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Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Is my right hon. Friend aware of yesterday's Law Lords ruling, which stated that, under the current legislation, it is legal for the privatised electricity companies to raid pension fund surpluses to fund redundancies? Does she appreciate--I am sure that she will--that some 200,000 pensioners feel ripped-off because the privatised companies are allowed to do that?
I am sure that she will be aware of the excellent Myners report and that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor agreed to implement all of its recommendations. One states that the Law Commission should review the ownership of surpluses. Will she use her good offices to ensure that the review takes place as quickly as possible, because hundreds of thousands of pensioners want pension funds to be paid to the pensioners, who have paid in all their lives? They do not want large companies to be able to take pensions holidays and raid the funds for redundancies.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is clearly supported across the House. I understand that the implications of that case are as he describes, because I believe that the Treasury has expressed some support for the suggestion that the Law Commission should consider those issues. I would only caution my hon. Friend that sometimes those matters are much more complex than he might anticipate, and I am not clear how speedily that action could be taken. I fear
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate not only on foot and mouth, but its impact on the tourism industry? So far we have heard statements from the Minister for the Environment and from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, but we have not had the chance to debate that impact. We are now seeing the reality of some of the measures that those Ministers announced, with a great fanfare, especially that on business rates, which will cost Derbyshire Dales district council more than £300,000 to implement. It was alleged that the Government would write off the cost completely, but a large proportion of it will be required from the district council.
We need to hold a debate not only on foot and mouth, but on the very much wider implications of the outbreak, and perhaps an Environment Minister, or even a Tourism Minister, could make the winding-up speech.
Mrs. Beckett: I am conscious of the interest across the House in the wider implications of the problems that are being experienced, not only in agriculture but in other sectors. The hon. Gentleman will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and other Ministers, have repeatedly said that, of course, any assistance or support that the Government can give will pale into insignificance beside what is really needed--a return of customers to rural businesses. That has to be the chief focus, but I shall bear in mind his request.
Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): My right hon. Friend may be aware that last week, after a two-year investigation, the Office of Fair Trading imposed a fine of more than £3 million on Napp Pharmaceuticals. The OFT found not only that the company had engaged in anti-competitive business practices by excluding smaller companies from the market, but that, in doing so, it had manipulated prices in the national health service, so that it was giving hospitals a 90 per cent. discount for a drug, but charging 10 times that amount out in the community, which accounts for 80 per cent. of the NHS drugs budget.
The OFT found that that practice, involving that single drug, cost the NHS £2 million a year. Will my right hon. Friend arrange to hold a debate as soon as possible so that we can properly assess the overall cost to the NHS of that practice, which is widespread in the pharmaceutical industry. I estimate that it costs at least £50 million--money which is intended to be used in front-line health care, and not creamed off in excess profits by rapacious drug companies.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I know that the report of the OFT will have been taken very seriously. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on this matter, but he may have an opportunity to raise the issue in Westminster Hall. I remind him, however, that it is oral questions to the Department of Health on 10 April and he may be able to raise the matter then.
Will the right hon. Lady please let us know, or ensure that the Minister lets us know, what precise arrangements have been made for all Members to raise urgent and important issues about foot and mouth and the rural economy during the recess? The MPs' hotline, which has been repeatedly requested, has still not been set up. Surely, it should be well established with sufficient resources before we go into the recess; otherwise, we should be here to ensure that we can represent our constituents' interests.
Mrs. Beckett: As I said earlier, I take seriously the point that has been made. I am as reluctant as any Leader of the House to be absolutely categoric about the statements that might be made, but I have taken on board the hon. Gentleman's observations. I shall draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and not least the point about the MPs' hotline. It was my understanding that arrangements had been made. [Hon. Members: "It does not work."] If hon. Members are telling me that the arrangements are not sufficiently satisfactory, I will also draw that point to my right hon. Friend's attention.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Following the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agree that the attempt by the United States to abrogate the anti-ballistic missile treaty will have profound consequences for the foreign policy and the defence policy of this country? Although I accept that she has ruled out the possibility of a wide-ranging debate on foreign affairs in the near future, will she give further consideration to the possibility of a more specific debate on national missile defence?
Mrs. Beckett: All I can say to my hon. Friend is what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn): there is probably a better chance of securing a debate on such a more restricted subject in Westminster Hall than on the Floor of the House. However, I draw to my hon. Friend's attention the fact that it is Ministry of Defence questions on the Monday after the recess.
Mrs. Beckett: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that this was matter for the House to decide on at some point. That remains the case, but I do not believe that he gave any undertakings as to precisely when that opportunity might be made available. I recognise the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman expresses and I know that he--along with other members of the Information Committee--has long campaigned for improvements in our information technology arrangements. I am mindful of the review board's recommendation but I am mindful, too, of the fact that, as ever, there are more requests for subjects to be debated than time to debate them.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Is there any chance--or am I wasting my time--of having before the general election that required debate on the most recent report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges? If we do not have such a debate, those who are in the next Parliament might well regret it.
Will my right hon. Friend also pencil in in her very fine mind the real necessity for a debate on the effects of foot and mouth on tourism? That is a real problem that will not go away. When Members return after the Easter recess, they will be talking about the problems in their constituencies.