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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I remind the Leader of the House that at least some of the current concerns about adoption law could be met if there were full implementation of the legislation introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten)? I ask the right hon. Lady particularly to consider that point.
May I revert to the very useful support given by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) to the Liberal Democrat Members' motion on the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) (No. 4) Order 2000? Will she please consider very seriously the need for a full debate on the matter as soon as possible so that it can be concluded?
Last week, the Leader of the House told some hon. Members that she was hopeful that we would soon have the Government's response to the Phillips report on BSE. May I draw her attention to the fact that next week's debate on the crisis in agriculture will undoubtedly be less valuable precisely because we have not yet had the report from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? As I think everyone recognises, it is an extremely important report. Will the right hon. Lady tell us whether it will be February, March or April before we have the Government's response to it? She will be well aware that the livestock sector has been knocked for six over the last five years by the inadequate attention paid by the last Government to major problems, and that £4 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent. The report raises huge questions about the scientific basis on which Government policy is developed, in relation to both the scrapie issue and the use of organophosphates, which may have contributed to the spread of the disease.
This morning, some young constituents of mine from St. Columb Minor asked me why the Leader of the House could not arrange for less time wasting in the House--she referred to that a few moments ago--and for more attention to be given to the provision of recreational facilities for young people, particularly in Cornwall.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman asked me about the full implementation of an earlier private Member's Bill, and I take his point; but, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may have indicated in response to earlier approaches, the Government feel that comprehensive changes to adoption law are necessary. While there is no hostility to the ideas contained in that private Member's Bill, and while we will view the hon. Member for Meriden's Bill with good will when it is presented, we think both Bills are unlikely to be comprehensive enough to deal with the range of issues we feel must be dealt with. That is partly why we are committed to Government legislation as early as is practicable.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Opposition prayer, and I understand his concern. He then asked about BSE. When he asked whether a debate would take place in February, March or April, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office was heard to say, "One of those." I can only say that I hope the
The hon. Gentleman asked about support for young people's recreational facilities. As he will know, the Government are providing substantial investment in recreational activity, both directly through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and in the form of investment in education. That investment would, of course, be put in jeopardy only if the result of the next election were different from that of the last.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the Prime Minister next week on exactly what are the limits on the role of his press secretary? She will know that the issue has been considered by the Select Committee on Public Administration and also by Sir Richard Wilson. It was decided that, while the press secretary--paid for with public funds--is entitled to defend Government policy, he is not entitled to attack Conservative policies in a specific and personal manner.
Will the Leader of the House ensure--this is not what is currently understood--that when the Prime Minister's press secretary starts to campaign for the Labour party, he will leave No. 10 and become an employee of the Labour party for the period of the campaign? It is clear from recent comments by the press secretary that it is high time the line was drawn.
Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid I am not inclined to invite the Prime Minister to make a statement in the near future, not because the right hon. Gentleman has not made some perfectly proper points but because, as he is well aware--and as he suggested himself, to an extent--the issues have been aired many times in the past, and will no doubt be aired many times in the future.
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): My right hon. Friend will know that the Conservative party plans to scrap the winter fuel allowance, and also the free television licence for those aged 75 and over. She may not know, however, that I agree with a number of pensioners in my constituency that we should do the opposite in regard to the TV licence, and extend it to more pensioners. We should encourage pensioners to take up the benefit, especially when they are facing what I expect to be the extra costs involved in the move to a digital system.
Would it be appropriate for us to debate the differences in approaches to help for pensioners ahead of the Budget, so that we could not only influence the Chancellor but let the public know the differences between the policies of the two parties?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Leaving aside the Conservatives' pleasure at yesterday's events, may I make a suggestion to my right hon. Friend? Without exception, should not any Member--Minister, Back Bencher or shadow Minister--who makes a representation to a Department about an individual when no constituency interest is involved notify the Parliamentary Commissioner's office? I have also suggested that tax returns should be notified to the Parliamentary Commissioner's office. Is not it important that everything should be above board in all such matters? We on this side of the House have nothing to fear.
Mrs. Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that most Members--perhaps those on this side of the House in particular--have nothing to fear from such a regime. He has expressed that opinion before, so he will know that this is, I fear, one of the rare occasions on which he and I do not see wholly eye to eye. Although I understand why he makes his suggestion, it would be incredibly onerous for Members. He makes a point about non-constituents, but all Members, particularly those who represent cities with more than one constituency, have to consider issues that are germane to their areas, but which do not arise directly within them. Although I understand my hon. Friend's underlying point, the House unfortunately might find his remedy unattractive.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Am I right to think that the 8 February debate on standards will not relate to the standards applied to Ministers? May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 234, on the conduct of the Prime Minister?
[That this House criticises the Prime Minister for answering the request for a list of the occasions when he said in public that the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill introduced in Session 1997-98 had been blocked in the House of Lords with his reference to the reply he gave on 17th January, Official Report, columns 344-5, in which the information was not included; and asks the Prime Minister to treat the House and its honourable Members with greater respect by giving straight answers to questions, even if that exposes weaknesses in previous statements he has made.]
The early-day motion criticises the Prime Minister's answer to a written question from me about when he made mis-statements on foxhunting legislation being blocked in the other place. We need a debate because that answer referred to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), which did not give the information. If we can have a debate, the Prime Minister can say clearly whether he intends to obstruct the flow of information or whether nobody around him told him, on each of the four occasions, that what he said was not totally adjacent to the facts.