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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point about an issue on which she has been campaigning. I am also aware that many hon. Members across the House are anxious for the system to work effectively and efficiently for the public's protection. I fear that I cannot offer her special time for an urgent debate, but I recommend to her, too, the availability of debating time in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): Will the right hon. Lady be kind enough to explain to the House why she and the Government find it necessary to apply a timetable motion to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill? Many colleagues in the House want to express their grave dismay and concern at the effective destruction of one of the finest police forces that the United Kingdom has ever had. Will she explain why the Bill's title has not been altered more accurately to reflect its practical outcome? She might consider calling it "Betrayal of the RUC Bill".

Mrs. Beckett: First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that a supplemental allocation of time motion is involved--in other words, the House has already discussed and decided to have an allocation of time motion for that Bill. Secondly, he will be as aware as anyone that the Patten report is part of the peace process and part of the response to it. Everyone recognises what is in many ways the very fine record of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but most people, at least, believe that if the peace process is to continue, to be established and to succeed, we also need a new approach to the police force in Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is as horrified as the rest of us at the situation in Palestine, where more than 200 Palestinians, including many children, have been killed by Israeli security forces. This is clearly the most unequal of struggles: there are stones and a few guns on one side and guns, helicopter gunships and an army on the other.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary for an urgent debate so that the House can express its concerns about events and we can hear the Government's position on a situation that some of us believe is escalating into a major tragedy? I say that as a friend and not an enemy of the state of Israel, which I have always supported.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes some very important and serious points, and she is right to remind the House that she does so as someone who has been a supporter of the state of Israel but is concerned at the deterioration of the position there. She will know that the Government have always played an active role in trying to promote the cause of peace in the middle east, and we tried to encourage the two sides to come together. She will

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know, too, that we voted in favour of Security Council resolution 1322, which condemned the excessive use of force against Palestinians.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will do everything we can to continue to promote the cause of peace. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future. Perhaps I could recommend the opportunities in Westminster Hall to her, as well.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Will the Leader of the House seek, wherever possible, to give the House an indication of the statements due in the subsequent fortnight? We are about to have an urban White Paper, and every quango dealing with regeneration and every non-governmental organisation has had this date in its diary for at least a fortnight. It is humiliating to be telephoned by people who are not hon. Members and told the business that will take place in my own House, not having been told of it myself in this Chamber.

Will the Leader of the House say when the statement on the rural White Paper will be made? It was due to be made consecutively with the urban White Paper, but that will not now happen. It was pulled last Tuesday, when the Government seemed to think that they would be besieged by lorry drivers. Furthermore, are we to have a statement on the climate change conference, which the Deputy Prime Minister will be attending next week in The Hague?

Of course, there are statements that cannot be foreseen, but there are many issues on which the Government have long intended to make statements and that flow from Green or White Papers. There is no reason at all why we cannot be given proper notice of those statements.

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman was a senior Minister in the previous Government, and he will know as well as anyone else why Governments are always cautious about giving notice of particular statements. Events can change, and it can become necessary to delay some matters because it is necessary to deal with other matters earlier. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was always intended to take the rural and the urban White Papers together, but he is mistaken.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): I said that they are separate.

Mrs. Beckett: My right hon. Friend assures both me and the House that it was always intended that they would be dealt with separately.

I fear that I cannot give an indication of what statements are likely to be taken in the next couple of weeks. Although the Government have some issues in mind that we may wish to report to the House, we always have to reflect on the ebb and flow of business and determine what business the House can take. The main consideration is that we ensure that matters are properly reported to the House, and we endeavour to do that. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have made substantially more statements to the House than our predecessors did.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the 18 years during which the Tories

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were in power, there was never a time when they gave advance notice of White Papers, statements or anything else? The answer to people like those toffee-nosed Tories is that they should come to work every day. If they would just come to work, they would find out.

Now that we have heard the welcome news about the trawlermen's compensation, the Japanese prisoners of war compensation and this month's winter heating payments--which the Tories would get rid of if they got half a chance--will my right hon. Friend tell the Department of Trade and Industry to get to grips with the compensation payments for miners who are suffering from chronic bronchitis, emphysema and vibration white finger? If my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe can deal with that and knock together the heads of those 230 solicitors who are holding up the money, she will not even have to make a statement.

Mrs. Beckett: I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks. He will know that no one is more conscious of the urgency of the case that he makes, or more concerned about the delays that have been occurring, than Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry. He is right, too, to identify that there was no progress on any of those issues while the previous Government were in office. I can assure him that I shall again draw his remarks to the attention of my right. hon. and hon. Friends at the DTI. However, I know that they share his anxieties.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): In the light of the decline in gross domestic product in the regions of England and its severe decline in Wales during the past three years under this Government, will the Leader of the House tell us when we might have an opportunity to debate the Government's regional policies and particularly the use of the regional fiscal instruments?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's premise stands. My understanding is that GDP has grown under this Government--it must have done so, otherwise we would have a recession. Although a recession was much predicted by the Opposition, who were definitely disappointed that it did not arrive, we have not had one. However, I certainly understand his wish to debate issues of concern to his constituents. I recommend to him, too, the opportunities that arise--and may be increased--in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we debate the arrival of a unique, entirely unexpected phenomenon in Wales, which would not have happened under the previous Government? What has happened has no name as yet, but it could be described as nano-unemployment. An independent observer has said that we talked about full employment in the 1950s and 1960s, but now in Wales the level of employment is even higher because of the stable economy that the Government have created and the introduction of the minimum wage. Does not that provide a great opportunity for the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and all other Opposition Members to recover from the terrible affliction that they suffer from whenever they talk about Wales--repetitive whingeing syndrome?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case. I am tempted to grant his request, especially as he is

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right to say that not only in Wales, but across the United Kingdom we are seeing a return to levels of employment--and, indeed, to low levels of unemployment--of a kind that has not been seen in this country for 20 years or more. That is an achievement of which we can all be rightly proud. I fear, however, that he will not be surprised to learn that I cannot find time for an extra debate, but I know that he will take every opportunity to make his points in other ways.


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