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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a statement on job losses in the aerospace industry in Lancashire? BAE Systems is wielding an axe over thousands of jobs, but we do not yet know where that axe is going to fall. Some employees are being given no real choice of deployment: the choice between working at Warton, Salmesbury or in Saudi Arabia is not a real choice for people with families. The time has come for a statement to be made.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern on behalf of his constituents. I know that he and other colleagues from the north-west have been pressing for more clarity on those issues, in the
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for Health has failed to answer a question from me, on the exclusion of nurses in west Kent from the new cost of living supplement, that I tabled on 20 November? Is she also aware that he has failed to respond to a letter from me dated 24 November? Does she agree that that is unacceptable? What will she do about it?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not aware of the background to the specific constituency issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. Obviously, I understand his concern. If it has not proved possible for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to deal with the issue until now, I shall certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's concerns to his attention.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): May I assure my right hon. Friend that my request for a debate on international debt relief was not at all influenced by the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House? After all, the Opposition had every opportunity to devote one of their Opposition day debates to that subject, but they chose to debate asylum seekers and other subjects.
A recent Oxfam study showed that of 12 countries experiencing debt relief--greatly to the credit of the Department for International Development--three of them nevertheless had to spend more on debt servicing than on health and education. DFID has a good story to tell, and a lot to contribute in terms of providing a strategy for international debt relief and the reduction of poverty. Given that it has such a good story to tell, may I support the calls for such a debate?
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I understand and sympathise with both the basic points that he makes. There is a good story to tell on the Government's initiative and success in promoting the cause of debt relief.
My right hon. Friend also referred to the issue of spending on education vis-a-vis debt. We have substantially increased the resources made available, committing more than £400 million since the general election to support primary education in developing countries, as part of the increase in the development budget as a whole by 45 per cent. in real terms. I accept that the Government have a good story to tell, although there remains a great deal to be done, not least in the international arena. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate in Government time in the near future, but my right hon. Friend might like to consider the attractions of the time available in Westminster Hall.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the right hon. Lady express her gratitude to the Opposition for finding time for a debate and a vote on a matter for which the Government should have provided time: the Liaison Committee report "Shifting the Balance"?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course it is for the Opposition to determine topics for debate on Opposition days, and it is for the country to judge whether the Opposition's priorities reflect public concern. However, the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the Prime Minister said, entirely correctly as always, that there is a free vote on House matters. The Prime Minister has never said, and is never likely to say, that Opposition day debates are a matter for a free vote.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): May I support the call of the shadow Leader of the House for the Chancellor to come to the House, not to embarrass the Tory party about its single currency policy, but to give the Opposition an opportunity to hear the excellent speech that he made to a private meeting in Westminster Hall yesterday about the Government's plans for full employment in every region and for abolishing child poverty, pensioner poverty and poverty among disabled people?
Mrs. Beckett: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful case. I am aware of the Chancellor's determination to build on the solid foundations that he has laid for the economy by tackling full employment and child poverty. I understand and sympathise with my right hon. Friend's views. He knows that, despite many opportunities on Opposition days or at Prime Minister's Question Time, the Conservative party prefers dancing around the argument about angels on the head of a pin and discussing whether any aspect of the Government's policy on the euro has changed to dealing with important issues of substance to the British people and to the future of our country. Nevertheless, I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for such a debate, although I am sure that the Chancellor would be delighted to take part in it.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Does the right hon. Lady know that yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told the National Farmers Union annual general meeting that he believed it was time for a full debate in Parliament on bovine tuberculosis and the epidemic that has spread throughout the country under the Government? Has the Minister made any request to the right hon. Lady for such a debate? If so, when will it take place?
Mrs. Beckett: I would be slightly surprised to learn that my right hon. Friend had couched his remarks in those precise terms. It was not my impression that tuberculosis began to spread on 1 May 1997. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that an important agriculture debate on BSE is scheduled for the near future, and that takes precedence. The Conservative party has called for that important debate for a long time.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's anxiety on behalf of his constituents that the licence conditions should be properly aired. There are genuine problems, especially in parts of London. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor in the near future. However, I shall draw my hon. Friend's request for licence papers to be placed in the Library to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I also remind my hon. Friend that Trade and Industry questions are scheduled for next Thursday. He may find an opportunity to raise the matter then.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Why are the Government so frightened of debating the euro? Does not the right hon Lady recognise that, when she says on the "Today" programme that the decision will be taken entirely on the subjective judgment of the Chancellor and on subjective criteria that he has set, she raises the suspicion that it will be based not on what is in the best economic interests of the United Kingdom but on what is perceived by the Government to be in the electoral interests of their party?
Mrs. Beckett: There is no question of Labour Members being afraid of debating the euro; we are just deeply bored with the endless round-the-houses pursuit by Conservative Members attempting to find something different in what Ministers are saying. The hon. Gentleman claimed that we are worried about debating the euro because a decision might be taken not in the best economic interests of the country but in the political interests of the Government. There is only one party in the House that is determined that such a decision should be based not on the country's economic interests but on its own political stance, and that is the Conservative party.