§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)
The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 22 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Homelessness Bill.
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. Until about 10 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Conduct of Ministers in the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions" on an Opposition motion.
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill.
THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER—Opposition Day [3rd Allotted Day 1st part]. There will be a debate on a motion. Subject to be announced. Motion on the Social Security (Jobcentre plus Interviews) Regulations 2001.
Motion to take note of European Document No. 14174/00 relating to the European Food Authority.
FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER—Private Members' Bills. The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:
MONDAY 29 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Adoption Bill.
TUESDAY 29 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER—OppOsition Day [4th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER—I intend to keep that date free at this stage; it may be appropriate for a further debate on international terrorism.
FRIDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.
I know that Members will welcome early notice of recess dates. It may therefore be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House rise for the Christmas recess at the end of business on Wednesday 19 December, or Thursday 20 December, until Tuesday 8 January.
§ Mr. Forth
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks—and not only that; knowing how keen his colleagues always are to get away from this place as much as possible, I suspect that they, in particular, will be grateful for the announcement of the Christmas recess.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his announcement that he wants to make provision on Thursday 1 November for a possible further debate on terrorism. On Monday 15 October, he said:we will have repeated debates on the issue of terrorism … Whenever appropriate, we will return to it"— [Official Report, 15 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 975.]I am sure that everyone in the House will welcome that. I welcome the fact that the Government have already given proper time for the subject to be debated, and I hope that 1308 the Leader of the House will find it possible to give us as much reasonable notice as possible that it is the Government's firm intention to have that debate on 1 November. We want to avoid any last-minute decisions or scrambles for debates, especially on such an important issue. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want the maximum possible notice of such a debate.
With regard to next Tuesday's debate, I hope that the Leader of the House will be gratified that we took his advice. In the same column of Hansard it is recorded that he said that if I wished to return to the issue of Ministers, the civil service and special advisers, the Government would be delighted to debate it robustly with us. I followed his advice. Effectively, he asked us for a debate, and we have decided to give it to him. I hope that he will enjoy it—and I hope that his colleague the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will enjoy it equally; that remains to be seen.
Finally, may I press the right hon. Gentleman on a point raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who on Monday asked what had happened to the debate on drugs. That has disappeared, and this Friday we now have a debate on cleaner fuels. The right hon. Gentleman gave a lot of explanations about how busy the Home Office was and how difficult it would be for Home Office Ministers to find time, and so on. He then said:I hope to see the debate reinstated at an appropriate time when the Home Office can appropriately find priority for it." — [Official Report, 15 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 975.]I will not say that that was waffle; that would be unfair, but I hope that the Leader of House can give a more positive indication on whether we can return to the important subject of drugs, which I dare say some in the House, even some of his hon. Friends, think is marginally more important than cleaner fuel.
§ Mr. Cook
I welcome the clear indication from the right hon. Gentleman and Conservative Back Benchers that they will be happy to be here at Christmas. The recess that I announced is clearly subject to the progress of business, but I take note of the fact that Conservative Members are willing to be here at Christmas should that be required.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's welcome for the day that we have set aside for a debate on terrorism. I will, of course, confirm that date at next Thursday's business questions. That will give us seven days' warning, and I am sure that that will be satisfactory for the House. Should we change our plans, I am sure that he will be the first to know.
I think that I speak for all Labour Members when I say that I am grateful for the fact that the party that thought up the privatisation of the railways and devised the structure of Railtrack now proposes to have a full-day's debate about the disastrous consequences for Railtrack and the travelling public. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions was faced with a choice: to pour more taxpayers' money down the black hole of an insolvent company, or to create a not-for-profit company in which money would go first to the travelling public rather than to shareholders. We chose to put passengers first. The Conservative party would obviously choose to put shareholders first, but I have not the slightest doubt what the travelling public would vote for.
1309 I explained to the House on Monday that the sole reason for deferring the debate on drugs was that the Home Office is, at present, introducing three new Bills in response to the events of 11 September. The first will be an emergency anti-terrorism Bill, and I hope that all Members of reason would agree that the Home Office should be able to give priority to that issue at this time. However, I fully accept the case for a debate on drugs; that is why we found time for it in the first place. We shall return to it whenever we can.
On Monday, I congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. I now congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who is sitting in a suitably modest position, on joining the team of the shadow Leader of the House. I hope that, for his own sake, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire will find the experience more congenial than his predecessor did, who quit after only 30 days in the post.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Minister for Industry and Energy will make a statement about his predecessor's decision on an equal pay claim for all the canteen workers in the coalfields? Is my right hon. Friend aware that about 2,500 of those workers have not qualified for the money? Will he draw that fact to the attention of the Chancellor of Exchequer and explain to him that we need extra money for all the canteen workers who were left out of the agreement and who must be paid? In my area, those who belonged to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers were paid, while those at Bolsover colliery who stayed loyal to the National Union of Mineworkers during the pit strike were left off the list. That state of affairs has been repeated across all the coalfields and in many constituencies represented by Labour Members. We want a statement or, better still, payment pretty sharp.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
May I reinforce the plea that my colleagues have just made for a debate on the rural crisis? Many Members on both sides of the House think that such a debate is long overdue.
Will the Leader of the House examine the allocation of time for questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? In the Question Time that we have just completed, it took us more than half an hour to reach a question on farming and agriculture and, indeed, no fishing questions were reached at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "One was."] I apologise to the House; one fishing question was reached at the very end.
Previously there was an arrangement by which a large Department—the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—allocated some time to environmental questions and some time to transport questions. May we put that procedure in place again? Will the Leader of the House and the House authorities consider that possibility so that agriculture and rural affairs are not kicked into touch, as they were today? 1310 The Leader of the House will recall—indeed, he may still have the bruises—his experience when the House decided that appointments to Select Committees should be more transparent, should be seen to be more transparent and should be more open to influence by Members rather than the so-called usual channels. Does he expect to be able to make an announcement on that, as a result of recommendations from the Modernisation Committee, within the two-week period that he announced today or very shortly? He will be aware that there are vacancies on Select Committees and, he may wish to make a statement about how he wishes to approach the task of filling them.
§ Mr. Cook
I am aware of, and sympathetic to, the pressure for a debate on the countryside. I hope that we will be able to find time for it at an appropriate moment.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about questions to DEFRA, and I am alive to the fact that I am addressing a Chamber that is mostly composed of Members who were here for DEFRA questions, and with whom his point might resonate. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but there is no time available with which to widen the envelope; whether or not the envelope can be reshuffled is a matter on which I must seek the advice of my colleagues in the Department.
I am pleased to report to the House that the Modernisation Committee had a good first discussion on appointments to Select Committees yesterday morning. I hope that we will be able to make good progress in reaching an agreement on an alternative method of bringing nominations before the House. If so, we may be able to bring a report to the House in November. In the meantime, I am conscious of the need to fill the vacancies that are arising, which is one of the reasons for my desire to make progress as quickly as possible.
§ Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the wholesale redundancies, outsourcing and sell-offs currently being planned by Consignia, which could jeopardise its ability to meet its universal service obligations, destroy the morale of employee: and plunge this country's postal services into a terrible mess. In view of that, may we have an early debate on the future of the Post Office?
§ Mr. Cook
I am very much aware of the position to which my hon. Friend draws my attention, and I fully sympathise with the concerns arising from the announcement. My hon. Friend will be aware that the announcement is only the start of a process of consultation and discussion, and I am sure that the House will have opportunities to ventilate the concerns of individual Members as that proceeds. These are, of course, matters for the company, not the Government, and I would not wish to suggest that Ministers will interfere in the way in which the company addresses the important task of ensuring that the Post Office remains in profit.
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)
Will the Leader of the House consider the case for a debate on Lord Haskins' other report, published yesterday, the annual report of the better 1311 regulation taskforce? Does he accept Lord Haskins's conclusion that the present system of regulation is "excessively centralised"
andinherently autocratic, inflexible and remote"?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have expressed concern about the speed that is required in deregulation, which is why, after all, we passed the reform Act in the previous Session. I am pleased to say that since we did so, no fewer than 50 different areas have come within the scope of the Act and are being acted on as we speak. We will continue to make all due progress.
§ Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the gas explosion in my constituency last December, which killed two constituents, Alvin and Shirley Sykes, as they slept. The explosion was subject to an immediate investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, but 10 months later we are still waiting for the report to be published, and there is no evidence that publication is imminent. Will my right hon. Friend give some reassurance to the people of Batley, not least the Sykes family, who need to put that dreadful experience behind them, by arranging an immediate and urgent statement to the House about the full circumstances of the explosion and an explanation of why we are being denied the report?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is important to his constituency, and particularly to the family of the constituents whom he named He makes his point with great dignity and force. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive and encourage it to release the report as quickly as possible.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
The Government have made it clear that over the next few weeks the House will deal with a substantial volume of additional legislation on terrorism, much of which will be taken on the Floor. Does he agree that if the House is to perform its scrutiny role adequately, this necessarily means that some of the other items in what was already an ambitious programme will have to be dropped?
§ Mr. Cook
I do not anticipate a problem with timetabling up to the next recess, which I have announced. As for the future, we will review the matter when we get there. Let us be clear: there has been a change, not only in our security environment, but in international affairs. Both the House and the Government would be subject to immense criticism if we were to say that we do not have the flexibility to respond, to introduce and scrutinise legislation and to pass it with the expedition required for emergency legislation. I look forward to the co-operation of all quarters of the House in achieving that objective.
§ David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the looming crisis in the airline industry, brought about as a direct result of actions on 11 September? He will be aware that the American Government and other European Governments are giving strong support to their national airlines. It is a fiercely competitive industry and global market. The debate will also allow the Government to address the central 1312 problems that face the industry—the difficulty of insurance, the increased costs for extra security at airports and the provision of compensation for when the planes were grounded.
§ Mr. Cook
I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), although I fear that that is not in order.
The Government have responded to the crisis in the aviation industry and underwritten provisions, especially in relation to insurance to the end of the month. We are in consultation with the aviation industry to consider what further support may be appropriate and consistent with our European obligations, which also apply to our partners. I note that the relevant Department will be up for questions next week and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and others may want to ventilate that issue then.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The Leader of the House will know from his former incarnation that problems arise if countries do things in different ways. Will it be possible before the next debate on terrorism for the Foreign Secretary to discover how far those who have joined in the coalition are working to defeat international terrorism? Belgium is not handing over information to the Americans and someone in the Republic of Ireland keeps his own army council, with illegally held weapons, against the constitution.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that he and his hon. Friends might want to reiterate in the full-day debate that I have announced for two weeks hence. One reason why we held the Justice and Home Affairs Council immediately after 11 September and are anxious to introduce emergency legislation to implement our decisions is to ensure that all European Union member states work together with everyone else to ensure that we crack down on terrorism and co-operate with each other to bring to justice those who are guilty of terrorism.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
More than 100 Labour Members and some Opposition Members have demonstrated their unease about the Wakeham proposals by signing early-day motion 226:
[That this House supports the democratic principle that any revised Second Chamber of Parliament should be wholly or substantially elected.]
In view of that, will my right hon. Friend agree to consult further before he introduces legislation based on those proposals, which do not include a substantial democratic element for any elected second Chamber?
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
The Leader of the House said that there has been an obvious 1313 change in the domestic security environment. May we have a statement next week on civil defence? There seem to be some mixed messages from Ministers, including the Prime Minister. When asked specific questions in television interviews, they respond that they do not want to create alarm, which is understandable, and we received some information in the margins of Health questions earlier this week, but the approach is in stark contrast to the attitude to public information in the United States. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on that issue? We are receiving questions in our mailbag and I have some questions that I should like to ask. The House deserves a statement and an opportunity to question Ministers without revealing too much that would undermine security.
§ Mr. Cook
There will be an opportunity to question Ministers at the Department of Health. In fairness to the Government, we should recall that we began on Monday with a statement from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which dwelt on the internal security situation in Britain.
The hon. Lady puts her finger on a dilemma that we must try to get right. We are aware of no specific threat to the UK, but at the same time we must recognise that in the present environment some people may wish to execute an attack on the UK if they have the opportunity and means to do so. Although we may be aware of no specific threat, we must be constantly alert and vigorous in safeguarding our people, and take all possible measures to do so. I am sure that we will debate the balance of those considerations as we proceed with emergency legislation.
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the future of the United Kingdom hospice movement, which is under severe financial pressure? Sue Ryder Care expects to close four of its hospices throughout the country, including one at Staunton Harold hall in my constituency, about which a 20,000-signature petition was presented to No. 10 Downing street just last week. Is not the hospice movement, with the day, respite and terminal illness care that it offers and the dignity that it gives so many of our citizens in their final days, of sufficient importance for finance to be more heavily sourced from the national health service and not dependent on the vicissitudes of voluntary contributions?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Having previously held the health portfolio in opposition, I fully understand and greatly value the work of the hospice movement, which can provide particularly sensitive care at a very difficult time for both patients and relatives, who immensely appreciate its services. This Government certainly want the hospice movement to prosper, and I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health.
§ Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)
May I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the conduct of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, particularly relating to the fishing industry? In the Shetland part of my constituency, the fishing industry accounts for 20 to 25 per cent. of our economy. My 1314 constituents would consider a system that allows for less than two minutes' questioning of Ministers in two weeks next to useless. I therefore ask whether time will be found for a statement or a proper debate on the crisis of stock levels in the North sea and the need, highlighted in a paper produced today by the World Wildlife Fund, for money to be provided by the Treasury for short to medium-term aid for the fishing industry and the white fish fleet in particular.
§ Mr. Cook
I note that the hon. Gentleman has seconded the suggestion made from the Liberal Democrat Benches by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), and I fully understand and am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to his constituency. I am delighted that this occasion has given me the opportunity to put that on the record in the way in which Question Time did not.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of demerger plans concerning mmo2, which is part of BT. I should register an interest as an ex-BT employee of 30 years, a small shareholder in the company and a member of Connect, the management and professionals union. My right hon. Friend will also be aware that, if carried, the proposals could damage not only BT but the UK's communications infrastructure. Is he aware that the trade unions representing BT's employees are firmly against any demerger on the grounds not only of possible job losses but of national interest? Will he arrange a debate in which we can discuss what might happen if the demerger goes ahead?
§ Mr. Cook
I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but I am aware of the issue and I fully understand the anxiety to which it has given rise. The matter is essentially for BT as a company, but I hope that, in taking it forward, it will fully consult and listen to is employees and consider carefully whether the division of debt in the demerger is fair to both parts.
§ Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)
The Leader of the House may be aware that in early September the Strategic Rail Authority presented to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions an analysis of Central Railway's proposal to build a freight line from the channel tunnel to the north-west. As the Leader of the House may be aware, the proposal has caused considerable anxiety across many parts of south-east England, so I should be grateful if he would invite the Secretary of State to attend the House at the earliest possible date to make a statement on the proposals and their viability.
§ Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)
Since 11 September, all hon. Members have welcomed the opportunities that way have had to discuss, in a very sombre and respectful way, the consequences of 1315 international terrorism, and we welcome the further opportunities to do so that have been announced, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing debate outside the House about the long-term consequences of the events of 11 September? We may be dismayed that such action has to be taken now, but beyond the fight in Afghanistan, there is a war against poverty and so on in the wider world. We may also be dismayed by a recent report, which we may have all received, from the Jubilee Plus campaign about the effect of poverty in the heavily indebted poor countries. That also needs to be debated, and perhaps a whole day should be set aside to debate that wider context.
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the events of 11 September will have long-lived and wide repercussions, and I share with him the hope that, as a consequence, there will be a greater international consensus on bearing down on word poverty, which is, of course, one of the breeding grounds of the fanaticism that can produce terrorism. This Government have a very good record on taking the initiative in the G8 and elsewhere on relieving the debt of the poorest countries. We shall continue to provide that leadership, and I hope that we can now build a bigger alliance to lift the burden of debt from those countries that sometimes find that they pay more in interest on debt than they spend on their schools and hospitals.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Will the Leader of the House try to ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions can tell the House, either in the debate next week or in an early statement, how much public money will be made available to the new Railtrack, when decisions will be made about investment projects that have been put on ice by Railtrack's going into administration and when we will know the details of the successor company? In my constituency, we were well advanced with plans for a new station, but we now have no idea where Railtrack is coming from, who is running it, how much money it has and whether it can get on with modernising the railways. We will need answers from the Secretary of State, and I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the time will not be wasted next week.
§ Mr. Cook
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reflect on the right hon. Gentleman's observations and consider what weight he should attach to them in his speech. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also favour us with a speech on Tuesday and explain how, while sitting in the Cabinet that privatised the railway industry, he helped to devise the system of railway administration. The system was thought up by that Cabinet and is part of the Railways Act 1993, so perhaps he could share with is the answers that Conservative Members had in mind in 1993.
§ Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)
Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity to hold an urgent debate on encouraging the recruitment and retention of general practitioners? Has he had a chance to study the two surveys published yesterday? Is he aware of the growing shortage of GPs across the country, especially in east Kent? Yesterday, the prospect arose of one large practice in my constituency shedding 500 patients from its roll. 1316 That is driving us into a dangerous position, so will he seriously consider holding a debate on those important matters?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend makes his point about the situation in his constituency, and I understand why he is concerned. On the broader, national picture, I have to tell him that there are now more GPs than ever before and that the survey to which he refers discovered that the clear majority of those GPs believe that health care to their patients has improved under this Government.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
If not next week, then at an early date, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on a matter that is assuming some urgency—the proper parliamentary scrutiny of the new European security and defence project? Given the need for the ESDP closely to ally its work with NATO, does he agree that it would be far better if the scrutiny at European level were conducted by a reconstituted Assembly of the Western European Union rather than by the European Parliament or the European Union, because some members of the EU are not members of NATO and some members of NATO are not members of the EU?
§ Mr. Cook
I would suggest that, in the light of the events of 11 September, we should try to make every possible progress on European security to make sure, for example, that we can guarantee stability in our own continent, especially in south-east Europe and the Balkans, so that we never again see in Europe the emergence of the kind of pressures that gave rise to the attack on the World Trade Centre. Of course, it is important that European security and defence policy is democratically accountable, but I strongly suggest—the Government have maintained this position since the start of the process—that democratic accountability should be to the national Parliaments, including this one.
§ Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
Does the Leader of the House recall that the Government published their consultation paper on a national strategy for sexual health, including HIV, in July? Having waited two years for that paper, it was disappointing that it was published in the recess, which meant that there was no possibility of a statement or debate. A lot of people are interested in the issues raised by the paper. Will he see if time can he found for a debate, if not immediately, then before the consultation period ends?
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question and know of his own interest through the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS. I am aware of the concern about the time taken to produce the report; indeed, it was raised with me in business questions before the recess. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend is indulgent of the fact that the report was published, albeit in the recess. It is important that we do not propose that all Government work be suspended during the recess, and it is vital that the Government are held to account for any major statement. I shall bear in mind his request for a debate; I cannot give any promises, but I shall certainly take it on board, along with the many other requests that I receive.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
Ahead of next Tuesday's debate, if we are going to restore confidence in 1317 public and political life, is it not essential that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions comes to the Dispatch Box and announces that he has at last sacked his special adviser, which is what the overwhelming majority of people in the country expect? Also, because of the delay in sacking, the Secretary of State should now say that he is considering his own position.
§ Mr. Cook
There is absolutely nothing new left to say about the case of Jo Moore and the right hon. Gentleman has not found anything. The issue is not whether or not Jo Moore made a mistake; she herself said that she made a terrible error of judgment. The issue is whether someone's career and livelihood should be ended because of a single mistake. That may be how Conservative Members treat their staff, but it is certainly not how they behaved when they were Ministers. Had they resigned after making one mistake, they would not have lasted 18 days, never mind 18 years.
§ Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, 12 months on from the devastating floods of last autumn, it is appropriate to have a debate to examine their impact and consider where we are now as a result and what we have been able to achieve? For instance, 300 homes in my constituency were devastated at Stockbridge. If we had a debate, one of the many things that I would like to raise is the fact that the Environment Agency will not start work to improve flood defences on the River Aire at Stockbridge until next summer. Meanwhile, many of my constituents are extremely worried every time that there is heavy rain. In addition, as a result of the laggardly behaviour of one or two insurance firms, several of my constituents have still not been able to move back into their homes 12 months on.
§ Mr. Cook
I am fully aware of the seriousness of the issue, particularly in my hon. Friend's constituency, and know that my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are following the matter closely. As for a debate, I have now accumulated requests for a full week of debates, and I must warn the House that I cannot please everybody.
§ Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)
Could the Leader of the House provide the House with an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals to legislate against religious hatred so that Opposition Members and, perhaps, Government Members can inquire how they are going to do so without a definition of religion in the Bill?
§ Mr. Cook
I am not quite sure how Hansard will interpret my hon. Friend's comment.
The Bill will be published, we hope, in the middle of November, when the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) will be able to see its full terms. However, an awful meal is being made of issues of definition. Personally, I see no problem whatever with understanding the difference between a joke about a religion and inciting religious hatred and violence. Indeed, 1318 we ourselves tackle I those questions in the past. I remember when people said that legislation against incitement to race hatred was impossible because it could not be adequately defined. We managed that; the legislation was passed and plays a useful role. I see no reason why we should not do the same with religious hatred.
§ John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that on Monday the Home Secretary announced that he would bring forward measures to increase security at airports, and yet, since then, there has been an exposé in the media showing that companies such as Securicor have been allowing staff with no security clearance to work in high-risk areas. Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Secretary of State fog Transport, Local Government and the Regions to bring those powers forward urgently to ensure that companies that exploit loopholes in the existing regulations should be prevented from doing so immediately, or, failing that, should not be allowed to operate at the airport itself?
§ Mr. Cook
I saw the reports and made inquiries. There is a genuine dilemma here. The events of 11 September have required heightened security, not just at airports but at many other sites in the UK. It is impossible to provide that additional security without an increase in staff, and it is not possible necessarily to complete the screening of all members of staff before they commence work. The present arrangements make that permissible, provided that the screening proceeds as quickly as possible. The choice facing some of the installations is whether to have any security at all or security with those who may not have been fully screened. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend: we must make all haste and that is why we seek to introduce an emergency Bill with, we hope, expedited procedures.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside)
Would the Leader of the House be agreeable to a full debate on the international humanitarian aid effort in Afghanistan, and, if so, could that debate be preceded by a statement from the Secretary of State for International Development so that she can inform the House of her recent visits?
§ Mr. Cook
As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend is currently in Pakistan pursuing that very issue. The Prime Minister and all members of the Cabinet have repeatedly stressed that the humanitarian effort is receiving the same priority and the same resources necessary for the job as the military effort. We will have an opportunity to debate the matter in a fortnight's time and we shall consider nearer the time who is most appropriate to speak for the Government.
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
It is an extremely long time since we debated the work of the Child Support Agency, changes to which will be made next year. The CSA is powerful: it overrides medical evidence and will not allow appeals against its decisions. We should once again be considering the work of the CSA, which impacts on many people's lives. Will my right hon. Friend agree to an early debate on the CSA?
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
Reports in The Times today say that the so-called secret plans to split Railtrack plc into financial and operating arms have been described as unworkable by potential investors. In view of that and the fact that many thousands of ordinary people who are shareholders in the company are still totally in the dark about their position, will the Leader of the House reconsider his earlier view about the use of the Opposition day next Tuesday? That might properly be occupied by a consideration of ministerial conduct and the role of special advisers and not give a sharp focus on Railtrack. If the right hon. Gentleman's statement about commitment to the railways is to become reality, we need to probe the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions thoroughly and carefully in the light of those reports. Can we have a special debate on the subject?
§ Mr. Cook
It is not for me to devise the Opposition motion, nor do I imagine it would be welcome were I to do so. [Interruption.] I am grateful for that confirmation of my view on the matter. It is open to all Members of the House within the rules of order to take advantage of that debate to explore the issues that they regard as most germane. For many of my colleagues, one of those issues will undoubtedly be how Railtrack a company on the brink of bankruptcy, nevertheless in the course of the past 12 months has paid hundreds of millions of pounds to shareholders, which could have been there for the safety of the travelling public.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
We heard earlier about the calamitous consequences of 11 September for the airline industry. My question is about aerospace. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Rolls-Royce, which is a major employer in my constituency, is expected to announce between 3,000 and 4,000 job cuts? Does he agree that now is not the time for a high-tech company to make panic cuts? Will he invite the secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House tomorrow and make an urgent statement about the unfolding crisis in the airline and aerospace industries?
§ Mr. Cook
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is following these matters with great care and great energy. I fully understand the importance of the impending announcement to the constituents of my hon. Friend and I also understand how important it is that, because of a short-term emergency, we do not disperse skilled teams that work together. I hope that we can all work together so that in the long term there will be healthy airline and aerospace industries in the United K Kingdom.
§ Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)
May I support the call for a debate on the airline and at aerospace industries in the crisis resulting from the attacks in 11 September? In Northern Ireland, we know that Shorts in particular proposes to lay off thousands of workers as a result of the crisis. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 261.
1320 [That this House deplores the fact that British Airways have chosen to use the 11th September terrorist attacks as justification for withdrawing from the Belfast/London Heathrow route; condemns the refusal by British Airways to release slots at Heathrow Airport which could be used by other airlines for this route; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to provide support to ensure that this level of service can be maintained given the dire consequences of this decision on the economy of Northern Ireland.]
The decision by British Airways to use the terrorist attacks of 11 September as justification for withdrawing from the Belfast International-London Heathrow route has caused great dismay and concern in Northern Ireland, and has removed Belfast and Northern Ireland as a region from the British Airways timetable. Can consideration therefore be given to an early debate on these matters?
§ Mr. Cook
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety on behalf of his constituents who are employed at Shorts. In the long run, we must face the fact that the only way we can recover both the viability of the airline industry and the order book of the aerospace industry is by getting the public back travelling by air. That is why it is so important that we address our minds to what we can do to improve aviation security still further, to provide that confidence to the travelling public, and that is why it is important that the House deals urgently and sympathetically with the Bill that we have introduced, to ensure that we carry it through expeditiously.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when considering alternative methods of choosing Select Committee members, priority should be given to two criteria? First, any system should be independent of Government, and secondly, it should be transparent and open. Does he also agree that unless all the names of hon. Members who are applying for membership of Select Committees are published, neither the House nor the public can be confident that the most appropriate hon. Members have been selected?
§ Mr. Cook
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the criterion that we must meet is that the body which puts names before the House is independent of party influence and transparent in its accountability. That is what the Modernisation Committee will seek to achieve. I am not sure to what extent it would be practical to publish the names of all those applying for membership of Select Committees, or whether such a system applies in the case of all the parties in the House. However, I can share with my hon. Friend our commitment that we will meet his standards of independence and transparency.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a DEFRA Minister to come to the House at an early date to make a statement about the serious delays in the issuing of movement licences under the new animal movement licensing scheme? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the need for farmers to move livestock before the winter. It is therefore important that the House knows what measures DEFRA intends to put in place to ensure that the system runs much more smoothly, in order to allow those much needed movements to take place.
§ Mr. Cook
My colleagues from DEFRA left the Chamber less than an hour ago and I am not sure how 1321 willing they would be to come back straight away. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the importance of the autumn movements. I have already discussed it with her, but shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to her attention.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
May we have a debate, or be guaranteed an early statement, on the serious situation in Northern Ireland? There are new possibilities in connection with decommissioning, given the general position on terrorism, and there is the problem of the resignation by Ulster Unionists from the Executive. Discussion of those matters should not simply be tacked on to general debates about the wider terrorist situation because the issues are important in their own right and hon. Members should have a chance to debate them.
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is assiduous in raising this issue, and I imagine that he will have opportunities to ventilate his concerns in the future. I share his hope that the current international climate and the additional impetus that has been given to finding a resolution to areas of conflict that breed terrorism may bear fruit in the case of Northern Ireland as well. That is certainly what the Government are working for.
§ Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
Could we have a statement on the guidelines given to special advisers? I am thinking in particular of the concern reported in the press today and previously about civil servants who have been instructed by special advisers to perform political acts. Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm a report on the BBC this morning that only Jonathan Powell and the Prime Minister's official spokesman have been authorised to give any instructions at any time to civil servants?
§ Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a slight delay in the general availability of the Auld report since its stated publication date, but that it should be widely available from today? Given that the report proposes root-and-branch reforms to our criminal court system, the Government have rightly announced a period of public consultation until the end of next January. Can my right hon. Friend find time during the consultation period for this Chamber to debate those proposals?
§ Mr. Cook
I see that my hon. Friend's point has resonance in other parts of the House. The Auld report is an important, fundamental review of the court system and offers us a substantial improvement to our criminal justice system. It should be dealt with, at all stages, with the importance that it deserves.
§ Hywel Williams (Caernarfon)
Is the Leader of the House aware that in the continuing dispute at Friction 1322 Dynamex in my constituency the workers have been out for the past five or six months and their only reward so far has been dismissal? May we have a statement from the DTI on the efforts that it has made to resolve that long-running dispute?
§ Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
The Leader of the House has already heard several pleas for a debate on the airline and aviation industry. Given that the board of Rolls-Royce is presently meeting and intends to make a statement after the stock market has closed this evening about the future prospects of the company; given the events of 11 September; and given the need to retain high-quality technical skills in Hucknall, the east midlands and across the country, may we have an early opportunity to discuss the future of that important sector?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is correct in that a number of hon. Members have raised that theme in the past hour, and my colleagues and I will obviously need to reflect upon it. As I said earlier, I share those concerns. We must ensure that we do not lose long-term skills because of short-term pressures.
Miss Anne Melntosh (Vale of York)
May I add my voice to those calling for a full debate in Government time on the recovery of rural businesses? I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that farming businesses are by far the most numerous such businesses. I should like the debate to cover two aspects. The first is that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about the confusion and contradictory advice given by DEFRA about the issuing of livestock licences in the run-up to winter and the distress that that causes to the livestock. The second is the fact that 117 premises were affected by foot and mouth in North Yorkshire but so far only five contracts have been signed to cleanse them, so restocking cannot begin this side of Christmas.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Lady has placed on record the extent of the problem in her constituency. As I said, I am not unsympathetic to the case for a debate on the countryside, but I hope that such a debate would be broad and enable us to deal with the rural economy, other aspects of public service in the countryside and the way forward, and not only the crisis of the past few months.
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
May I associate myself entirely with the remarks made by the shadow Leader of the House about the postponement of the debate on drug policy that had been scheduled for this Friday? Will my right hon. Friend find time to read the British crime survey, which was published last month? He will find that not only has our drugs tsar come and gone without making a jot of difference, but our Government have not got a snowball's chance in hell of meeting their targets on reduction of crime. Clearly, the current policy is not working and we need to revise it. May we have an urgent debate?
§ Mr. Cook
I rather anticipated that my hon. Friend would raise that subject and I commend him for the vigour 1323 with which he repeatedly does so. He would not expect me to assent to every proposition that he advances, but, as I said, we did have a commitment to a debate on drugs, it remains a commitment and, at an appropriate time, we will try to reschedule the deferred debate that was due this Friday.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
For a moment, Mr. Speaker, I feared that you were about to call time.
As we are on the edge of the most dramatic improvement in real resources for the health service that has ever been seen, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said at the Labour party conference that some managements in the health service are plainly incompetent, will the Leader of the House try to ensure that the Secretary of State comes to the House to explain what he will do about the problem so that the huge increase in resources is not frittered away? Furthermore, will he treat my request with some urgency? In Hemel Hempstead hospital, massive closures in provision are about to be made by an incompetent manager, so I have a particular interest in ensuring that the matter is dealt with rather quickly.
§ Mr. Cook
I think that we have just heard a headline in the Hemel Hempstead newspapers. I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stressed earlier this week in his speech on public services the importance of bringing all those services up to national standards. Indeed, he outlined how we intend to go about that task in the health service.
I thank my hon. Friend for enabling us to conclude this session of business questions on a vote of consensus by congratulating the Government on the largest building programme ever in the history of the NHS, doubling the increase in investment in the NHS, and providing an additional 3,000 nurses since the last general election was declared.