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Mr. Cook: I thank the hon. Lady, and shall respond to her questions in the order in which she put them.

On the Home Secretary's statement in response to the Halliday report, the hon. Lady will be aware that there is a debate on youth justice in Westminster Hall on 19 July. That will be a perfectly appropriate opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to raise questions on the Halliday report and sentencing. Plainly, it must be right for the Government to act as quickly as they can on a report that spells out that prison sentences should be used and targeted on those who are severe repeat offenders and that shorter prison sentences should be combined with rehabilitation and community provision. There will, of course, be a consultation process on the Halliday report, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will wish to take part in it.

There will have to be legislation before any of the proposed changes on entitlement to incapacity benefit take place. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will have an extended period of consultation with right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about those proposals.

It may help the hon. Lady and others in responding to the approaches to which she referred if I make it clear that any proposals that are made to change the rules on

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incapacity benefit by legislation would apply only to new claimants subsequent to that legislation. Therefore, any change in legislation will not have an impact on current claimants. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend confirmed that to me this morning.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will be making a written statement to the House very shortly. We are looking for a way forward. There is an enormous sum of investment available for London Underground. The funds available from Treasury and private sources amount in total to some £13,000 million—that is £4,000 per household within the London region. It is deeply frustrating that we cannot secure the agreement that we need with London Transport and London Underground so that we can proceed with that massive investment, which many other parts of Britain would be very glad to receive.

The hon. Lady also asked about the timetable for publication of the forthcoming White Paper. I can assure her that all right hon. and hon. Members will know about the White Paper's publication and will be able to take part in consultation.

In conclusion, I thought that the hon. Lady was uncharacteristically ungenerous to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In the short space of time since the Queen's Speech, there may not have been an opportunity for a debate on foot and mouth in Government time, but the first statement to the House this Session was on foot and mouth and my right hon. Friend made it at the first available opportunity. I do not think that anybody can fairly accuse her of having failed to take every opportunity to keep the House informed of progress.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we have a debate on early-day motion 60?

[That this House deplores the misleading television advertisements of loan consolidation companies who promise debt relief by combining debts into a single manageable payment; notes that they increase, usually by more than 15 per cent., the total debts of their clients and lengthen the period of indebtedness; and urges restrictions on their misleading claims and a wider understanding of the similar services provided at no charge by the Citizens Advice Bureau.]

The early-day motion refers to the activities of so-called loan consolidation companies that purport to solve debt problems by rolling up debts into a single manageable payment. The result of their activities is usually to drive their client into deeper debt and to give the impression to many others who might risk debt that there is an easy way out. Can we have a debate so that we can advertise the danger of the activities of these companies and the fact that citizens advice bureaux and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service offer the services entirely free?

Mr. Cook: I fully share my hon. Friend's concern about this issue. I have had distressing constituency cases of people being tempted into further debt and then discovering that the debt repayments greatly exceed anything that hon. Members would ever contemplate entering into. Those who have become caught in that way

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feel unfairly trapped. I am pleased to say that the Director General of Fair Trading is consulting on the prospect of issuing guidelines to debt management companies. Those guidelines must highlight the importance of giving comprehensible and high-profile warning of what the debt repayment would be.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I warmly welcome the clarification that the Leader of the House has just given us on incapacity benefit. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would have benefited if the Prime Minister had made such a clear statement yesterday in answer to a question on the issue. It by no means seemed to be in his mind yesterday that the proposal would not apply to existing claimants. I hope that the Leader of the House will note how important it is for statements to be made to the House in full detail on issues of this sort. This is yet another illustration of that.

On sentencing policy, the Leader of the House should note that the Home Secretary's answer to a planted question last night was wholly inadequate—there was no detail whatsoever—yet the detail that the Home Secretary gave to the "Today" programme this morning was very full indeed.

Will the Leader of the House look again at the issue of making statements to this House? He will recall that you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessor on many occasions deprecated the practice of Ministers appearing on the "Today" programme and making detailed statements there, where they were subjected to the questioning of journalists only, while this House did not have an opportunity to put those questions. As Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman has a right and a duty to defend the rights of this House. I ask him, as I did a fortnight ago, please to look particularly at this issue. If Ministers go on saying that Parliament has lost the respect of the public, they are simply contributing to it if they think that Mr. John Humphrys, Mr. Jim Naughtie or even Miss Sue MacGregor are more important than we are in this House.

Mr. Cook: I would disagree with the idea that I hold that view. If my right hon. Friend was able to give a full answer on the "Today" programme this morning, I congratulate him, because I could never get through a full answer on that programme.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important consideration. I draw attention to the fact that the Halliday report is now out for consultation. The Government are not taking a decision on it—it would be wrong to do so until consultation finishes. That consultation will continue until 31 October, by which time the House will have recommenced and there will be a fresh opportunity for Members to table questions and pursue the issue.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): May I pursue the point that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has just raised? Does the Leader of the House accept that there is an issue of principle here, in that we have been elected to the House to scrutinise Government actions, so Government initiatives and statements should come first to this House? Even though the paper is out for consultation, the House should have the opportunity to raise the first questions with the Government. That is what we have been elected to do. Does the Leader of the House accept that overall position? Will he do all he can to

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persuade the Government in this Parliament to make a principled stand as a matter of course always to bring initiatives and statements to this Chamber first?

Mr. Cook: I am all in favour of principled stands and will certainly seek to ensure that, where appropriate, statements are made to the House. A balance has to be struck, however. The House has much business to commence with, and if my hon. Friend goes through the business that I have just announced he will see that on many of those occasions it would be inappropriate to make a statement before the House, because it would interfere either with a programme motion or with Opposition business. However, bearing in mind those constraints, I am of course always in favour of the House being fully informed and having as many statements as possible.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Can we test the good will of the Leader of the House on the statement that he has just made? Will he give us an assurance that next week the Government will not make important announcements about their policy without first making a statement to the House of Commons?

Mr. Cook: If there are strategic statements that represent new policy, the House is the place that would hear of that first. In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, he did that by way of a written statement—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Oh, come on!

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman groans, but to make a written statement is an entirely well trodden, well known and well accepted method of informing the House. If we allow Ministers to make only oral statements, with no written statements, there will be little time for other debate in the House.

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