§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
May I ask the Leader of the House for the business for next week, please?
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)
The business for next week will be as follows:
§ Motion on the Railway Administration Order Rules 2001.
§ FRIDAY 23 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.
§ The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:
§ THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER—A debate on the Bristol Royal Infirmary inquiry report on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
§ FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.
§ The House will wish to know that on Monday 19 November, there will be a debate relating to the draft general budget of the European Community for 2002 in European Standing Committee B.
§ The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 28 November, there will be a debate relating to the security of energy supply in European Standing Committee C.
§ [Monday 19 November 2001:
§ European Standing Committee B—Unnumbered European Union Document; European Communities Draft Budget for 2002; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 152-iv, (2001–02).
§ [Wednesday 28 November 2001:
§ European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union Documents: 5619/01, 7218/01: Security of Energy Supply. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 28-xi (2000–01) and HC 152–iii(2001–02).
§ Mr. Forth
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. Last Thursday, at column 367, I raised with the Leader of the House the matter of the vote next Monday on the Human Rights Act motion, and the Leader of the House gave what I thought was a rather 980 complacent answer on that, suggesting that a deferred vote was an adequate way of dealing with such an important matter. I have no doubt that the Leader of the House is aware that yesterday, his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) returned to that issue, and said thatthere must be certain items that the House feels are of the utmost importance and deserve a vote immediately after the debate.You, Mr. Speaker, said:I have no powers in these matters, but the hon. Gentleman will know who does. He"—that is, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North—should take the matter up with the appropriate Minister." — [Official Report, 14 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 880.]I think that the Leader of the House is the appropriate Minister, and therefore I ask him yet again: will he listen not only to Conservative Members but to his own hon. Friends, who have now rumbled the fact that to have the disgraceful let-out of the deferred Division used on such an important and substantive matter is frankly unacceptable, and will he, even at this late stage, please look at that matter again?
I also want to follow up a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) who, on 13 November at column 713, raised a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, about the very important matter of the report of the parliamentary ombudsman on the ministerial code. He said there—the ombudsman said—I have concluded that there is no valid reason under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information why this information should not be released, and that there is a public interest in making it available. I" —that is, the ombudsman—therefore much regret that Ministers have not agreed to the release of the information.We must have a debate on this matter, must we not? This is a matter of the utmost importance. Here is the ombudsman saying that the Government are engaged in a cover-up—and, worse than that, in a cover-up relating to Ministers and the ministerial code of practice. I hope that the Leader of the House can tell us that we shall have an urgent debate on this matter, so that the Government can come clean.
On 1 November, in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), the Secretary of State for Defence said that he wascurrently considering the conclusions of a review on the employment of women in the armed forcesand wouldmake a further statement in due course." — [Official Report, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 767W.]Surprise, surprise: no such statement has been forthcoming, but equally unsurprisingly, in The Sunday Telegraph last Sunday, 11 November, we find an item saying thatthe Defence Secretary is understood to have made the decisionon women in the armed forces—after receiving overwhelming evidence from the Chiefs of Staff … One official said: 'The trials proved that to allow women to serve in the infantry or armoured corps would undermine the operational capability of those units which could not be allowed to happen.'"We hear that we may be about to send some of our armed forces into the theatre of war in Afghanistan. Are they going to go without us hearing on the Floor of the 981 House what the position is with regard to the use of women in an operational capacity in the armed forces? We yet again have an example of no statement in the House but an inspired leak or briefing in the press. It simply is not good enough, and certainly not in this case.
Finally, I think that we should have an urgent debate on what I would describe as the delicate condition of certain Members. We hear, do we not, that some Members of Parliament—probably mainly the babes on the Labour Back Benches—need counselling, because apparently the fact that—
§ Mr. Forth
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) says "cuddling". If he is volunteering to cuddle the babes, that is a matter for him. However, there is a serious point here, is there not? The House of Commons, as everyone knows, sits from 2.30 in the afternoon until often as late as 10 o'clock at night. We also know that, generally speaking, barely half of the Government Back Benchers are even present when the House sits—that is a matter of record—and we also know that we recently voted ourselves substantially more staff to ease the burden on our delicate persons. I believe that we must have a debate, and I suspect and hope that the Leader of the House can grant it urgently, and I would suggest that it is called: "Stressed-out MPs: Myth or reality?"
§ Mr. Cook
I can only assure the right hon. Gentleman that if any of my colleagues need counselling or cuddling, they will not be turning to him.
I do think, on a day when I have announced that we shall be having three days of debate on legislation against terrorism, that we shall be having a debate on NHS reform, and that we shall be having a debate on civil defence, none of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised at the Dispatch Box, however entertaining they may be, match the severity of the international crisis or the nature of affairs at home or what our constituents are interested in.
On the employment of women in the armed forces, of course there has been no announcement of any change, nor am I aware that any change is likely be announced. As long as there is no change, the present position applies. However, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Defence and his Ministers have had quite a bit to think about over the last two months. It may have passed him by, but it is important that they should focus on the international situation, and just a word of congratulation from the right hon. Gentleman on the progress that we have been making in Afghanistan would have been welcome in a very long set of questions.
On the ombudsman, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the ombudsman never said that there was a cover-up. He did not say it, even in the words that the right hon. Gentleman quoted. I am sure that if he had said it, the right hon. Gentleman would have made a point of quoting that.
Finally, on the question of deferred Divisions, what I said last week was that we actually have a much larger turnout of Members voting. [Interruption.] I have checked the figures. Since we introduced deferred Divisions, 982 on average 463 Members have voted in those Divisions. It is in everyone's interests that there should be as large a vote as possible on the derogation from the human rights convention. I return the right hon. Gentleman's question for a response—possibly, a Conservative Member can answer it. That derogation permits us to detain terrorists whom we cannot deport. Is the Conservative party really going to vote against that on Monday and leave those terrorists at large in Britain?
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 323, which was signed by 225 Members from all parties and calls for the House to make an early decision about hunting wild mammals with dogs?
[That this House congratulates the Scottish Parliament on the passage of the first stage of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill; looks forward to taking the earliest possible opportunity to re-affirm its stand on the abolition of hunting; and reminds Her Majesty's Government of the overwhelming support for abolition in the House and the high expectation amongst the electorate that the Government will honour the manifesto pledge to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue in respect of England and Wales.]
I remind my right hon. Friend of the Labour manifesto undertaking and the inclusion of the measure in the Queen's Speech. We have had plenty of time since we returned after the summer recess to debate it. Can we resolve the matter by a straight resolution of the House, so that it can go straight to the other place rather than having to go through all the stages of a Bill yet again? Have any Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asked my right hon. Friend for time for the House to resolve the matter? It is about time that the Government started to think about 225 Members of Parliament, rather than appeasing the Countryside Alliance.
§ Mr. Cook
The position as stated in the Queen's Speech was that there would be a free vote on that issue in this Session. That will take place—there has been no reason to change that. As my hon. Friend knows because I discussed the matter with him, there has been no shift from that position. I note his interesting suggestion about proceeding by resolution rather than by a Bill. Obviously, that is a consideration. I see no reason not to anticipate that there will be a free vote this Session.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
First, does the Leader of the House recall representations that were made to him and supported on both sides of the House that, by amalgamating so many different topics in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, we are in danger of squeezing out important issues—notably, those relating to agriculture and the countryside? Will he look again at the practice that was used for Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions questions, which were split in two so that there was obvious opportunity for questions relating to both subjects to be reached?
Secondly, will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government propose that the ratification of the Kyoto protocol should take place? Does he intend that there should be a debate in the House before or after it takes place?
983 Thirdly, I certainly recognise the importance of the legislation on anti-terrorism, crime and security that is coming before the House next week and the week after. Will he demonstrate how seriously the Government take concerns about that legislation? The Bill has 125 clauses and already controversial issues have been raised, not least by the Master of the Rolls this morning. The right hon. Gentleman said when dealing with the provisional business that he expects us to deal with the legislation in just eight days and with limited opportunities to discuss those extremely important issues. Will he undertake to the House that, if it appears as a result of our progress next week that we need more time to discuss it in the following week, the programming of the legislation will be adjusted accordingly?
§ Mr. Cook
On DEFRA questions, the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred has been raised before, and 1 note that he is saying that the system is still causing hon. Members difficulty. We will continue to discuss it to try to find a way forward.
On the Kyoto protocol, it is only within the past few weeks that we have achieved agreement at Marrakech on the protocol. I hope that we can progress the matter with all due speed. However, Britain has everything to be proud of in this matter. The cuts that we are offering in greenhouse gases are greater than those offered by any other country and we have consistently taken a lead to try to get the agreement that was subsequently secured in Marrakech.
I appreciate the co-operation that we have received in drawing up the timetable for the House to deal with the terrorism Bill. I hope that we will be able to meet that timetable, which provides a generous allocation of time to consider the main issue. Indeed, on the second day, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we propose to sit until midnight and thus make available additional time to the House and ensure that Third Reading does not take time from Committee proceedings. The timetable must be balanced against the fact that we are in a grave situation. As a result of 11 September we know the severity and potential scale of the threat that we face. While our constituents certainly want us to probe, test and scrutinise the Bill adequately, they would find it odd if Parliament were incapable of enacting measures by the end of this year that we think are essential to ensure that they have proper security.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that some Labour Members whose loyalty to the Government is regarded as verging on the grotesque, or even exceeding it, are growing increasingly impatient at the Government's failure to progress the vote on hunting with dogs? We expect that vote by Christmas so that, should the House vote in favour of a ban on such hunting, there will be sufficient time in this Session to get the legislation through the House of Lords and, if necessary, to use the Parliament Acts.
§ Mr. Cook
I would not wish to strain the loyalty of such a loyal supporter as my right hon. Friend. The programme that we mapped out in the Queen's Speech is for a full Session. Many issues listed in that speech have 984 not yet been put before the House, but will be in due course. I am confident that the commitment that he mentions will be one of them.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I ask this question of the right hon. Gentleman because, as Leader of the House, he represents the interests not only of the House but all its Members. Is he aware of the growing concern about the extraordinarily arbitrary powers of the Electoral Commission, which has apparently decided that Members of Parliament who go abroad under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or as a member of a Select Committee, are obliged to notify the commission of that visit within 30 days, otherwise they are committing an offence? Is that not absolute nonsense? Is he prepared to make a statement to the House and to indicate that, if necessary, emergency legislation will be introduced to curb that nonsense?
§ Mr. Cook : I am very happy to agree totally with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the
decision of the Electoral Commission, of which I am aware. I have also been privileged to see the correspondence in which the Speaker robustly asserted the rights of the House in this matter. It is a bizarre ruling on the part of the commission and it carries the risk of undermining its credibility and authority as a body of common sense as well as of legal standing.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
Given the current salience of terrorism in the public mind, will my right hon. Friend consider scheduling a debate on the chemical warfare that is being waged—in part, allegedly, using British-produced chemicals—in the southern provinces of Colombia and the adjacent provinces of Ecuador under the auspices of Plan Colombia?
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
In giving the business for the week after next the Leader of the House did not mention the Chancellor's commitment to publish his pre-Budget report on 27 November. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is still the case that the Chancellor intends to make that statement? If he does. will he assure me that thereafter, in the light of the recession in manufacturing industry, the rise in unemployment, questions of affordability about future Government expenditure and falling tax revenues, there will be a debate in Government time about the state of the British economy?
§ Mr. Cook
I am happy to confirm that it is expected that the Chancellor will give his pre-Budget report on 27 November. It is not normally announced as part of the forthcoming business. The fact that it was not announced should not indicate any change in that plan. I find it breathtaking that any Conservative Member should refer to unemployment, which is as low now as it has been for 985 a generation. It is still below a million and that compares with 3 million under the Conservatives. If they want to debate unemployment, we will be delighted to do so.
§ Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)
May we have a debate on the work of the Environment Agency to improve flood defences in various parts of the country? In my constituency at Stockbridge the work to defend land near that part of the River Aire and further north will not commence until next summer, which means that many of my constituents are extremely anxious every time we have heavy rain. They are terrified that there will again be flooding only 12 months after it occurred before. That anxiety is not helped by the fact that some insurance companies have been less than helpful. Their sluggish response has meant that some of my constituents have still not moved back into their homes and one constituent has been told that there will be a £10,000 excess when she renews her insurance policy.
§ Mr. Cook
I fully understand the importance of that matter to my hon. Friend's constituents, and I am glad that she has had this opportunity to raise it, which will be noted by my colleagues in the relevant Department. We have invested a very large sum of additional funds in providing flood defences, and many of those projects have proceeded, but it does, of course, take time to put in place what is often complex and significant engineering work. I very much hope that the project to which she refers will go ahead as soon as possible. In the meantime, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that a debate on flood defences will take place in Westminster Hall next week, in which my hon. Friend and others can raise those matters.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
Cannot the Leader of the House understand that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the motion to derogate part of the Human Rights Act 1998 is a very important matter, which should preferably be considered in prime time and certainly with a Division straight after the debate? It is his duty, surely, to ensure that that happens. Most reasonable people think that a Division should take place immediately after a serious debate, not on the following Wednesday for the convenience of the Prime Minister's voting record.
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
Further to the Prime Minister's answer to the question that I asked last week, can we expect the Secretary of State for Health or the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or both, to make a statement to the House on 986 the Government's contribution to the research, to be undertaken by the World Health Organisation, into deep vein thrombosis and air travel?
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday at Prime Minister's Question Time, the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) referred to the campaign that the Haemophilia Society is running in relation to the estimated 5,000 haemophiliacs who were infected with HIV or hepatitis as result of faulty blood transfusions. The Prime Minister gave a woolly reply; he said that he would consider those matters and he promised to review them. We know what the Prime Minister's reviews often turn into. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange an urgent statement, so that those matters can be addressed on behalf of those very vulnerable people?
§ Mr. Cook
I recall my right hon. Friend's response, and it was one of great sympathy and understanding of the problems of those who have been infected in that way. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the issue relates to cases that date from the 1980s, when we were not in office, but the conduct of the then Government was entirely correct. They introduced the proper means of treating the products that were being used as soon as it was technically available, and they cannot be held responsible for failing to introduce it earlier than that. It is for that reason that the Department of Health resists a claim for compensation, for which there is plainly no legal liability, but it is, of course, willing to explore other ways in which it can help and in which it can ensure that there is no repetition of what happened in the 1980s.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Does my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the news that a further 73 police recruits commenced training in the west midlands last week, taking the figure to well over 400 new recruits in the past 10 months? However, does he recognise that there is growing concern about the problems of retention in the west midlands and the transfer of officers to other forces? Can we have an early debate on the problems of retention in police authorities such as that in the west midlands? Can we specifically consider the impact of the regional allowance paid to the Met and home counties forces? Can we consider the cost of training police officers in the west midlands who then work in other police authorities?
§ Mr. Cook
I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend's local police force on the increase that he outlined, which reflects the fact that we now have a record number of police under training to join the force. I cannot promise to hold a debate on the matter, but I draw his attention to the fact that the Home Secretary will answer questions on Monday, when he may wish to raise the issue.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)
Earlier this week, the Government published a draft Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill and an implementation plan to take forward the 987 recommendations of the review of the criminal justice system. Does the Leader of the House accept that an undertaking was also given that the Government will review the operation of the Parades Commission and the legislation under which it was established? Can he say when that commitment will be fulfilled and the issue will be brought before the House?
§ Mr. Cook
I cannot announce such a date to the House, as that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is heavily engaged in ensuring that we fulfil our commitments at the present time. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a number of reviews are under way, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend has that matter under consideration as well.
§ Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)
During last week's business questions, I raised with the Leader of the House the issue of the Children's Society withdrawing from all its work in Wales. Since then, I have learned that that decision was made with virtually no consultation with all the other agencies involved in the work. May I appeal again to the Leader of the House to use all his influence with his colleagues to try to get the Children's Society to reverse its decision? The Children's Society has 13 projects in Wales, working on advocacy with the most vulnerable children in care, as a result of the Waterhouse report. Will he convey to those involved the damage that that decision has done to the voluntary sector—not only in Wales, but throughout the United Kingdom—especially given the large amounts of public funding in those projects in partnership with the voluntary sector?
§ Mr. Cook
I fully understand the reasons for my hon. Friend's concern about that issue, and I congratulate her on the persistence with which she has pursued a matter that is obviously of great importance to her constituents. I am sure that my hon. Friends at the Wales Office will wish to do all that they can, but we do not have any direct control over the matter—after all, she refers to a charitable organisation. It appears not to have had a good record of consulting on its decision, but my hon. Friends at the Wales Office will share her concern and will be willing to assist in any way that is practical for them.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Has the Leader of the House reached any decision on whether he will propose that there should be a short recess between Christmas and Easter, called a constituency week? If he claims, quite understandably, that that depends on the pressure and progress of business, surely that problem could be overcome by making a compensatory adjustment to the long summer recess. Does he accept that it would be extremely helpful to hon. Members on both sides of the House to know as soon as possible whether there will be such a recess, so that we can plan our constituency engagements, which many of us could not carry out if the House were sitting?
§ Mr. Cook
I totally accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Hon. Members are assisted in making maximum use of such time if that recess is predictable and known well in advance. That is why, in the first week back after the long recess, I announced the recess for the 988 forthcoming Christmas and new year period—not to universal approbation from those on the Conservative Front Bench. Nevertheless I did so, and I can assure the House that I will announce the dates of future recesses as soon as I can.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the demise of Atlantic Telecom, which has gone into receivership? Is he also aware of the fact that Oftel has been absolutely no use whatever to the people who have been affected and that PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is in charge of the receivership, has also been unhelpful? In fact, as they say where I come from, it is about as much good as a chocolate fireguard. Will my right hon. Friend also try to help a company such as BT, which wants to take on the responsibility for the service provided by that company, but unfortunately at a cost? Can we have a debate not just about the fact that Atlantic Telecom and similar companies have gone bust, but about looking after small businesses? Perhaps we could create a body along the lines of the Association of British Travel Agents to look after those businesses and stop them going out of business.
§ Mr. Cook
I am aware from my constituency experience how difficult it can be for companies that are owed money by one that has gone into receivership. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his vigilance on behalf of his constituents and the enterprises in his area. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the appropriate Secretary of State. My hon. Friend will no doubt wish to pursue this, as he has done today, through the other devices open to him as a constituency Member with an issue to raise and interesting proposals to make.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
The Leader of the House will know that the Youth Justice Board is a public body funded by the Home Office, and that it publishes a periodical called Youth Justice Board News. The October issue has at its masthead a red box including the words "Pledge met—special pull-out supplement". One turns to the exciting special supplement to find a photograph of the leader of the Labour party, the Labour party pledge card and other Labour party political propaganda. Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a Home Office Minister to come to the Dispatch Box as soon as possible to explain how they understand the difference between public spending and party political spending?
§ Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on competition policy? This request is prompted by the acquisition of Woodville Airbags in my constituency by an American business which, within 72 hours, announced the closure of the plant and the transfer of its work to plants in Romania, with the loss of 304 jobs. This involves nearly 30 per cent. of the European car airbags market, and means that the Company has effectively bought the order book and 989 disposed of the work force. That seems like the unacceptable face of capitalism to me. May we have a debate on the issue?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government hope to improve a number of areas of competition policy, which is why we committed ourselves in the Queen's Speech to an enterprise Bill.
My hon. Friend draws attention to a matter that is of concern to his area, particularly to those of his constituents employed by the company. Having represented companies that have been taken over, I fully understand the deep concern of those who work in a company that is acquired in that way. It is Trade and Industry questions next Thursday and my hon. Friend will no doubt wish to raise the matter then.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) : I reinforce what was said by my right hon.
Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) with regard to the derogation order. The Leader of the House knows full well that under article 15, the provision of the convention can only be derogated in time of war or other public emergencies threatening the life of the nation. Surely the matter really should be discussed in prime time.
The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which has 125 clauses, eight schedules and 114 pages, is to clear the House in seven days. There is no way in which the legislation will be properly scrutinised. If it be true that part of the Bill is really urgent, it cannot be true of the entire Bill. Surely the proper way is to identify that which is really urgent, make it the subject of a very short Bill, and take the remainder of the proposed legislation in the proper way.
§ Mr. Cook
I would not say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am grateful to his right hon. Friends for having agreed the timetable that he has just attacked. They were right to agree to the timetable because it is important that we demonstrate to the public that we are vigilant in ensuring that we take all steps to provide for their security.
It is true that the Bill covers a wide range of issues, spanning several Departments. That is because our response to 11 September has to be comprehensive. Are Conservative Members who wish to challenge the motion really saying that they are prepared to oppose it? Are they prepared to account for a situation in which terrorists whom we cannot deport are allowed to go free? If they are not saying that, I do not understand their concern.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that those who are as passionately committed to the fight against terrorism as he is and who supported with considerable enthusiasm the efforts of the Prime Minister in the current emergency nevertheless believe that there are different ways of translating that commitment against terrorism into legislation? Some of us have considerable reservations about the path that the Government have chosen. I commend my right hon. Friend's effort to get amendments to the Bill accepted from last Tuesday, but because that effort failed, we are left with an even more constricted timetable than he 990 initially envisaged. I hope that he will listen to Labour as well as Opposition Members who wish to see the matter effectively debated and, if necessary, suitably amended.
§ Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)
May I bring to the Leader of the House's attention a problem relating to the taking of legislation in this Chamber as a result of the passing of a Sewel motion in the Scottish Parliament? There are often areas of Executive responsibility that are not part of a Bill but have a bearing on its passage. I refer in particular to the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which is in Committee, and the need for assurances about the operation of civil legal aid north of the border.
I invite the right hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, to look at achieving a means of rectifying that defect at the earliest opportunity to ensure that there is proper parliamentary scrutiny of Executive actions wherever the Minister is, whether here or in Edinburgh?
§ Mr. Cook
I am happy to examine the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. If there is a problem, I am sure that, with good will, we can find a way forward. In general, the process of operating by Sewel motion has worked well on both sides and there has been good co-operation from both sides. Only last week we had a joint ministerial council with representatives of the devolved bodies to discuss an approach on European policy, on which there was strong co-operation. I welcome the fact that all parties are working together to find an outcome that everyone can respect in all parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)
I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 420:
[That this House welcomes the progress made in paying out compensation to miners and their widows in Wales which has now topped £100 million; notes that £1 million a week is being paid out in Wales; acknowledges that initially the rate of payment has not been as rapid as all would desire; recognises the important contribution of the Welsh Monitoring Sub Group set up by the Secretary of State for Wales; notes that the group by bringing together all the stakeholders has succeeded in pushing forward the prioritising of testing for older miners; looks forward to seeing an increase in more full and final offers being made; and congratulates all those who have campaigned for justice for miners and their widows.]
991 Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Government on the progress that has been made on miners' compensation in Wales? Will he also urge the Government to make greater progress in making full and final offers?
§ Mr. Cook
The Government have sought to resolve the issue as best they can. It is a complex issue which, as my hon. Friend knows, affects large numbers of people, including, no doubt, some of his constituents. We hope to complete the work as quickly as we reasonably can, and every possible effort is being made to secure that objective.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
I invite the Leader of the House to reflect on the uncharacteristically intemperate reply that he gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who asked very courteously to have a debate on the economy in Government time. Has it not been the practice of the House to debate the economy in Government time in the autumn ever since the right hon. Gentleman and I came here? Is he seriously suggesting that we should spend the first six months of this Parliament with no debate in Government time on the economy?
§ Mr. Cook
I have no doubt that we will debate the economy at some point in the future. On 27 November, there will be a very full and lengthy exchange on economic matters when we debate the pre-Budget report.
As Leader of the House, I have to balance the wish of my Treasury colleagues for a debate and their keenness to put before the House what we are achieving in the economy with all the other competing requirements many more of which have arisen during this discussion.
§ Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)
May I tell my right hon. Friend about an unusual case in my constituency in which a head teacher was suspended from his duties following allegations of interference with the conduct of examinations? He was then subjected to an inquiry by the local authority which was presented to the governing body. That body reinstated the head teacher without making public the results of the inquiry. Does he agree that it casts an interesting light on the new burdens on school governors, particularly in respect of their employment responsibilities? Can he find time in the near future for a debate on the role and responsibilities of school governors?
§ Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden)
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on yesterday's decision to appoint 100 Labour Back Benchers as so-called ministerial sponsors, a role that has been so effectively carried out in the past by just two people—the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) and his butler? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, to 992 many of us, ministerial sponsorship sounds rather like the London zoo scheme to sponsor a camel or a crocodile, or, in the case of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, a lame duck. Is not this just a scheme to extend the payroll vote by appointing 100 Members of Parliament, who have not gained promotion, essentially to be Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Parliamentary Private Secretaries?
§ Mr. Cook
It may be helpful if I assure the House that such appointments will have no involvement in the payroll vote one way or the other. I regard newspaper reports of that as mischievous and untrue, and I am happy to ensure that the press keeps up its high standards of truth and accuracy, which it did not on this occasion. As to my hon. Friends promoting the Government's successes, I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that there was such enthusiasm for the idea that it was passed unanimously by the parliamentary Labour party.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Highly desirable though it is that Afghan women should be able to throw off their burkas, was it for this that we went to war, or was it to apprehend al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? Are we not in danger of swapping one set of warlords for another, who may or may not help us to apprehend al-Qaeda? Ought we not have a serious debate about that, given that we still have great problems in Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons and the pleadings of the Pakistanis not to continue bombing during Ramadan?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the volume of the bombing has diminished markedly as a result of events on the ground and is much more concentrated on one particular part of Afghanistan. He is absolutely right—nobody at the Dispatch Box has suggested otherwise—that the primary aim is to bring to justice those who perpetrated the appalling mass murders of 11 September and to break up the al-Qaeda network. We are now much closer to being in a position to achieve that than we were a week ago.
I fully share my hon. Friend's concern that no terrorist group should ever get hold of a nuclear weapon. I only say to him that if we had followed his counsel and not taken any action in Afghanistan, that would have been much more likely to happen than it is now.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Does not the question from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, illustrate the point that during the crisis, the Conservative Opposition have given the Government far more solid support for the necessary military action than they have been able to rely on from their own Back Benchers? Does not that mean that when my right hon. and hon. Friends raise questions about whether a vote will take place at the end of a debate or, inappropriately, in a deferred Division, it is not right for the Leader of the House to presume that we, rather than his own rebels, will divide the House, so our point stands?
May I remind the Leader of the House that in answer to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about the combat effectiveness gender study, the right hon. Gentleman said that as the policy was not going to change, there would 993 not be a statement? However, the Secretary of State for Defence, who was accurately quoted by my right hon. Friend, said:I am currently considering the conclusions of a review on the employment of women in the armed forces and will make a further statement in due course." — (0fficial Report, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 767W.]Will we get that statement, or must we just continue to read about it in The Sunday Telegraph?
§ Mr. Cook
That is not what I said to the House. I said that the policy on the ground would not change unless a policy was announced, and that that would require an announcement to Parliament. I fully recognise that, and I did not suggest otherwise.
On the other matter that the hon. Gentleman raises, we fully appreciate that the policy has been bipartisan. We welcome the fact that it has had support in all quarters of the House, and not just on the two Front Benches. It has also had the full support of my hon. Friends on the Benches behind me. When we had a Division on the subject, more than 300 Labour Members voted with the Government, and only eight voted against. That is not a basis on which one can erect a major case for a split among Labour Members. There has been overwhelming support for the Government's position from my hon. Friends, as well as from Opposition Members.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
We had a welcome statement from the Prime Minister yesterday on the rapidly changing position in Afghanistan. Does the Leader of the House agree that a primary concern for many hon. Members and, indeed, our constituents, is the fate of the 7.5 million Afghan people who face not only a difficult winter but a desperate situation? They will want to know that effective corridors have now been established from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to northern Afghanistan. They will want to be assured that money will be promised to the Governments of Iran and Pakistan for the succour of those in the refugee camps, and they will want to know that the money promised by the international community is getting through to Afghanistan. Is there is any possibility within the next week of a debate on this subject or a statement by the Secretary of State for International Development, whom I see in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Cook
This is an issue on which the House has held a full debate on a number of occasions. There has been an even larger number of statements, including one from the Secretary of State for International Development. We shall obviously keep under review the question of when it will be appropriate to provide another similar opportunity.
On the substance of the issue, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no shortage of money to fund the actions that we need to take to support the refugees who are outside the country and those in Afghanistan who are in need. The United Kingdom has been both early and generous in providing its support. I am pleased to tell the House that the volume of food entering Afghanistan has increased markedly. I am told that over the past week it has averaged over 2,000 tonnes, which is a substantial improvement on the position a month ago. If we can maintain that rate of supply, we will be able to ensure that we have sufficient stocks in Afghanistan. I shall only say 994 to the House that of course we would not be in this position if we had not maintained the military pressure on the Taliban, which has enabled us to open up many more corridors into Afghanistan to reach the people in need.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
The Leader of the House will be aware of my interest in Railtrack, First Group and Eurotunnel. Will he advise me on the powers of Select Committees not only to compel witnesses to appear before them but to answer questions put to them?
I do not know whether he has had an opportunity to read the transcript of evidence from the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in that Select Committee yesterday. Having admitted that he met the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, the right hon. Gentleman would not tell us when, and having admitted that he had prepared draft emergency legislation to remove the rail regulator's capacity for independent action, he would not tell us when he had done so. Will the Leader of the House compel the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box early next week and answer the questions that he refused to answer in the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Cook
I do not think that a single member of the Cabinet has appeared here or elsewhere more often to answer the entirely bogus allegations thrown at him by Opposition Members. We had a debate on the matter last Tuesday. Given the way in which my right hon. Friend trounced the points put to him by the Opposition, they would be wise not to attempt to repeat that experiment or to ask me to arrange it.
§ Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the availability of digital hearing aids on the NHS? Many Members have received correspondence on the subject, but so far we have had only a half-hour debate in Westminster Hall. Can he arrange a longer debate so that we can raise an issue that is important to the 2 million people who do not have access to the digital hearing aids that would vastly improve their quality of life? Many hon. Members from all parties have signed the relevant early-day motion on the subject, and we would be grateful for a debate.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman makes his request with clarity and courtesy. I shall bear it in mind along with the many other requests that I have received this afternoon, but not everyone is going to be happy. In the meantime, he will be aware that we are to debate the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill next week. I am sure that the Speaker will allow him to make a glancing reference to that issue.
§ Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)
I want to consider the number of places allocated on the Liaison Committee to the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government slipped through in the small print of the Order Paper earlier this week a measure that will result in the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) or for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) losing their place on the Liaison Committee. Why has the right hon. Gentleman decided to downgrade the Transport, Local Government and the Regions 995 Committee, especially as its two active Sub-Committees do as much work as a main Committee? Is that decision a mere consequence of the Government trying to get their revenge for the trouble that they had over the appointment of the chairmanship of that Committee earlier this year?
§ Mr. Cook
For once, I find the hon. Gentleman's question almost breathtaking. He suggests that we slipped the measure through, but we debated it in prime time. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I took part in the debate. The Order Paper was in front of us. There was no question of it being slipped through. Not a single Member in that debate made the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and he did not turn up to raise it.
As for the treatment of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, it will be entitled to precisely the same representation as any other Select Committee. It is for it to decide who shall go on the Liaison Committee. Indeed, the terms of the motion before the House do not specify which Committee member will serve on the Liaison Committee. It is entirely possible for my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) or for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) to represent the Committee. The matter rests in the hands of the Committee. It is for its members to decide who they want on the Liaison Committee, and I would not presume to offer them advice.
§ Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—I see her on the Bench beside him—to come to the House to make a statement on the growing disarray of the postal service in my constituency, especially in Bexhill? Since the problem was first raised some three weeks ago by the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer, the problem has snowballed. More than 40 streets in Bexhill are now subject to an appalling postal service and countless letters are going astray, including this week a cheque for more than £50,000 to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which was misdelivered. Given that we stand on the threshold of the busiest time of year for the Post Office, my constituents are rightly extremely concerned and angry at the lack of postal service in our area. Will the right hon. Gentleman please arrange for a statement on that matter?