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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I hope to set a good example. May I redouble the request for a debate on manufacturing industry, not about the scandal of the job losses between 1979 and 1997, but about the possible asset stripping by Corus of high-quality, high-productivity jobs at Llanwern?

Mrs. Beckett: I am conscious that jobs at Llanwern are indeed of high quality, as is the successful enterprise there, so I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I fear, however, that I cannot add anything to what I said earlier about a debate.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I shall try to follow your instruction, Mr. Speaker. Could we have an urgent statement in Government time on what I might describe as the proposed funds for federalism provided for by the treaty of Nice as it relates to the funding of political parties? Does the Leader of the House accept that, as far as many hon. Members are concerned, such proposals would constitute an unwarranted intrusion into the conduct of domestic political affairs? Does she accept also that, although many hon. Members acknowledge that there may be a case--and a weak one at that--for state funding of political parties, they can see no case whatever for super-state funding of political parties?

Mrs. Beckett: Having heard the statement by the Commission spokesman, and having read a clear statement by the Commission, I believe that Conservative Members have misread the rules to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, and that no such provision exists. There is no suggestion that any party will be or could be debarred from receiving funding.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the operation of the insurance industry, particularly in the light of the astonishing decision by Norwich Union to deny mortgage protection insurance to MG Rover workers on the grounds that it does not consider the company's future to be sufficiently secure? Does she agree that that is wrong, not only because MG Rover is on course to achieve its business plan, but because insurance companies should not cherry-pick customers as they have done both in this case and during the recent flooding incidents?

Mrs. Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's concern. We all recognise that the insurance industry sometimes has difficult judgments to make, but it seems extraordinary, if these reports are true, that the company in this case is making such a misjudgment and that it has adopted such a policy. I cannot undertake to find time for a debate, but I remind him that Treasury questions are next week and he may have a chance to raise the matter then.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): As teachers north of the border are to receive a pay increase of no less than 21.5 per cent. over three years, and as

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student fees at universities north of the border were abolished not so long ago, could the Leader of the House persuade that great parliamentary escapologist the Prime Minister to come to the House to make a statement about the constitutional implications? My constituents in London are paying subsidies to free riders north of the border while they are seeing an ever declining number of teachers in their schools. This is an outstandingly unjust state of affairs.

Mrs. Beckett: First, the hon. Gentleman's constituents are not seeing an ever declining number of teachers in their schools, or at least they will not now. That was the position that we inherited from the Conservative Government, but thanks to the investment that has been put in by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the encouragement of recruitment into teacher training, the situation is starting to turn around.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asks for a special debate on these matters. We are talking about the consequence of devolution, which we debated extensively and at length for some months in the early years of this Parliament.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the American national missile defence programme? It would give the Government and the majority of hon. Members the opportunity of saying that we have no intention of following George W. Bush and the Leader of the Opposition in any "Dumb and Dumber" combination in reckless pursuit of the armageddon vote.

Mrs. Beckett: Although I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the matter, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on a proposal that has not yet even been formulated.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Can the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on small businesses? I declare an interest, in that I own one. A debate would enable us to expose the enormous amount of extra rules and regulations with which small businesses have to contend, and to get to grips with whether the Government are serious about persecuting greengrocers throughout the country because they are complying with consumers' wishes and selling fruit and veg in pounds and ounces. I wondered why the Government were so keen to clear prisons of thousands of convicted criminals. It appears now that they are creating space so that greengrocers can fill them over the forthcoming months.

Mrs. Beckett: Oh dear. It is most unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should choose to chide the Government for the implementation of a directive that was agreed by the previous Government in 1989. They implemented it in 1994, without any steps being taken to obtain any derogation of any sort. In 1999, when it came time for the directive that the Conservative Government had agreed to be implemented, the present Government negotiated a derogation so that its full application would not take effect until 2009. If the position had been left as agreed by the Conservative Government, the greengrocer in question would be committing an offence if he even displayed prices per pound, never mind charging on that basis.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): To be brief, I associate myself with the question of the hon. Member for North

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Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), in that we need an urgent debate on the Phillips report, not least because a major and serious international issue has ensued and because the Food Standards Agency has issued its own report, and is looking to change the regulations. A debate cannot come a moment too soon. Would my right hon. Friend like to comment?

Mrs. Beckett: I think that the entire House shares my hon. Friend's concern and his desire that the matter should be fully aired as soon as possible. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is just as keen as he is to pursue the issue and to have a debate. He will tell the House as soon as he can when we are in a position to have the debate properly and fully conducted.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the relationship between the state and the voluntary sector? Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an important announcement to a group of people at No. 11. If he had made the announcement to the House, we would have been able to show how laughable was one of his statements. He said that the role of Government would

That statement is entirely inconsistent with the Government's ruling that those who wish to gain access to criminal records will get it free if they are in the state sector, while those in the voluntary sector will have to pay £10 each.

Mrs. Beckett: The charges remain under discussion. I remind the hon. Gentleman that only a few moments ago, the issue of child protection was raised. It was raised by a Labour Member, but I know that his view is shared throughout the House. The hon. Gentleman refers to an important aspect of child protection. The statement made by the Chancellor was announced in the House through the perfectly proper medium of a written answer. I fear that I cannot find time for an early debate on these matters, but no doubt there will be opportunities to raise them.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): I reinforce the earlier request from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) for a full debate on manufacturing. I am keen to hear the response of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to such a debate, as he has refused to meet me to discuss 3,000 job losses at Ford Dagenham, and has done nothing to call into question the betrayal of Ford workers by the management, apart from trotting out the Tory line that that is a decision for the company in the light of its commercial responsibilities. He should come to the House and answer questions.

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to learn that my hon. Friend has been unsuccessful in obtaining the meeting that he sought. He says that Secretaries of State should come to the House and answer, and of course they do. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

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was in the House today answering questions, and Ministers from his Department will take part in the debate next week.

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