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Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Obviously I am delighted that the Agriculture Committee will write a small footnote in parliamentary history when, next week, its report will become the first Select Committee report to be debated in Westminster Hall. Does the Leader of the House understand, however, that until she made her statement, we understood that the debate would take place in the following week? There seems to have been rather a worrying lack of consultation with the Select Committee about the date for that debate. I know that we are all finding our way on how Westminster Hall works, but may I urge her in future to make sure that the dates, as well as the subjects, for those debates are discussed with the relevant Select Committee staff and Chairmen?

Mrs. Beckett: May I say at once to the hon. Gentleman that I apologise that that was not the case. Certainly he is absolutely right to make his point. One of the reasons for giving the progress of business about a month ahead is so that, through the mechanism of the Liaison Committee and the Chairman of Ways and Means, we can try to make sure not only that the right debates are sought, but that they do not conflict with the concerns of the Select Committees. I am sorry if, for some reason, that did not happen on this occasion. As the hon. Gentleman says, next week will see the first debate in Westminster Hall, and we shall hope to do better in future.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to be made about

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plans to tackle the enormous amount of pollution caused by combined sewer overflows throughout the country? Is she aware that there are thousands of those structures and during heavy rainfall they discharge untreated effluent and sewage into watercourses such as the picturesque Tyersal beck in my constituency? Does she agree that the House and the public require early assurance that plans are in hand to deal with that major environmental and health hazard?

Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that there are such problems, although I was not aware of the particular problem in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I am sorry to learn that it affects his constituents. There are areas of my constituency where such problems occur from time to time, and I am sure that he recognises, as I do, that they are a consequence of the backlog of work that had not been undertaken and which still needs to be addressed. I certainly recognise the concern, and I think that everyone realises that it is a problem that we shall have to tackle, but obviously the scale of the problem is such that it can only be tackled over time. I fear, however, that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on that matter in the near future because, as he will recognise, the pressure of business is considerable.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The right hon. Lady has been good enough to tell the House the date on which we shall rise for Christmas. Is she aware, however, that on 23 September, her right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture told David Dimbleby, regarding the beef on the bone ban:


Given that we did not reach Question 12 on the Order Paper today, we may have denied the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity to make an important statement. Will the right hon. Lady assure us that he will be given that opportunity before Christmas?

Mrs. Beckett: I think that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps asking for an extension of the sitting of the House until closer to Christmas. He may find that that is not universally popular with his colleagues. I am sorry that the House did not get to his question--as I presume that it was--but I am sure that my right hon. Friend is most anxious to give the House news on that matter when he can.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on local democracy and elected mayors? The Government have given back democracy to the people of London by setting up the Greater London Authority, in stark contrast to the Conservatives, whose candidate for the post of mayor was recently described as one of "probity and integrity" by the Leader of the Opposition and whose book "The Eleventh Commandment" seems to refer to that well known edict "Thou shall not tell the truth to your party leader when asked whether thou hast any sleazy skeletons in thy own closet."

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right about the importance of restoring Londonwide government. I am sure that he, like me, recalls vividly the time not so long ago when separate London boroughs made separate

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decisions about the closure of their bridges over the river, which resulted in considerable traffic chaos for London. Our measure is certainly long overdue. As to the further issue that my hon. Friend raises about the former Tory candidate for mayor, the House recognises--although I understand that not everybody wants to admit it--that yet again it casts an unfortunate light on the judgment of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 62?

[That this House notes with interest Germany's recent demand for country of origin labelling for meat; and urges Her Majesty's Government to open urgent negotiations with other EU countries to bring about a change in the treaties so as to make country of origin labelling mandatory throughout the Community.]

The motion calls for mandatory country of origin labelling. The Leader of the House has already said that she is not prepared to give us a debate on the subject, but will she assure us that she will take up the issue with the partner nations in the European Union with a view to reviewing and amending the treaties so that country of origin labelling is made mandatory? That would be very helpful in making Governments come up with meaningful and clear labelling, which would in turn be helpful to the consumer. The right hon. Lady will also be mindful of the beneficial effect that it would have on the producers of livestock in this country, who are currently suffering from the fact that their product is not easily distinguishable from imported products.

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot undertake to ensure mandatory labelling in the near future, but I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to the underlying aim of his proposal, which is well informed choice and clear and unambiguous labelling. We are doing everything that we can nationally to clamp down on labelling and internationally to promote the cause of clear, unambiguous labelling across the board. We shall continue to work to that end.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 87?

[That this House deplores the unacceptable level of violence against women, and believes that a thorough review of civil and criminal law is needed to ensure that violent men are prevented from tracing their former partners and then assaulting and killing them; believes that this should include a strengthening of police powers and court sanctions when injunctions are broken, and that there should be a robust policy of arrest and prosecution under the criminal law, an end to the routine bailing of men for breach of the peace and an end to the down- grading of charges through plea bargaining; supports the implementation of domestic violence awareness training for all those working within the justice system, including family law solicitors and the judiciary; recognises the need to restrict access by violent partners to information about the location of women through court proceedings and the provisions of the Children Act 1989; and accepts that men who abuse women forgo their right to access.]

I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) in asking for a debate on domestic violence. The motion has been signed

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by 158 Members of Parliament from all parties who deplore the unacceptable level of violence against women and call for a thorough review of the civil and criminal law on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Abergavenny women's aid, which moved to new premises this week, and Monmouthshire county council on the support that it gives to that organisation?

Mrs. Beckett: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the excellent work done by Abergavenny women's aid and the support given by Monmouthshire county council. He will know that there are many good local initiatives across the country and much good work is being done. He will also know that the Government published a report in the summer called "Living Without Fear", drawing together the initiatives across government that are promoting action against violence against women, including the allocation of money from the crime reduction programme. I assure him that we shall continue to work to that end. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, I fear that I cannot find time for another early debate.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): May I draw to the Leader of the House's attention the fact that in July 1997 the Foreign Secretary told the House that the Government


She may not be aware that such equipment includes leg irons and shackles that can be bought in America, having been manufactured in Britain by a company in Birmingham that owes its origins to its association with the slave trade. Such instruments can be bought freely over the counter on request. It appears that that is because it is still legal to manufacture such instruments of torture in this country provided that they are exported and sold as components. If they are later assembled by putting the chains to the leg cuffs, they can be sold as instruments of torture. Will she talk to her colleague, find time in this House to close this legislative loophole and stop this appalling trade?


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