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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Can the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on preliminary views on the Phillips report, given that the criticisms in that report are more trenchant than the rather cosy exchanges last week might lead the outside world to believe? Furthermore, will she ensure that there is sufficient time when the Freedom of Information Bill returns to the House for a Government amendment to extend the scope of the Bill to scientific advice provided to Ministers--an amendment that the Government have so far resisted in both Houses?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Again, it is open to hon. Members to seek to pursue opportunities to secure their own debates on those matters, but I can only confirm what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said last week: it is the Government's intention to have a debate on those matters, but we feel that it would be better for the House if that took place when the Government were in a position to highlight their initial response to the report. I understand the anxiety to have earlier debates, but, considering it is a 16-volume report and my right hon. Friend urged people to study the whole report, the Government would be reluctant to stage a much earlier debate, although, as I say, it is open to the hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues to pursue the matter.
As for the issue of the Freedom of Information Bill, no doubt that matter, too, will be raised when the Bill returns to the House, but I can only repeat that the Government have striven to get a sound and workable balance between
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I thank my right hon. Friend for finding time next Wednesday for a debate on BNFL as it relates to the report from the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. However, would she consider that if the debate had taken place this Monday, we could have debated the urban and rural White Papers from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions? Can she find time--probably, after the announcement of the urban and rural White Papers--for a full debate on those important matters?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the right hon. Lady find time for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement on last night's Herbert Morrison lecture, which he gave and in which he said that Labour had exaggerated what was possible in its first term of government and that one of the key lessons of that first term was
Mrs. Beckett: I have heard only brief reports of the speech to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am not clear to what extent my right hon. Friend is being quoted directly and to what extent a spin is being put on what he said.
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Can my right hon. Friend find time for the important debate that the House needs to hold on global warming? We have seen some of the consequences of global warming lately--the recent floods. There have been many examples, both in this country and abroad, of changes in weather patterns, which are disastrous for many people. We need to debate global warming to find out what the Government--and, indeed, the British people--can do to try to tackle that ever increasing problem.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In recent days and weeks, it has become increasingly clear that we are experiencing some of the more severe weather that people have long predicted. My hon. friend will know that investment in flood defences has increased--by a further £30 million for capital schemes in the spending review this year. The investment will now be some £267 million over the next three years. I believe that he has experienced problems in Arnold in
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): If it is true that, on Tuesday, many hon. Members will be enjoying themselves following the American presidential and congressional elections, could it be that those elections actually mean something precisely because the Select Committees in Congress are so powerful? Will the right hon. Lady therefore accept that Thursday's debate on our Select Committees is vital? I know that she wants to help the House, but can she make it clear that we shall have an Adjournment debate in which Members can express their general opinions, after which there will be substantive motions amendable with a full free vote so that all Members can exercise their conscience? That is an important issue, and I know that she will want to help the House.
Mrs. Beckett: There are substantial differences between the Committees in the American Senate and Congress and those that exist here, but the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that that does not necessarily lead to greater voter interest and identification, because the turnout at elections in America is substantially worse than in this country. I do not draw a logical connection between the two matters; I simply make the point that his case is not necessarily made by what he says.
The hon. Gentleman requests a debate on the matter because it is so vital. I agree that it is vital and very much hope that all Members who take part in Thursday's debate will have read the report and that they will have given serious thought to its recommendations. I do not dismiss the report lightly; it is very serious indeed. If it were to be brought into effect, it would have profound implications and profound consequences for the House, not least for the standing and role of individual Members.
I was saddened to see the Leader of the Opposition appear to respond in a knee-jerk manner to something that he hopes the Government would dislike. The report has grave implications for the House, Ministers and Back Benchers alike, regardless of who is in government. It is also a matter on which I know that there were strong opposing views among Opposition Members. I hope that we will not see those views stifled.
Could we have another--but full--debate on the situation in the middle east? Although there was a debate on it last week in Westminster Hall, events are moving very fast. In the light of the very welcome agreement between Nobel prize-winner Peres and Nobel prize- winner Arafat; of signs that it may be possible to get back on the path of negotiations, which would be very welcome; and of the concerns expressed to me by many of my constituents who are worried about a spillover into this country of conflict in the region, could we have an early debate to reaffirm our support for peace, negotiation, dialogue, compromise and the overall Oslo process?
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): When can we have a debate on the growing crisis in medical general practice? In Dorset, and particularly in my constituency, general practitioners are finding that they are not allowed to exercise their clinical freedom to prescribe the drugs that they think are best for their patients because their budgets are subject to rationing. Additionally, primary care groups are taking unlawful sanctions against general practitioners, depriving them of their staff budget, if they do not reduce the service that they provide to patients. The situation is desperate. People who are entitled to receive the medicines that their doctors think are best for them are being deprived of those medicines because of the Government's budgetary constraints--
Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has exposed the flaw in his argument by his own remarks. The budgetary constraints being experienced in the health service under this Government, are nothing compared with those that were experienced under the previous Government, and, indeed, they are being substantially improved. As for the constraints issue itself, I think we all understand that there are genuine difficulties in striking a good balance between the most efficient use of moneys, particularly in prescribing, and the required level of clinical freedom. For those who were not fundholders, the level of clinical freedom that the hon. Gentleman describes did not exist under the Government whom he supported.