Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): There is continuing concern in my constituency about the number

8 Nov 2001 : Column 372

of people on fixed-term contracts. Is there any prospect of a debate on the draft regulations on fixed-term workers, which were due to come into force on 10 July but have now been postponed? I welcome today's publication of the Employment Bill. May we have a debate in the near future about employees' rights so that we can be sure that employers are not evading their legal responsibilities in respect of their work force?

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to confirm that there will be a debate in the near future on the Employment Bill, which includes matters relevant to the regulations on fixed-term workers. My hon. Friend can raise those concerns and any others relating to workers' rights during that debate.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will be aware that the completion of the natural gas pipeline to Northern Ireland is helping to deal with CO 2 emissions. However, Phoenix Natural Gas continues to invest private money in the development of that pipeline although the gas comes from the North sea. I understand that the profit made as a result of that pipeline has not been distributed equitably to different outlets. As a result, Phoenix will receive £500,000. Apparently, because of the regional divisions, there is no equality. Will the Leader of the House have a word with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to see whether the regulator should be consulting more with the regulator in Northern Ireland and with the Minister responsible for this matter in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the completion of the gas pipeline. I take on board his point about ensuring that any proceeds are shared fairly. I shall certainly take his advice and draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the increasing public interest in the successive drafts of the report on energy policy being prepared by the performance and innovation unit? When the report is completed, will it be published immediately or simply be presented to Ministers for their deliberation? When it is published, will there be a statement to the House? Can he confirm that there will be a full debate on the report? Will it be subject to public consultation or will it simply set out the details of Government policy, which will then be fixed?

Mr. Cook: I anticipate that if a report on energy policy is brought before the House and the public, the Government will be expected to show a lead and indicate the lines of their strategy. It is an important issue and I would expect it to have the fullest exposure in public and in Parliament.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): In view of the widespread concern among our constituents about the state of the health service, will the Leader of the House arrange for a regular debate, say once a month, in the presence of the Prime Minister, so that we can monitor his solemn pledge to the British people at the general election to introduce a world-class public health service?

8 Nov 2001 : Column 373

During his busy day, will the Leader of the House look at column 236 of yesterday's Hansard where the Prime Minister said that when his Government took office

Will he then study the list of new hospitals opened in 1997 where he will find that at least five new hospitals were opened in addition to myriad other schemes? He will also see that a similar number opened in 1998.

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to remind the hon. Gentleman that he will have an opportunity to debate health in the near future during the Second Reading of the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, which I announced in the business statement. We look forward to every possible opportunity to debate the health service so that we can draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the facts that we are putting in twice as much in additional resources as his Government ever did; that we have 3,000 new nurses since the last election was called; that every year in Britain, 500,000 more patients receive elective surgery; and that 1 million more out-patients receive appointments. It is a fine record and we intend to build on it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Had there not been a change of Government four years ago, there would have been no change in the House of Lords. I have always opposed a fully elected second chamber. I did so in the 1980s when there was a feeling among Labour Members that it should be fully elected. I opposed it for all the reasons that my right hon. Friend has given. A fully elected second chamber would be a powerful rival to this House. Will he accept, however, that having only 20 per cent. of members elected is far too low? During the consultation, which he mentioned again today, I hope that it will be recognised that the minimum number of elected members should not be less than one third.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks, which I endorse. We are debating reform of the House of Lords only because of the change in Government. The Conservative party was in power for 18 years and never showed the least interest in any proposal for reform of the House of Lords. I agree that there is a strong case for ensuring—this view is shared by many hon. Members—that we are careful not to end up with a wholly elected second chamber, which would undoubtedly be a rival to the House of Commons and result in a shift of power.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): That would be a good thing.

Mr. Cook: I do not remember the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that when his party was in office for 18 years. I am repeatedly urged by Conservative Members to strengthen the powers of the House of Commons. It seems odd that they should urge upon us a course of action that would undoubtedly result in a weakening of those powers. On the balance of elected members, as I said yesterday, there is a legitimate area of

8 Nov 2001 : Column 374

debate about how large the elected element should be. I expect that to be at the centre of the consultation exercise on which we are embarking.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Leader of the House think that it is conceivable that the chief executive of BMW, the chairman of Railtrack and now the Rail Regulator should all have contradicted the accounts given by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions at the Dispatch Box about his meetings with them? Surely before next Tuesday's debate, the honourable thing would be for the Secretary of State to come to the House and resign in the same way as the Scottish First Minister has today.

Mr. Cook: I am glad that the business statement has given Conservative Members an opportunity to rehearse their speeches for next Tuesday, which is where they properly belong.

Mr. MacKay: This is a serious matter.

Mr. Cook: It is indeed. The right hon. Gentleman is larding out accusations as if they were frivolous. If, as he now claims, the chairman of Railtrack did not come to my right hon. Friend and say that the company would not be a going concern by next November without more cash, he needs to explain why he did not say that. Two days later his officials arrived at the Department to negotiate specifically to secure that additional cash to enable it to continue as a going concern. The conduct of Railtrack, its officials and its chairman in the weeks that followed that meeting was entirely consistent with my right hon. Friend's account of the meeting.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Could my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate the rules governing the fitness of people to be directors of companies in this country and the insolvency procedures? I am asking because, during the past few weeks, about 100 employees at the Zephyr Cams company in my constituency have had to watch while machinery was removed from the shop floor. They have been aware that any revenue flowing into the company has been immediately transferred out of it. All that time, the management has refused to meet or say anything to the employees. The company is now in receivership. The employees fear that there will be nothing left of it for their redundancy payments, and many creditors have been left high and dry.

It has now been revealed that the same thing happened a few years ago, involving the same owner, to two companies using the name Quality Engineering Products, based in Weston-super-Mare. Resources from those companies were transferred to Zephyr Cams, involving £2 million of unpaid debt. Now it is believed that the resources from Zephyr—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I expect brief questions. The hon. Gentleman's question has been far too long; I must ask him to sit down.

Mr. Cook: I am glad that my hon. Friend was able to put that on the record; his comments make a very disturbing story. The DTI is at present engaged in consultation, with a view to changing the law relating to bankruptcy and insolvency. My hon. Friend may wish to

8 Nov 2001 : Column 375

feed his views into that process. Our objective will be to try to present to the House legislation that ensures that those who become insolvent in all innocence have the opportunity to make a fresh start, but that enables us to be robust in identifying and barring rogue traders who have taken advantage of those who supply and work for them.

Next Section

IndexHome Page