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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to an important policy dimension. The Government have placed particular importance on regional policy and that is why we want to ensure that our decisions are properly scrutinised. I cannot give a date for when the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs will meet. I understand that it met only once in the previous Session. I hope that it can meet early enough in this Session to guarantee that it can meet again this Session.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position. Will he use this opportunity to break with the practice that has been established over the past four years--of Ministers not answering the questions put to them? I should like to pray in aid an answer given to a question that I tabled to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which I received a reply from the Financial Secretary on a much narrower point.
My question was on the representations that the Chancellor had received on the taxation of company cars and the assessment he had made of the impact of that taxation on company car use. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will agree to an early debate on the issue, because I have received many representations from employees who are lamenting the fact that they will lose the tax advantage. Regrettably, the reply I received was on the narrow point of the new CO 2 emissions-based company car tax, which was not what the question I tabled was about. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that we will have a debate on the issue and that the Government will answer the questions put to them, oral and written?
Mr. Cook: I have to confess that I am not familiar with the question and answer to which the hon. Lady referred. There are remedies for her to pursue if she feels that her initial question was not answered properly. The House has many opportunities to debate tax matters. The hon. Lady may wish to lobby her party, as she will be aware that, during the business statement, I announced a day on which the Opposition can choose the issues they wish to raise.
Andrew Mackinlay: The Leader of the House has announced what is, in effect, a three-month closure of Parliament. I realise that in his early weeks as Leader of the House he cannot alter what has, unhappily, become a pattern over so many years. Will he look ahead to next year and discuss through the usual channels and with the Modernisation Committee the possibility of having a more even distribution of the parliamentary calendar, so that scrutiny and accountability can go on in this place even if the Government do not want to consider legislation? We should sit not just when we are considering Bills, but to provide scrutiny. Over the summer, will he consider an innovation and ask Ministers, with the support of the Prime Minister, to produce a report, on our return, on the activities of Departments over the closure so that the
Mr. Cook: It is for the Select Committees to decide what business they wish to pursue. I am sure that my hon. Friend will pursue his suggestion with whatever Select Committee he chooses to serve on. For the record, the recess that has been announced is 86 days long, which is almost the average for the past eight or nine years--it has varied between 81 and 87 days. In the first Session after the 1992 election, which Conservative Members will remember was the last election they won, the recess was 94 days long.
I agree that it would make sense for us to have a rolling programme of legislation. It is one of the issues that I want to see addressed early in the Modernisation Committee, and I hope that we can get a smoother process than the sudden fits and starts with which we conduct our business at present within a 12-month period.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I warmly welcome what appears to be the co-operation in all parts of the House over the re-establishment of Select Committees. The sooner they are set up, the better for the House and its role in monitoring the Executive and holding the Government of the day to account.
However, I point out to the Leader of the House in a friendly fashion, following the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), that he failed to respond to the question by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), a past Labour Chief Whip, who asked whether the Leader of the House would find time in the near future for a debate on the Liaison Committee's report, "Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business." The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland did not ask about the Modernisation Committee; he asked about the Liaison Committee. Does the Leader of the House not accept that that Liaison Committee report is very important, and may even go well beyond anything that the Modernisation Committee might do in due course?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome for the speed with which we intend to proceed with setting up the Select Committees. On the Liaison Committee's report, which I have read with interest, he will be aware that when we met--I hope that I do not cause him embarrassment by saying that I have consulted him--I said that I would want to take a fresh look at some of these issues in the autumn. I would like to do so with his advice and consultation, and with that of anyone who serves on the Modernisation Committee with us. At an appropriate time, we can examine these matters on the Floor.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Does my right hon. Friend agree, further to the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), that now is the time to look at the date for the start of the summer recess in 2002? Does he agree that one recommendation of the Modernisation Committee relating to the carry-over of Bills would help
Mr. Cook: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Government have been elected for a full parliamentary term, and with every intention of serving their full parliamentary term. I was therefore disappointed by comments suggesting that matters that were not in the Queen's Speech were not going to happen. The Queen's Speech is for one year; this Government are here for a full parliamentary term.
Much as I would want to help my hon. Friend, I believe that I would be in difficulty in being tempted into announcing now the date of the summer recess in 2002. I would hope to get just a little more satisfaction in the House for having announced the date for 2001.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Following the Government's announcement that they are embarking on a major review of energy futures, including a possible enhanced role for nuclear power, will the relevant Minister make a statement to the House on the terms of reference of that major review, so that we can be reassured that there will be a genuine level playing field, given the very powerful vested interests in that field?
Mr. Cook: It is very important that any examination of that subject should cover all the issues, and that all the various vested interests should be properly assessed. However, I would not really encourage the House to seek a statement on a review when it has just been announced. It seems to me much more logical that any statement should come towards the end of the review rather than at the start.
As I have repeatedly emphasised to the House, I have encouraged the setting up of the Select Committees as soon as possible. I would imagine that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry might well wish to consider the energy review as one of its urgent items of business.
Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): It is now a year since the unfortunate outbreak of anti-paedophile riots in my constituency. It is also three weeks since the longstanding leader of Hampshire county council was convicted of being a paedophile; we also have a city councillor held on far more serious charges, on the same basis. May we hold a debate on that issue, to ensure that checks are far more stringent and that anyone involved in this evil is precluded from public office?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an important issue and one that must be of grave concern to his constituents and the local media. I fully understand why he has taken this opportunity to raise it on the Floor of the House. I encourage him to explore the avenues that are open to him to ensure that he can deal with the matter in greater detail, perhaps in an Adjournment debate or in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Forth: May we please have an urgent debate entitled, "The Great Census Cock-up"? Is it not time that we had a thorough explanation of why a procedure that has taken place efficiently for hundreds of years cannot be conducted by this Government? Is it a conspiracy,
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the census is still being examined--[Hon. Members: "The right hon. Gentleman."] I am sorry if I demoted the right hon. Gentleman and will take great care not to do it again. He is well aware that the results of the census are being collated and will be available, as they usually are, in the fullness of time. In the meantime, if he wishes to pursue the matter he has a remedy through both oral and written questions and I suggest he takes it up that way.