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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What steps will the right hon. Lady take to protect the business of the House next week from the shambles that befell it on Monday night this week, when the House was without a quorum? Will she seek to maintain a quorum on the Government Benches next week? Will that quorum accord with the aspirations of major Labour party backers, in that it should not be hideously white, grotesquely male or of sadly uniform sexual proclivity?
Mrs. Beckett: I am not quite sure how a representative sample of the House would fit that definition. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government will manage their part in the public's business and the House's business effectively and efficiently. I wish I could see evidence that the same was true of the Opposition.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point. Some of the concerns being discussed today have been discussed for seven or more years--certainly during the Conservative party's time in office.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and others will continue to raise these issues, and to hear them aired and debated properly in the House. All I can tell him now, however, is that--he probably knows this--there is still a dispute about the nature of the scientific evidence relating to the impact of such material. No doubt that question, like others, will continue to be discussed, as is perfectly proper; but I fear that I cannot find the time for a debate on the Floor of the House of the kind that my hon. Friend wants in the near future. In any event, it is clear from what he himself said that such an occasion would not provide the only opportunity for Members to give their views. The debate on this issue has been raging, and will continue to rage, for many years.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will the Leader of the House afford us time at an early date to discuss transport in and for London? Is she aware that London Underground's rail unions are balloting their members today on industrial action--in effect, politically motivated industrial action against her party's proposals for modernisation of the tube? Is she also aware that the Mayor, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), is egging the unions on, at a time when Londoners are paying even higher tube fares and receiving ever worse service? Is this not an intolerable state of affairs, and should it not be addressed by the whole House?
Mrs. Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will take place next week. He will also know that there has been continuing discussion for some time about how we can best inject into London Underground--and other parts of our transport system--investment that London Underground has needed for decades, and did not receive under a Conservative Government.
Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on town and country planning issues? Only this morning, Conservative- controlled Bradford city council's planning committee decided to approve a development brief for new housing on the Baildon bank reservoir site, off West lane in Baildon. I am appalled that the threat of development should hang over that greenfield site, given all the consequences--not least the traffic that such development would generate.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Defence following yesterday's announcement of significant job losses at BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace?
My constituency contains a plant in Samlesbury, and another nearby in Warton. We understand from the unions that there may be up to 2,000 job losses, and that they will fall significantly on the military side. Moreover, they will disproportionately affect a number of smaller businesses that rely on a healthy BAE Systems in the north-west. We have enormous skills there, and if we lose those jobs now it is unlikely that we shall ever regain them. If the Government are serious about having a strategic military defence capability, we must be more intelligent about the way in which we procure our defence.
Mrs. Beckett: I am of course aware of the announcements made by BAE Systems, and, as I hope the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are liaising closely with the company with regard to the implications of those announcements. He will also know that we have repeatedly demonstrated our commitment both to the aerospace industry as a whole and to BAE Systems, through launch investment and other supportive action. We shall continue to work with the company to identify any further steps that can be taken.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): May I repeat the calls for an urgent statement and debate on the risk assessment process in relation to depleted uranium? The most disturbing part of the news today is that United Kingdom service personnel were apparently given the all-clear by the MOD screening process, but were discovered to have high levels of depleted uranium in their system when they put their samples through the Canadian scrutiny process. Can the House have an opportunity to discuss the urgent need, not for a voluntary system of screening, but for a universal and inclusive system that is administered by the Department of Health, not at the convenience of the MOD?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and perhaps slightly different point about the way in which any screening procedure should be carried out. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the issue on the Floor of the House in the near future, but I certainly undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Health.
Mrs. Beckett: Part of the underlying premise of the hon. Gentleman's question is in error, as it is my understanding that we are beginning, although slowly, to turn the corner on police numbers, no doubt partly as a result of the enormous investment that the Government have been prepared to put into the police service. He makes a separate and different point about the special constables. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future.
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): May I press my right hon. Friend further on the question of a debate on early-day motion 179, which was raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? She referred, rightly, to the Government's increased investment in the railways, but inevitably a lot of that investment will end up in the pockets of shareholders and directors, which is precisely what privatisation was designed to do--shift public funds into private pockets. The vast majority of the public are sick and tired of seeing the spivs and cowboys running the railways and they want us to take it back tomorrow.