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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a delay in the bid coming from the consortium. We understand that the delay reflects some financial issues which plainly have to be resolved to the satisfaction of the bidder. However, we expect the bid to proceed and the process to continue. I am sure that it is a matter on which right hon. and hon. Members will wish to table questions when we return.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Regardless of what the Leader of the House said earlier, we had an admission from the Treasury this morning that the Barnett formula is indeed a convergence formula. The Government have admitted to the existence of the Barnett squeeze. Will the Leader of the House respond to that announcement by ensuring that there is an early debate on the subject so that we can examine this admission and the effect that the Barnett squeeze will have on Scottish public services.
[That this House believes that a democratically elected Parliament should seek to reflect the make-up of its population; notes that while women make up 5l per cent. of the UK population, only 18 per cent. of elected honourable Members are women; considers such an imbalance to be unacceptable in the 21st century; welcomes the Government's promise in the Queen's Speech to draft legislation to enable political parties to take positive action in the selection of women as parliamentary candidates; and urges the Leader of the House to bring forward the legislation as soon as possible to ensure the selection of many more women candidates for the next general election.]
In two weeks it has attracted the signatures of more than 100 Members representing five different political parties. Will my right hon. Friend join me in deploring the fact that only 18 per cent. of elected Members are women and can he tell us when he might find an opportunity to introduce legislation that would enable political parties to make some attempt to tackle that democratic deficit?
Mr. Cook: I fully share my hon. Friend's concern at the relatively small number of women in Parliament and the fact that it has declined rather than increased at the last election. I would like us to take measures that would give a better prospect of the increase in women in Parliament and make sure that this democratic Chamber fully represents all of Britain. In respect of the legislation to which my hon. Friend refers, I cannot introduce legislation that does not exist. I will look sympathetically at timetabling a Bill if one can be introduced soon after the recess, but at the present time we await confirmation that such a Bill is ready.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): When can we have a debate about the Government's home energy efficiency scheme which has failed so miserably and has caused pensioners in my constituency to wait more than a year to get replacement boilers? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the questions that I tabled and that have received holding answers are answered extensively before the end of the week? Written questions are one of the means by which we can hold the Government to account to some extent. Can the right hon. Gentleman ensure that when the House returns all Departments are strongly advised to reply to them within a reasonable time scale? At the moment the standard of Departments is deteriorating badly.
Mr. Cook: I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall look into his question about responses to written questions. I very much hope that all Departments will seek to clear all written questions before the House concludes its work for the summer. That would be a normal standard to expect. The home energy efficiency
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I note that the first debate after the recess will be on the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill. There is a lot of disorder and dismay in my constituency about the ownership of Carlisle United, which is owned by Michael Knighton, of whom hon. Members may have heard. Three weeks away from the beginning of the season, we do not have 11 full-time footballers, we do not have a manager and we do not have any money. The Football League and the Football Association know about the problems that Carlisle United is facing and are refusing to intervene. My only concern is that when we come back in October Carlisle United will no longer exist. However, I should like to be able to move an amendment to the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill.
Mr. Cook: I am humbled to say that I am unable to promise either a ministerial statement or Government legislation to save Carlisle United. My hon. Friend makes his case forcefully, and I am sure that he has ventilated an issue of deep concern to his constituents and his local press. I am very pleased that he will have an excellent platform on which to repeat his concerns when we resume, on the first day back.
Can we please have an urgent statement in Government time on the extraordinary decision of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to transport large quantities of ash hundreds of miles from Newcastle to the Shanks and McEwan landfill site at Calvert in my constituency? Ought not the Secretary of State to tell us why it was sensible to transport that ash hundreds of miles from an infected area to an area thus far, thankfully, uninfected with foot and mouth? Would it not be useful for her to tell me how it was proper and courteous of the Department to inform me of the involvement of my constituency in this worrying matter only on the day on which the first transportation took place?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) for his concern about my being able to stand tall and survive the absence of his company and that of other hon. Members. Let me say to the hon. Gentlemanno, on this last occasion, I shall call him my hon. Friendthat in Italy I shall say daily to my wife, "I wonder what the hon. Member for Buckingham is getting up to in my absence."
I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and press her on the importance of providing prior notice to Members of Parliament.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Many of us are heavily dependent on mobile phones for communicating with our friends, our offices and our constituents, particularly over the summer holidays, so can we have an early debate on the inadequacy of the service provided by mobile phone companies in large areas of Britain where it is impossible to receive a signal? Vodafone has spent millions of pounds on buying a German company and provided £800 million of share options to its chief executive yet has written to me to say that it cannot afford to spend money on increasing its coverage in parts of Wales.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend speaks for the whole House, in that we have all had the experience, somewhere in Britainoften in our constituenciesof being unable to get the connection that we need. I am sure that her point will have been suitably logged by those at Vodafone who monitor our proceedings, and I hope that she will be hearing from them shortly.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Leader of the House will be aware that by the time we return we will not have had a debate on defence procurement for almost a year. In view of the grave decisions taken recently by Her Majesty's Government, is not a debate long overdue on Bowman, on which we shall have an announcement today; on the cancellation of the future aircraft system for the Royal Air Force; on the possibility that the new aircraft carrier is to be put out to tender to foreign yards; and on the loss of 1,000 jobs on the Clyde following the type 45 order? Is it not high time that the Government faced up to their responsibilities and involved the House in those important matters?
Mr. Cook: In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, he made a well-attended statement on the type 45 destroyer on which he took many questions from both sides of the House, and he is about to make a statement on Bowman. That is two discussions in the House on defence procurement in two weeks. I do not think either that the House can be accused of failing in its job of scrutiny or that my right hon. Friend can be accused of failing in his job of informing and making announcements to the House.