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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): At the end of the last Session, the House put in place new arrangements for managing our business, including arrangements for the Legislative Business Committee, the aim of which is to achieve, as far as possible, a consensus on the key elements of different Bills and their relative priority. When is that committee to be convened? Bearing in mind the light programme facing the House in the next Session, will the Leader of the House confirm that this is an ideal opportunity to run that Committee in and for the House to gain experience of the way forward on such matters?
Mrs. Beckett: Discussions are taking place and will continue between the parties on general reactions to the proposed legislation and on how it will be reflected in our management of the House during the year ahead. I gently suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not attach too much credence either to what was said in the House yesterday or to what is reported in the press. I assure him that our programme is not a light programme; it is a proper and full one.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the interpretations of state aid that are now being made by the competition directorate in Brussels are threatening to halt or delay important objective 1 projects, including the development of a business centre in Toxteth in my constituency? Does she plan to allocate any parliamentary time to debate that important issue, which could have implications for the whole United Kingdom?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend raises an important issue that has an immediate impact in her constituency. We all recognise the need for such assistance and support in Toxteth. I fear, however, that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the near future, although my hon. Friend might like to use the opportunities provided by Westminster Hall, which have been further extended. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Last year, a full report was produced after the publication of the UK anti-drug co-ordinator's annual report. This year's report was published later than last year's. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a full debate on that report in this Session?
Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot give my hon. Friend the absolute guarantee that he seeks, although I recognise the importance of the issue and the number of hon. Members who have something worthwhile to say about it. He, too, might like to bear in mind the attractions of Westminster Hall.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House on postal services in London? It would give hon. Members the opportunity to question him about the disruption in NW1. For more than a year, substantial disruption has been caused to businesses and residents in that area by a dispute between Royal Mail and the trade unions. There is no point in publishing lots of wonderful urban White Papers if we cannot get right something as basic as a postal service in London. The matter is important for residents in NW1, and we should hear more about it in the Chamber.
Mrs. Beckett: I undertake to draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I cannot undertake to find time for a debate about it on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt, however, that the hon. Gentleman will find other ways of raising the issue.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): They say that it is not over until the fat lady sings; in this case, it is a matter of the thin man having an opportunity to change his mind. The House is going into recess on 21 December, before which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will have an opportunity to refer the takeover of Biwater by Saint-Gobain to the Competition Commission to see whether anything can be done to salvage the situation, which is causing devastation in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State make a statement or participate in a debate in order to deal with the matter?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be flattered to be described as thin; perhaps slender would be a more appropriate term. I understand my hon. Friend's determination to do all that he can to protect his constituents' interests. I am also well aware of his wish for the matter to be referred to the Competition
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I revert to the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly)? Will the Leader of the House assure us that the orders to which the hon. Lady referred will be the subject not of deferred votes but of a full debate on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on town and country planning issues? I ask because local residents have been campaigning to preserve a large and important area of greenfield space at Sty lane, Micklethwaite, in my constituency. I am extremely concerned that the Conservative-controlled local council is thinking about amending the unitary development plan and allowing development on that site.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand that it is always difficult for a Member of Parliament when constituents feel strongly about an issue such as this and there is a dispute with their elected representatives on the council. I understand my hon. Friend's concern that the views and anxieties of his constituents be aired in the House. However, I fear that I cannot find time for a debate on the Floor of the House. He, too, might like to bear in mind the virtues of Westminster Hall.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I press the Leader of the House yet again on embryology and stem cell research, which has been raised two or three times, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) from the Opposition Front Bench? The Leader of the House has just told my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) that the matter will be subject to discussions through the usual channels. However, this is a matter for the House as a whole and not just the usual channels. It is a moral issue of the greatest sensitivity and importance. Will she now give an assurance that the vote on the issue will be in prime time at the end of the debate and will not be deferred?
Mrs. Beckett: I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of Parliament, that of course I understand that this is a matter of the greatest sensitivity and importance. He is a fair man and he will recognise that the Government have not in any sense run away from the debate and have found time repeatedly to hear the views of hon. Members. The debate will be taken on the Floor of the House and I have undertaken that we will take seriously the representations that are made on the matter.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The Leader of the House will be aware that the scientific advice available to the Fisheries Council later this year in Brussels is particularly inauspicious for cod stocks in the North sea. From memory, I have never known the
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who enables me to clarify something that is important to the House. There was neither the intention nor the wish on the Government's part in any way to downgrade the debate. It is purely an unfortunate coincidence that we have had to take the debate in Standing Committee. I can assure him--without, I hope, breaching too many confidences or setting any precedent--that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been anxiously pressing for the information to be made available and has sought to convey to us the importance that he attaches to having the debate before the Council. Unfortunately, the timing of the receipt of the information meant that it was simply not possible to arrange the debate on the Floor in advance of the Council. That is why, exceptionally, the Government have agreed to hold the debate in Standing Committee. I remind the House that any hon. Member can attend such Standing Committee debates and I hope that those with an interest will do so.