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Mrs. Beckett: I confirm that there will be Treasury questions tomorrow, and that we anticipate that we shall

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get through the Rating (Former Agricultural Premises and Rural Shops) Bill. As the hon. Lady rightly said, the Adoption and Children Bill is under discussion in Committee. It deals with a complex and important subject, and the whole House wants it to be dealt with thoroughly.

It is obviously a source of regret that other legislation may not proceed. I am surprised by the hon. Lady's remarks about the International Development Bill, as there was nothing to prevent the Conservative party from allowing it to reach the statute book if it chose to do so.

The issues raised by the Health and Social Care Bill will be discussed, but as I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, the Government believe that we need to put in place stronger arrangements for the representation of patients, which is what the Bill envisages.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South): Does the Leader of the House share my regret that this is the first Session of Parliament since the 1973-74 Session when no private Members' Bills have succeeded? On her return, will she ensure, while protecting Government business, that private Members' Bills are also protected, especially from individual vandalism and the wrecking techniques of Conservative Members?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. A feature of this Parliament--not just of this Session--is that it has been much more difficult than usual to get private Members' Bills on to the statute book, even those that were widely thought to be non- controversial and that were welcomed by all parties. I accept that that is a matter for concern. My hon. Friend will know that the issue is much discussed.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that, should she still be chairing the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, she will look favourably on the suggestion that the way in which we deal with private Members' legislation should be examined as a matter of urgency? I think that all Back Benchers would concur with that.

Does the right hon. Lady share my concern and astonishment that the Conservatives seem to want to blackball the International Development Bill, although it has been subject to much inquiry? Will she please do everything in her power to make them see reason? Does she accept that there is an element of stage-managed brinkmanship at the end of a Parliament, but this time it is extraordinary, given that we have all known for many weeks that this moment was coming?

Does she also accept that it is extraordinary that the Government are anxious to steamroller legislation through the House in this Parliament when presumably they are confident of re-election? On the other side, the Conservatives are desperate to extract the last ounce of compromise when presumably they believe that one day they will be elected to government again. The way in which we have to deal with these matters at the fag-end of a Parliament is extraordinary.

Mrs. Beckett: Few parliamentary ends were more evidence of that than the end of the last Parliament.

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Although it ran until the last possible date, at the close of the Session it was necessary for the Government to deal with some 16 pieces of legislation--substantially more than we shall need to deal with this time.

It is, I fear, a feature of our system that it is always necessary to deal with things in this way. I reject the suggestion that we are attempting to steamroller legislation through--we are allowing time for proper consideration--although I share the hon. Gentleman's regret about the stonewalling of the International Development Bill, which I find wholly inexplicable.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): As my right hon. Friend will know, one of the private Members' Bills that have, sadly, been lost is my Christmas Day Trading Bill, which would have protected the interests of low-paid workers and secured their right to remain with their families on one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. May I commend the subject of the Bill to my right hon. Friend, and hope that Her Majesty's Government will look kindly on an important but quite straightforward measure which could be passed fairly quickly by an incoming Government and which would, I am sure, be welcomed by low-paid workers throughout the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend knows that I am not in a position to give advance commitments, but I understand the importance of the issue that she has raised and, as always, take her remarks seriously.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Will the right hon. Lady give me the last assurance that I shall ask of any Minister? Will she assure me that, whatever position she holds in the next Parliament, she will use her experience in the Modernisation Committee--especially in the context of its last report--to try to enable Members on both sides of the House to realise the concept of ensuring that all legislation is fully debated and all Opposition amendments properly considered? That was the intention of the Committee's report; it has not worked, but it requires the co-operation of both sides. Perhaps, in the next Parliament, I shall be able to look from afar and see that it really is working.

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case, which I know he has pursued assiduously for many years. I have no hesitation in giving him, unequivocally, the assurance that he seeks.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): As my right hon. Friend knows, over the past couple of months I have pressed regularly for a debate on matters of standards and privileges. Can she assure us that there will be a debate early in the next Parliament, before any assessment of the case being made by the office of standards for an increase in its resources? May we have a debate first, and then consideration of resources?

Mrs. Beckett: First, may I say that we shall certainly miss my hon. Friend on the Labour Benches?

My hon. Friend says, correctly, that he has pressed me on this matter a number of times. He makes an important point, and I have taken his words on board; but I suspect that, although he will not be here to deal with the issues that he has raised, others will take them up.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): As I made clear earlier today, the Prime Minister has maintained a stream

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of correspondence, and has held several meetings, with the Hindujas, which he did not disclose to Sir Anthony Hammond's inquiry. Parliament is the proper place in which to raise these issues. We now need a statement from the Prime Minister to clarify his position on two important points. First, why did the right hon. Gentleman ignore official advice, deepen his personal relations with the Hindujas and extend his Government's business with them, when he knew from January 1998 onwards that they were under investigation by the Indian Government? Secondly, why did he conceal his contacts and his meetings from Sir Anthony Hammond's inquiry?

Mrs. Beckett: None of that will arise in the business that we shall take during the next couple of days, and I think it a sad indication of the Conservative party's desperation that it seeks to raise those issues now.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On the points made by the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), the former Chairman of the Procedure Committee, does my right hon. Friend accept that, if programme motions are here to stay, whoever forms the next Government, and I cannot see any change, it is important to try to reach agreement--it may not be possible--with the Opposition, so that we do not sit all through the night, which is not necessary and which the public do not appreciate, and that the Opposition have the opportunity to put their points of view, which is the essence of our place of work and of parliamentary democracy? A compromise is possible if both sides wish it.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Indeed, there is growing evidence that people have begun to understand the opportunity and advantage that scheduling debate in that way can offer the Opposition. Let us hope that they will have many more years to make use of it.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): The right hon. Lady may be aware that, last weekend, we had the first serious outbreak of foot and mouth in west Somerset and that some 5,000 animals were culled, which is the clearest possible reminder that the suggestion that the outbreak is under control and over could not be more inaccurate. In that connection, a very serious crisis is emerging not only for agriculture but for tourism in the area. May I plead with the right hon. Lady again to speak to her colleagues in government and to do the one thing that might help: to introduce interest-free loans for some businesses, which otherwise will simply collapse? It will cost the Government much more, if they are serious about tourism, to try to re-create them. May we have a statement from the chairman of the taskforce before Parliament is dissolved?

Mrs. Beckett: All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know is also leaving this place, is that it is inaccurate to suggest that anyone has said that the foot and mouth outbreak is over. What has clearly been taken on board is the fact that, mercifully, the number of cases is falling, but everyone is very conscious of the fact that it is by no means over. Indeed, both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have said repeatedly that we must expect some fluctuation in the position and perhaps even some increase on occasion in the number of cases.

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The right hon. Gentleman makes the point about the assistance and support that should be made available. I cannot promise that there will be a statement in the next few days, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Minister.


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