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Angela Smith (Basildon): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that it is about a year and a half since the minimum wage was introduced nationally. Is it not time to have a debate so that we might review its implementation? Those of us who served on the Committee that considered the National Minimum Wage Bill are aware of the scaremongering of Conservatives, who said that 1 million jobs would be lost and that pensioners, the disabled and people working for charities in the voluntary sector should not receive the minimum wage. While we debate the operation of the scheme now, might we not consider a timetable for the removal of the temporary youth rate?
Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend and others served long hours on the National Minimum Wage Bill in Committee and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, thereby giving the lie to any suggestion that Members are not prepared to work hard for a worthwhile cause. They are, however, reluctant to spend long hours on trivia. It is right that the minimum wage arouses great interest on both sides of the House.
I understand the attraction that my hon. Friend sees in having an opportunity to debate the errors of the Conservative party, and, as far as I am aware, the continued wish of Liberal Democrats to have a regional
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The Leader of the House will know that irrespective of the outcome of the decisions that will be made in the Fisheries Council today and tomorrow about total allowable catches for pressure stocks next year, the fishing and processing sectors of the fishing industry are facing a uniquely difficult year. There are some conservation and technical issues that will flow from the decisions on TACs today and tomorrow. Will the right hon. Lady try to find time early in January for a debate on the Floor of the House so that these important matters can be considered against the background of the uniquely difficult circumstances that the industry is facing?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand fully the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses. He will know that the Government regretted the fact that, owing to timing of information coming from Brussels, it was not possible to have the normal pre-Council debate on the Floor of the House. I take his point fully on board and I understand his anxiety for a debate relatively early in the House. The Government will have to balance that--we have already introduced 10 of the Bills in our programme, and obviously we are anxious to get them through their Second Reading stage and start to feed them into Committee--against perfectly proper pressure for the debate that the hon. Gentleman seeks. We take seriously the point that he is making.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on miners' compensation payments? We know that the Government have ring-fenced the money and put it aside. It is not good enough that some miners, especially the older ones--26,000 since court proceedings began--have died without receiving a penny. Is it not about time that we had a debate to ascertain what is happening with the scheme and who is holding back its implementation?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a source of considerable irritation to me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that something that we sought to get under way as speedily as possible in the early months of this Government is still not going through at the speed that everybody wishes. I hope that my hon. Friend will know that there have been some expedited offers since September, and that some increased offers were made in mid-October. I share his concern, as do my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Trade, that there is continued delay. I can assure him that they are doing everything they can to speed things up. I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter on the Floor of the House; my hon. Friend may think that Westminster Hall might be a good place to discuss it.
Mrs. Beckett: First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was abroad on Government business, and it was, I believe, business that Conservative Members might welcome. I fear that the right hon. Gentleman weakens his case by suggesting that it is necessary for my right hon. Friend to come to the House to clarify confusion as no confusion exists on the issue to which he refers, except in the minds of Conservative Members.
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Government's youth policy? There has rightly been much emphasis in the past few weeks on young people and crime, but the youth policy involves so much more than that. Many young people in my constituency in Nottingham are concerned about the provision of recreation and leisure facilities, and we have heard today about the impact of the minimum wage on young people. Young people want to be involved in decision making. This is a huge subject, and we should talk not just about young people and crime but about the range of services that the Government offer young people in general.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that he has done much campaigning on the issue locally in his constituency. Although he raises some important issues, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House, where time is always very short, as he knows. That is precisely the reason why the Government--together with the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery)--proposed, through the Modernisation Committee, to hold debates in Westminster Hall to air the many worthwhile issues for which we cannot find time on the Floor of the House.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of yesterday's High Court decision, which means that the involvement of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions in determining town and country planning appeals was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. As that will have a profound effect on planning and development control, and indeed may extend to other legislation across the Departments of State, will she arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement as early as possible next week to explain his intentions in that regard?
Mrs. Beckett: I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend, but I suspect that the Department will want some time to consider the implications of that decision. Environment questions will take place relatively soon after the Christmas recess, and perhaps that will provide a better time than the next few days to discuss the matter.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The House is aware that the construction industry has long had some safety problems. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my relevant right hon. Friend. I am not sure that it would be possible to separate the issues in the way he suggests, but, as he said, the Government have proposals for a draft Bill on safety, timed to take account of the Cullen report, but I hope that work will be done on other aspects before that report is available. Although I cannot offer my hon. Friend the reassurance that the legislation can be separated as he suggests, he might look for other opportunities, perhaps in Westminster Hall, to focus attention on such issues and to inform the work on other aspects of safety.