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Mrs. Beckett: I hope that the fears of my right hon. Friend, who has fought long and hard for the steelworkers in his constituency, will prove to be misplaced. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is following these matters closely and has been engaged in extensive discussions with the company. The company previously highlighted what we understand to be perfectly reasonable concerns about the exchange rate, but now that that has turned its favour, it is discussing restructuring per se.
The Government will continue to monitor these issues and to do everything that we can to persuade Corus to recognise the very effective work that is carried on in the steel industry in this country where, as I understand it, productivity is very high and, in some cases, higher than in the alternative plant elsewhere in the European Union. I know that my right hon. Friend will continue to fight for his constituents.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Leader of the House recognise that Liberal Democrats and, I suspect, Members on both sides of the House as well as the public, are anxious that the reform of the adoption law does not become a matter with which the Front Benches can play games? Just as it is deplorable that babies and young children are being used in a personal tug-of-war, it would be unsatisfactory if the reform became a matter of party conflict.
Will the Leader of the House look very carefully at the timetable for next Tuesday? The Liberal Democrat education motion, which has already been referred to, has been put in the graveyard slot in the middle of the night. It looks very much as if next Tuesday's motion will be put in exactly the same position and that there will not be a proper debate on transparency in local government. [Interruption.] I thought that the Conservatives were interested in that, but apparently not.
When are we to have the long-awaited Government response on the Phillips report on BSE and the debate? Will the Leader be certain to indicate as soon as possible when that will take place? It is an extremely important report that deals not only with the devastation in the livestock industry, but with £4 billion of taxpayers' money. The report makes it quite clear that the recent disclosure of an organophosphates connection--as a result of that report--is important in a number of other respects, while the dismissal of scrapie as a main problem is equally important.
I understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses about Tuesday's business, but there is no reason whatever why the business scheduled for that day should not be dealt with expeditiously as well as thoroughly and within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, nothing that we can do will make Members deal with business expeditiously; if they choose, as a tactic, to waste time, time will be wasted. The Government have provided a proper amount of time.
I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have every intention of initiating a debate on the Phillips report on BSE as early as we can. Work is continuing. Last week, he may have heard me remind the House that the Phillips report comprised 16 volumes. He will recall that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it absolutely plain that he wanted to take sufficient time to consider the report. However, we have no hesitation in saying that, once the report has been fully considered, there will indeed be a debate as soon as we can reasonably arrange it.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend may know that I have been submitting lists of the names of men in the United Kingdom who have either been charged with, or charged with and imprisoned for, rapes when, subsequently, women have changed their story and told the truth. It is a major problem that innocent men are going to prison for rape. May we have a debate on that as a matter of urgency?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is always extremely harmful in a society when people are charged--let alone imprisoned--for a crime of which they are not guilty. Mistakes are bound to occur from time to time, but that must always be harmful to our justice system and to the country as a whole. I understand the concern my hon. Friend expresses. I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the Floor of the House in the near future; he may, however, find an opportunity for the debate in Westminster Hall.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): In next week's business, the right hon. Lady announced the Second Reading of a number of Government Bills. One of the reasons behind the extremely controversial changes introduced to our procedure by the Government--the programming of all Bills--was to inject some certainty into the legislative programme. Will she, therefore, tell
Mrs. Beckett: I am not at all sure that I can give the right hon. Gentleman a list to the end of March. I can certainly tell him that, up to the present, 18 Bills have been introduced--eight in the Lords and 10 in the Commons--and that one has already received Royal Assent. It is already clear both that the Government have a full and measured programme and that it is being well delivered by an efficiently running Administration.
[That this House endorses the view of Judge Peter Heppell QC who reportedly told the Crown Court in Hull in December 2000 that a review of the penalties for contravening the Food Safety Act should be put in train; considers the sentences available to the Court in cases where adulterated and rotten meat destined for the petfood market ends up in food for humans, are totally inadequate; and calls on the Government to act swiftly to increase the powers available to the courts, and to restore public confidence in the food industry.]
It was prompted by the horrendous case, which came to trial in Hull in December, of the rotten, contaminated poultrymeat scam. Five individuals were sent to prison, having made a £2 million profit from that dreadful business. The ringleader got seven years, and Judge Peter Heppel said that, although he was minded to pass a double-digit sentence, he was unable to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend urge the Home Secretary, or perhaps the Secretary of State for Health, to make a statement to the House on the penalties that would be appropriate in such food safety cases? Is it not astonishing that, under the Food Safety Act 1990, only two individuals have been sent to prison--one for four months and one for three months? In the Hull case, the prosecution had to rely on conspiracy to defraud, which is not necessarily the most appropriate charge. I very much hope that either the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Health can tell us the Government's intentions on that matter.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and I believe that the whole House shares his horror at the case to which he refers. The descriptions were so revolting as to almost put one off eating, never mind eating the substances in question.
I believe that this would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. My hon. Friend knows that we have now introduced much greater safeguards for the food industry, and that the meat sector is already one of the most strictly regulated. This is now very much a matter for the Food Standards Agency, which has the power to recommend changes in the law and, I believe, would not hesitate to do so should it consider that they were necessary. However, my hon. Friend might like to take up the matter with the Food Standards Agency, and I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.