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Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Some 43 days ago, I asked two questions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which have still to receive a substantive answer. As questions are meant to be answered within a few working days, will the right hon. Lady confirm that all proper questions that are in order will be answered before the House rises?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot confirm that off the cuff, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the relevant Department.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Walter Bagehot drew a distinction between the dignified and the efficient parts of the constitution. We have heard this week about the dignified parts: prorogation, the audience with the Queen and such like. What answer does the right hon. Lady have to the heartfelt plea by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) about the decline in the ability of this place to scrutinise the Executive? Is she aware that we are in danger of becoming a dignified part of the constitution? The only effective part will be the audience that the Prime Minister has with the head of the fourth estate, the editor of The Sun.

Mrs. Beckett: I point out to the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure was listening to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), that the right hon. Gentleman claimed that that trend had taken place over the past century, not over the past four years. Some of the changes that the Government have made have improved opportunities for scrutiny, not least the opportunity to scrutinise business from the European Union. There were substantial gaps in the ability of the House to cover that legislation, which have been remedied by the Government. Further opportunities have been provided in Westminster Hall, the establishment of which was opposed by many Conservatives Members. Other reforms are under way, including the reforms long advocated by the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), the former Chairman of the Procedure Committee. We believe that those reforms will facilitate improved scrutiny, should hon. Members use them to their full effect.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I echo and reinforce the call by the shadow Leader of the House for the Government to take the ready opportunity and the chance to save face, and not to scrap community health councils. The excellent CHCs of Cheshire Central, and Chester and Ellesmere Port need not be scrapped. There is a continuing sense of outrage about the scrapping of those excellent representative bodies. The Government have a chance to do the right thing. I urge the Leader of the House to encourage her colleagues to take that chance now.

Mrs. Beckett: Those matters have been extensively discussed in our consideration of the Bill, and no doubt they will be again.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Is the right hon. Lady aware that I tabled to the Agriculture Minister a

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named-day question on whether he would make a statement on the price of inspection for small and medium-sized abattoirs? The question was due to be answered today, so why have I only been told today that it has been transferred to the Secretary of State for Health. Why has the question not been answered today?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot tell the hon. Lady that, but I can certainly undertake to draw her concerns to the attention of my relevant colleagues.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): It might be helpful for the right hon. Lady to know that MAFF has told me in an answer that it has not been able to answer within the allotted time 98 per cent. of the questions that it has been asked in the past month. My question, however, is whether she will answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about whether there will be Treasury questions tomorrow.

Mrs. Beckett: I did answer that, and there will be.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Can the Leader of the House explain why No. 10 Downing street was yesterday able to issue a press release announcing that Dissolution will be on Monday, whereas she was clearly unable to answer that question when she was asked it in the Chamber? Why was it possible for that information to be made clear to the press before hon. Members were allowed to have it?

Mrs. Beckett: The press were informed first, but negotiations were continuing when I made my statement yesterday. That is why I was not able to give the House all the information that I gave it today.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): As it would appear from what the Leader has told us that most of the business in the next two days relates to amendments coming here from another place, and since presumably even the Leader cannot predict with great accuracy how many amendments there may be, may we have an undertaking from her that the Government will make no attempt to reduce, truncate or otherwise limit the time that we have properly to consider amendments from the other place and any other business that may be before us? I think that it would be very helpful, even at this stage of the Parliament, if we were given that reassurance and if the Government were prepared for once properly to be scrutinised and held to account in this place.

Mrs. Beckett: I can certainly assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall follow the precedents that have been followed by every Government at the rise of every Parliament.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the right hon. Lady recognise that the prospect of a number of items of business on Friday will give me an additional glint in my eye and spring in my step as it presumably means, does it not, that Friday's business will close with an Adjournment debate on treatment of diabetes sufferers, which it will be my privilege to introduce?

Mrs. Beckett: I must freely confess that I had not been studying that. However, the hon. Gentleman may well be correct.

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Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the right hon. Lady ensure that, before Dissolution, we have an opportunity to discuss the two impending tube strikes in London and the other rail strikes across the country that have been called by the RMT union? Such a debate would give us an opportunity to discuss the extraordinary fact that not only the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but his deputy, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) are members of that union. Of course the Secretary of State also receives substantial benefits in kind from that union.

Mrs. Beckett: I do not see any need for a further opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make a point that he has already made on a number of occasions.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): The reply that the Leader of the House gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) shows that the Government still underestimate the desperate problems caused by foot and mouth to the rural economy. I have been on to the Agriculture Minister's private office for almost a week trying to sort out certain problems with licences, and we need his presence in this Chamber in the next two days to answer questions. We also need the presence of the Minister responsible for the taskforce. Although the Government have made some glossy PR announcements about the sums that are being handed down, people in the tourism industry cannot get hold of that money. They do not know who is distributing it or the criteria for applying for it. Members representing rural areas have only two more days to put those questions to the responsible Ministers. Can she please make a clear statement on why those two Ministers cannot find time in the next two days to come to the House to answer decent questions?

Mrs. Beckett: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that everyone in the Government takes the crisis in the rural economy extremely seriously. Additionally, as he will have observed, substantial sums have been made available, whether it is to agriculture or to tourism, and that will continue. I shall certainly draw the concerns expressed by hon. Members to the attention of my right. hon. and hon. Friends.

As the hon. Gentleman will, I believe, be the last contributor, may I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to thank you, and your predecessor, for the way in which you have presided over this melee? Indeed, I thank all those who have participated, not least the shadow Leader of the House and her predecessors. As Leader of the House, let me say--on behalf of the whole House, if I may--how deeply indebted we are to all those who facilitate our proceedings: the officers and officials of the House in every capacity.


Houses in Multiple Occupation (Registration Scheme) Bill

Mr. Alan Simpson presented a Bill to provide for a scheme for the registration and licensing of houses in multiple occupation; to require certain matters relating to

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energy efficiency to be included in such a scheme; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May, and to be printed [Bill 97].

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