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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Four of the five wettest years on record in the United Kingdom occurred in the 1990s, but in other parts of the world the desert is advancing at a truly alarming rate. Given that there is a United Nations conference in Bonn on desertification as I speak, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently published a White Paper that touches tangentially on the issue, can we have an early debate on it?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not entirely sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that we should have an early debate on desertification. I understand that there are frequent discussions about climate change, of which desertification is one aspect, and I share my hon. Friend's view, as I am sure all hon. Members do, that it is a serious matter. I fear, however, that especially as, happily, whatever our other problems up to now, no one has suggested that deserts are spreading in Britain, I cannot find time for an early debate on that.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Will the Leader of the House pay attention to concerns expressed throughout the House about the constitution of the Human Rights Joint Committee, which is on the Order Paper? Do the Government intend to allow the Committee to have a completely free choice of its Chair? The Committee will have a role similar to that of the Public Accounts Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, so will the Government make certain that its Chair is taken by an Opposition Member, rather than a Government supporter, in common with those other Committees?
I endorse the congratulations to the Government on listening to the views of many Members about the timing for the motion on the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulation 2000, which is now in a much better place in our programme.
When will we receive a comprehensive response to the royal commission on long-term care? Statements have been made, and references were made during the debates on the Gracious Speech, but is the coming crisis in the national health service, which is causing so much concern to Members and their constituents, being viewed in the context of bed blocking and the relationship between health and social services authorities?
Mrs. Beckett: Yes, we are making progress on appointing the Human Rights Joint Committee, and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is always Committees that deal with such issues. As for the comparison that he drew with the Public Accounts Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, I am not aware of any suggestion that the Human Rights Joint Committee is in the same category and should therefore be chaired by an Opposition Member, but that will no doubt emerge in due course.
It is widely understood in the House that bed blocking is causing difficulties in the NHS. The hon. Gentleman asked for a further statement on long-term care, but that will be dealt with when the NHS Bill comes before the House, so I anticipate that there will be opportunities to discuss the issue then and it is unlikely that there will be a further, separate statement on it.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the delay in, and possibly even the postponement of, the publication of the long- awaited Green Paper on radioactive waste management. Does she accept that the delay means that the Government effectively have no policy on radioactive waste management, and have not had one since the previous Government's abandonment of the plans to build an underground repository at the Sellafield complex? Will she assure the House that the Green Paper will be published early next year? If that is not the case, will she find time for a debate on this most important environmental issue?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important issue. It has considerable implications for the long term, and it will take considerable time to implement once policy details have been thrashed out. It is important that we try to get the first steps right. I anticipate that when the consultation paper is published there will be a major programme of discussion and research, as well as decision making. I fear that I am not up to speed with the intended timing of that, but my colleagues will want to bring the Green Paper to the House when it is ready, although they no doubt hope that that will be as early as possible. I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. and hon. Friends so that if they have any further information, they can let him know.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the textiles industry? She will know that there have been severe job losses in the industry in the east midlands. We often have
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that there is great and long-standing concern about the future of the textile industry. I am also aware of the specific concerns the hon. Gentleman raises--indeed, the other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) highlighted the concern felt in the midlands. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government office for the east midlands is seeking to co-ordinate help from various public bodies in the area and that a rapid response unit is in place to help and support people through the difficulties in the region. As he is well aware, the problems in the textiles industry are of long standing; successive Governments have struggled to overcome them from time to time and with some success, but there is no easy solution.
Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): I know that the parliamentary timetable is extremely full, but has any progress been made on finding time for a debate on Lord Phillips' report on BSE? The families of those who have died of new variant CJD in my constituency are anxious for Parliament to debate the report, and there are worrying reports in today's media about another potential cluster. Can my right hon. Friend provide any reassurance?
Mrs. Beckett: I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government have every intention of providing time for a major debate on the subject. She will recall that, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the outcome of the Phillips inquiry, he made it plain that the Government would find time for a debate, after a reasonable period had elapsed. He was anxious to ensure that sufficient time was allowed for people to study the 16 volumes of the report and take full account of the in-depth study that the inquiry team carried out, and for discussions to take place with families that have been affected. Therefore, although I anticipate a debate taking place, I cannot say when it will take place. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will bring the matter to the House.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): The right hon. Lady will be aware of growing concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the fact that human cloning matters are to be introduced by regulation on Tuesday. Bearing in mind that those matters were not discussed during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and that many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that they should be the subject of primary legislation rather than regulations, will she be courageous and postpone the debate until those matters can be fully considered?
Mrs. Beckett: With respect, last week the Opposition were pressing for the debate. I should say first that the regulations are not human cloning orders and it should not be allowed to slip on to the record of the House that they are. Indeed, if the hon. Lady reads the Department
As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) a minute or two ago, the report that recommended that regulations should be laid before the House was published in August, at which time the Government made it plain that we would give the House an opportunity to reach its decision on the recommended regulations on a free vote. The Government made time for a debate in principle and we published the regulations in draft--which we were not by any means compelled to do. The draft regulations have been amended following representations, which proves the value of publishing them in draft form. There will be a further debate tomorrow on the broad issues, but focusing on the draft regulations, without the House being required to reach a conclusion. Then, on Tuesday, we shall have a further, fuller debate, followed by the House having an opportunity to vote.
I do not think that the Government can, in the slightest degree, be criticised for having provided some 10 hours now in which to debate the issues and the substance of the regulations, for having published them in draft, and for requiring the House to reach a conclusion only later and after a longer debate than is usual. The Government are perfectly entitled to take regulations on an hour and a half debate after 10 o'clock, but we have not done so because we recognise the concern and the interest felt in the House. I know that the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) disagrees violently with our proposals and she is perfectly entitled to do so, but it is not quite fair of her to pretend that the Government have not more than done our duty by the House in giving the House an opportunity to decide.