HC Deb 07 February 2002 vol 379 cc1041-54 1.22 pm
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 11 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Land Registration Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Employment Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Debate on the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Remaining stages of the British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Debate on defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week following the constituency week will be:

MONDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Progress on remaining stages of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY—Debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 1 MARCH—Debate on the achievements of the national lottery on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall before Easter will be:

THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY—Debate on the report from the International Development Committee on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

THURSDAY 7 MARCH—Debate on increasing access to heritage attractions.

THURSDAY 14 MARCH—Debate on Government policy on health and safety at work.

THURSDAY 21 MARCH—Debate on the report from the Public Administration Committee on ministerial accountability and parliamentary questions.

The House will be aware that London Underground will make an announcement this afternoon on the value-for-money review of the public-private partnership plans for the tube. I am pleased to inform the House that, with the permission of Mr. Speaker, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will make a statement at the close of Third Reading of the Tax Credits Bill at 7 pm today.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. You have told the House more than once recently, Mr. Speaker. that you deprecate Ministers' habit of making announcements outside the House before making them here, especially, if I may say so, on something as important as a White Paper. However, this morning's edition of The Sun includes the headline: Sun Exclusive. Immigrants Must Pass English Test. Lessons in how to be British. Indeed, the Home Secretary seemed to take pride in the fact that he appeared on Radio 4 this morning, telling us most of the contents of his White Paper. When will Ministers end their persistent practice of appearing on the media to make announcements before coming to the House to do so?

In connection with what the Leader of the House has just told us about the odd device of a statement at 7 o'clock this evening on the important matter of the London tube, word has reached me, though I can scarce believe it is true, that there will be a press briefing this afternoon, probably arranged by Jo Moore on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

I hope that the Leader of the House will assure us that there will be no such press briefing this afternoon on a matter that will be announced to the House by the Secretary of State this evening. If, for any reason, the Leader of the House cannot give us that assurance, I hope that he will be able to make his peace with you, Mr. Speaker. It appears that Ministers are persistently Clouting what you have made absolutely clear—statements must be made here before they are made anywhere else.

I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 821, on the conduct of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

[That this House is concerned by the exchange between the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside and the Foreign Secretary (5th February, Official Report, columns 745–6) about Gibraltar, in which the Foreign Secretary told his honourable Friend that she had asked him a "disobliging question" and that "she should not judge the Government by her own standards"; believes that Back Bench honourable Members have the right to ask searching questions of Ministers without being subjected to insult or innuendo; and calls upon the Foreign Secretary to clarify his remarks forthwith or to withdraw them]

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that on 5 February, just a couple of days ago, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) asked the Foreign Secretary to tell us what unpleasant circumstances and trick question he is preparing for the referendum? The Foreign Secretary, a very senior member of the Government, replied: My hon. Friend asks me a disobliging question. She should not judge the Government by her own standards."—[Official Report, 5 February 2002; Vol. 379, c. 745–46.] What protection do you believe you can give Labour Back Benchers against their Secretaries of State? It seems that relations in the Labour party have reached such a state that the Opposition must table early-day motions to try to protect Labour Members from Ministers. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us some idea of when he will give hon. Members his assurances on what he proposes to do to protect his own colleagues.

You know, Mr. Speaker, that the House has been joining in this week's celebrations of Her Majesty's jubilee. She is a septuagenarian who has been in office for 50 years, but the House may not know that, next Monday, we will have our own septuagenarian, who will have been in office for 30 years. I refer, of course, to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

I hope that the Leader of the House will approach the appropriate authorities, perhaps through you, Mr. Speaker, to see whether we can arrange a street party for the hon. Gentleman to celebrate the fact that he has shown sufficient flexibility not to retire at 65. I hope that the House will join me in wishing him a happy joint jubilee with Her Majesty.

Mr. Cook

I am very happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating my hon. Friend. I am available to attend any street party that he thinks may be appropriate. Whether my hon. Friend will invite Her Majesty, I will leave to him—I am not entirely sure that she will be on the guest list.

The statement about English being required for British citizenship was made last October, not in The Sun this morning. I listened with care to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the "Today" programme and again this afternoon. There is a breadth of policy statements in the White Paper that was totally untouched in the "Today" interview.

The shadow Home Secretary said at the Dispatch Box that he would only gently rebuke my right hon. Friend for appearing on the "Today" programme.

Mr. Forth

That is not what I said.

Mr. Cook

I fully understand that there is a gulf between the right hon. Gentleman and the shadow Home Secretary both in personality and in policy, but it may just be that the latter was only gentle in his criticism because he, too, appeared on the "Today" programme this morning, rather bizarrely responding to a statement that he had not even heard.

On what the right hon. Gentleman said about the device of having a statement at 7 o'clock, I should have thought that the House would welcome the opportunity to hear a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on what is not his announcement but an announcement by London Underground. I would deprecate it if we were to break into a very important debate on the Tax Credits Bill, to which many amendments have been tabled, including by Opposition Members. As Leader of the House, I wanted to protect the time for scrutiny of that Bill. We have arranged for a full statement. The right hon. Gentleman keeps complaining that we do not sit long enough. He has today the opportunity to sit for an extra hour and hear that statement. I hope that he will be here for it.

On the early-day motion, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his protection, but I know her well enough to know that she can stand up for herself. This Chamber is a place for robust exchanges—we are all grown-ups—and, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman has in his time been every bit as robust as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Some hon. Members who came into the Chamber after the statement had started are seeking to catch my eye. They will not be called. In order to be called, hon. Members must come into the Chamber in time for the statement.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am able to be here, almost on the verge of my 70th birthday, because of the dedication of the nurses and doctors in the hospital who gave me a second mortgage on life a few years ago? While I am here, let me also ask him about those other 70-year-old miners and widows in the mining communities. Can we have a statement to ensure that they, too, can celebrate the years ahead of them with their proper miners' compensation? Will he hurry and speed that along and call on Industry Ministers to deal with the matter? Then, most people in Bolsover will not be too happy about me, but will be happy about the Labour Government having paid out that £5 billion in miners' compensation.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

He is a national treasure.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have an opportunity to debate the national heritage in March, and he will no doubt wish to celebrate my hon. Friend's contribution to it.

I repeat my congratulations to my hon. Friend. It is entirely characteristic of him that he should share his own celebrations with the staff of the NHS. In his three decades in the House, he has been a redoubtable champion of an NHS that is free at the point of use and provided on the basis of need, not ability to pay. I hope that we will share many more decades together, defending that important principle.

I will certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks about miners to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and suggest that, in the spirit of celebration of his contribution, she should give a speedy response.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I associate myself with the good wishes expressed to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Many of us would agree with him that the current fad for denigrating NHS staff does no credit to politics, from whatever source it comes.

Several issues are raised by the statement on the public-private partnership for the tube. The excuse given by the Leader of the House for having it at 7 o'clock-when of course it will be more difficult for hon. Members and the media to take the issue seriously—is that the only opportunity for ministerial statements is at 12.30. Well, we are already at 1.30, and the likelihood is that this session will continue for some time longer, so it would be perfectly possible to have a statement at 2, if not 2.15 or 2.30.

Given that the Prime Minister effectively made a statement on this subject to the BBC yesterday by saying that the plan was ready to go, and that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions also made a statement yesterday, can the Leader of the House tell us: when is a statement not a statement? If people are prepared to make statements to the media, why are they not prepared to make statements to the House? Will we have a firm assurance from the Secretary of State this evening that the plan has been approved by the Health and Safety Executive? If it has not, why is a statement being made at all? Surely safety questions must be paramount.

On another subject, it is reported today that there is a six-week wait for the single vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that this is not an attempt to ration the single vaccines—and an absolute assurance that parents will be encouraged to have their children vaccinated on the basis of the credibility of the joint MMR vaccine, not by any restriction on the single vaccines? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that since the Phillips report on BSE there has been a real credibility gap concerning the advice available to the Government on matters of scientific and medical importance?

Mr. Cook

I have not offered any excuse to the House for not breaking into the debate on the Tax Credits Bill; that is a real reason. The hon. Gentleman and I have repeatedly pressed the importance of ensuring that the House has adequate opportunity for scrutiny—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Cook

It is true: a number of amendments have been tabled to the Bill that will be before the House this afternoon, and there are several different groups to discuss. I am keen to ensure that we have adequate time to consider them. As for the idea that a statement should be made now, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the statement will be about the announcement by London Underground—an announcement that has not yet been made. With the best will in the world, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot make a statement on an announcement that has yet to be made.

As for the vaccines, I say firmly to the hon. Gentleman—I hope that he will accept this—that our case for the MMR vaccine as the best way to protect both public health and the individual rests on the credibility of that vaccine. May I "gently"—as the shadow Home Secretary said—remind him that the assurances have come not only from Ministers and the Government machine; just about every independent scientist and medical body that has considered the question has echoed our faith in that credibility. I hope that we can now reach a responsible phase in which people recognise that the best way of protecting public health and the safety of individual children is to encourage people to use the MMR vaccine, which will ensure that we protect the individual and the population at large.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), because I too want to raise the question of MMR with my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he has seen early-day motion 815, which was tabled by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley).

[That this house notes with concern the recent outbreaks of measles in London and the north east; further notes the often devastating consequences of measles, mumps and rubella for young children and their parents; condemns the irresponsible conduct of some sections of the press and media which have undermined public confidence in mmr either by sensationalising the doubts about its safety of a small minority of doctors or by cynically manufacturing a political controversy without regard for the consequences for public health; and urges parents to consider the almost unanimous medical advice from this country and the 90 others where mmr is routinely in use that the risk associated with the triple vaccination is vastly outweighed by the danger to their children and those of others of not having it.]

My right hon. Friend will also have heard the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, which mirrors his own. May we have a debate in Government time on the subject, so that we can hold the Opposition to account for their irresponsibility and scaremongering, particularly the Conservative spokesman on health, who is himself a doctor? We could also point out to the Opposition how disastrous it will be if parents stop their children having that excellent, and proven, vaccination.

Mr. Cook

I fully echo what my hon. Friend says; she speaks from a lifetime's work in the NHS. It is very important for the nation as a whole that we encourage the maximum number of families to ensure that their children are vaccinated. I fear that we may be witnessing the first hint of the problem that will arise if the uptake declines, and I deeply regret the fact that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who speaks for the Conservative party on health and is himself medically qualified, has chosen to put politics before science in this matter.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

May we have an early debate on the new White Paper on immigration? We have a crisis in Kent, with the largest concentration of vulnerable unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. That problem is compounded by the fact that the Government's monstrous standard spending assessment system values a child in London at three times the rate of a child in Kent. The combination of local deprivation and large numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum—together with the many children in care who are sent to us by London authorities—is creating a crisis that is getting progressively worse.

Mr. Cook

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the House exploring the matter further, and we will have many opportunities to do so when we discuss the Bill that will follow in the White Paper's wake. I am sure that he and many other hon. Members will wish to make their constituency points then.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We have not set a good standard for brevity so far. I am not going to run this statement for an excessive time, so I ask that questions be as brief as possible.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to my early-day motion 812?

[That this House notes that there have been numerous and highly credible allegations made of large commission payments made to individuals in Saudi Arabia as part of the Al-Yamamah arms sales to that country; is concerned that the 1992 National Audit Office report into the Al-Yamamah arms sales has been kept secret; further notes that other allegations have been made that Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network have received substantial funds from individuals in Saudi Arabia; desires reassurances that the commission payments have not ended up in the hands of international terrorists; calls for publication of the 1992 National Audit Office Report; and believes that transparency in arrangements for arms sales creates a safer and more stable world.]

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that next Thursday's defence debate will provide the Government with a good opportunity to arrange publication of the National Audit Office report on the Al-Yamamah contracts, which has been kept secret since 1992. The report almost certainly refers to the payment of kickbacks and commissions as part of that arms deal, some of which may have been used to fund Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a powerful case for publication of that report?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend makes some rather large claims for a report that neither he nor I have seen. I am in no way able to authenticate what might be in it, but I suggest that we do not speculate too widely. As he says, the report has not been published since it was drawn up in 1992, so there is a long tradition of its not being published that he must displace. However, I am sure that he will take part in the debate and he can press his case then.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

I follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) by suggesting strongly to the Leader of the House that the Secretary of State for Health should make a statement on the current vaccination problems, which clearly constitute a crisis. That would allow many of us to express our belief that the national health service should offer parents an informed choice.

Mr. Cook

My right hon. Friend's policy is well known, has been stated often in the House and was restated by the Prime Minister only this week. It is that the Government stand firmly behind the MMR as the best way to provide protection for children and protection of the public health. Given that we are providing the MMR vaccine as a matter of policy, and that we believe it to be the best vaccine for the nation and the public, it would be very strange not to continue to say that that is the vaccine on which we should rely.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a way to involve in discussions in the House the four elected Sinn Fein Members? A debate on paramilitary intimidation will take place in Westminster Hall on 14 February, which will include discussion of the forced exiling of many people from Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups. Although the Sinn Fein Members can attend and listen to that debate, they cannot participate, but they could book a Committee Room in which discussion could continue afterwards. That would enable some of us to ask those Members when they will call the dogs off and allow those placed in exile to return.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend has a long record of being robust with Sinn Fein and on the record of the IRA in Northern Ireland, and I congratulate him on the vigour with which he has pursued such matters. One reason why we decided to accept the four elected representatives of Sinn Fein on to the precincts was so that they could engage in dialogue, and my hon. Friend points out a useful way in which they could do so, if they so wish.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware of reports suggesting that payments of up to £150,000 a piece are being urged for Scottish Labour Members of Parliament whose seats might disappear through Boundary Commission adjustments? Does he think it right that Members who lose their seats in that way should be paid up to three times as much as those who lose their seats through retirement or the hazards of the electoral process? If so, why should such payments be made only to Labour Members in Scotland, and not to Members of Parliament throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Cook

I have never heard of such figures—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Cook

I shall indeed do so. In the case of my local patch, the Boundary Commission has shown great wisdom, judgment and sense, and I welcome the result. However, in view of the figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes, I may rethink whether I wish to contest my seat.

David Hamilton (Midlothian)

Can my right hon. Friend inform me of the truth of some of the reports in the news today about the last deep mine in Scotland, the Longannet complex, which is under threat? Will he ask the Minister for Industry and Energy to make a statement to the House?

Mr. Cook

I had not heard that report before I came to the Chamber. If it is true, I fully understand the enormous concern that it will cause to the many people who work in that pit and to the community surrounding one of the last remaining deep mines in operation. I shall certainly ensure that we convey my hon. Friend's question to my colleague and that an answer is forthcoming today.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

May we have an urgent debate on the future of the BBC, in particular on its political coverage? Is the Leader of the House aware that many people in the House and, indeed, in the BBC are concerned that political coverage will now be sidelined from mainstream radio and television channels? Does he agree that the licence payer deserves to see the way in which the democratic process works? That will not happen if coverage of this place is consigned to minority digital channels.

Mr. Cook

I fully endorse the principle behind the hon. Gentleman's question and the House will be aware that I have repeatedly expressed my concern about the decline in the coverage of Parliament in the written and the broadcast media. He touches on an unusual point of consensus between the Labour and Conservative parties, in that our joint chairs have both written to the BBC chair to point out that the BBC has a public service obligation. It receives funding for that obligation and I hope that it will bear in mind that that obligation requires the BBC to ensure that it adequately and properly covers Parliament.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the importance of adequate scrutiny of legislation. Does he think that any lessons can be learned for the future programming of Bills from the lack of scrutiny given to many amendments to the Education Bill? Will he consider allocating an adequate, but not excessive, amount of time for the consideration of every subject area to which substantive amendments have been tabled?

Mr. Cook

Of course we want to ensure that there is adequate time for parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. For that reason, several times during the proceedings of the Education Bill in Standing Committee we approached the Opposition to offer additional sittings. Indeed, we tabled an additional meeting on 22 January, which turned out not to be necessary as there were no amendments to be debated at that sitting. As for Report, the original programme resolution provided for one day, but we provided for two. When there was difficulty on the first day, we provided an additional two hours on the second day. At every stage, we have responded to requests for additional time. I regret the fact that some of the important provisions in the Bill were not adequately debated, but that was entirely because the Opposition chose to conduct themselves in a way that did not make it possible.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motion 767 on the Omagh victims' legal action group?

[That this House remembers with deep sadness the Omagh bombing of 15th August 1998 in which 31 people—including seven children and two unborn babies—were murdered by the Real IRA; commends the courage of the families of the victims of this bombing in launching an unprecedented civil legal case against five named individuals, suspected of planting the bomb, and the Real IRA; congratulates the families on their persistence in attempting to seek justice; and urges the public to show their support for the families' legal action in whatever way they can.]

Almost 100 hon. Members have signed up to support that motion and to urge the public to support the families' legal action. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to raise at Cabinet level the justice of the Government providing matching funding to support the money raised privately for that legal action against those perceived to have been responsible for the murder of 29 people in Omagh three years ago. That would be a small sum compared to the £100 million perceived to have been spent on the Bloody Sunday inquiry into the loss of 14 lives 30 years ago.

Mr. Cook

I understand the gravity of the issue and the extent to which it troubles the hon. Gentleman's constituents and many others throughout Northern Ireland. I will certainly reflect on his request. I assure him that the proper place to deal with the pursuit of justice and legal action is through the prosecution service, which is adequately resourced to meet anything that may be available to the defence.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Post Office is still publicly owned? In view of the irresponsible attitude of the regulator, which is jeopardising the universal service obligation, will he ask the Minister with responsibility for the Post Office to make a full statement to the House?

Mr. Cook

I have drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the many remarks that were made about that matter following the business statement last Thursday. I stress that Postcomm's first statutory obligation is to maintain the Post Office's universal service obligation. We would require any proposal that the regulator persisted with to be consistent with that obligation.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

As far as I understand the right hon. Gentleman's response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is unable to make a statement to the House at the normal time because London Underground will not have reached its decision by then. However, it will have done so at 3.30—that is why the Secretary of State is holding a press conference with two other Ministers. In the interests of brevity, may I suggest a compromise? If the Secretary of State came here to make a statement, the press could appear in the Press Gallery and listen. I think that this is the single most important piece of public finance anywhere in the world, so it is very frustrating for London Members to wait a further four hours before having an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State a number of pertinent questions. If he fears that we will run out of questions, there is no possibility of that.

Mr. Cook

I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the Order Paper. He will see that a large number of amendments have been tabled to the Tax Credits Bill, all bar one of which are in the name of Opposition Members. Those Members want those amendments to be debated. I have therefore ensured that the Secretary of State will make a full statement to the House and will not interfere with the debate on the amendments. My hon. Friend the Paymaster General is on the Front Bench, ready to take part in that debate. I hope that we will be able to start it soon.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Since it was my right hon. Friend, to his credit, who persuaded Madeleine Albright to allow a trial in a third country, he knows a great deal about Lockerbie. Can we have a statement next week about where the responsibilities of the House of Commons end and those of the Scottish Parliament begin? In particular, is it not high time that we had a statement on Strathclyde police's extraordinary actions, which have gone unchallenged, in providing a witness in a forthcoming murder trial, namely Tony Gauci, with salmon fishing on the River Spey? That aspect of the proceedings is not sub judice. Should there not be an explanation?

Mr. Cook

I am always nervous when my hon. Friend gives me credit, but in response to his last point may I say gently to him that that matter is sub judice because it touches directly on an appeal proceeding that is currently under way. It would be wholly inappropriate and improper of me to comment on it. In any case I am not in a position to enlighten him on that specific point.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon)

Given that yesterday and the day before we were allowed a total of six minutes to debate clauses relating to Wales in the Education Bill, and that more clauses related to Wales than to England, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he would allow the Welsh Grand Committee to examine such measures on Second Reading, as the Scottish Grand Committee did?

Mr. Cook

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but I remind him of the point that I have just made. We doubled the amount of time that was available for the Report stage and having found that there was a difficulty on the first day, we extended consideration on the second day. The House itself has some responsibility in this matter. If there is adequate time available for examination and scrutiny of a Bill, we must ensure that we reasonably pace it so that all clauses are debated and people such as the hon. Gentleman can make their voices heard.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

On Tuesday the Department of Trade and Industry published its clean coal technology review. Today the Select Committee on Trade and Industry has published its report on security of energy supply, and we are all waiting eagerly for the Government's performance and innovation unit energy review. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will arrange for a full day's debate on those matters? The issue is the total energy supply, perhaps for the next three decades. I would like a debate so that our views can be heard, as well those of the policy wonks that put these reports together.

Mr. Cook

I am not sure that I recognise the description of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy as a policy wonk. I suspect that he would also take issue with it but we all look forward with interest to the forthcoming PIU energy review. I am sure that the House will wish to ensure that it is fully explored. I have a difficult task which becomes more difficult every Thursday with the number of additional claims—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman does not help me, but nor is it his job to help me in this. Every Thursday there is an increase in the list of subjects for which we would wish to have a day's debate. I cannot satisfy everybody, but I am very conscious of my hon. Friend's claim.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

When the Leader of the House contemplates his political future can I appraise him of the full offer that is being made to Labour Members? He was slow to back the Conservative proposals for PFI, so may I seek his assurance that he will firmly reject Scottish Labour's PPP—peerages on offer, pensions on offer and pay-offs on offer? Is it not the case that every Member of Parliament here today either voted for the Scotland Act 1998 and accepted that there would be fewer Members here thereafter, or has arrived since?

Mr. Cook

Of course I voted for the Scotland Act and of course I fully recognised what we were voting for, namely a reduction in the representation of Scotland at Westminster. We have carried through that commitment and we intend to honour it. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is the sole Conservative Member from Scotland, that I am delighted that we are able to maintain that token relic from Scotland, just in case we in Scotland forget the nature of the Tory party.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the handling of the dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union over the introduction of Jobcentre Plus and unscreened areas in offices? It would appear that this has ground to a halt with letters, particularly a very unhelpful letter from Leigh Lewis, being fired at the union, demanding that it replies. Letters are going backwards and forwards like bullets when we should, as a Government who believe in negotiating with trade unions, be negotiating a settlement and not getting into this stalemate. Surely we should debate the matter in the House to help the Secretary of State who appears to be supporting this gunfire diplomacy rather than negotiation.

Mr. Cook

I understand the strength of feeling on this and my hon. Friend no doubt speaks from having consulted in his local area. We have now had 60 hours of negotiation with the unions on this particular question. My hon. Friend should also reflect that only one in four of the membership of the union voted for strike action. I strongly support the principle of having unscreened offices for the public. I am pleased to report that in offices where unscreened facilities have been provided there has been a reduction, not an increase, in the abuse or intimidation of staff. Of course we look forward to ways in which we can increase the safety of those working in unscreened offices, but in the 21st century that is the type of service that the public are entitled to expect.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the belief of many Members of all parties represented in the House that the finding of negligence made against the two pilots of the Chinook aircraft which crashed on the Mull of Kintyre is unjustified and should not stand. He will also be aware of the publication this week of the House of Lords Select Committee report under the chairmanship of Lord Jauncey, who legitimately has the reputation of being one of Scotland's most eminent judges and of robust intellectual rigour. It is clear from the publication of the report that the Committee charged with the responsibility of examining these matters concluded that the original verdict was unjustified. An error of judgment having occurred and an injustice having arisen as a result, when may we have a debate to discuss these matters in the House?

Mr. Cook

I am aware of the report produced by the House of Lords Select Committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be the first to agree that these are complex matters touching on difficult questions of interpretation and issues. The Minister of State for Defence has received the report and given an undertaking that he will study and respond to it. Over the years respective Governments have said that before revisiting the conclusion they would want new evidence. At present it is not clear that the House of Lords Select Committee has come up with new evidence.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on car manufacturing? Later this month the last car will roll off the assembly line at Ford, Dagenham and for the first time in decades no cars will be made there. Many of the thousands of people who work there, 600 of whom are my constituents, feel that that is a bitter and deep betrayal, particularly after all Ford's past promises of a golden future.

Mr. Cook

I understand the enormous significance of the ending of car production as regards both employment and the culture and history of my hon. Friend's region, although I understand that Dagenham will continue to be a centre of excellence for diesel engine production. I shall take note of what my hon. Friend says about a debate. I am conscious of the fact that there have been several requests for debates on the manufacturing industry.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Why did not the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions ask London Underground to delay its announcement until 7 o'clock so that it would coincide with his statement to the House?

Why does the Leader of the House describe the week after next as a constituency week, when it has previously been described as a half-term?

Mr. Cook

I described it is a constituency week because that is where many of my colleagues intend to spend the week.

On the question of London Underground, I have many responsibilities for which I am happy to answer to the House, but the timetabling of board meetings of London Underground goes beyond my writ.