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Mrs. Beckett: As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point, and I have taken on board his request for a debate on privileges. Although I cannot give him that undertaking, I am aware of the tremendous work that he and others have done on that Committee and of their desire for the issues to be aired in the House.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the Leader of the House accept that wanting the Prime Minister or the Minister of Agriculture to come to the Dispatch Box to answer questions about the handling of foot and mouth is not mischief-making--rather, it is us doing our job and the Government doing theirs? Foot and mouth has rightly been the lead item on television and radio and in newspapers for the past six weeks. I am in daily contact with farmers and there was an outbreak of foot and mouth in my constituency yesterday. Last Friday, I met 30 business people who are affected by the tourism blight associated with the disease.
In a role reversal, may I draw Westminster Hall to the right hon. Lady's attention? It is not being used on Monday. How about getting the Minister of Agriculture to go there to answer questions in a full debate on the handling of foot and mouth?
Mrs. Beckett: First, I would never suggest that it would be mischief-making to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to answer questions on that subject. Indeed, he just did that. I have taken on board the requests for additional information to be made available and the pressure that there is, naturally, for such issues
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Can the Leader of the House induce the Deputy Prime Minister to face up to his responsibilities and explain why Mr. Derek Smith, managing director of London Transport Underground, whom he appointed only two years ago, is submitting his resignation? Is he resigning because he has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government's policy on the tube; because of the antics of the Mayor, who undermined the leadership of the tube by siding with the strikers; or because Mr. Kiley wants a judicial review? What is it? The travelling public of London deserve an explanation, and so do we.
Mrs. Beckett: I cannot find time for a special debate. I know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is extremely conscious of his responsibilities and exercises them with a great thoroughness and determination. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are questions to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on Tuesday when we return from the Easter recess.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Last June, the Secretary of State for Health approved a plan of the Surrey and Sussex health care NHS trust to concentrate acute services at the East Surrey hospital in my constituency, largely by moving services from the run-down Crawley hospital. On Tuesday last week, at a meeting with the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), which was attended by local press, the Secretary of State suspended the transfer of those services. Decisions now have to be made about clinical safety and the cost to the trust. It is £10 million in debt and, on the Government's figures, the suspension will cost an additional £600,000 a year. Can we have a debate on the politicisation of the health service because that disgraceful decision was made in the political interest of the Labour party? The people who are served by my health trust should be recompensed for the consequences of that outrageous decision.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am now getting a large number of inquiries from farmers about foot and mouth and from a huge range of businesses that are also affected by it. Let me give the right hon. Lady an example of the problem: the total aid offered by the statutory instrument on rate relief amounts to £22 million, but the cancellation of the Cheltenham festival cost Gloucestershire £40 million. May I join my 15 colleagues on both sides of the House in appealing to the right hon. Lady to find time for a debate on foot and mouth?
The Minister of Agriculture attended a briefing session yesterday. He stayed for 60 seconds and officials were not able to answer many of the questions put by colleagues. In all sincerity, three quarters of an hour for Agriculture questions this morning is not adequate. A large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House were not
Mrs. Beckett: I have, I think, given every indication that I am very conscious of Members' wish to have further information before the House rises for the Easter recess. As to the other, general issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, I am of course extremely conscious, as we all are, of the scale of the difficulties being experienced, including those outside agriculture. However, I repeat to him what I have said to other hon. Members, which is that the key is to try do everything that we can to revive business in those areas, because it will never be possible for any Government to make up all the losses.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): We always have a debate on Welsh issues around St. David's day; why cannot we have a debate on English issues on St. George's day, 23 April? We would be able to discuss the crisis in the English countryside and today's MORI poll, which shows that 71 per cent. of people are in favour of having a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU and 52 per cent. say that they would vote to opt out of the EU, given the chance.
Mrs. Beckett: That is what they said in 1975, but it did not turn out that way. As for the question whether we need time for a special debate to allow Members to raise English issues, about 80 per cent. of Members in the House represent English constituencies and, perfectly naturally, are raising English issues day in and day out.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Leader of the House may not be aware that there were a further five cases of foot and mouth disease in my constituency yesterday. Will she join the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), in dissociating herself from the words of a Parliamentary Private Secretary last night? The hon. Gentleman in question said,
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Given that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment held a leaving party at his Department last week, at which he reportedly told officials that the time had come for him to move on, could he be brought to the House to share with Members the secret of whether a
Mrs. Beckett: We all read these things in the papers from time to time, and I advise the hon. Gentleman not to take them too seriously. If he wants to ask my right hon. Friend about that, he can do so at oral questions on 26 April.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Lady assist me in investigating the alarming length of time that Ministers are taking to respond to constituency cases? Constituents write to us and use us as a conduit to get a reply from Ministers. I have trawled through my mail and found that I have not received replies from the Secretaries of State for Health and for Social Security since December and January. That is not only a gross discourtesy to the House, but obviously sends the wrong message to constituents about whether Parliament is open for business.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the hon. Lady's concern and I will pass on her remarks to my right hon. Friends. I can only say that having for a relatively brief halcyon period shadowed the work of the Department of Health, I am extremely mindful of the vast amount of correspondence that any Health Secretary and, indeed, his shadow receive, and I am conscious that the Department has greater difficulties in that respect than most, not least because the issues raised are of such delicacy that the correspondence is horrendously hard to deal with.