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Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): May I urge the right hon. Lady--for once, quite genuinely--to hold a debate next week to consider the decision of the intervention board to remove the only remaining slaughterhouse in Devon from the over-30-months scheme? Does she appreciate that Devon has some of the most densely populated cow country in the land? The decision will mean that cows making their final journey, many having never left their home farm, will have to travel up to 116 miles for more than three and a half hours.

I do not say that that is yet the Government's fault--clearly, it is not--but the final decision remains with Government. Whatever may disunite us, whatever exchanges we have had on these occasions before, animal welfare--it is an animal welfare issue--cuts across the party divide. If she can see any time at all next week for a short debate, it really is something that she might want to accede to.

Mrs. Beckett: I know that the hon. Gentleman will understand that, given the closeness of the Christmas recess, I fear that I am unable to say now that I shall be able to find time for such a debate. I was, however, touched by his frankness in saying that his request was, for once, quite genuine--and I shall remind him of that on another occasion. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. He is entirely right to say that animal welfare concerns are shared on both sides of the House.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Has the right hon. Lady seen this morning's edition ofThe Independent, in which the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is reported as saying that the Prime Minister is behaving like a madman? However, under the procedures established in section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, only you--as you will know, Madam Speaker--are able to determine whether an hon. Member is sane or insane. Nevertheless, the right hon. Lady might think that she could assist you, Madam Speaker, by enabling the Prime Minister to make a statement about that early next week to the House. With the greatest

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respect, it is very difficult to judge the matter only at Prime Minister's Question Time, as there are so many interventions by other excitable Labour Members.

Mrs. Beckett: I am not familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, although I am familiar with the varied and colourful phraseology frequently adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I shall only say, first, that the Prime Minister will be in the House on Monday, in the aftermath of the Helsinki summit; and, secondly, that my right hon. Friend's sanity and effectiveness are not doubted anywhere, except perhaps on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I join my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) in wishing the Leader of the House a speedy recovery from her malady.

May we, please, have an early debate in Government time on the proposal unveiled by Lord Falconer, in the other place--in a written answer, and reported in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph--that new Ministers should be sent on induction courses to learn how to run the Whitehall machine?

Does the right hon. Lady accept that, although the Government's performance--or underperformance--since 1 May 1997 demonstrates that the need for such courses is extremely pressing, it would be helpful if we could have such a debate, as it would allow Ministers to tell the House exactly how many Ministers have been invited to attend such courses, from which Departments they hail, the Ministers' identity, and which recalcitrant Ministers refused the invitation. Does she also agree that, in the interests of cross-party co-operation on this important matter, there should be an opportunity for Opposition Members to recommend suitable candidates who are most likely to benefit from the induction courses available?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful both to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) for their kind remarks. It is most touching--in fact, it is almost suspicious.

I do not think that anyone in the United Kingdom, except perhaps some Opposition Members, will think that the Government's performance, compared with that of the previous Government, demonstrates any pressing need for special training for Ministers. However--I thought that this was common ground in the House--there must always be merit in better training being available for people in all walks of life. The hon. Gentleman will know that induction courses for new Members of Parliament have been introduced, and that many Members have benefited from them.

The hon. Gentleman walked straight into my final remark on the matter. He suggested--after yesterday's debate, I do not know how he has the nerve to do it--that Opposition Front Benchers should be invited to identify Ministers who could benefit from such courses, but we could all identify plenty of Conservative Members who could benefit from an induction course on how to be a decent Opposition.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): In the interests of the throat of the Leader of the House, my question may be answered with a simple yes.

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Yesterday, Madam Speaker, you kindly granted an Adjournment debate to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), entitled "European Legislation (Parliamentary Scrutiny)". Although we had a most interesting debate, there were three problems.

First, very few hon. Members turned up for the debate, because it was held in the alien and lifeless atmosphere of the luvvie-zone of Westminster Hall. Secondly, and more importantly, the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and all its members except for the Conservatives were visiting Brussels on Scrutiny Committee business. Thirdly, the Minister did not have enough time to answer the important questions that were raised. Those questions relate to the nature of the government of this country, as we face a deluge of regulation and legislation that is not properly scrutinised by our current arrangements. Could we have a full debate on the Floor of the House in the new year?

Mrs. Beckett: Having listened to the hon. Gentleman, I am not sure what that debate is supposed to be about. He seems to dislike the architecture of the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall. If yesterday's debate took place in the absence of many members of the European Scrutiny Committee it is not surprising that it was not as well attended as one would wish, although that is by no means unusual for Adjournment debates. However, I agree that the situation was unfortunate. As arrangements for debates in Westminster Hall settle down, we hope to avoid that problem. We go with the recommendations of the Liaison Committee on what Select Committee reports to debate, to ensure that Members who have a particular interest are not disadvantaged. I am sorry to hear that those arrangements might have broken down yesterday. We shall certainly bear that in mind. Whether the Minister had enough time to take part depended on the length of the contributions of the others who spoke.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman spoke for 24 minutes.

Mrs. Beckett: A terrible allegation is being made that the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) spoke for 24 minutes. That suggests that he was enjoying what he describes as the alien and lifeless atmosphere of Westminster Hall, about which I fear that I cannot undertake to do anything.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I also wish the right hon. Lady a speedy recovery? I do not want to contradict her commendations of the new Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall. Will she acknowledge that Monday night will afford right hon. and hon. Members a proper opportunity to raise many subjects in the debate on the Christmas Adjournment?

Will she clarify her answer on the important subject of small businesses? On 19 June last year, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who was then the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, gave the House a clear undertaking, saying that the debate on that day

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    I was inclined to infer that the Leader of the House was abandoning that commitment. Could we have an assurance that she will not abandon it and that there will be an annual debate on small businesses?

Mrs. Beckett: My answer is a mixture of yes and no. Of course we recognise the importance of having a debate on small and medium-sized businesses. I was not abrogating any undertaking. The fact that someone referred to what they described as an annual debate is not the same as saying that the Government have a commitment to one, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have taken the request for such a debate on board seriously. We shall endeavour to find time for it, but I cannot at the moment say when that might be.

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Point of Order

1.58 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have heard yesterday and today in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) the long-standing view that the Government do not discuss security issues. I accept that. However, I am dismayed and I wonder whether you, together with the Clerk and the Serjeant at Arms, could consider the wider parliamentary issues raised by the reported bugging of the car of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), which go to the heart of our ancient rights and liberties in the House. With the growth of electronic surveillance, all 659 of us are vulnerable to such trespassing on our rights. The House should consider the issue and discuss whether matters have moved on. The use of such devices on hon. Members would be an infringement of our rights and the immunities and privileges of the House.

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