover and threatened closure of Biwater at Clay Cross, which would mean the loss of 700 jobs. Early-day motion 1084 also refers to the matter.

[That this House finds it to be totally unacceptable that the French-based multi-national company Saint-Gobain should have acquired the shares of Biwater (Clay Cross) Ltd for the immediate purpose of closing the plant; is deeply concerned that this will lead to the loss of 700 jobs and the devastation of the local community; is aware that Saint-Gobain's objectives in moving to close the plant are (a) to destroy the pipe manufacturing capacity of a key rival, especially in international markets, (b) to capture Biwater's extensive and growing order book, essentially for transfer to overseas companies and (c) to transfer and asset strip the plant's machinery; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to prevent the

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closure by making full and effective use of powers available to him under the Fair Trading Act 1973, which includes the possibility of setting up an immediate inquiry into the take-over by the Competition Commission and halting all moves to close the plant while the Commission undertakes an in-depth investigation which it is believed will lead to the saving of the plant and the condemnation of Saint-Gobain's actions.]

My right hon. Friend may not be aware that a mass petition from my constituents was handed in today at No. 10 Downing street in connection with the matter. May we have a wider debate? It has transpired that the Secretary of State has been misled by the Office of Fair Trading, which did not inform him that when it was producing a report, it knew that the closure plans existed. The role of the OFT, the Secretary of State's position in relation to the Fair Trading Act 1973, and whether matters should go to the Competition Commission could be discussed--a debate that is probably relevant to many other cases. If my right hon. Friend cannot manage to provide such a debate, will she at least ensure that the Prime Minister responds to the petition given to him at Downing street today?

Mrs. Beckett: I am very conscious of the campaign that my hon. Friend and other colleagues have conducted on the matter, and I saw the demonstrators at Downing street this morning. My hon. Friend rightly says that he has already secured a debate on the issue in Westminster Hall. He will have the opportunity to raise those points then. I will certainly draw his remarks about the petition to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I cannot undertake to find time for a further debate. In the debate that he has secured, my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to make his points to Ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry, and I shall make sure that they are given notice of the concerns that he intends to raise.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): In view of the Prime Minister's admission yesterday that Britain's joining the euro would have constitutional implications, will time be made available for Ministers to come to the House and announce whether they will publish a White Paper on the subject? In view of the Treasury's admission to the Select Committee, it is clear that the Government's five economic tests are no basis whatever for a judgment on whether Britain should join. The Prime Minister desperately is seeking to avoid the critical area in which there is a decision to be taken in principle--the matter of the constitution--despite being forced to admit yesterday that there were implications.

Mrs. Beckett: The House will recall from the words that the Prime Minister used, not just yesterday--he has used them on many occasions--that there is no secret. There is no admission to be made. It is clear that there are constitutional implications in joining the euro; the Government have never resiled from that. Nevertheless, we have always said that we do not believe that--when the economic case is made--those implications outweigh the potential advantages. I see no need for another White Paper to say what everyone already knows and is discussing at length all the time.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): In 1998, the now retired chief scientific officer put into the

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public domain our policy for dealing with cross- departmental scientific policy issues. In the light of the obvious reference to that matter in the earlier statement on BSE, and because the subject covers a much broader consideration of science and hazard assessment, will my right hon. Friend consider holding a separate debate in the near future on the whole issue of cross-departmental policy development on hazard assessment, and the improvement of public understanding of that? That will allow us to ensure that in future, the public are given confidence that matters such as the BSE tragedy will be dealt with more transparently?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future. However, my hon. Friend raises a valid issue that deserves serious consideration. I understand that one outcome of the Westminster Hall experiment is that many hon. Members find it a suitable venue for such serious and thoughtful debates, and I believe and hope that someone will take the opportunity to raise this matter there.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Does the right hon. Lady agree that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was wrong to say that pensioners should be rebranded because to be old was not cool? Perhaps at the same time she could also reject the remarks of her hon. Friend, one of the Ealing Members, who said that we should not worry about pensioners because they are all Conservative and racist? Does she agree that there is a good opportunity to have a debate next week on the proposition that we should establish a ministry for the third age, so that all the issues relating to the care of older people, such as their employment prospects, health care and pension plans, are considered in their entirety? If not next week, does she not agree that such a debate should be held in the near future?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not aware of the words that the hon. Gentleman attributed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. They do not sound like my right hon. Friend's words. I am well aware that the words he attributed to my hon. Friend the Ealing Member--we all know who he means--are not accurate. My hon. Friend did not say them, as he has repeatedly made clear, and is distressed by the imputation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to lay those words unfairly at my hon. Friend's door.

There are many issues to discuss concerning policy for the elderly, not least--many Labour Members would like to hear this discussed--the implications of the Conservative party's new pension policy to abolish the extra money provided by the Labour Government and to make the sums involved taxable, thereby almost certainly making a large number of pensioners worse off. Although I understand the attractions of such a debate, I fear that it will not happen next week.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): May we have a debate on early-day motion 1069, which was tabled in response to the report of the Competition Commission on supermarket practices?

[That this House notes the findings of the recent Competition Commission inquiry that some major supermarkets 'distorted competition in the supply of groceries' with the effect of helping to kill off competition

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from smaller shops; welcomes the conclusion that this 'operates against the public interest', but deplores the perverse decision that no action should be taken in this regard; and therefore calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ask the Director General of Fair Trading to advise on steps to be taken to protect the owners of small businesses from unfair competition aimed at destroying their livelihoods.]

There is considerable concern among the farming community in my constituency about some supermarket practices, which the report identified as against the public interest. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome such a debate.


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