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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend sounds uncharacteristically bloodthirsty, but hon. Members of all parties will share his irritation about unsolicited mail--and indeed unsolicited faxes and all the other paraphernalia. I fear that although I sympathise with the anxieties that are caused, I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate in the near future, but I will undertake to remind my ministerial colleagues of the importance that my hon. Friend and others attach to it.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I must repeat the call for a debate on the subject of Britain joining the euro, because the Leader of the House did not answer the question fully. The only thing that the Prime Minister was clear about yesterday was that the pound is on death row. It has a two-year stay of execution and the only chance of a reprieve is the intervention of an incoming Conservative Government. Will the right hon. Lady make absolutely clear what the question would be in such a referendum? We failed to get an answer to that from the Prime Minister yesterday. The House and the British people want a debate on the subject, so that they
Mrs. Beckett: I fear that there is remarkably little to add to what has already been said ad nauseam on the issue. I know why the Conservatives repeatedly ask what the question would be in a referendum: they want to bolster their contention that we will hold a referendum immediately after winning the general election. That is not true. We have made it absolutely clear that we have no intention of bouncing people into a referendum straight after the election. It is also absolutely clear that, if the Conservative party were to be elected, there would be no referendum. As to what is on death row, it is perfectly clear that that position is occupied by the policy programme of the Conservative party.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who called in business questions last week for an early debate on the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee? Has there been any progress?
Mrs. Beckett: As my hon. Friend says, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), not for the first time, asked about scheduling such a debate. I am aware of the Committee's concern that it should be held as early as possible. Debates that require the presence of two senior Cabinet Ministers, one of whom is frequently charged with being out of the country, are not always easy to schedule. I can give an assurance, however, that such issues are under active consideration. All that I can undertake is that we will do our best.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Leader of the House has agreed that the Prime Minister meant what he said when he responded on 13 July to a question about the report from the Liaison Committee entitled "Shifting the Balance" by saying that there would be a free vote on the matter. That is encouraging, but last week the right hon. Lady made it clear to me, as she had done previously to other hon. Members of all parties, that she was going to do her best to prevent that free vote from taking place. There is the opportunity for that free vote to take place in Opposition time on Monday--and we shall leave to one side what conclusion the electorate should draw about which party stands up for the independence of Members of Parliament and their ability to hold the Executive to account. If the terms of the motion under debate are to be precisely those adopted by the Liaison Committee, will the right hon. Lady say whether Labour Members will have a free vote?
Mrs. Beckett: I have never made the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. I have simply answered the questions posed repeatedly by Opposition Members by saying that matters to do with the House are decided on a free vote. I have also said that we will of course look with care at any motion that the Opposition table, although we may wish to amend it. However, it has never been the case that Opposition business is the subject of a free vote.
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a strong point but he will know that, although the Leader of the Opposition refers occasionally to such policy areas outside the House he never manages--as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out at last week's Question Time--to get around to asking questions about them in the House. My hon. Friend is also right to identify the great interest, time and thought being devoted by the Government to the future of our public services. He may know that the Prime Minister will very shortly--very shortly indeed, in fact--make a speech setting out the framework within which we hope to take forward our policies on education, crime and other areas. Further announcements will be made on the policy debates that we hope to take forward in the coming weeks.
I know that my hon. Friend and others will study my right hon. Friend's speech with great interest. However, although I understand my hon. Friend's wish to have a debate focusing on how we want to improve standards in public services and on how the Opposition would--given the chance--undermine and destroy them yet again, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for that debate in the near future.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): May I ask the Leader of the House yet again to reconsider a debate on the abolition of the pound, to which the Government are so committed? Is it not fair to say that the manifesto on which the Labour party fought the last election committed us to a referendum in this Parliament? That manifesto went on to state:
Mrs. Beckett: Dear, oh dear! The hon. Gentleman can surely do better than that. It remains the case that, before any referendum of the British people, an assessment must be carried out. The Cabinet would then have to come collectively to the view that that assessment meant that the tests set by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the full agreement of the whole Government, had been satisfied. The Cabinet would have to be confident--as far as that is possible in this world--that it would be in Britain's economic interests to join the euro. If the Cabinet so concluded, the decision would be put to the House and then, ultimately, to the British people.
The Opposition are trying to exert general pressure in relation to this matter. I may be in error, but I think that almost every Opposition Member who has raised the matter with me and expressed such great concern for the potential loss of the pound in fact voted for the Maastricht treaty.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the anxieties felt in all steel communities throughout the United Kingdom as a consequence of Corus's announcement. I am sure that she will also accept that many Members of Parliament who represent steel areas are furious at the response of Sir Brian Moffat, who, having offered us the opportunity to speak with him today, has cancelled the meeting. We see this, once more, as a sign that he is contemptuous of Members of Parliament and of this House.
Some 22,000 people in the industry are directly employed by Corus. That figure can be multiplied by five, taking into account others who are employed as a consequence. Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on steel?
Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend has taken every opportunity to raise this matter, as have other Members representing constituencies strongly affected by the moves proposed by Corus. I think that Members across the House will share her concern if there are difficulties, when constituents' interests are so much at stake, in making contact with those who have the authority to make the decisions.
As my hon. Friend knows, there was a recent debate in Westminster Hall about this matter, and I am confident that it will continue to be aired. I fear that I cannot undertake at present to find time for a further special debate in the near future. However, my hon. Friend will know that it is Department of Trade and Industry questions next week and the issue may well come up then.