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Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I am sure that the Leader of the House shares the Liberal Democrats' disappointment at the actions of the House of Lords in making, in effect, a wrecking amendment to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. Will she make clear the Government's intentions in that respect? Report and Third Reading will take place in the Lords and the Bill, as amended, will return to the Commons, which is likely to insist on its way; if the Lords reject it again, the Parliament Acts will be used to make sure that the will of the elected House, expressed on a free vote, prevails. Will the right hon. Lady also make it clear that if the Lords make reasonable amendments with which the Commons might agree, they will be given fair wind in this House?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman the information he seeks, because the way in which the agenda in the other place will be settled is not clear--it never is. The agenda in the other place is matter for the Lords; the Government have no control over it and no majority through which to press their will. The Bill remains with the other place, and I cannot clarify its intentions or the likely consequences for this House. All I can tell him is that the Government intend to make progress, one way or another.
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): With regard to the pre-Nice debate next Thursday, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the draft treaty of Nice will be available in the Vote Office well in advance of the debate, so that it can be examined and considered? Will she also try to ensure that the draft treaty, which is, in effect, a legislative document--the Nice summit will be legislating--is available outside the House, so that our constituents and the public can see it?
Mrs. Beckett: I freely confess that I am not sure whether it is possible to do that, but I shall draw my right hon. Friend's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who, I am sure, will take it extremely seriously.
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): Will the right hon. Lady schedule an urgent debate on the cover-up being conducted by Government in respect of the exorbitant cost of preparations to join the euro? She will be aware that those costs are now estimated to be heading towards £38 billion, and that Ministers and Departments, especially the Department of Health, have instructed national health trusts throughout the country to refuse to answer legitimate questions put by Members of Parliament about the disgraceful costs being incurred by
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to access www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk? [Interruption.] If hon. Members like it, they can try the sister site, www.thisisscunthorpe.co.uk, the equally excellent site of my local newspapers. If my right hon. Friend has accessed the site, she will have noticed in Friday's edition that the first cheques for trawlermen's compensation have now gone out to those who fought for 25 years to win justice in that case.
In addition, my right hon. Friend will have noticed in Monday's edition pensioners warmly welcoming the winter fuel allowance and their free television licences; in Tuesday's edition that the Government have given consent for a new power station--that is 500 jobs; and in yesterday's edition £18.5 million extra for my local health authority. I leave the choice up to my right hon. Friend, but can she organise a debate on one of those issues, so that my residents know exactly what the Government have done for them and what the Tories would take away?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks, and I warmly congratulate her on the zeal with which she has pursued the issue of trawlermen's compensation ever since she has been in the House, not least at business questions. She makes a valid point, offers us a range of items from which to choose, and identifies the fact that it took the return of a Labour Government for the trawlermen to get the compensation for which they have been fighting for so many years. I add to that my own list, which includes the far east prisoners of war who suffered, sadly, at the hands of the Japanese; the families with vaccine damage--[Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members do not want to hear any of this. Those people asked them for money for 18 years and got no answer except no. Deeply though I am tempted by my hon. Friend's list of excellent items to debate, I fear that I cannot offer to find special time, unless she tries Westminster Hall.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I think and certainly hope that the Leader of the House knows how much I genuinely respect her leadership of the House. Last Thursday, at column 534 of Hansard, I sought to summarise her views on free votes on the Liaison Committee report, with which her Parliamentary Secretary, winding up 10 minutes later, did not choose to find fault. If, as the Prime Minister intimated yesterday, I did misrepresent the right hon. Lady's views, I apologise to her. In a constructive vein, can she say how the matter will be taken forward in future?
Mrs. Beckett: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is always courteous, not merely to me but to everybody in the House, and is recognised for that. I took no offence, and I do not immediately recall the precise words of his summary. I simply say to him that my view has always been that whenever a matter is put for decision
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): In view of the recent revelations that Ministers in the former Tory Government never had any intention of holding a proper competition for the site of the millennium exhibition, does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a little like buying a lottery ticket and discovering that the organisers did not hold a draw? That disgraceful behaviour cost the people of Birmingham £500,000, and has also cost money for people in Derby, Stratford and elsewhere. If a local council behaved in such a way, we would surcharge the guilty councillors. In my view, we should surcharge the guilty Conservative Members. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need an early opportunity to debate the matter and get to the bottom of what happened?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right to suggest that Derby, as well as Birmingham, will respond somewhat sorely to the information that is currently being published. If what is reported is true, it unfortunately tends to confirm the anxieties of most people in this country who live outside the metropolis. They believe that too many events are London centred, which causes resentment and suspicion on all occasions when there are such competitions. It is usually unfair to assume that there is not a free competition and that London is bound to win, but such stories raise people's anxieties. I fear that I cannot give my hon. Friend an undertaking to find an opportunity for a debate on the matter in the near future. However, as I said to other hon. Members, there will be extra opportunities for debate in Westminster Hall, if the House decides that on Monday, and I have little doubt that the matter will be raised again there or elsewhere.
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the situation of a constituent of mine, who has twice been called to have a flu vaccination, but twice had that appointment cancelled. Is the right hon. Lady aware of the grave shortage of flu vaccine in many parts of the country, including Stockport, and will she ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to make a statement on that severe crisis, which is hitting patients and costing lives?
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that there have been problems with the availability of flu vaccine and that Ministers in the Department of Health have applied considerable pressure to ensure that those problems will be resolved. I was not aware that a particular difficulty had arisen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.