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I do think, on a day when I have announced that we shall be having three days of debate on legislation against terrorism, that we shall be having a debate on NHS reform, and that we shall be having a debate on civil defence, none of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised at the Dispatch Box, however entertaining they may be, match the severity of the international crisis or the nature of affairs at home or what our constituents are interested in.
On the employment of women in the armed forces, of course there has been no announcement of any change, nor am I aware that any change is likely be announced. As long as there is no change, the present position applies. However, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Defence and his Ministers have had quite a bit to think about over the last two months. It may have passed him by, but it is important that they should focus on the international situation, and just a word of congratulation from the right hon. Gentleman on the progress that we have been making in Afghanistan would have been welcome in a very long set of questions.
On the ombudsman, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the ombudsman never said that there was a cover-up. He did not say it, even in the words that the right hon. Gentleman quoted. I am sure that if he had said it, the right hon. Gentleman would have made a point of quoting that.
Finally, on the question of deferred Divisions, what I said last week was that we actually have a much larger turnout of Members voting. [Interruption.] I have checked the figures. Since we introduced deferred Divisions,
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 323, which was signed by 225 Members from all parties and calls for the House to make an early decision about hunting wild mammals with dogs?
[That this House congratulates the Scottish Parliament on the passage of the first stage of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill; looks forward to taking the earliest possible opportunity to re-affirm its stand on the abolition of hunting; and reminds Her Majesty's Government of the overwhelming support for abolition in the House and the high expectation amongst the electorate that the Government will honour the manifesto pledge to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue in respect of England and Wales.]
I remind my right hon. Friend of the Labour manifesto undertaking and the inclusion of the measure in the Queen's Speech. We have had plenty of time since we returned after the summer recess to debate it. Can we resolve the matter by a straight resolution of the House, so that it can go straight to the other place rather than having to go through all the stages of a Bill yet again? Have any Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asked my right hon. Friend for time for the House to resolve the matter? It is about time that the Government started to think about 225 Members of Parliament, rather than appeasing the Countryside Alliance.
Mr. Cook: The position as stated in the Queen's Speech was that there would be a free vote on that issue in this Session. That will take placethere has been no reason to change that. As my hon. Friend knows because I discussed the matter with him, there has been no shift from that position. I note his interesting suggestion about proceeding by resolution rather than by a Bill. Obviously, that is a consideration. I see no reason not to anticipate that there will be a free vote this Session.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): First, does the Leader of the House recall representations that were made to him and supported on both sides of the House that, by amalgamating so many different topics in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, we are in danger of squeezing out important issuesnotably, those relating to agriculture and the countryside? Will he look again at the practice that was used for Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions questions, which were split in two so that there was obvious opportunity for questions relating to both subjects to be reached?
Secondly, will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government propose that the ratification of the Kyoto protocol should take place? Does he intend that there should be a debate in the House before or after it takes place?
Thirdly, I certainly recognise the importance of the legislation on anti-terrorism, crime and security that is coming before the House next week and the week after. Will he demonstrate how seriously the Government take concerns about that legislation? The Bill has 125 clauses and already controversial issues have been raised, not least by the Master of the Rolls this morning. The right hon. Gentleman said when dealing with the provisional business that he expects us to deal with the legislation in just eight days and with limited opportunities to discuss those extremely important issues. Will he undertake to the House that, if it appears as a result of our progress next week that we need more time to discuss it in the following week, the programming of the legislation will be adjusted accordingly?
Mr. Cook: On DEFRA questions, the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred has been raised before, and I note that he is saying that the system is still causing hon. Members difficulty. We will continue to discuss it to try to find a way forward.
On the Kyoto protocol, it is only within the past few weeks that we have achieved agreement at Marrakech on the protocol. I hope that we can progress the matter with all due speed. However, Britain has everything to be proud of in this matter. The cuts that we are offering in greenhouse gases are greater than those offered by any other country and we have consistently taken a lead to try to get the agreement that was subsequently secured in Marrakech.
I appreciate the co-operation that we have received in drawing up the timetable for the House to deal with the terrorism Bill. I hope that we will be able to meet that timetable, which provides a generous allocation of time to consider the main issue. Indeed, on the second day, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we propose to sit until midnight and thus make available additional time to the House and ensure that Third Reading does not take time from Committee proceedings. The timetable must be balanced against the fact that we are in a grave situation. As a result of 11 September we know the severity and potential scale of the threat that we face. While our constituents certainly want us to probe, test and scrutinise the Bill adequately, they would find it odd if Parliament were incapable of enacting measures by the end of this year that we think are essential to ensure that they have proper security.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that some Labour Members whose loyalty to the Government is regarded as verging on the grotesque, or even exceeding it, are growing increasingly impatient at the Government's failure to progress the vote on hunting with dogs? We expect that vote by Christmas so that, should the House vote in favour of a ban on such hunting, there will be sufficient time in this Session to get the legislation through the House of Lords and, if necessary, to use the Parliament Acts.
Mr. Cook: I would not wish to strain the loyalty of such a loyal supporter as my right hon. Friend. The programme that we mapped out in the Queen's Speech is for a full Session. Many issues listed in that speech have
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I ask this question of the right hon. Gentleman because, as Leader of the House, he represents the interests not only of the House but all its Members. Is he aware of the growing concern about the extraordinarily arbitrary powers of the Electoral Commission, which has apparently decided that Members of Parliament who go abroad under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or as a member of a Select Committee, are obliged to notify the commission of that visit within 30 days, otherwise they are committing an offence? Is that not absolute nonsense? Is he prepared to make a statement to the House and to indicate that, if necessary, emergency legislation will be introduced to curb that nonsense?
Mr. Cook: I am very happy to agree totally with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the decision of the Electoral Commission, of which I am aware. I have also been privileged to see the correspondence in which the Speaker robustly asserted the rights of the House in this matter. It is a bizarre ruling on the part of the commission and it carries the risk of undermining its credibility and authority as a body of common sense as well as of legal standing.