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Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that we wish all departmental Committees to be set up as soon as possible and at the same time, if possible.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Of course, the Leader of the House needs the House's co-operation to set up Select Committees before the summer recess, but he rightly identified the first two steps as motions that must be moved by the Deputy Chief Whip. He has to create the Selection Committee, and there is no reason for not tabling that motion next week. He must then table changes to Standing Orders to reconfigure the departmental Select Committee structure to the new architecture in Whitehall. That is easily achieved by making the Select Committee that will cover environment, food policy and agriculture bigger. The others can remain more or less the same. Why does not the Leader of the House take both steps next week?

Mr. Cook: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I did not say that I was not going to do those things next week. If he is patient, he will find that progress will be made on these matters. I stressed that we need the co-operation of the Chamber. Those motions are debateable.

Mr. Forth: They are all debateable.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) has just had that confirmed by an expert on which motions are debateable. That does not fill me with confidence that I would have co-operation in all parts of the House.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome the emphasis that he has placed on modernisation. Will he continue to bear in mind the real need to bring the hours of this place into line with the 21st century rather than the 19th?

Mr. Cook: I am very sympathetic with the point that my hon. Friend makes. I speak as a Member of long standing who was here throughout the 1974 to 1979 Parliament, when our hours were longer than those of any subsequent Parliament. If we want to demonstrate that the House is in the 21st century, we should adopt working methods that other people can relate to rather than stare at in wonderment. It is very important that the House

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should be able to carry out effective scrutiny, but wasting the time of the House of Commons does not constitute effective scrutiny.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The Leader of the House, whose appointment I, too, warmly welcome, announced the Second Reading of a Government Bill on, I think, Monday week. May I ask him not automatically to timetable every single Government Bill? We discovered in the previous Parliament that that can lead to an inflexible structure and inadequate discussion of the Bills. Will he explore with good will some alternative, more flexible arrangements?

Mr. Cook: I am absolutely enthusiastic about exploring with good will more flexible arrangements, but good will has to be a two-way street. Without good will on the other side, the remedy of timetabling that enables Back Benchers to take part in debates held at reasonable hours is available to us. If we can find good will on both sides, I am sure that we can find alternative, flexible solutions, but we need that good will on both sides.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will recognise that the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee has a legislative role to play, and that once that Committee is established it will be able to become involved in legislation. Will he ensure that it is established at the earliest possible date? Will he also give an assurance that--as the timetables for new measures become apparent--no new measure will be laid before the House until that Committee has come into being?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to one of the Select Committees that will have a legislative effect and role. There are others, such as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. In both cases, it would be our wish to see them set up as quickly as possible.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Perhaps, in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman and the new Parliament, I can ask a non-partisan question that affects a large number of our fellow countrymen and women. The matter has been drawn to my attention in my capacity as co-chairman of what I hope is one of the most respected all-party committees. At which ministerial questions will Members from all parts of the House have the opportunity to ask questions specifically about the needs, interests and welfare of disabled people?

Mr. Cook: I understand that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is the Department of Work and Pensions, but I would be happy to give him further guidance before the relevant Question Time comes round.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on the current situation in the middle east, and in particular on the problems in the West Bank and Gaza? He will know that, even though those difficulties have been going on for some time--since last autumn--and there is considerable disquiet among many hon. Members, particularly about the actions of the Israeli Government, we have still not had a debate in the House on the subject

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in all that time, other than a short Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall. I hope that he will agree that this subject deserves a reasonable length of debate in the House.

Mr. Cook: I have absolutely no difficulty in agreeing with my hon. Friend that that is an important and grave matter. It occupied much of my time in the previous Parliament, and I express my continuing distress that the violence continues. The more that the violence continues, the further we move from the negotiating table, which can be the only basis for a secure and permanent peace.

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, tomorrow, the House will hold a debate on foreign affairs and defence in which the Foreign Secretary will participate. That will be an appropriate and suitable moment for the House to air those concerns and others on foreign policy.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate so that the House can discuss whether it is appropriate that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies can vote on business that affects only England? Does he understand that there is a great sense of unfairness in England about that arrangement, coupled with a sense of unfairness that Scotland is over-represented in this place, and overfunded too? Should not we discuss those matters, and soon?

Mr. Cook: On the question of representation, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that, before the next election, there will be changes in the representation of Scotland in the House.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): That is the first announcement of it.

Mr. Cook: That is the proposal. It is for the Boundary Commission to make proposals, but we anticipate it happening in this Parliament.

On the question of Scottish Members participating in the business of the House, this is a unitary Chamber--one in which all Members have equal rights. If the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is proposing that that should be changed, he is proposing a fundamental constitutional change that would be warmly welcomed by the Scottish nationalists north of the border.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's appointment, which comes with the highest expectations about what he will do. He knows that serious reform of the House comes only when the House has a Leader who is committed to that reform. That was true of St. John-Stevas and of Richard Crossman, and we hope that his name will be added to that list.

Modernisation is a weasel word: it means either that the Government get their business more efficiently or that we shift the balance between Parliament and the Executive. Is my right hon. Friend committed to shifting that balance and is he prepared for his tenure as Leader of the House to be judged by that yardstick?

Mr. Cook: I am absolutely committed to finding the right balance, but I say to my hon. Friend that he would

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be unwise to identify a conflict between the Government securing the measures that they were elected to deliver and the House providing effective scrutiny, both of the text of that legislation and of other acts by the Government. Nothing would bring parliamentary democracy more into disrepute than the Government being unable to deliver on the commitments that they made to their electorate.

Mr. Speaker: Dr. Spink.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Encouraged as I am by my colleagues, may I say what a pleasure and a great privilege it is to return to the House to serve the worthy people of Castle Point?

May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to hold a debate on the euro referendum so that we can expose the tensions and clear up the confusion that is obvious between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on that issue?


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