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Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): Will the Leader of the House make time at an early opportunity for us to debate the growing threat from dissident republican groups? Is she aware that Joe Fee--a man briefly detained in the Republic after the seizure of weapons in Croatia, destined for the Real IRA--was sent in 1997, as an Irish Government employee, to be an aid worker in the former Yugoslavia, alongside the charity Refugee Trust?
Given that the BBC's "Spotlight" programme is shortly to broadcast a film about the origin of those weapons, is the right hon. Lady aware that Fee's employment in the Balkans occurred some 10 years after Garda intelligence had identified him as the leader of the Continuity IRA? Is she also aware that Joe Fee has been identified by police as the vital point of contact between the leader of the Croat smugglers Ante Cubelic and the Real IRA? Will she provide time for a debate on those important issues?
Mrs. Beckett: I fear that I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman time for an early debate, although he has raised issues of considerable concern that I know will greatly interest my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He will note, however, that as a result of cross-party agreement Northern Ireland questions will now take place next week, and he may have an opportunity to raise the matter again then.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate on the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector? As my hon. Friend the Member
I know that much concern has been expressed for some time about the issue of searches, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given it considerable thought. I fear I cannot find time for a special debate on the Floor of the House, given that the matter has already been aired extensively, but my hon. Friend may wish to seek an opportunity to raise it in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Can the right hon. Lady find time for an urgent debate on the Government's management of crises? Does she recall that, during the summer, the Prime Minister intervened to try to sort out the fuel crisis, and that after a summit at Downing street he announced that fuel would be returned to the petrol pumps within 24 hours? It was not.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that three weeks ago the Prime Minister called another summit, this time to sort out rail timetables? He said that they would be sorted out by Christmas. Christmas is just 12 or 13 days away, and the timetables are still in chaos. British Rail, Railtrack, trains--all are in chaos. Will the right hon. Lady find time for a debate, so that we can discuss why this Government are so incapable and irresponsible in their management of crises?
Mrs. Beckett: I recall very well what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the occasion of the increase in oil prices internationally, and the problems that it caused here. He said he had been informed that fuel would be flowing again in 24 hours, and he clearly had been so informed, by oil companies and others; but, as the hon. Gentleman says, the undertaking was not followed through. Ultimately, however, the matter was resolved.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): May we have a debate on the role of the Opposition in a healthy democracy, especially in relation to the millions of pounds of taxpayers' money given to the Leader of the Opposition, supposedly to develop policy? It seems to be being spent on U-turns, about-turns, financial black holes and a plethora of jokes which, by my reckoning, are costing the taxpayer at least a grand a time. May we have a debate on that misuse of public money?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I fully supported the move to increase and, in fact, treble the public money available to the Opposition. I believe that that was the right thing to do. I share my hon. Friend's regret
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): First, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for granting me an Adjournment debate a few weeks ago on the subject of residents at Chester's Croft, Cheadle Hulme in my constituency, who live in homes classified as mobile homes. During that debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), announced that regulations granting those residents the right to claim compensation as mobile home owners living adjacent to a new road will be laid before Parliament, after a nine-year wait. However, I have discovered from a letter that I received from Stockport council legal services department--it emanated from the Minister--that, once laid, those regulations were withdrawn and altered. Effectively, that means that promises made to my constituents nine years ago will not necessarily be honoured, as they have been for residents living in permanent homes. Will the Minister come to the House to explain why promises made to my constituents are apparently at risk of being broken?
Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I am not familiar with all the detail of the regulations to which the hon. Gentleman refers, although of course I understand his concern on behalf of his constituents. On the basis of his figures, I judge that he received a faster response to that concern from this Government than from the previous Government, whom he supported--but there we go. Nevertheless, I shall draw his concerns to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is not clear to me that it will be thought appropriate to make a further statement on the regulations, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister, in the hope that he will be able to clarify the position for the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Could we have a debate on cases of serious job loss? Coats Viyella, in the east midlands, is one such case. A statement on Vauxhall, in Luton, was made yesterday. We need further debate on that matter. At Biwater, in Clay Cross, which is in my constituency, 700 jobs have been or will be lost.
We need to consider the Government's response to the situation. The rapid response unit does not always work perfectly, and regional selective assistance needs to be discussed, as does the question of who receives local government funding and lottery grants and the availability of objective 1 and 2 funding. All those are serious issues in my constituency. Although the issues can be discussed by Members with the DTI, the Prime Minister's office and other bodies, is it not also important that they be discussed on the Floor of the House?
Although I recognise the importance of the issues that my hon. Friend raises, I fear that I cannot, in the short term, find time for such a general economic debate. I know, however, that he is experienced in finding other ways of raising such issues.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Is the Leader of the House aware of the huge administrative burden and the wholly disproportionate cost imposed on small local authorities by the best value regulations? May we have an early debate so that the concerns of councillors in rural areas can be voiced and so that representations can be made on behalf of hard-pressed council tax payers who face wholly unnecessary and totally avoidable increases in their council taxes?
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will know that although there are those, including him and no doubt some of his local authorities, who are unhappy with the procedures of best value, far more authorities were even more unhappy with the regulations which it replaced for compulsory competitive tendering, which were also thought to be much more bureaucratic, costly and ineffective. So whatever reservations there may be--and I have already said that no system is perfect--best value is definitely better than the system it replaced. I fear that I cannot find time for a special debate on the matter, but I am sure that hon. Gentleman will find opportunities to raise it in Environment questions and elsewhere.