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Mrs. Beckett: As the right hon. Gentleman said, I heard the point that he made and I have given the matter consideration. He attends business questions, so he will be aware of the enormous pressure and the requests for many issues to be debated. It has not been possible to find time for this issue to be aired at this time.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the preparations in South Africa for the Rio plus 10 conference in September next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1992 Earth summit, set up to establish greater international co-operation on environmental policy? In view of the crisis in international environmental policy caused by the decision of the United States Government to oppose the Kyoto protocol, will she find time in the near future for a debate so that we can consider the response of all relevant Departments to that conference?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He takes a keen interest in the issue, which he assiduously pursues. However, I cannot find time to have such a debate on the Floor of the House in the near future, although he might consider the opportunities offered by Westminster Hall. It strikes me that although the debate on the international development White Paper will focus on globalisation and its impact on the poor, other aspects of world development also impinge on the poor, and the environment is one of them. Far be it from me to impinge on the prerogatives of the Chair, but my hon. Friend might try to fit the matter into the context of that debate.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): The whole House will have been disappointed with the right hon. Lady's
Mrs. Beckett: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am aware that he has a keen interest in such issues and is a campaigning member of the Information Committee. However, I must explain two things. First, it is clear from the SSRB report and many other discussions that a considerable amount of work and planning needs to be done before the new systems are fully operational. I understand his anxiety about newly elected Members and about making decisions in a changing context. However, I am not clear that hon. Members will be satisfied with the service available to them if the kit from central supply is provided in the immediate aftermath of the election, as he suggests. The SSRB report makes it clear that a substantial transitional period is needed.
Secondly, next week, the Modernisation Committee is taking evidence from hon. Friends who have been involved in such matters. That is, in part, because of concern expressed about the adequacy of IT support and how it will need to be developed substantially to implement the SSRB report recommendations.
Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment to allow MPs a free vote on hunting and that that will be held in Government time?
Mrs. Beckett: As my hon. Friend knows, the Hunting Bill is in the upper House. The Government's approach has always been to allow a free vote on it. I have no reason to suppose that that stance is likely to change.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Will the Leader of the House comment on the state of the approach roads to the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday, especially as those people who intend to protest in my constituency on that day have not sought the approval of the Metropolitan police for that line of route?
Mrs. Beckett: I take the right hon. Gentleman's point, although I am not sure that the protesters have a line of route. He will appreciate that it is not wholly a matter for me. However, I am aware that the House authorities have been in discussion with the Metropolitan police who are mindful of their responsibilities to the citizens of London and the House.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): The Government have made many good efforts to help tourism over the past few weeks, and my right hon. Friend will be aware that
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was not aware of the serious impact of that decision, and I can perfectly understand her concern on behalf of her constituents, let alone potential visitors to her constituency. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House, but it sounds to me like a classic for Westminster Hall.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): It is disappointing that even in what appear to be the dying days of this Parliament the Government have not introduced a debate in their time on the national drugs strategy. Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the impact and seriousness of the problem facing the country, the effect on crime figures and on expense on education, health and social services, and the fact that in the past four years there has been only one debate on the subject in Government time, and introduce a debate as soon as she can?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I take the hon. Lady's point that those are important issues, but as she, too, regularly attends business questions she will be aware that it is only one of many subjects of substance which the House likes to debate from time to time, and it is not always easy to find time for debates on the Floor. However, I recommend to her, as I have done to others, the attractions of the extra debating time available in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the problem of term-time workers? Thousands of workers, mainly women, in educational establishments throughout the country, particularly universities, are laid off during the holidays. They receive no pay and are denied benefits during that time, so for about 20 weeks of the year they have absolutely nothing to live on. Many women took the job on the basis that they were told by the Benefits Agency that they would qualify for benefits, and those benefits have now been stopped. During the time that they are off work, they receive no national insurance contributions, which will obviously have a detrimental effect on their pensions.
The problem has gone on for nearly five years and is being considered by the Law Lords in the other place. Will my right hon. Friend provide for a statement to be made to the House on how long it will take for a judgment to be made, bearing it in mind that many of these women basically have nothing to live on?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As far as I can recall, this is a problem of considerable standing. I seem to remember it being raised some 15 or more years ago. He is right to express concern about the possibility that people have been given advice that has turned out not to be accurate. I fear that I cannot assure him that there will be a statement on the matter because the court case will continue in the near future,
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The Leader of the House has not announced time in the next two weeks for consideration of Commons amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, leaving it inevitably vulnerable to an early Dissolution of the House. She will know that the Bill contains a measure that has all-party support, namely the introduction of free nursing care in nursing homes. She will also have heard the Prime Minister yesterday commit the Government to overturning a decision on the future of community health councils. Are the Government seriously considering holding up a measure that is popular so that they can proceed with a measure that is unpopular?
Mrs. Beckett: With respect, there is no question of the Government holding that up. The right hon. Gentleman will find that the Bill is still in the House of Lords and, indeed, that the Lords have not yet finished their consideration. He makes an important point about the further consideration needed in this House at some stage, but it is not usual to schedule that before the Bill has finished its proceedings in another place, as he will appreciate.