Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: If my hon. Friend has evidence of sabotage by the Whips, I shall be very pleased if he shares it with me. [Laughter.] I honestly do not see what is hilarious about that. If my hon. Friend has evidence for a serious allegation I will, of course, pursue it. I do not see anything particularly hilarious in the Leader of the House wishing to pursue such a serious allegation. [Interruption.] It would assist my hon. Friend if Opposition Members took the matter as seriously as he does.

The Government will, of course, express a view in the debate tomorrow; a Minister will take part, as is normally the case with private Members' business. A number of concerns must be addressed if the Bill is to become an Act. They are wide ranging, and cover access to wrecks, the development of water sports and a range of economic interests such as wind farms, access to ports, and shipping. The House can consider all those issues tomorrow, and come to a considered and balanced view.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I suspect that you, Mr. Speaker, may share my delight, amazement and surprise that the Leader of the House has been able to promise us that no statement will be made to the House that has already been pre-empted by a media appearance. Has the right hon. Gentleman checked that out with Mr. Jim Naughtie and Mr. John Humphrys—because I suspect that he has now cancelled the "Today" programme for the foreseeable future?

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the statement made on the radio this morning by the Secretary of State for Health about the Audit Commission report was far from full, and was certainly not subjected to the sort of inquisition that he would have received in the House had he decided to make a statement here? The Secretary of State referred to bed blocking, which he said had been dealt with in a statement earlier

25 Oct 2001 : Column 414

this month. That statement, too, was made outside the House, a few days before we resumed after the summer recess.

May we have a statement by the Secretary of State for Health no later than Monday? Clearly there are wide concerns about accident and emergency departments, which are not improving as fast as has been suggested either here this afternoon or on the radio this morning. The announcement about bed blocking that was made just before the House resumed does not deal with some of the problems, so can we be assured that we will get that statement?

When does the Leader of the House expect to introduce, and in what form, the legislation to deal with media moguls? He may have noticed that there was a serious escalation this morning in the hostilities between The Mirror and The Sun. Will he—having served in the Foreign Office so long—use his best endeavours to try to prevent hostilities being resumed on that front? Does he believe that his intervention through the new legislation will deal with that problem as well?

Mr. Cook: It does not lie within my power to cancel the "Today" programme—and it would probably be unwise to disclose what I would do with that power if I had it.

On the question of statements to the House, the House has to retain some perspective. In the past week we have had three major statements from Ministers, and I am sure that next week we will also have major statements, and we will continue to make sure that major developments in policy come before the House. At the same time, the House has other business, and we have to ensure that we achieve a balance. The hon. Gentleman would be among the first to complain if the net result were to reduce significantly the time available for the scrutiny of legislation in the House.

As for the hon. Gentleman's last point, it would take a braver man than me to try to end hostilities between The Sun and The Mirror.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): Will my right hon. Friend make available dedicated time within oral questions— I suggest 10 minutes—during which Members could question the Minister for Women, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? If a Member wishes to put a question at present, that has to be done within DTI questions. Responsibility for women is a big, important area, and if we wish to put a question on trade and industry we cannot also put one to my right hon. Friend on her duties as Minister for Women. There is an issue of accountability here, so will the Leader of the House consider making time available, in much the same way as we have just seen for questions to the Solicitor-General?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a point that has been raised by a number of Members, and we are considering the issue. It is not entirely straightforward because, of course, the effect would be to diminish the rest of the time during which the Secretary of State is accountable. We shall certainly consider the idea, and I hope that we will be able to reach a satisfactory solution.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): The Leader of the House will probably welcome the fact that my question

25 Oct 2001 : Column 415

about the need for a debate on pedestrian-friendly vehicle fronts—an issue that will come up in Coreper—has been tabled for written answer. However, as this is specific to the House, I ask him now whether we can have the opportunity to debate whether the House of Commons Commission is inadvertently breaking any of the guidance from the Commissioner for Public Appointments by the way in which it is handling the possible replacement of the present Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin?

Mr. Cook: I would be fairly confident that we were not, because we received full advice before proceeding as we are doing. I stress to the House that—contrary to what I have seen in the press—Mrs. Filkin has not been sacked or dismissed. She has been given an undertaking that should she decide to apply for the next contract, she will be placed on the shortlist. As a Commission, we have taken the decision that it would be right to proceed by open competition. I hope that all those in the House who have argued for greater openness and transparency would want us to use an open and transparent system, rather than make a closed reappointment.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I welcome the undertaking by the Leader of the House that there will be a full statement if and when a decision is taken on terminal 5. May I urge him to lean on his right hon. and hon. Friends not to hurry with that decision, because there are changed circumstances, both in the market for aviation and in the security implications, of which cognisance was not taken at the time of the inquiry? I urge him to persuade his colleagues to reflect long and hard before granting permission for terminal 5. The decision will raise a number of issues about the disproportionate clout and influence of the big battalions in this country, such as BAA and British Airways, to influence key decisions in their interests, in contrast to the little influence of the ordinary simple objector.

Mr. Cook: I am sure that the factors to which my hon. Friend has referred will be taken into account by my colleagues in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. He is right to say that such issues raise questions about decisions that may have been taken before 11 September. However, I am sure that my colleagues will have adequate time to reflect on that, which will be reflected in the statement made when they reach their decision. I stress to the House that no decision has yet been reached.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the article in this month's issue of The Parliamentary Monitor entitled, "Labour Blows Cold on Scots' Reduction", questioning the implementation of the boundary commission's proposals for Scotland? Does he share my concern at the blatant gerrymandering in the print and broadcast media by his colleagues at the Treasury and the Scotland Office? Given his personal interest in the matter, will he arrange for an early ministerial statement on how

25 Oct 2001 : Column 416

and when the Government will complete the changes in constituency boundaries that will be required by the Scotland Act 1998?

Mr. Cook: I advise the hon. Gentleman not to believe everything he reads in the papers. The fact is that the boundary commission for Scotland has commenced its review of boundaries, and has indicated that it intends to report early in 2002. The result will be subject to the usual process of appeal, discussion and consultation, and we will make all speed thereafter. There is no decision, no suggestion, no idea and no intention of preventing the boundary commission from proceeding. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am in a position to know, because, as a Scottish Member of Parliament who has a personal interest in the matter, I take a close interest.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): May we have an early debate on regional government? That would give us an opportunity to consider the implications of a statement made recently by the Deputy Prime Minister of his determination that there should be a referendum during this Parliament, at least in the north-east, and perhaps for other regions that required it.

Mr. Cook: I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that the Deputy Prime Minister is working on a White Paper on regional government and I anticipate that it will be published in the near future. At that time, the House will of course want to ensure that it, too, has an opportunity to participate in the national debate that we expect the White Paper to spark.

Next Section

IndexHome Page