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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I will draw it to the attention of the relevant authorities. While I completely understand that people will wish to take seriously all the precautions that they can, I understand that if people do take those proper precautions they can move from their farms. It is not the case that people are confined to their farms, although I recognise the strong wish that people will have to avoid doing anything that might exacerbate any difficulties.
My hon. Friend mentioned the London underground and I personally undertake to draw her remarks and those of other hon. Members to the attention of the Secretary of State. However, I assure her that no one is more anxious to draw the issues to a conclusion than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Can the Leader of the House explain why, when there is an exhibition in the Upper Gallery of bronzes of long defunct--but all male--servants of this House, we have no comparable memorials in this place to any of the women who have served the House? I acknowledge that one cannot have such a memento until one is past this life. Will she explain two things? What happened to the plaque of Lady Astor, which was commissioned by her family and was originally placed in one of the voting Lobbies? It has disappeared to some obscure place in the House of which I am unaware. Will the Leader of the House, using her influence with the usual channels, seriously contemplate memorials of some kind--this is a non-partisan issue--to those women who served the House and whose very election to the House was a major achievement on their part? When I take my guests around the Commons, I am ashamed to tell them that there is not one comparable memorial in the House to a woman, or even to a suffragette who fought for the enfranchisement of women.
Mrs. Beckett: There is an indirect memorial, at least, to one of the suffragettes in the broken sword in St. Stephen's Hall, which had to be broken in order to remove someone who had chained herself to it. However, I take the hon. Lady's point. I am afraid that I have not the faintest idea what happened to the plaque commemorating, very properly, the election of Lady Astor, or why it was moved. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock
Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles): Will my right hon. Friend make time available for a debate on pensioners? Will she join me, as I am sure the whole House will, in sending our best wishes to Baroness Castle, who has been admitted to St. Thomas's hospital after a fall? We need a debate on pensioners so that we can assess the Government's good start, and address pensioners' continuing concerns, especially about ageism in the NHS, transport and crime?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will be aware of the recent publication by the Government and one of the Select Committees on the subject of ageism. I understand his concern that we should have a wide-ranging debate such as he identifies. I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate on the Floor in the near future, but he may like to consider the advantages of Westminster Hall. I share his view and I am sure that the whole House would want to send its strong best wishes and affection to such a distinguished servant of the House as Baroness Castle.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Many haemophiliacs have been infected with hepatitis C as a result of NHS blood products. So far, despite hon. Members on both sides of the House calling for some form of compensation, the Government have rejected that. Earlier this week, there was a case in the High Court in which, on consumer legislation, a number of people won their case. May we have a statement from Health Ministers on the Government's current attitude? Do they intend to appeal that decision or to accept it and perhaps negotiate with others who seek compensation, to make the position of those people and their families far more comfortable as they contend with a very nasty disease?
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and he is right that the issue has been raised by hon. Members across the House. He will know that that pressure has hitherto been resisted by Governments of his party as well as of ours. I understand the concern of the individuals and families who have been affected in the way that he describes, although as he knows, major steps have been taken, particularly since 1991, to test all donations of blood for hepatitis C. To some extent, therefore, we hope that the problem has been stemmed. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but I cannot give an undertaking that he will wish to make a statement so speedily, although no doubt he is considering the impact of the court case. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is questions to the Department of Health on Tuesday, and he may find an opportunity to raise the matter then.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend may be right to attribute motives to the observations that are made by the Opposition. The Government are, as ever, seeking to take the right decisions and to balance the many pressures that are being brought to bear and the large amount of advice that we are being given with regard to the timing of the local elections or any general election.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): First, as I am, improbably, going to be in Cuba next week, and as even I realise that this might therefore be my last business questions, may I thank the Leader of the House for her unfailing and well-informed courtesy to me in all such sessions? Secondly, I should like to join the all-party consensus on the London underground. Although I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister is straining every sinew to make a statement, I am concerned that gridlock in government during the past four years is paralleled today by gridlock on the streets of London. Londoners deserve to be informed of the Government's eventual conclusions on the underground before they cast their votes.
Mrs. Beckett: I shall add the right hon. Gentleman's name to the others. I am conscious of the concerns about the London underground, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been a most assiduous servant of his constituents in the House, not least by sometimes opposing his own Government. For example, I seem to recall that he and I were on the same side regarding the potential closure of Bart's. For a variety of reasons, I hope that this is not his last business questions and thank him for his courtesy and kind remarks. I am not sure what is going on with regard to his first point, as the other day I heard from one of our most distinguished servants, a senior Clerk, that he will also be in Havana shortly, after which he expects to retire. It appears that some sort of retirement expedition is going on. If that is so, perhaps the rest of us should be informed.
Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Can my right hon. Friend find time in the next few days for the House to discuss one of this week's most important news items? Tuesday's decision to appoint contractors to build the A650 Bingley relief road is fantastic news for my constituents because it will significantly reduce congestion. The previous Conservative Administration could never get the project off the ground.
Mrs. Beckett: I am well aware of the enormous effort that my hon. Friend has put into lobbying for such improvements in his constituency. I am sure that his constituents will recognise that effort, on which I congratulate him, and be grateful for it. I understand that they might feel that the project is an important issue that should be considered by the House. I fear, however, that it is one of many similar matters that press for time, so I cannot undertake to schedule a debate on it in the near future.