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I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about questions to DEFRA, and I am alive to the fact that I am addressing a Chamber that is mostly composed of Members who were here for DEFRA questions, and with whom his point might resonate. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but there is no time available with which to widen the envelope; whether or not the envelope can be reshuffled is a matter on which I must seek the advice of my colleagues in the Department.
I am pleased to report to the House that the Modernisation Committee had a good first discussion on appointments to Select Committees yesterday morning. I hope that we will be able to make good progress in reaching an agreement on an alternative method of bringing nominations before the House. If so, we may be able to bring a report to the House in November. In the meantime, I am conscious of the need to fill the vacancies that are arising, which is one of the reasons for my desire to make progress as quickly as possible.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the wholesale redundancies, outsourcing and sell-offs currently being planned by Consignia, which could jeopardise its ability to meet its universal service obligations, destroy the morale of employees and plunge this country's postal services into a terrible mess. In view of that, may we have an early debate on the future of the Post Office?
Mr. Cook: I am very much aware of the position to which my hon. Friend draws my attention, and I fully sympathise with the concerns arising from the announcement. My hon. Friend will be aware that the announcement is only the start of a process of consultation and discussion, and I am sure that the House will have opportunities to ventilate the concerns of individual Members as that proceeds. These are, of course, matters for the company, not the Government, and I would not wish to suggest that Ministers will interfere in the way in which the company addresses the important task of ensuring that the Post Office remains in profit.
Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the gas explosion in my constituency last December, which killed two constituents, Alvin and Shirley Sykes, as they slept. The explosion was subject to an immediate investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, but 10 months later we are still waiting for the report to be published, and there is no evidence that publication is imminent. Will my right hon. Friend give some reassurance to the people of Batley, not least the Sykes family, who need to put that dreadful experience behind them, by arranging an immediate and urgent statement to the House about the full circumstances of the explosion and an explanation of why we are being denied the report?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an issue that is important to his constituency, and particularly to the family of the constituents whom he named. He makes his point with great dignity and force. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive and encourage it to release the report as quickly as possible.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The Government have made it clear that over the next few weeks the House will deal with a substantial volume of additional legislation on terrorism, much of which will be taken on the Floor. Does he agree that if the House is to perform its scrutiny role adequately, this necessarily means that some of the other items in what was already an ambitious programme will have to be dropped?
Mr. Cook: I do not anticipate a problem with timetabling up to the next recess, which I have announced. As for the future, we will review the matter when we get there. Let us be clear: there has been a change, not only in our security environment, but in international affairs. Both the House and the Government would be subject to immense criticism if we were to say that we do not have the flexibility to respond, to introduce and scrutinise legislation and to pass it with the expedition required for emergency legislation. I look forward to the co-operation of all quarters of the House in achieving that objective.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the looming crisis in the airline industry, brought about as a direct result of actions on 11 September? He will be aware that the American Government and other European Governments are giving strong support to their national airlines. It is a fiercely competitive industry and global market. The debate will also allow the Government to address the central
The Government have responded to the crisis in the aviation industry and underwritten provisions, especially in relation to insurance to the end of the month. We are in consultation with the aviation industry to consider what further support may be appropriate and consistent with our European obligations, which also apply to our partners. I note that the relevant Department will be up for questions next week and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and others may want to ventilate that issue then.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will know from his former incarnation that problems arise if countries do things in different ways. Will it be possible before the next debate on terrorism for the Foreign Secretary to discover how far those who have joined in the coalition are working to defeat international terrorism? Belgium is not handing over information to the Americans and someone in the Republic of Ireland keeps his own army council, with illegally held weapons, against the constitution.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that he and his hon. Friends might want to reiterate in the full-day debate that I have announced for two weeks hence. One reason why we held the Justice and Home Affairs Council immediately after 11 September and are anxious to introduce emergency legislation to implement our decisions is to ensure that all European Union member states work together with everyone else to ensure that we crack down on terrorism and co-operate with each other to bring to justice those who are guilty of terrorism.
In view of that, will my right hon. Friend agree to consult further before he introduces legislation based on those proposals, which do not include a substantial democratic element for any elected second Chamber?
Mr. Cook: I have noted the early-day motion to which my hon. Friend refers and see that she tabled it. I am happy to say that there will be a consultation document before legislation is introduced. We gave that commitment in the Queen's Speech and it is how we will proceed.