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Mr. Cook: I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for polishing my rural credentials. I shall plead them in aid next time we have an exchange on rural affairs. The Government have appointed three separate inquiries into the foot and mouth episode. We have constructed them in a way that will enable us to learn the lessons as soon as possible and get on with them. I honestly believe that it is in the interests of the countryside and of all hon. Members that we get those answers and learn those lessons as quickly as possible, and that we do not devise new ways to delay finding out what we need to do next.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The Leader of the House will note that the Opposition are to give us an Opposition day debate on the funding of the English national stadium. No doubt we will be expected to engage in the usual yah-boo and synthetic anger between the two Dispatch Boxes, and then the matter will be swept up. The question should have been put to the Prime Minister on Wednesday last week, and would have been if we had an effective Opposition. If I am expected to go through the Division Lobby with the usual ritual, I expect the Minister to tell us what mandates there were to hand over
Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that silence is not something that I would ever expect to demand of him. I shall give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who will be speaking in that debate, advanced notice of his concerns. I share his sense of puzzlement about why the Opposition have singled out this subject for debate when they have failed to raise it with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister even though they have had ample opportunity to do so.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland comes to the House to make an early statement clarifying the role and term of office of the de Chastelain commission in Northern Ireland? Given that the remit of that body runs out in February 2002, and in light of the Secretary of State's remarks yesterday, will he assure the House that there will be no further attempt to push back the deadline or to fudge the issue of the complete handover of all IRA weapons? Has it not come to the time when the people of Northern Ireland deserve a situation in which the republican movement gives up all its weapons or is put out of the government of this part of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be answering questions in the House next Wednesday, when the hon. Gentleman and others can raise those issues with him. I shall continue to have close dialogue with him.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): May we have a debate on GM contamination? My right hon. Friend will be aware of this morning's news that contaminated maize has turned up in a remote area of Mexico that is separated by some 60 miles and several years from the last recorded GM plantings in California. Given that the UK has paltry separation distances, that UK farmers cannot get insurance against GM contamination and that we have been consistently blocked from having a GM producer liability regime by the industry that wants to pursue the trials, could we have an urgent debate to dispel the public myth and criticism that UK policy is increasingly either in the pay or the pockets of a biotech industry that is currently driven by a bunch of crooks and shysters?
Mr. Cook: I anticipate that there would be considerable difficulty for me, including with you, Mr. Speaker, if I were to assent to my hon. Friend's last proposition. I am aware of his vigorous views and I know that the issue to which he refers polarises opinions sharply.Evidence from Mexico or anywhere else is a matter that the Government will seriously consider as we take forward the debate.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): A few short weeks ago, I raised with the Prime Minister at Question Time the case of my constituent, Councillor Tony Lanchester, who was at that time suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but could not be given the drugs that he needed because the South Staffordshire health authority did not have the money to
Mr. Cook: May I express to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents the deep sympathy of the whole House about the death of his constituent? When speaking about such issues, it is appropriate for all of us to respond with respect for the family concerned. This is not a matter that would be appropriate for a party political debate.
I shall take on board what the hon. Gentleman said about NICE and refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, I think that the principle of NICE was right. We should have a central body that can consider with medical and scientific expertise the drugs that are coming on to the market and establish whether they represent a clinical advantage and value for money. That is appropriate in an age where it is important to ensure that we get value for money from our new, fresh investment in the health service. That must be the right way forward and I do not want to disturb that principle.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Leader of the House has already heard concern expressed from the north-east and the north-west about job losses in the aerospace industry. Given that 225 jobs were lost this morning at the Rolls-Royce factory at Hucknall, can we have an early opportunity to debate what short-term steps can be taken to maintain high-skill, high-technology, high-value jobs in a sector that obviously has a long-term future?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend draws attention to an important aspect of this matter, which is that we should not lose a skilled, experienced work force through short-term difficulties, when we shall require that team to work and produce for Britain in the long term. I note that several points have been raised this afternoon by hon. Members concerned by the Rolls-Royce statement, and I am sure that Rolls-Royce will also note the deep concern that it will cause in Members' constituencies and in the Chamber.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern at being repeatedly pressed on the question of health spending. However, that is nothing compared with the irritation of the Chancellor when he heard the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. The fact is that we get sharper and clearer answers from the Leader of the House than we could ever expect from the Prime Minister. Will he, therefore, tell us whether the Government's commitment to raising health expenditure refers to overall health expenditure in the EU, or merely to Government health expenditure in the EU? Will he also
Mr. Cook: I speak without having had an opportunity to examine the footnotes to the statistics but, as I understand it, we are discussing the overall envelope of health spending in both cases. But the great majority of that, whether we are considering the European Union figure or the UK figure, is public spending, and that will drive the increase. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but, I should be grateful if he did not try to dig a deep hole for me with regard to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there has been a proposal floating around for a few years now to the effect that there should be an EU-wide ban on cosmetics that have been tested on animals. I now find that, according to a letter from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, the European Commission has decided that such a ban might offend the sensibilities of the World Trade Organisation. This is disappointing, but hardly surprising as the Commission spends all its time kissing the corporate backside. Nevertheless, could we have a statement or debate on the issue?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a matter into which I would hesitate to enter without having had the opportunity to brief myself, but I note what he says. I share his concern, and the Government are committed to ensuring that we minimise the suffering caused to animals through animal testing, and to ensuring that, whenever possible, we proceed in ways that do not require animal testing. I am sure that my hon. Friends in the relevant Departments will wish to take on board his comments.