HC Deb 14 November 2002 vol 394 cc127-39
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

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

Mr. Speaker, you informed the House yesterday of the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. The business thereafter will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER TO WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Continuation and conclusion of the debate on the Queen's Speech.

THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Motion to take note of various European documents relating to fisheries policy followed by a motion on the membership of the Committee of Selection.

FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq.

TUESDAY 26 NovEmBER—Second Reading of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 27 November—Second Reading of the Health (Wales) Bill.

THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill.

FRIDAY 29 NOVEMBER—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his pre-Budget report on Wednesday 27 November.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the next two weeks will be:

THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Debate on further education.

THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Debate on the report from the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee on the 10-year plan for transport.

Mr. Forth

I thank the Leader of the House for letting us have the future business.

Will the Leader of the House clarify an element of one our new procedures that has just started—written ministerial statements? The Order Paper contains a list of 10 such statements. I have checked with both the Table Office and the Vote Office, and also the Library, and I have found that the only place where I can locate one of those written statements is the Library, where there is indeed a brief written ministerial reply on bus fuel duty rebate and biodiesel. I have searched in vain for the other statements.

I wonder whether it is a coincidence that 10 written ministerial statements are conveniently to be made on a Thursday and that, as we speak at 11.36 am, only one of them has appeared in the House that I can find. Is there to be a proper procedure for such statements? Will the House be apprised of them at a proper time during the day, so that hon. Members can decide what they wish to do with or to them, or do I detect some sort of jiggery-pokery, in which a flood of statements will appear as late as possible on a Thursday when the House is not sitting on the Friday, so that they cannot be taken up by hon. Members for several days? I hope that we can be assured that that will not happen, that the Leader has a tight grip on this matter and that he can guarantee that the system will be dealt with properly, so that the House can properly deal with such matters.

Has any progress been made on additional time for Northern Ireland matters and questions in particular, as well as for questions to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? Those two Departments cover huge areas of responsibility. The Deputy Prime Minister's portfolio is appropriately broad and Northern Ireland matters are now dealt with directly by five Ministers in this House. Is the Leader of the House aware of any progress in allocating more time to hon. Members to question Northern Ireland Ministers and the Deputy Prime Minister?

Will the Leader of the House also tell us whether we will get a resolution ensuring that the House can approve the proposed dates for private Members' Bills and other matters relating to the workings of the House? I gather that it is difficult to make progress on such matters, including ten-minute Bills and others, until a resolution is passed by the House. I hope that he can give me some encouragement or further information, as everybody is very anxious to get on with things.

I should like to refer to a tantalising phrase in the Gracious Speech: My Government looks forward to considering the report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, as will all hon. Members, that House of Lords reform was going to be one of the great flagships of this Government. We were told that the Government were outraged by the fact that the House of Lords was undemocratic and unaccountable. We were led to believe that the exciting new Labour Government would reform the upper House. However, five or more years on, we are simply told that they look forward to considering a report from a Joint Committee. That conveys no urgency except in the sense of mañana. I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us what is in the Government's mind. Will the issue be left to drift rudderless between a Joint Committee and both Houses, or will the Government act? We are entitled to know. Has the matter been shelved because the Prime Minister likes an all-appointed House and finds it convenient to continue to deal with it?

Did the Leader of the House watch "The Project" on television recently? I wonder whether he was disappointed that he did not feature much in the triumph of new Labour. Perhaps he will provide an opportunity for screenings in the House, so that Labour Members can ascertain whether they featured in it and gain inspiration from it to assess the way in which to get on in the new Labour party. That programme performed an important public service and could provide a similar service to Labour Members of Parliament.

Mr. Cook

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is in his place and asking questions. Given the Conservative party's reduced strength, it is perplexing that it is not fielding one of its best performers in this year's debate on the Queen's Speech. It is the first occasion since I entered the House on which the shadow Leader of the House has been excluded from the Queen's Speech line-up. We enjoy hearing the right hon. Gentleman so much that I hope that it will be not only the first occasion but the last, and that the party will restore him to the Dispatch Box when we discuss the next Queen's Speech.

The right hon. Gentleman was characteristically quick off the mark to condemn the absence of the other nine written statements a mere six minutes into the sitting. I shall make inquiries as soon as we leave the Chamber and try to ensure that the other statements appear at the House's convenience. However, I robustly resist the perhaps unintentional implication that Thursday is somehow a second-class day in the House's proceedings. I thoroughly enjoy my Thursdays; they are one of the highlights of the week. I therefore have no difficulty in defending the practice of putting down a statement on a Thursday. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] We are now 11 minutes into the sitting, and there is a long way to go. We are in a better position than in the old days of the planted question. None would have been answered by now, yet one written statement has already been provided.

On the questions rota, I am conscious of the desire for more time to discuss some subjects. I am acutely aware of the need to provide adequate coverage of Northern Ireland affairs. My difficulty is familiar: although I have demands for more time for some subjects, I am short of demands for less time on others. Unless we can find room, it is difficult to expand the time for some subjects without that being at the expense of others.

On private Members' Bills, I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the motion is on the Order Paper under "Remaining Orders and Notices". It sets out dates, and I believe that the ballot will be held next Thursday. I am conscious of the importance that hon. Members attach to proceeding on the matter, and we want to make good speed.

I am not a member of the Joint Committee, but I am informed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is writing its interim report even as we sit. We anticipate receiving it before Christmas. It will set out the options for reform and I hope that the House will have an opportunity to choose between them on a free vote. I am bound to say that that is a much better way of proceeding than for the Government to state that they had decided not to wait on the Joint Committee but to go ahead with their proposals. If we had done that, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst would have denounced us for not waiting for the report. It is a bit rich of him to complain that we have not made enough progress in five years. I remind him that we have broken the hereditary principle in the Second Chamber. That had not been done in the previous 100 years. And the right hodn. Gentleman opposed that when we tried to effect it in the previous Parliament.

I regret that my onerous duties and my responsibilities to the House and on the Queen's Speech prevent me from watching television as much I would wish—

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

My right hon. Friend will not buy a TV licence.

Mr. Cook

I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that I am up to speed on that.

I am always delighted when the media pass over me; it is my ambition to appear gratuitously in the media as little as possible. I am happy to say, and it may help to put the right hon. Gentleman's comments in perspective, that I am advised that that programme's ratings. plummeted between the first and second episodes, which shows once again that the public outside often have greater wisdom than the official Opposition.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to a sense of mañana in relation to House of Lords reform. In Cornwall we have the expression "dreckly", which is like mañana only without the sense of urgency. As it has taken 90 years to reach this point, during which for a considerable portion of time there was a Conservative Administration, the Opposition cannot be redeemed from the accusation of being slow off the mark on the issue of House of Lords reform.

The Leader of the House may recall—I hope that he does—that this was the first time that the Queen has referred in her Speech to pre-legislative scrutiny, and I pay tribute to the Leader of the House and our Committee for that. How are the candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny to be selected? For example, we already know about three draft Bills—on housing, nuclear energy and corruption, the last of which I think is intended to encompass some form of company law—but is it also intended that some issues that have been addressed in the recent past but are not in the Queen's Speech, such as mental health and company pension legislation, may also be candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny during the coming Session? In addition, is it intended that some of the most complicated Bills, such as those relating to antisocial behaviour, planning, and criminal justice, which has huge implications, may be candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny?

Will the Leader of the House address the point that consultation by Government, before we come to legislation, is no substitute for consultation by Parliament when we start to have the proposals put before us? By what mechanisms will measures be selected for pre-legislative scrutiny and agreed?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing "dreckly" to the parliamentary lexicon. I am sure that it will come in useful on occasions when we require further time for reflection, and I shall bear it in mind.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the fact that the Queen's Speech for the first time reflects the value of pre-legislative scrutiny, and he will know the importance that I attach to that. I hope, during the next week, to have consultations with him and the shadow Leader of the House to discuss the shape of the year, and in the course of that we may discuss what may be appropriate candidates for draft Bills and publications.

The Mental Health Bill has already been published in draft, there is now quite a degree of public debate as a result of the proposals in the draft text, and the Departments are reflecting on that. We intend to bring that forward as an official Bill at some point in the course of the Session, but it is obviously important that the present stage be spent reflecting on the reaction to the draft Bill.

I would not myself have thought that it would be sensible for us to produce the two important Bills that form the core of this Session on crime and antisocial behaviour as draft Bills. Those are Bills that we shall want to make progress on so that we can ensure that we modernise the criminal justice system so that it adequately reflects the needs of the victim and meets our objective of trying to ensure that our citizens can walk the streets in safety. We cannot therefore hold out any prospect of having those Bills in draft, but I hope that by the end of the Session we will have seen a significant increase in the volume of draft legislation.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

May I ask the Leader of the House for some help in dealing with the Executive in relation to how they organise debates involving Select Committees? The Education and Skills Committee was apportioned a debate next Thursday to deal with higher education and higher education finance. We wrote a report, many months ago now, on that subject and, for understandable reasons, the Government have consistently asked us to delay the deadline and we have reasonably said that we understand the situation and will do so, so we are not being unreasonable there. But at 10 o'clock today we were told that the debate we were to lead next Thursday on higher education has been substituted not by a Select Committee debate, but by a Government debate on further education from which my Committee will be excluded in any official role. Moreover, there is no hint of any compensation of another day on a future occasion. That seems a strange way for the Executive to treat this legislature and House of Commons.

Mr. Cook

This seems to be exactly the sort of occasion on which the word "dreckly" may come in handy. If I may say so, my hon. Friend is aware that the Government are committed to producing a higher education funding review and, as I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has committed himself to publishing that review early in the new year. Plainly, it is sensible for everybody—the Select Committee and Members of the House included—for the debate to be held in the light of the Government's review, which will contain a number of options on which the House and my hon. Friend's Committee will wish to comment. In the meantime, I assure him that nobody is excluded from next Thursday's debate. Indeed, I very much hope that his Select Committee will play a vigorous part in it.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

May we have a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister on the Government's attitude to the outcome of major planning inquiries? The Dibden bay inquiry is coming to its conclusion after a full year of examining an extremely controversial proposal to build a massive container port on the edge of what is about to become a new national park, so surely it would be invidious if the planning inquiry found against building the port only for the Government to overrule that finding for political reasons. If we can have a statement, that would be most valued; otherwise, any such overruling would make nonsense of the planning inquiry process and all the money spent on such inquiries.

Mr. Cook

I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government have overruled the outcome of the inquiry. Before he waxes too indignant in denouncing the Government for taking a course of action, he at least owes them the courtesy of waiting until they have taken it. The Government have a high respect for the planning inquiry system, but we are of course concerned that the current system involves unnecessary delay for developers and objectors, which is why we will have lots of opportunity during this Session to discuss the planning process.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Regarding the business for Monday 25 November and the United Nations and Iraq, will any substantive motion be tabled to enable Members—every one of us—either to endorse or not to endorse military action in the middle east that could open Pandora's box?

Mr. Cook

As I announced, the debate will be on the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq. I anticipate that it will take place on a substantive motion on that theme.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

I go to Brussels almost every week, sent by the House as one of its two representatives on the convention on the future of Europe. I listen to the Government representative making some pretty remarkable policy changes, such as his recent acceptance that the charter of fundamental rights should become legally binding, which would have huge constitutional and legal implications and, indeed, implications for the power of the House.

Will the Leader of the House therefore organise a debate on the convention in the Chamber, because the Standing Committee on the Convention, welcome though it is, represents only an opportunity for me and others to exchange views with other Members? The Government are not represented in those discussions. Will he organise a debate on the convention, which reports next year, so that the Government can bring the House up to date on their new-found policy positions?

Mr. Cook

First, I understand that a working paper on the charter of rights has been brought before the convention. There are a number of options and we certainly accept that paper as a basis for further discussion, but no selection has yet been made among those options.

I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman's new-found enthusiasm for regular visits to Brussels and I hope that they have a cultural impact on his approach to the rest of the continent; but on accountability, the Government have innovated in the House by setting up the Standing Committee on the Convention, which has enabled him and his colleague who represents the House on the convention to report on it. They represent the House and are present as Back-Bench Members, as it was thought appropriate on all sides that the matter was one for Back-Bench participation. Of course I understand the interest in the subject and I very much welcome the interest that the right hon. Gentleman is showing in the future of Europe. I shall certainly try to find an opportunity for it to be shared with the wider community.

Andrew Mackinlay

May I invite the Leader of the House to reflect on the representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) about Select Committees? One of the reforms that he can leave as a legacy as Leader of the House is guaranteeing and reserving slots for Select Committee debates, and handing stewardship and decisions as to which subject should be allocated to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee. That would be fair and would offer a guarantee. Days for Select Committee debates are entitled to as much deference as those days that are offered and made available, rightly, to the Opposition parties. It should not be a matter for the Executive to decide. I hope that he will reflect upon that.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently had a slot in Westminster Hall on the war against terrorism but so much water had gone under the bridge since its report was published that we did not discuss the report; it was no longer directly relevant. I hope the Leader of he House will consider that point.

Can the Leader of the House give us some opportunity to discuss the running of this place? Some things are not a matter for the Leader of the House but are delegated to Committees, and we have no opportunity for asking, probing and making representations. By way of example, there is a clutter of statues of Prime Ministers in this place. Soon there will not be enough room to stand up—and they were not the greatest parliamentarians. I want to see statues of Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Bradlaugh and the Red Clydesiders. That is who we should be recognising.

What is more, those red-and-white and green-and-white tents on the Terrace would never get planning permission. It is gross hypocrisy on the part of this place. Barry and Pugin did not design this building with those tents. It is time they came down.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is in revolutionary mode this morning and I will take that as a bid for a plinth to be reserved for him in the Members Lobby.

I take seriously the importance of making sure that we debate those reports that are recommended by the Liaison Committee. My hon. Friend will have heard that in my statement I committed us to having a debate on the report by the Select Committee on Transport on the 10-year transport plan. As I recall, that report did not necessarily make comfortable reading for the Government, which shows that we are not afraid of having robust debate when Select Committees publish critical reports.

On the arrangements for the statues outside, my hon. Friend may wish to pursue that matter with my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Newham seats—I forget which one.

Andrew Mackinlay

West Ham.

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art and has ambitious ideas for bringing other Prime Ministers into the Members Lobby, on which there may be divided views. I am sure that we could have a very entertaining full day's debate, if I can find the time, on the respective merits of Lady Thatcher and Daniel O'Connell for a plinth in the Members Lobby.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Given the powers that the Government now have to carry Bills over from one Session to the next, and given the ambitious programme announced yesterday and our desire for certainty, can the right hon. Gentleman take the House into his confidence and say which of those Bills he anticipates being introduced late in the Session and subject to carry-over?

Mr. Cook

As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, we committed ourselves when the resolution was passed on 29 October to consultation with other parties and I look forward to having those discussions in the next week. I am sure that hon. Members who come to them will wish to share what is said with their parties. At the present time, I would not wish to go further than what was said in the Queen's Speech.

On the issue of carry-over, the right hon. Gentleman rightly points out that carry-over will be a meaningful concept only for those Bills that may be introduced late in the Session. It is rather early in the day to name which Bills may be introduced then.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I was pleased to note in the Gracious Speech that legislative proposals will be brought forward on the Cullen inquiry proposals. I was disappointed to note that no proposals have been brought forward on corporate manslaughter. Can the Leader of the House indicate when legislative proposals on corporate manslaughter are likely to be before the House?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point because it gives me the opportunity to correct some of the reports that I read in the media saying that the fact that such proposals are not in the Queen's Speech means that they have been dropped from the Government's programme. The House has just heard the Queen's Speech for the second Session of a four-year Parliament. The absence of any particular measure from that Queen's Speech does not mean that it has been dropped from the legislative programme for a full Parliament. I hope that the House will not fall into the trap which so many of those in the media wish to dig for us, in implying that anything that comes in the third Session is of third order priority. It is a full Parliament. Each year, we will have a full Session— [HON. MEMBERS: "You said four years."] It will be a full Parliament of possibly five but certainly four Sessions. Perhaps at next week's business statement the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst may like to ask for the date of the next general election; he will get the answer "directly".

On the question of corporate manslaughter, I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) not to despair of the prospect that legislation may well be introduced in a future Session.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Given that only four out of the 19 Bills announced in the Queen's Speech apply to Scotland, will the Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies continue to troop through the Lobbies and vote on issues which have no relevance to their constituencies and absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the people they are supposed to be down here to represent?

Mr. Cook

On this there is a clear difference of view between the hon. Gentleman and myself. I come here as a full member of the UK Parliament and I fully intend to carry out all my responsibilities in that role. On the question of Scottish legislation, the hon. Gentleman wanted devolution; he now has it. The Scottish Parliament has passed well over 40 Acts—far more than we might have anticipated in the context of Westminster—and the volume of Scottish legislation that can now be passed by that devolved Parliament fully underlines the value of devolution and the extent to which it can respond to the needs of the people of Scotland.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

May I urge my right hon. Friend in this new parliamentary Session to make time for a full debate on compensation for victims of asbestos pollution in Britain? In recent months, the voluntary liquidation of asbestos polluting companies has meant that hundreds of victims in Armley in my constituency are denied compensation awarded to them by the courts. Furthermore, some major insurance companies are now claiming that they had not covered those companies in the first place. Can we have a full debate with a full Government response to tackle this matter before many more claimants, tragically, die?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend raises a serious matter. I fully understand the gravity of the issue in his constituency for those individuals, and their relatives, who are affected by companies going into voluntary liquidation without meeting their obligations. I certainly appreciate the importance of this matter and will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I also encourage my hon. Friend to find ways in which he can pursue the matter to the benefit of his constituents. It sounds as if it is exactly the kind of issue for which we created the Westminster Hall debates.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Will the Leader of the House encourage a Treasury Minister to make a statement to the House on EC insurance directive 73/239, which is of particular importance to Lloyd's names? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the European Commission has now commenced infraction proceedings against the Government. Before these proceedings started, the Government declined to put into the public domain exchanges between the Government and the Commission on the ground that the discussions were then informal. Now that the matter is in a formal arena, with infraction proceedings having started, both the Government and the Commission have invoked the EC privacy rule. It is about time that hon. Members were able to question Ministers about the proceedings that are now under way.

Mr. Cook

I am always open to invitations to encourage my ministerial colleagues in the Treasury and will draw to their attention the remarks of the hon. Lady, but I would be very unwise to make any comment without first consulting the Law Officers and the legal advice that has been received by the Treasury.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

My right hon. Friend must be aware by now that many hon. Members have been receiving unsolicited and highly offensive pornography via the parliamentary network. The worst comes via a method called HTML—or hypertext markup language—which means that if that e-mail is accidentally opened, page after page of highly offensive material is displayed on the screen without any mechanism for switching it off. For more than six months now, many hon. Members have tried to stop this through the usual channels, but have failed. Can my right hon. Friend lend a hand and ask the network to purchase the necessary filters that will stop this?

Mr. Cook

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the offensiveness of the material. We should remember that this is not simply a matter for Members of the House who may be exposed to the material. It is also a matter for those who work for us, such as secretaries and assistants who may encounter it more frequently, many of whom find it to be highly offensive. I am pleased to say that this matter was discussed at this week's meeting of the Speaker's Panel and I understand that the decision has been taken to acquire the necessary filter mechanism to make sure that hon. Members are protected and that our constituents are protected from the misuse of channels of communication that are there to enable Members to respond to their correspondence and to serve their constituents promptly.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I thank the Leader of the House for his gracious letter welcoming me back to the performances of the business statement repertory company, which are certainly a parliamentary highlight of the week. Further to the Leader of the House's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), may I reiterate the request for an early debate on Lords reform as the prelude to the publication of a Bill for a democratically elected second Chamber, such Bill to be published within the next 12 months and on the understanding that a second Chamber that enjoyed political authority and democratic legitimacy alike could offer the prospect of restraining the insatiable legislative appetite of this House?

Mr. Cook

I welcome back the hon. Gentleman and say that his Front Bench's loss is the business statement's gain. Listening to some of his colleagues who are sitting beside him, I am not sure that he has found the most plausible way of getting back to the Front Bench. I detect a degree of dissent to his proposition.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Not at all.

Mr. Cook

I am delighted to see that there is division on both sides of the argument among the Opposition on the matter. I can assure the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that there will be debates on the issue and that when we receive the Joint Committee's interim report, the matter will have to be debated extensively and voted on in this House. Whatever reform we propose for the second Chamber, it must provide that Chamber with the legitimacy to work as our partner in a modern and effective Parliament.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

The Leader of the House is in the process of devising a statutory instrument to provide for pension sharing in the statutory public sector pension scheme concerning Members of this House. He may remember that, in proposing that measure, I was at pains to point out that there were other statutory public sector pension schemes with much less well paid people who were desperate for the change. Will he accept that when he publishes that statutory instrument, there should be a rider, bringing it into force only after the same provisions have been made for pension sharing for unmarried partners for the less well paid members of those public sector pension schemes?

Mr. Cook

We have had exchanges along these lines before. The hon. Gentleman, with passion, tabled his amendment during our debate on the report on pay and pensions of the Senior Salaries Review Body in the summer of 2001. The House was persuaded by his amendment that we should amend our pension scheme accordingly, and voted accordingly. However, the House was voting on our scheme. The hon. Gentleman does not make it any easier for us to implement his amendment by constantly saying that it should be implemented only if it is applied across the whole of the public sector.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Government will shortly announce their conclusions on local government finance, an incredibly important matter to all of our constituents. So far the House has had only four hours to discuss these proposals and each Member was limited to eight minutes. Will the Leader ensure that when the Government finally make their decision on the matter, the House will have a full day's debate so that we can talk about the way in which this affects services in our constituencies?

Mr. Cook

I am conscious of the interests of the House in the matter, which is precisely why we provided not only one day for debate—which, unfortunately, for reasons beyond our control, was then narrowed by the statements that were necessary on that day—but another opportunity for the debate to continue. The fact that Members were confined to eight minutes was a reflection of the substantial interest in the issue and the very large number of hon. Members who wished to take part. We seriously tried to provide the opportunity for the House to express its view before final decisions were taken.

Of course I shall reflect upon what the hon. Gentleman said on the question of what time there might be to debate the matter in the future, but I remind the House that there is strong competition for debating time in the months immediately in front of us. As a result of the bold and ambitious legislative programme that the House heard yesterday, there will be a large number of Second Reading debates over the next few weeks and it is important that we give them priority.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the law on human organs and tissues, so that Ministers can explain why there was no commitment in the Gracious Speech to legislation on the subject? He will recall that, on 30 January 2001, the chief medical officer said in response to the Alder Hey and related reports that the Human Tissues Act 1961 should be amended as a matter of urgency. The issue is extremely important to my constituents in Addenbrooke's hospital organ retention support group, and it is disappointing that Ministers have not seen fit to act in this Session.

Mr. Cook

Without giving a specific commitment on the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers, let me remind the House of the clear convention relating to the Queen's Speech, that we will certainly implement all the measures set out in it within the current Session, but that that does not mean that all the measures that we will introduce were heralded in it. He may want to reflect on the sentence, Other measures will be laid before you.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)

When can we expect a ministerial statement on the United Nations panel of experts' report on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? The report talks of a multi-billion dollar corporate theft of the country's resources and names 12 British-based companies and individuals for violating Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines on ethical matters. Some of the companies feel strongly that they have been named without evidence, but in respect of others—I mention John Bredenkamp in particular—there appears to be pretty damning evidence. The Government have said that they have asked for further information from the UN and that a substantive response is expected. When can we expect to see that?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman refers to what is one of the great tragedies of international relations: the fact that the Congo has immense wealth but that its mineral resources are being used to keep the country in a state of conflict, which impoverishes it, rather than to develop it in the interests of its own people. We have tried to work hard to get momentum behind the peace process, and there has recently been an encouraging withdrawal from the Congo of troops from neighbouring countries. It is important that the commercial sector, as well as neighbouring countries, plays its part in ensuring that the wealth of the Congo is used for its people and not exploited to deprive them.

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development and ensure that we communicate with him as soon as we have that further information from the United Nations.

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