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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 23 on missile defence?

[That this House expresses concern at President Bush's intention to move beyond the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in developing missile defence; and endorses the unanimous conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which recommended that the Government voice the grave doubts about NMD in the UK, questioned whether US plans to deploy NMD represent an appropriate response to the proliferation problems faced by the international community and recommended that the Government encourage the USA to explore all ways of reducing the threat it perceives.]

I urge the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on disarmament so that the House may examine President Bush's proposals for national missile defence. Among other things, the House should explore the fact that the technology is wholly unproven and that it is almost certainly in breach of existing disarmament treaties; that the threat posed to America by a nuclear strike from North Korea is risible; and that the proposals

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have been opposed by Russia, China and most EU states. It is surely appropriate that the House has a chance to debate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I say to the hon. Lady and to the House that business questions should be short and not statements of policy?

Mr. Cook: I am sure that there will be opportunities for hon. Members to raise the concerns articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Indeed, she and others have expressed those concerns on a number of occasions. However, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that although she refers to President Bush's proposals, we currently have no specific proposal—partly owing to the fact that, as she points out, the technology is still under examination and assessment. For instance, we do not know at present whether the system will be sea or land-based. Whether it is based on sea or on land will have a big impact on the extent—if any—to which facilities in the United Kingdom are required. It would be premature of the Government to make a hard and fast rule.

I advise my hon. Friend not to diminish the very real threat of nuclear missile proliferation—she understates the technological capacity of North Korea. However, the House would be right to be worried about the proliferation of ballistic missile technology.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House as a matter of urgency to make a statement on what is going on with regard to the redundancies at the Marconi companies that affect so many of our constituents? Is the Leader of the House aware that the company is releasing information in dribs and drabs? It is desperately unfair for constituents, such as mine in Chelmsford and in the constituencies of other hon. Members, that they have to go to work today not knowing whether they will be out of work by the end of the day or at some time early next week because the company will not make a full announcement.

Mr. Cook: I fully understand the unease, concern and worry of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Having been through a similar experience with Motorola in my own area, I know how desperately unsettling it is for members of staff not to have full information on what may happen to their plant. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in contact with the company and are pressing for full details of its plans. We are also seeking contact with local partners, both from the Employment Service and local authorities, so that we are ready to respond once we are clearer about what precisely the company may propose for its British work force.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Is my right hon. Friend aware that an inquiry is under way into very serious allegations about poor conditions and intimidation experienced by asylum seekers at the Landmark and the Inn on the Park tower blocks in Liverpool? Does he have any information on the progress of those inquiries and on when they are likely to be

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concluded? Will he consider holding a debate on the treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers—a very important subject?

Mr. Cook: I am aware of the complaints that a number of the asylum seekers at the Landmark facilities have made about their treatment. I am also aware of their threat to go on hunger strike if those issues are not addressed. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Home Office is conducting a thorough investigation. I assure her that it will be thorough and that we want to make clear what has happened in this case and to learn the lessons from it. My noble Friend Lord Rooker would be very willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the case if she wished to pursue it with him.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the proposed business for next Tuesday—namely, the Second Reading of the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill? In view of the talks on the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly, decommissioning and the peace process, which will presumably involve the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland political parties on Monday, Tuesday and perhaps even Wednesday of next week, would it not be inappropriate to hold that important debate on that occasion, as, no doubt, Northern Ireland elected representatives would like to express their views on the issue? Will the Leader of the House consider deferring the debate for a week?

Mr. Cook: I have announced the business for next week, and I have announced that debate on Tuesday at the request of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is plainly confident that he can attend the debate and play his full part in it. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we ensure that the election system in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, is above reproach, fairly administered and cannot be abused. Whatever view people take on the peace process, it is important that such a Bill should be put in place, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is confident that he can accommodate it next week.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House next week to explain how increasing the anxiety and insecurity of those people who have had to pass a stringent personal capability test to receive a meagre £69-a-week incapacity benefit helps them to take advantage of the opportunities available through the new deal to help them to overcome the discrimination that they suffer in the labour market? Before he does so, will he reacquaint himself with what he and my right hon. Friend now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in opening and closing speeches in debates on social security legislation introduced when Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister?

Mr. Cook: I remember that period well, and I am glad that it is behind us. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend

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fully took in the point that I made earlier in my comment to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Repeat it.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend clamours for a repeat, and I am always happy to repeat it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions assured me this morning that the new legislation would, of course, apply only to new claimants, as is common with social security legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) can therefore provide reassurance to those who may be expressing unease to her.

On the issue of principle, I must say that my hon. Friend and I fought the election on a manifesto in which it was made quite explicit that we would help back into employment those who could work and who would prefer to work. We should not lose sight of the fact that 1 million people currently on disability benefits say, when asked, that they would prefer to be at work, and it should be the function of government to help them and support them in finding work.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he has just said and what he said earlier are suspiciously like a definitive response to the pressure placed on the Prime Minister by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) yesterday? Can we have absolute clarification by having the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions come to the Dispatch Box next week to explain in detail to the House precisely what he has in mind?

Mr. Cook: I am very happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that a debate will start in Westminster Hall in an hour and a half on the role of the Department for Work and Pensions, to which a Minister from the Department will respond. If hon. Members wish to pursue clarification, they have plenty of opportunity to do so this afternoon, although I anticipate that many hon. Members will wish to be in their place for the full debate that we shall have in the Chamber.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Despite his previous answers, could not the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on incapacity benefit to be made at the earliest opportunity by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, so that the fears of some of my most vulnerable constituents—entirely justified fears, given the somewhat insensitive manner in which the issue has been introduced to the public arena—can be set to rest?


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