Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Leader of the House accept that Ministers must be accountable to the House rather than to the media for the actions of Government? Does she accept that, despite what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has just said, there are still very real concerns--in my part of the country, if not in his--about the devastation left by the foot and mouth outbreak? There is therefore absolutely no room for complacency about the outbreak; nor is there any room for complacency about the way in which the Government have handled the whole episode.
May I draw the right hon. Lady's attention specifically to the fact that there are still real problems with co-ordination of the Government's activities in their different forms to deal with the outbreak? That is why, on several previous occasions, I have asked that the Prime Minister--as he has insisted that he had to take personal charge of the whole exercise--should himself come to the House and answer questions on the co-ordination of Government activity to deal with it.
May I particularly draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the problems that obviously will arise if we do not have a swift public inquiry into the matter? I accept that she may well be able to say that the previous Government refused a public inquiry into the BSE scandal, but two wrongs do not make a right, and that is not an excuse for inaction now.
Specifically, we want to know whether the Agriculture Minister was right when, on 27 March, he told the House that entry into this country--presumably through the ports--of the foot and mouth virus had still to be examined and established. Is that true? If it is, why have we had no further statement on the matter?
Moreover, why have the efforts that my colleagues and I have put into trying to see what is happening at our entry ports been blocked at every stage, to the extent that civil servants themselves have told me that we have been given the Whitehall runaround? We have been wanting to go and see what checks are being made at our ports into illegal meat imports, and we have been told by the Association of Port Health Authorities that large quantities of such meat are coming into this country. Why have we been blocked from seeing exactly what is happening, and when will we have the remit for that public inquiry?
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman says that matters should be reported to the House. Perhaps he failed to hear me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that a parliamentary question was answered this morning. He will know that successive Speakers have ruled that that is a perfectly acceptable way of making an announcement. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food intends to make a statement later.
I wholeheartedly endorse, as does everyone, the idea that although, to nearly everyone's relief, the disease is apparently on a downward trajectory, there is no cause for complacency. Indeed, nobody feels complacent.
The issue of what inquiry should be held, and in what form, will continue to be considered. Perhaps in calling for further statements the hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that some of the issues may become a matter for prosecution, which always means that what is said in public must be handled with caution. He will have the opportunity to put many of these questions to my right hon. Friend later.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Can we have a statement next week on the slow progress of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill? It completed its stages in the House of Commons on 13 February, about 11 weeks ago, had its First Reading in the other place the following day and then took some five weeks to get its Second Reading, since when there has been no progress whatever. Along with many of my hon. Friends, I am concerned about the situation. We made a commitment in the Labour party manifesto to ban tobacco advertising. Can we have a statement to find out whether the Bill will make further progress, especially considering the rumours that abound suggesting that we may be embarking on a general election campaign very shortly?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses. He has been a strong and ardent campaigner on the issue for many years. He will know, however, that there is a great deal of business in the other place and that the Government do not control the business there: it is a matter for that House itself to decide what business to take and how long to spend on it. There are always problems and pressures.
My hon. Friend will know that, in the event of any change in business, there are long-established parliamentary conventions on how the issues may be handled. I am not aware of any reason to suppose that those conventions will not be observed.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on the financial situation faced by hospices that care for the dying, of which we have 102 in this country? Information just published shows that, over the past three years, the proportion of hospices' funding that is public has gone down from more than 35 to just under 30 per cent. Will she pay particular attention to the independent report that has just been published showing that half our hospices now face serious financial problems? If we had not raised a great deal of additional money over the past year, Southend, too, could have been in that position. Does she agree that this is an urgent and important matter that deserves parliamentary attention?
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Those of us who were present in Westminster Hall on 11 July 1996 were afforded the great honour of listening to one of the greatest statesmen of our time address both Houses of Parliament; I refer, of course, to Nelson Mandela. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 643, which seeks to commemorate that event?
[That this House notes the historic importance of the speech delivered to both Houses by President Mandela and of EDM 1155, tabled on 11th July 1996, supported on a cross party basis; and calls upon the House authorities to install a permanent reminder of the occasion by the setting of a brass plaque on the steps of Westminster Hall.]
I realise that the solution to that request is not entirely in the gift of my right hon. Friend, but I would be grateful if she would bring it to the attention of the Lord Chancellor, who is one of the people involved.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is partly right in saying that I do not have entire responsibility in the matter, because I do not have any responsibility for what happens in Westminster Hall, which rests with the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker. However, I fully recognise the important point that my hon. Friend makes. The tremendous warmth of the cross-party welcome for Nelson Mandela was evident on the occasion that my hon. Friend mentions, and I am confident that those who have responsibility for the matter will hear his remarks with sympathy.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Does the right hon. Lady agree that there is no great pressure of massively important legislation next week and that therefore--if necessary after 10 o'clock--the Government should bring forward the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body on the new level of salary for Members of Parliament? They will not affect me, but they should not be held back until after the election by people who fear that voting in favour of them might affect their position at the polls. One section of the House will be affected--those who are retiring or who are defeated at the election and have only a low level of pension. That pension is based on Members' final salary when they leave the House, so to hold back a recommendation based on what has been supposedly earned over the past three years is to be unfair to a host of Members of Parliament in terms of their pensions. The Government should have enough strength to overcome any opposition and get on with it.