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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend and I are probably among the few in this House who have ever read the reports of the Government Actuary with interest. I recognise the basic point that he is making and the Actuary will no doubt flesh out the information that is needed. My hon. Friend will know that any such decision would have a major impact on other potential changes in social security. He will know also that, during the course of the Parliament, the Government will have spent £2 billion more on support for pensioners than would have been required by restoring the link with earnings. We have done so by concentrating the greatest amount of help on those who were already in the greatest need. The Government recognise other areas of need and are moving to deal with them appropriately.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Will the Leader of the House bear it in mind that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food intends next week to announce a major reorganisation of its regional service centres, which will include the closure of some centres? Will she bear it in mind also that the Select Committee on Agriculture intends to vote on a report on this very matter next Wednesday? In light of the debate on the relative powers of the Executive and the legislature, will she ask MAFF to bear in mind the appropriateness of the two announcements?
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Following the advice of Advocate-General Siegbert Alber that European member states should impose VAT on tolls, I have established that the final decision is expected on 12 September. As this is during the recess, I urge my right hon. Friend that nothing should be done on this serious issue until we have come back from the recess and had a chance to debate it, so that those of us with interests--including bridges, such as the Humber bridge--can press our case that we should exempt this country from that levying of VAT.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the strength of feeling of my hon. Friend on the matter and she will know that the measure would have a more major impact on many other member states than it would on the UK. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Yesterday, while responding to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in columns 365-69 of the Official Report, the Prime Minister made six references to Opposition spending cuts of £16 billion. Thereafter, in columns 371-74--while responding to lesser mortals--the Prime Minister changed gear upwards to Opposition spending cuts of £24 billion at the next election. Can we have a definitive statement next week on the second figure, so that some of us who are interested parties can from it work out the date of the next election?
Mrs. Beckett: I have not seen the text of Hansard to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but it is occasionally true, as I know to my cost, that Hansard very, very rarely does make errors. [Interruption.] I have vivid memories of having referred to someone as a "mugger" and seeing it represented in Hansard as "mother". It did rather spoil the sense. However, I heard clearly what the Prime Minister said. What he said was, £24 million per constituency. In other words, it was a breakdown of the £16 billion to show the impact in the constituencies of individual Opposition Members. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety on that point and feel confident that it is something that the Conservative party will hear much of between now and the election.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May we please have an urgent debate on leaks--not the Welsh kind, but the Gould kind--because the nation is now surely entitled to know just where all these leaks are coming from? Is it from Downing street, from Millbank, or, as I have seen in one newspaper, from the Daily Express? The reason why it is important to know is that, in this age of alleged freedom of information and alleged open government, it would appear that the Government are nevertheless concerned to cover up ever more of what goes on at the highest level, rather than be open, transparent and honest with the people. Can we please have an urgent debate on that matter, so that we can eliminate all the suggestion of leaks and enter a period of genuine open government?
Mrs. Beckett: It is entirely clear in whose interest these leaks are being printed at the time that they are being printed. It is to try to ensure that the British people do not hear the news about the substance of the Government's policies. What is becoming increasingly clear is which party is really interested in substance and which in spin.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May we have an early debate on the Ilisu dam in Turkey, from which the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) and I have just returned, on a visit funded by Kurdish human rights groups? The project involves shoving 45,000 people out of their homes without proper consultation. It infringes most of the World Bank guidelines. It is bad for the environment; it is bad for human rights. It would be very bad if the British taxpayer, through export credit
Mrs. Beckett: I of course understand the concern that my hon. Friend and others, including the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, have expressed. She will know that the Government have indicated that we would take the most careful note of the concerns expressed, but she will also know that, as yet, no decision has been made or announced.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have a problem with losing important pieces of paper, but it has become more serious lately, according to reports in The Guardian: the Government have lost 5 million pieces of confidential information--the tax records of 5 million people. That was brought to light by The Guardian from, apparently, a copy of an internal departmental memo.
As Ministers have known about that grave error and concern for so long, why have they not come to the House to explain the matter to Members--who will have to deal with the problems of our constituents, many of whom will be affected--and, indeed, to the 5 million people who will be seriously affected? When the right hon. Lady has explained why Ministers have not come to the House already, can she explain when they will come to the House to explain?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not entirely sure, but it strikes me as possible that, if some records are not at present identifiable, no one can let the people who are involved know because no one knows who they are. That seems to follow rather logically from the loss of those records. However, what is truly remarkable is that, given how many tax records it is said the Inland Revenue has at least temporarily mislaid, it was able to find Lord Levy's records when it needed them.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does the right hon. Lady agree that there are many unsung heroes in the United Kingdom? Can she find time for a debate on the honours system, so that the brave soul who is exposed to fear, loathing, ego, cant and sheer hypocrisy at the heart of 10 Downing street can be justly rewarded?
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): In the context of next week's debate on resource accounting, can my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that there are some new towns, which include Hemel Hempstead, whose resource base is almost entirely derived from land devoted to housing stock in the past? As a result, they have a very low resource base which is not funded initially from housing. In the context of changes about ring-fencing housing resources, those new towns are now faced with potentially catastrophic cuts. There is an impending 41 per cent. cut in the resource base in Dacorum in my
Mrs. Beckett: I certainly undertake to draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends in the Treasury team. He may find some opportunity to flag up the issue during debates on the matter next week.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Can we please have an early debate in Government time on the important doctrine of collective responsibility, the Government's current interpretation of which seems to be neither collective nor responsible? Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants the Prime Minister's job, the Foreign Secretary wants the Chancellor's job and the Northern Ireland Secretary wants all their jobs, would it not be helpful to have an early debate in which all those Ministers were present so that we could see them on the Treasury Bench united in fraternal detestation of each other's guts?