Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Cook: Although I welcome any further information that my hon. Friend wishes to produce, I am not aware of massacres in Kabul. The relative orderliness of life in Kabul has been a remarkable feature of events since the defeat of the Taliban. The great majority of the population have welcomed the defeat and disappearance of the Taliban.

We do not have full information on events in the fortress at Mazar-i-Sharif. It is plainly desirable to acquire more information, and considerable debate will continue on the matter. International law is clear: prisoners' human interests and needs should be respected. However, it is also robust in providing that those who are combatants need not expect to be treated as prisoners of war. The matter for debate is whether the response was appropriate for prisoners who had armed themselves with kalashnikovs, mortar guns and a tank and, in those circumstances, whether it was right to regard them solely as prisoners.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Can the Leader of the House tell us whether there are obstacles to the Northern

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1111

Ireland Grand Committee meeting in Northern Ireland? Can I have his assurance that he will look into that matter and help facilitate us having such a meeting in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Cook: Offhand, I am not sufficiently familiar with the Standing Orders to give a categorical assurance to the hon. Gentleman. Personally, I see no problem with the Committee meeting in Northern Ireland. I will be happy to examine the matter and write to him.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): My right hon. Friend was asked by the shadow Leader of the House about next Thursday's debate on the motion for the Adjournment, which will be fairly specific because it relates to the common fisheries policy. I think that I heard that there will be a debate on Wednesday on something that is perhaps less specific, described as European affairs. Previously when we have debated European affairs we have been able to hang our speeches on voluminous Commission documents. Are we going to be able to do that this time?

Mr. Cook: As somebody who has introduced many of those debates in the past, I can say with confidence that hon. Members will have all the European documents that any human being could possibly wish for.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Are we going to have a statement from the Government on the farce and scandal of the individual learning accounts? The Secretary of State for Education and Skills told the House:


Some 1.2 million people received letters from the Government giving them that assurance, but that assurance was broken last week by the Government, without any notice at all and without the House being informed, and more than 1 million ILA holders have now been told that they cannot take up their accounts by 7 December. Is that not scandalous? Why do the Government not come along to the House and admit that it is a farce that deserves to be put under close scrutiny by hon. Members, and what message—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cook: I am slightly at a loss to understand how the Government can have broken a commitment on 7 December when we are still a week away from that date. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has written to all hon. Members for the relevant constituencies, advising them that any registered holder of an ILA will have that registration honoured.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): My right hon. Friend will know that Rolls-Royce today announced further job losses across the United Kingdom, many of which are in the north-east. Our region can ill afford to lose those skilled jobs. He will also be aware that the north-east continues to have the highest unemployment in the UK and too often comes bottom of important social and economic indices. We cannot afford to wait for

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1112

regional government to begin tackling those issues, so can we have an early statement from the Government on when and how they are going to tackle regional disparities, which have gone on for too long and are too great?

Mr. Cook: I share my hon. Friend's concern about the impact on his constituents and others of job losses in the present circumstances. I understand why he wants to press for an opportunity to ensure that it is raised in the House, and I will convey his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Would the Leader of the House let us have a debate as soon as possible on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? That would give us the opportunity to debate the age of Greek aircraft and the competence of the Greek Air Force to distinguish between tourists and spies. Does he realise that there is growing anger in Wiltshire that the Greek Government seem to have the resources, time and energy to pursue plane spotters, but do not have the resources, time and energy to pursue the assassination of Britain's defence attaché in Athens only a couple of years ago? Does he also realise that that is a scandal and makes Greece look ridiculous?

Mr. Cook: I remember the assassination of our defence attaché and I visited Athens at the time to express my concern. We continue to assist in any way that we can in tracking down those who were responsible for the assassination, to ensure that they are brought to justice and that the terrorist threat is eliminated.

On those British citizens who have been detained on a charge of espionage, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and the broad concern of the British public. That is why we have raised the matter at a variety of levels—between the Prime Ministers, between the Foreign Secretaries, between the European Ministers and between the Defence Ministers—and why we will continue to press Britain's concerns.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Following the welcome statement yesterday on the future management of the financial liabilities of the nuclear Railtrack, given the continuing debate about the future management of radioactive waste—that held by British Nuclear Fuels, the Ministry of Defence and private generators—and given the continuing debate about the role of nuclear generation in the future mix of energy supply, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an overwhelming case for a debate on the future of the nuclear industry? Does he agree also that it is remarkable how little time is given to debating the industry in the House? Had more time been given over many years, perhaps fewer mistakes might have been made. Can he find Government time for a debate on the industry in the near future?

Mr. Cook: I shall happily add that request to the growing list of requests that I have for debates. Of course, there are other ways in which my hon. Friend can seek an opportunity to raise the matters to which he has referred.

We attached importance to ensuring that the House received a full oral statement at the earliest possible opportunity after the BNFL statement, and that took place yesterday. I cannot promise that there will be a further opportunity in the Chamber to debate these matters next week.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): The Government's position on their commitments to health

29 Nov 2001 : Column 1113

spending is still extremely murky. May we have an early statement to clarify what the Government mean by "European average"? Does that refer to Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, or does it mean the European Union? If we mean the EU, is it the EU as constituted, or is it the EU in 2005 or 2006, which could include the accession of several countries from eastern Europe? If that is the case, are the Government hoping that the average will come down and the EU will meet us halfway? Could we have a specific percentage target?

Mr. Cook: I am not sure to what extent the hon. Gentleman's question has illuminated this issue. I rather suspect that if we took the wide interpretation that he is proposing, we would already have surpassed the average gross domestic product. Therefore, I am happy to put him at rest on this point. When we have referred to the average, we have been referring to the existing members of the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman believes, to use his word, that our commitment on health spending is "murky". I would welcome some clarity on what exactly is the commitment of Conservative Members on health spending, and whether they intend to meet the EU average or the average of the countries of central and eastern Europe.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): The international community should keep a close watch on happenings in post-Taliban Afghanistan. That is the view of those of us who fully supported the military operation.

Would it be possible to have a statement next week so that a Minister could announce a public debate on whether health care should be provided, as now, largely through the national health service, or through private insurance, which to a large extent is now Conservative policy? Would not it be useful if the country had such a debate so that we could ascertain whether our view on maintaining the NHS for all is one that is generally approved of? I am sure that it is.


Next Section

IndexHome Page