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Mrs. Beckett: I am sure that families will be seeing a little more of each other, whatever the circumstances. I recognise the serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I am not aware of any immediate proposals to make a statement, but I recognise that important concerns have been expressed in Northern Ireland and I believe that the matter is being considered.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): As it is obviously business as usual, can I book Monday 23 April for the Standards and Privileges Committee, so that the House can debate our report, which includes our latest recommendations on the code of conduct? Such a debate would give us the opportunity to correct the many misunderstandings in the national media about what happens in the Committee and about the fact that we are bound by rules that are set in resolutions made by the House of Commons.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point, at least on the misunderstanding about, if not misrepresentation of, the work of the Standards and Privileges Committee. I pay tribute to its members for the time and effort they have to put in. However, with all the good will in the world towards my hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest respect, I fear that I cannot allow any hon. Member to book a day.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Will the right hon. Lady make time for a debate on the recently published Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, which reveals that the British system of education is the worst in Europe? That is not the fault of our teachers, who do good work every day of the year and deserve our thanks and praise. The OECD makes it clear that a pivotal reason for the decline in teachers' morale is the excessive bureaucracy and red tape that the Government have imposed on them. We need a debate on that to expose the Government's frailties and failures well before a general election.
Mrs. Beckett: Oh dear--I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question, but he may not be so glad. The OECD report does not state what he claims. Indeed, the organisation has regretted publicly the distortion of its report.
The hon. Gentleman calls for a debate to expose the Government's frailties and terrible record. I fear that the information in the OECD report was based on a survey that was carried out in 1996, when we were not the Government.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on employment in the United Kingdom? Employment is currently at an all-time high and unemployment has dropped below
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right. It is so difficult to get good news into the normal media outlets that it is understandable that hon. Members want to air it here. Although I sympathise with that wish, I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future. However, there will be other opportunities, perhaps in Westminster Hall, to raise the matter.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The right hon. Lady represents a Derbyshire constituency and will therefore know that the Staffordshire county show is one of the biggest in the midlands. However, does she realise that it has been cancelled for the first time in its 200-year existence because of the growing outbreak of foot and mouth in Staffordshire? If Parliament is dissolved, what mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that Members of Parliament who seek re-election continue to be informed of outbreaks in their constituencies? The Ministry of Agriculture currently provides such information.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman has fought more than one election, and he knows that if a general election is called, hon. Members become candidates rather than Members of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has insisted throughout that the mechanisms for keeping farmers, vets and others on the ground informed must be most robust. That is extremely important.
I am aware that the county show has been cancelled. Such cancellations have happened in several parts of the country as people take precautions. Shows mean a specific concentration of movement in circumstances where precautions are wise.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Does my right hon. Friend agree that hon. Members should encourage their constituents to claim their legal entitlement? Did she hear the Chancellor state earlier that he would encourage hon. Members to work with schools so that families can claim the children's tax credit next month? Will she therefore read early-day motion 473, relating to the action of Plaid Cymru-controlled Caerphilly borough council, which condemned my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) for doing precisely that?
[That this House notes that the honourable Member for Islwyn sent a letter on House of Commons notepaper to all the schools in the constituency of Islwyn detailing the Government's planned children's tax credit; further notes with dismay that such unsolicited letters were accompanied by a request for the same to be copied and distributed to all schoolchildren for delivery to their parents; questions the propriety of this action within close proximity to calling a general election; deprecates such behaviour as using already cash-strapped resources of schools for overtly political ends; and condemns the use of schoolchildren in this way to deliver details of a policy change which had already been in the public domain since last autumn.]
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): May I reinforce the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House, and remind the Leader of the House that so far there have been three debates on foot and mouth disease, all of them instigated by the Opposition? The right hon. Lady continues today to reflect the Government's attitude, which grossly underestimates the grotesque damage being done to the rural economy, beyond farming. It was clear from what was said yesterday, when the Minister for the Environment appeared before the Select Committee on Agriculture, that there had been a huge underestimate of the damage that has been caused--and caused disproportionately in rural areas.
Mrs. Beckett: There is no truth whatever in the suggestion that the Government underestimate the gravity of the crisis. Of course it is perfectly right and proper for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment to draw attention to the wider implications for the economy as a whole, not least--as I have said--the implications to the tourism industry. The Government must continue to take those issues into account.
We are very conscious of the damage that is being done to the lives and livelihoods of many people in all parts of the country, but we are equally conscious of the fact that two things must be done if we are to begin to stem the worst of that damage. First, we must do all that can be done to tackle the outbreak; secondly, we must do all that we can to support and encourage our tourism industry to prosper where that can happen without any effect on the crisis.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Government give urgent consideration to introducing a one-clause amendment to the Election Publications Bill to provide for delivery of one free election address for each candidate to each household, exclusively for the May local government elections? I thought that the Opposition would ask that question; I am sorry that I have had to do it for them.
Mr. Mackinlay: I gather that the hon. Gentleman did. Anyway, it is important for all candidates to be able to send one communication to one household. I understand that the cost would be a maximum of £5 million. We do not need this in Tilbury, but it is needed in many parts of the country.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Has the Leader of the House no shame about the fact that during the three months of the foot and mouth crisis, the Government have not found time for a single debate on the Floor of the House?