HC Deb 19 December 2002 vol 396 cc1007-20 12.30 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

It will be a pleasure. The business for the first week after the Christmas recess will be as follows:

TUESDAY 7 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill.

WEDNESDAY 8 JANUARY—Opposition Day [1st Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 9 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Health (Wales) Bill.

FRIDAY 10 JANUARY—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

MONDAY 13 JANUARY—Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.

TUESDAY 14 JANUARY—Until 4 o'clock there will be an Opposition half day. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Ulster Unionist party, followed by a debate on the London bid for the 2012 Olympic games on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 15 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill.

THURSDAY 16 JANUARY—Motions on the General Synod measure, followed by a motion to take note of various European documents relating to fisheries policy.

FRIDAY 17 JANUARY—The House will not be sitting.

Hon. Members will wish to be reminded that although the new hours start in January, on the first day back after the recess the House will meet at 2.30 pm. The reduced period of notice for oral questions and the opportunity to table electronic questions will commence from the start of the new year.

Following another recommendation in the Modernisation Committee report, the Chairman of Ways and Means has agreed that there will be a cross-cutting question session on youth policy in Westminster Hall for one hour on Thursday 23 January. Questions should be tabled by Wednesday 15 January at 12.30 pm. That will be followed by a two hour debate on "Pathways into Work: helping people into employment".

Mr. Forth

Earlier this week, the Leader of the House asked me—rather plaintively—whether I could bear to be pleasant today. As a result, I took a crash course in emollience and seasonal good will. I want, therefore, to offer my wishes for a happy Yuletide and a very happy and prosperous new year to the Leader of the House and, if I may say so through him, to his mother; to you, Mr. Speaker, to your Deputies and to all right hon. and hon. Members; to both the retiring Clerk and the incoming Clerk and all their staff; to the Officers of the House and the employees—and to the world generally. The pleasant bit is now over.

The Leader of the House has told us that on 16 January there will be debates both on the General Synod and on European documents on fisheries. The fisheries issue is important to many Members of the House and their constituents, so will the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of the time that he proposes to allocate for the two debates? Given that by that time we shall be finishing early on Thursdays, I hope that fish will not be squeezed by the Church—if I may put it in that way—because it is surely important that the House give the maximum time to the very important issue of fishing policy, and that it is not in any way seen to be neglected.

During yesterday's statement on Iraq, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said: the media were briefed yesterday and the House of Commons was briefed today. We are clearly the poor relations. That certainly seemed to be the case. The Secretary of State said rather petulantly: there was nothing in the briefing to journalists yesterday that had not previously been set out clearly to the House of Commons on two, if not three, occasions."—[Official Report, 18 December 2002; Vol.396, c. 846–47.] Yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph—for the article to have been in yesterday's edition the journalists must have been briefed before the Secretary of State came to the House—said that the preparations included: chartering the ships needed to take British tanks to the Gulf. I am assured that that had never been said to the House before. This is an absolute example not only of the Government and their Ministers briefing the press before the House, but of their making a straightforward denial. This seems to be a case of DMPs—

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)


Mr. Forth

Defence Minister's porkies. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence is not falling into the bad habits of the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House please take the Secretary of State for Defence to one side and quietly give him a crash course in straightforwardness with the House?

Mr. Cook

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his crash course in politeness and good cheer. Plainly, we can put that down as another success for Labour education policy.[Interruption.] In this case, we may have to try harder.

I fully understand the interests of the House in fisheries policy. Indeed, at this very moment an important meeting is proceeding in Brussels, at which the British case is being presented by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). We wanted to make sure that there was an early opportunity for him to report back to the House and for the House to discuss it. Although I cannot give the precise hours of allocation, I anticipate that the House will want to spend longer on fisheries than on the General Synod measure.

No member of the Government is more punctilious in keeping the House informed than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I suspect that if I were to go through those who had made statements over the past 12 months, I would find that my right hon. Friend had given among the most, if not the most, statements to the House. Quite properly, he came to the House yesterday, gave a full statement and took questions. [Interruption.] Sometimes, the Opposition's questions do not lend themselves to a reply that is comprehensible to the world outside here. Within those limitations, my right hon. Friend has been to the House as often as anybody else and has made full statements. I should have thought that the House might give him credit for that.

As far as I can tell from the past four weeks, the number of oral statements is comparable with any previous period in the history of the House and is certainly well ahead of the number when the Tories were in power.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Will the Leader of the House give us some advice about the progress being made on reform of the House of Lords? The report was issued last week. Many of us eagerly anticipate a debate on its contents and, in due course, a vote on the issues and options.

What are the Government's intentions on the proposed draft Mental Health Bill, which appears to have been in and out like a fiddler's elbow? Again, the House and people outside are keen to find out what is happening.

Will the Leader of the House assure Members that before military forces are committed to any extended military action in Iraq we will have an opportunity to debate and vote on the commitment of forces?

Mr. Cook

Of course I anticipate the enthusiasm of the House to have a further debate on House of Lords reform, and I look forward to a further debate with the keenest anticipation. I anticipate that the debate will probably be held in the week after the two weeks for which I have announced the business, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government do not intend to delay the matter. We set up the Joint Committee; we promised a free vote on its proposals, and we want to ensure that they proceed.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that publication of the draft Mental Health Bill has produced many responses. The two Departments concerned are, quite rightly and properly, fully considering the responses and will return to the House once they have had an opportunity to reflect on amendments to be made in the light of that consultation exercise.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in the debate in the House only three weeks ago that the Government have no difficulty whatsoever with the idea of considering a substantive motion in the House and, indeed, want to keep the House fully informed and fully behind any action that we take. That is why he said that he would support the House considering a substantive motion at the appropriate time. What the appropriate time may be will have to be judged in the light of circumstances, but, of course, he indicated that, if possible, we would want to ensure that the House had a full opportunity to express a view before action was taken and, if not possible, immediately after action was taken.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

It is splendid news that we will debate House of Lords reform next month, but will my right hon. Friend tell me a bit more about the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which has not been doing much appointing recently? In fact, no people's peers have been appointed this year. I wonder whether the commission meets and how much it costs the taxpayer to keep it in existence.

Mr. Cook

In fairness, I must invite my hon. Friend to reflect on some of his comments when the Appointments Commission has met and made appointments. He has expressed such distaste and disappointment that I really do not think that he should complain that it has not tried to disappoint him again.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

Pursuing the spirit of Christmas good will announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), may I congratulate the Leader of the House on introducing amendments this week to the data protection legislation to enable Members of Parliament to continue to go about their business? Some people do not like that, but most people think that it is basically a good idea. Does he accept that the Opposition aided and abetted him in that triumph? Will he consider writing a letter to Members of Parliament explaining exactly what the amendments will mean for us?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I am very happy to express the view that, of course, that was a result of an approach that embraced all parties in the House and in which he has taken a very close personal interest. I am pleased to confirm that the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) (Elected Representatives) Order 2002 came into force this week and that from now on it will not be legal for any public body to cite the Data Protection Act 1998 as a reason why it cannot respond to a request from a Member of Parliament. That was the right decision to take because, when our constituents come to see us, they expect us to take action; they do not expect us to say that we cannot take action because of the Data Protection Act.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

May I take my right hon. Friend back to fishing? He knows only too well how important fishing is to the communities of Whitby and Scarborough. Is some facility available to hon. Members, especially those who represent fishing communities, to allow DEFRA to make a written statement following the conclusion of the current important discussions being held in Brussels, so that we can provide the very best service to our constituents, who are feeling hard pressed and very concerned about their futures, and so that we can do the work that we were elected to do?

Mr. Cook

Before I respond to my hon. Friend's question, may I apologise for not responding to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) that I should write to hon. Members? I shall reflect on that, and it may indeed be helpful for hon. Members to have that explanation in writing.

I understand the importance to my hon. Friend and his constituents not only of the fisheries negotiations but of an authoritative statement before the House resumes. I shall pass on his point to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who may wish to consider writing to him and the other hon. Members most closely involved, but that is ultimately a decision for him.

In fairness, I would say that the Government made provision for fisheries debates before the current negotiations began, and we have taken care to do so again as soon as the House resumes. I know that it is a difficult time for those communities and that my hon. Friend will want a clear statement as soon as possible, but within the constraints of our sitting weeks we have provided good opportunity for him and his colleagues to discuss the matter with the Minister.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Further to that last question, is the Leader of the House aware that if there is a failure to reach an agreement on fisheries, responsibility falls immediately to the Commission? The current Commission proposals mean the total destruction of the UK fishing industry. The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of that, but that is the reality, the truth and the fact. Will he respond more positively to the House and to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn)? DEFRA should provide all Members with a statement on what is agreed and what the Government are prepared to do to safeguard the United Kingdom fishing industry, which is about to be destroyed?

Mr. Cook

In fairness, the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have repeatedly made statements on their position. We are fully aware of the severe demands that the proposals will make on fishing communities in Britain. The Minister of State is engaged in very tough negotiations to find the best possible way forward that balances the needs of fishing communities with the unavoidable fact that we need to take action to preserve future cod stocks. Although it is absolutely right that we should seek to find ways in which we can maintain sustainable fishing communities, that will not be possible unless we also find ways of maintaining sustainable fishing stocks.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on revitalising our parliamentary democracy? He has done a lot to modernise parliamentary procedures and to try to modernise Parliament, but many of our constituents still feel remote from the decision-making process. There cannot be a more urgent debate than one on how we more effectively link what happens in this Chamber with ordinary people's lives.

Mr. Cook

I always welcome any opportunity to debate how we can get across the success of this Chamber in exploring important issues of concern to our constituents. Indeed, I noted that one article in the past week recorded the fact that debates in Parliament are often well informed and worth reading. I mention that because, although it may have been only one article in the past week, it is one more than I have seen for most of the previous six months, and we must welcome support where we find it. The Modernisation Committee met this week and agreed that, in the new year, it will look at precisely the area that my hon. Friend suggests: how we can connect with the public and make sure that they understand the work of their Members of Parliament in scrutinising legislation and holding Government to account.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

On House of Lords reform, will the right hon. Gentleman follow the recommendations in the report by having two debates: one to take note, and the other to vote on the various options? Will he ensure that the recommendation that each option should be voted on in turn will also be followed?

Mr. Cook

I cannot resist the recommendation that we should debate the matter twice, not just once. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be our intention to do that, and I would welcome his assistance with finding something original for me to say in the second of the debates. On the question of the voting method, the report of the Joint Committee is one to which we attach the highest importance, and the probability is that we will proceed exactly as it has proposed.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the House is to be relevant we must debate the great issues at the appropriate time? He knows from the pre-Budget report that some very significant changes to environmental taxation, the landfill tax credit scheme and landfill taxation have tremendous implications for the environment. At the moment, four Ministers are engaged in cross-departmental discussions, which will continue over the next two or three months. It is vital that the House has the chance to inform those deliberations while there is still time. Will my right hon. Friend take that on board?

Mr. Cook

I fully accept that the process of scrutiny must be a continuing dialogue between the Government and Members of Parliament. This place provides many opportunities for that dialogue to be continued, not just in the Chamber but in Westminster Hall and in the many other opportunities that are open to Members to make direct representations to Ministers. Of course, the Chamber proceeds on the basis that we debate Government proposals, and my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot arrange for a debate on the issue to which he refers until the Government have come to a view on their proposals.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen this morning's edition of The Scotsman? It was certainly almost enough to make me choke on my cornflakes. May we have an early and urgent debate on the role and the spiralling costs of the Scotland Office, especially following the bizarre and almost hysterical rant by the Secretary of State for Scotland about The Scotsman because it had dared to suggest that she might be under-employed in her new role? Before that debate, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take the right hon. Lady aside, calm her down and explain to her that it is not just The Scotsman that is wondering what on earth the Scotland Office is up to just now.

Mr. Cook

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman by giving advice that is consistent with good health. He should not attempt to read The Scotsman until he has completed his breakfast, is in good heart and has completed his exercises. I find that that is the appropriate moment to face up to a difficult task.

I get a little fazed by the sensitivity of our press. They ladle out criticism not just of Ministers but of Members of Parliament. However, if there is the slightest, merest murmur that the press may be less than perfect, they react in a way that, I am afraid, requires psychological counselling. Those who give it out must learn to take it.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

May we have a debate on the workings of the Official Secrets Act? Did my right hon. Friend not conclude that the sentence that the judge gave to Mr. Shayler clearly indicated that the judiciary were certainly not impressed by the fact that this archaic Act does not provide for a public interest defence? It is against our interest to have abortive prosecutions and we will not be able to use the Act when a matter of real national security, rather than the trivialised Shayler case, is involved.

Mr. Cook

This was not in any way an abortive prosecution, nor was the case dropped. On the contrary, it resulted in a conviction. If my hon. Friend looks at what was said by the judge, he will find that he showed no sympathy for the idea that there should be a public interest defence for a member of the security services who had taken information that he had gained while a member of the security services and had given to the press. Mr. Shayler attempted to produce a public interest defence, but the judge made it perfectly plain that he did not consider that that would be appropriate. I do not propose to rerun the trial in the Chamber, but it resulted in a conviction. I honestly do not think that my hon. Friend can pray it in aid as evidence that the judiciary were in any way dissatisfied.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, tomorrow, the Convention on the Future of Europe will debate proposals—which will be supported by the British Government's representative—that would give the European Union exclusive competence, usually by majority voting, in new areas? They include not only foreign policy, but internal policy matters such as intellectual property and copyright. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the industries and trade bodies concerned in those commercial sectors have not been consulted in any way? Moreover, when we debated these matters two weeks ago, the Minister responsible for them gave no indication of his intention. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure an early statement so that the House can at least be aware of what the Government are trying to give away?

Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman sought a debate only a few weeks ago on the Convention. Indeed, I delivered it within two weeks of his requesting it. There was then a full opportunity for us to explore the issue. However, I must confess that we were rather surprised to discover the lack of support on the Conservative Benches for that debate. In the light of that, I am not sure that I feel particularly encouraged to arrange a statement.

It would be unwise of me to comment on the matter of detail that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but I remind him that the Government who accepted majority voting on a wide range of trade matters were his Conservative Government. They did so because that is the only way to overcome the veto of those who want to make no progress towards freer trade.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time early in the new year for a debate to clarify the position on the Department of Health's management of hospitals and, in particular, the management of the Good Hope, which serves my constituency? Only six weeks ago, I was told that the Good Hope had performed well and that it should be proud of its efforts. It scored well on many of the key national targets and above average on emergency re-admission rates and patient focus measures. I read in the press today that it is to be put out to be franchised. I am still waiting for the letter to appear on the Letter Board informing me of that, but I have been in contact with the Department for a few months about the hospital. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending the best wishes of the season to all the hard-working and dedicated staff at the Good Hope and other hospitals as they worry about their future?

Mr. Cook

There should be no need for members of staff who work on the clinical side or in many other parts of the Good Hope hospital to worry about their future. On the contrary, it is precisely because we want to secure a good future for the hospital that we are taking the steps that we are taking to make sure that it has a management that matches the commitment, dedication and qualifications of the staff who provide the services. My hon. Friend will be aware that the hospital's chief executive has just been dismissed. In the circumstances, it is entirely proper that we should look to how we can make sure that the best possible management is provided for the hospital, as that is in the interests of both the staff and my hon. Friend's constituents who are its patients.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The Leader of the House has announced a debate on the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill. Before we have that debate, will he ensure that Health Ministers are not responsible for any delays? Is he aware that I have a letter dated 9 December that says: Thank you for your letter of 13 May"? I have a letter dated 3 December that says: Thank you for your letter of 21 March and a letter dated 2 December that says: Thank you for your letter of 14 January". Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that Health Ministers explain why social services departments are to be fined for not discharging a patient within three days, but Health Ministers are not to be fined for not answering a letter within 10 months?

Mr. Cook

I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's point and of the fact that other points of order have been raised on the issue in the past week. I will certainly seek to make sure that those points are registered. It is important that Members receive an acceptable service. The intervals that he describes are not acceptable.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the evolving crisis in Ethiopia. I was part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Ethiopia, where we were able to see the crisis at first hand. It is clear that there is a short-term food problem. It was pleasing to hear that the Department for International Development is likely to find the resources to help meet the shortfall, so will he pass on the thanks of the delegation for that?

At the same time as we are doing our part, is it not disgraceful that we hear today from Dr. Mula Kasela, the Finance and Economic Development Minister in the Ethiopian Government, that Nestlé is pressing for full reparation of the £6 million that it claims it is owed? Is there something that the Government can do to make it clear that, when people are starving, it is not right for multinational companies to demand their pound of flesh?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the appreciation that he has expressed of the work being done by the Department for International Development and the Government to make sure that we play our full part in the international efforts to contain the famine and meet the needs of Ethiopia.

I heard the interview this morning on the "Today" programme with, I think, one of the directors of Nestlé. I noted his plaintive complaint that he was surprised at the hostility of John Humphrys, but many of us could have warned him of that. I hope that, in the light of the interview, that director is reflecting on the position taken by Nestlé. It is not a matter that is, or should be, within the competence of the Government; it is a matter for Nestlé. However, as he appeared to hint in his closing remarks, if it is pursuing such funds from the Government of Ethiopia, it should make sure that the same amount is available to the hungry people of Ethiopia.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

May we have a debate on ministerial responsibility? I refer to a report in The Times yesterday about the Licensing Bill, which stated: Ministers have admitted privately that several parts of the Licensing Bill are ridiculous and need complete redrafting. Officials are being blamed for drafting over-zealous rules into the Bill. Does the Leader of the House agree that Ministers are responsible for their legislation and for what goes into Bills? They should not criticise—even privately—those who cannot answer in the House.

Mr. Cook

I also warn the right hon. Gentleman that Ministers are not responsible for what appears in the press. He should treat with some scepticism what he has quoted to the House. As Chairman of the Legislative Programme Committee, I meet the Ministers who propose the legislation.

I wish to take the opportunity to say that I have the highest confidence in the parliamentary draftsmen and the parliamentary counsel who prepare the texts for this place. They are of high quality and they all could command higher salaries in the private sector. It is their commitment to the public sector and the intellectual rewards of their work that keep them working for us. We are fortunate to have them.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Following on from earlier questions, it does not bother me where the Secretary of State for Defence makes his statements about Iraq; what bothers me is that he makes them at all. It is clear that America is going headlong towards a war against Iraq and it looks as though the Government will support it 100 per cent. Whichever Minister gives the green light for an attack on Iraq will be responsible for the butchery of men, women and children on a massive scale without any good reason. We should have at least a full-day's debate, and preferably a two-day debate, with a vote at the end so that hon. Members who are opposed to this madness can vote against it in the Lobby. Here, we will be in a minority, but outside in the real world the majority of people are sensible enough to know that a war is absolute madness.

Mr. Cook

Only this week the Secretary of State for Defence said that war is neither inevitable nor imminent. Indeed, the whole direction of the Government's policy over the past few months is to ensure that we proceed through the United Nations and that it gives the regime in Iraq one last chance to avert military action, as Security Council resolution 1441 makes clear. I believe that our action has been successful in ensuring that we get the inspectors back into Iraq. I take it that my hon. Friend is not objecting to the disarmament inspectors returning to Iraq. They are, after all, UN inspectors and are there to ensure that Iraq carries out its commitments not to have weapons of mass destruction. We await their report on the Iraqi dossier early next year. I hope that over the months ahead the weapons inspectors will keep us informed of their progress in achieving their objective, which I am sure my hon. Friend shares, of ensuring that we eliminate the weapons of chemical, biological and nuclear capacity from Iraq that would threaten its neighbours. If Iraq co-operates and we make sure that it understands that we stand behind the inspectors, there will be no war, no need for my hon. Friend to vote against it and, indeed, possibly an opportunity for him to congratulate the Government on the success of our policy.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Leader of the House urge his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to end the uncertainty that hangs over the Kent and Canterbury hospital year after year? Now that the legal proceedings are over, yet another leaked plan has come to light involving fresh expenditure different from that contained in the five or six earlier plans. As Christmas approaches, will the Government make an announcement that tells the hard-working doctors, nurses and other hospital staff that they are going to keep the accident and emergency unit and the regional centres of excellence where they are accessible to the people of east Kent?

Mr. Cook

I doubt whether I can arrange for a statement in the remaining six hours of this part of the Session, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend and invite him to write to him.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

I am sure that many hon. Members share my concern about the unsatisfactory facilities for visiting parties to this place compared with almost any other modern democratic Parliament. Even the new visitor centre is far too small to meet the demand for information and refreshment. What plans are there to improve facilities for visitors?

Mr. Cook

I commend the visitor café, which is off Westminster Hall. I took some guests to it last week and it provides a good service. Indeed, I encourage more hon. Members to use it because at present it has a 50 per cent. usage rate. On the future of the facilities, we are in the middle of examining proposals for a new visitor centre. A feasibility study has been proposed. Our comments on it include the suggestion that we should examine options off-precincts as well as on-precincts. A visitor centre that provides interpretation would help immensely to improve the educational value of a visit to Westminster. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) might like to know that it will not be an entertainment, but an educational visit so that people leave here with a sense of the way in which the institution is a working institution and the heart of our parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins) on the Good Hope hospital, which is located in my constituency and serves our constituents, may I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the inquiry is widely regarded locally as intimidatory and disproportionate? Although I echo strongly what the hon. Gentleman said about the dedication and hard work of the staff, principally my constituents, who work in the hospital, it would help to have a debate on the way in which the health service conducts such inquiries so that hon. Members can share their experiences.

Mr. Cook

Of course I am open to hon. Members commenting on reports that affect their constituents and the public services within their area—indeed, there may well be general lessons to learn that are applicable to other cases—but one cannot ignore the fact that the chief executive of the Good Hope hospital was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed summarily. The hon. Gentleman makes a face, but surely in those circumstances he realises that it is in the interests of his constituents that action is taken to ensure that we have a strong management team to match the quality and strength of clinical staff in the hospital.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that national health service dentists are becoming an endangered species? My constituents have great difficulty registering with an NHS dentist and have to go private. They often have to pay dental fees that they cannot afford or suffer in pain. Can my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on that important subject early in the new year?

Mr. Cook

I cannot promise a specific debate on the dental service, but my hon. Friend will have many opportunities to raise concerns about provision within the NHS. As she well knows, we are in the middle of a record investment in expanding NHS provision, as a result of which we have more nurses, more doctors and more beds than ever before. We all want to ensure that that investment provides greater access for our constituents so that they receive the appropriate treatment that they need.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

May I extend on behalf of my colleagues the compliments of the season to you, Mr. Speaker, to Members and to the officers and staff of the House?

Will the Leader of the House advise me on whether good will and Lib-Lab relations have developed to such an extent that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is now answering questions for the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), who is responsible for education in Northern Ireland; or am I reading too much into the fact that a pre-school funding question was answered by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), at column 548W on 16 December?

Mr. Cook

I think there may have been too many Kennedys spoiling the broth. If there has been a misprint, I shall certainly ensure that it is drawn to the attention of Hansard, which will wish to correct it. [Interruption.] I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) that my hon. Friend the Minister has a very satisfactory life. I am in no doubt that she will want to ensure that her name and no one else's appears with her answers.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

Can we find time for a debate on the Annan Cyprus settlement, which shows both promise and problems? We need to ensure that the terms on territorial boundaries are correct and protect the rights of the original property owners, especially in Kyrenia and Aiyos Ambrosios. We also need to be able to remove all troops and achieve demilitarisation in the island as soon as possible and to give Turkish settlers the deal that they need to encourage as many of them to return to Turkey as is appropriate.

Mr. Cook

We have achieved historic progress on Cyprus. I took an interest in it when I was at the Foreign Office and am well aware of all the great difficulties involved in getting a settlement. I always took the view that the maximum opportunity for resolving the long-standing dispute was connected to making progress on the accession of Cyprus to the EU and the prospect of that for Turkey. That has turned out to be the case and I compliment my hon. Friends at the Foreign Office, especially my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the personal interest that he has taken in moving the issue forward.

The hon. Gentleman illustrates the difficulty in getting an agreement. He produced a shopping list of demands that are the demands of one side only. I hope that many of the matters will be addressed in a comprehensive settlement, but it will have to show flexibility on both sides.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Does the Leader of the House recall that on 5 December I asked him whether we could have a debate on the social chapter, following the Prime Minister's claim the day before about how influential it was? The Leader of the House responded by giving me details of what he considered to be the benefits to the UK work force. I did not agree with his answer, so I tabled a question along the same lines to the Prime Minister, who replied to me in writing on 11 December. Not one of the seven or eight points in the Prime Minister's response relates to the UK work force, only to the European work force. May I request a debate on the social chapter in Government time? I suggest that it is entitled, "The Social Chapter—What Price the British Interest?"

Mr. Cook

I clearly recall the 1997 general election and the comments on the social chapter at the time, as I was then the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs. I remember the very public claim made by the then Conservative Prime Minister that if we signed up to the social chapter, it would cost Britain 500,000 jobs. Five years on from the election of the Labour Government and from signing the social chapter, we have 1.25 million more people at work than there were then. Only this week we had further evidence that there are 250,000 more people in jobs than there were a year ago. That is very satisfactory progress and provides no evidence that the social chapter has damaged employment in Britain—on the contrary, it has certainly raised the conditions of employment.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

May we have a debate early in the new year on early-day motion 412

[That this House notes the United States request to upgrade facilities at RAF Fylingdales to enable the possible development of defences against ballistic missiles aimed at Europe or America; and calls upon the Government to respond promptly and positively to this long-anticipated request, not withstanding the opposition to the ballistic missile defence previously expressed by more than 200 Labour back benchers] and also on early-day motion 436? Both relate to the American request to upgrade RAF Fylingdales, with a possible view to the creation of a system of ballistic missile defence. The former motion expresses the view of the Opposition, which also appears to be the view of those on the Government Front Bench, that such a request should be seriously considered and should probably receive a positive response. The latter reflects the views previously expressed by more than 200 Government Back Benchers that on no account should ballistic missile defence be supported. Such a debate would obviously be topical, it would obviously be important, and if there were to be a substantive motion, it would obviously give the Leader of the House the opportunity to show the House whether he would vote along with those on his Government Front Bench, as one thinks he might have to, or along with the majority of his Government Back Benchers, as one thinks he probably wants to.

Mr. Cook

Life does not provide enough opportunities to vote alongside my Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Deputy Chief Whip will make sure that I know which Lobby is the appropriate one in which to express my support for the Government's excellent record.

On Fylingdales, the hon. Gentleman is aware that there has been an approach and that the Secretary of State has made it plain that he will keep the House informed about what response the Government will make. The matter will, of course, be considered with great care. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will take 25 December off from considering it carefully, and that he will also relax a little on 31 December, but at an appropriate time after the House returns, I am sure that he will wish to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

A merry Christmas to you, Mr. Speaker. Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the treatment of those who suffer from heart disease? That will give us an opportunity to raise the fact that in Essex many patients have to wait up to a year for an angiogram, which is a particularly important diagnostic test for those who may be suffering from heart disease. It is unacceptable that in some cases they have to wait up to 12 months for that test to be performed. Finally, in a spirit of good will, may I thank the Leader of the House for what he has done on data protection? That was important, and the change needed to be made.

Mr. Cook

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman ventilated the matter in the House and his attempt to introduce a 10-minute Bill provided a useful focus of debate. We have achieved an outcome that is in the interest of Members in all parts of the House. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the waiting period in his area for angiograms, and I shall invite the Department of Health to write to him about the matter. On the general issue, we have invested heavily in better coronary care services and have made good progress in reducing the waiting time to see a consultant for the first time about coronary care. We fully understand the importance of making sure that we provide a world-class service in that respect.