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Mr. Cook: There is no minimum threshold for the number of signatures that must appear on an early-day motion to attract a debate. Many early-day motions with several hundred signatures have not been debated, and I regret that I cannot give a commitment that they will be. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has correctly apprehended what I said, so I repeat that the Commission does not make the appointment, the House does. The Commission can only make a recommendation. If the hon. Gentleman and, if I may use the term, his hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley)who appears to have other pressing matters to attend toreally feel so strongly about the matter, I do not think that it would be invidious to expect them to table an amendment when the matter comes before the House.
Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my predecessor on gaining the Scottish Parliament's Committee member of the year award? The Committee that my predecessor chairs is called the Public Petitions Committee, and it allows ordinary people to access the Scottish Parliament and interact with its procedures. Will my right hon. Friend consider that as a model to be reviewed in future stages of the modernisation of this House?
Mr. Cook: I well remember Mr. McAllion's diligence and commitment to this House, and I am not at all surprised that that has been transferred to the other place in Edinburgh. I congratulate him on receiving the award.
Mr. Cook: I rather anticipate that my hon. Friends will feel enthusiastic about supporting me on Tuesday. I look forward to their willing and voluntary vote in that Division. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a talent for spotting points that the rest of us have not focused on. If he wishes to propose a change to the Oath we will, of course, consider it. However, I should be very reluctant for the House to revert to the version used in the previous century, when the Oath occupied a full page and swearing-in took much longer.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North): Will my right hon. Friend be able to find time for a debate on the powers of public utility companies? Transco has caused massive disruption in the Hollins Green area of my constituency while laying a pipeline. Access for residents was cut off and good farm land spoiled. The company consistently displayed a cavalier attitude to people living in the areas. Can we have a debate on how the public utilities can exercise their very necessary powers while demonstrating proper concern for local residents?
Mr. Cook: I have noticed the growing number of articles in the press on the conduct of Transco. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that there will be an opportunity for a full debate, but I am delighted that she has had this opportunity to put on record a matter that is clearly of serious concern to her constituency.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does not the Leader of the House understand that Tuesday's motion will be seen first as a public relations coup for Sinn Fein, and secondly as appeasement of men of violence, given that the provisional IRA has only just begun to decommission very few of its illegally held arms and explosives? Does he further understand that there is a simple solution to the problemthat the hon. Members concerned could use the House's facilities if they took the Oath like everyone else? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is entirely wrong to try to push the matter through before Christmas in the hope of avoiding publicity, and to whip the payroll vote on what is essentially a House of Commons matter?
Mr. Cook: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that on one point he is grossly wrongI do not anticipate any lack of publicity for what I have just announced and for what we will be debating on Tuesday. Indeed, I can think of no circumstances in which it would not receive publicity.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know that as well as the Cantle report, other reports were published on Tuesday dealing with the disturbances that took place in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham earlier this year. Those reports have many common themes regarding the causes of the disturbances. Those themes are relevant not only to those three places but to many others in the country where there could equally have been disturbances. Certain circumstances meant that the disturbances occurred in those three places in particular. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a good case for these issues to be debated in the House so that we can look at a way forward, because we never again want to see such disturbances anywhere in this country?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on this matter. He has deep commitment to and concern for his constituency, and I know the strong and active part that he has played in promoting community relations. He will be aware that the Minister of State, Home Office has followed the matter closely and played an active part in the preparation of the reports. I assure my hon. Friend that Home Office Ministers will be pursuing the necessary follow-up to the reports with great vigour and, at an appropriate moment, I am sure that they will share with the House what action they propose to take.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am sure that the Leader of the House will understand when I say that I view the business of next Tuesday with the gravest concern. Is he establishing a precedent that no longer in this place are all Members equal? To qualify for our parliamentary salary and the use of facilities, we have to take the Oath or affirm. Is this a precedent? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that Members of this House are no longer here on equal terms? If so, perhaps we should have a debate on this. Bearing it in mind that he will be inviting into this place people who are closely associated still with acts of terrorism and killing, what guarantee can he provide that they will not come in with weapons or be guarded by those with weapons and that our own safety will not be put in jeopardy? I was the last person to speak to Airey Neave
Mr. Cook: I fully respect the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman speaks. May I correct one point of fact? The motion that we will discuss on Tuesday will make no provision for salaries to be paid to the four Members who have not taken the Oath. It will provide for them to have access to the precincts, as they had throughout the years of Conservative Government up until 1997. Such access
[That this House is gravely concerned about the implications for asbestos-induced mesothelioma sufferers and their families by a recent Court of Appeal judgment that a claimant cannot recover damages if he was exposed to asbestos by more than one employer on the grounds that it is not possible to say which one was to blame, ending a situation of joining defendants and apportioning liability accordingly that has lasted for more than 20 years; is further concerned that the judgment directs that claimants may have a claim under the Pneumoconiosis (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979, costing the Exchequer tens of millions of pounds each year, and creating conditions for the insurance industry to escape its responsibility; and calls for this injustice to be righted by legislation if necessary.]
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the horrendous decision made in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday that people suffering from asbestos-induced cancer can no longer claim compensation when more than one employer is involved, on the grounds that it cannot be determined which employer the fibre that started the cancer came from. The judgment went on to suggest that people in that position may claim under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers Compensation) Act 1979, which was set up to provide compensation when the insurer could not be traced. The Act does not provide compensation in this caseit is not an alternative to common law damages. The Appeal Court declined leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Will my right hon. Friend bring the issue to the notice of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with a view to considering the possibility of bringing in a small Bill to rectify that massive injustice?