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Tuesday 29 JanuaryOpposition Day [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "The Government's Mismanagement of the Post Office"[Interruption.] I have grown accustomed to a cheer at this point in the proceedings, but it is really not necessary.
In last week's business questions, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) drew attention to the confusion over the precise date of Whit this year; some Members anticipated that, as normal, it would fall in the last week of May. I reflected on the matter and I can inform the House that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the end of business on Friday 24 May, returning on Tuesday 11 June.
Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing not just the business for next week but the recess dates. Is he in a position yet to tell us when Budget day will be this year? We are now perilously close to February and we usually expect to have notice of the Budget at this stage.
May I ask the Leader of the House about proposals floating about in the Modernisation Committee on the House sitting in September? I have been approached, as, no doubt, has the right hon. Gentleman himself, by many Members asking for clarification of the matter. It would be helpful if he could give some indication at this stage of whether the House will be, or may be, sitting in September this year. We are anxious that the House should sit in September, as you know, Mr. Speaker, so that we can harry the Government and hold them to account even more frequently, and would be grateful if the Leader of the House could give us some indication. If for any reason we were unable to sit, I am sure that he would be able to give us a very good reason why not.
The Leader of the House announced a debate next week on mismanagement of the Post Office. It is to be held in our time, on an Opposition day, but it gives rise in my mind to the question why, given the uncertainty surrounding the Post Office, the National Audit Office report and the unease among employeesand, indeed, among all of us as users of the Post Office's excellent serviceswe have had to force the Government to come to the House and give an explanation by using an Opposition day. They have used their time to tell us about volcanoes in Africa and all sorts of other things recently. Why must we drag them here to tell us about what is going on in the Post Office? I am sad to say that that is an indication of the rather odd priorities that they seem to have these days. I can only hope that we will get some far more convincing answers in our debate next Tuesday than we have received hitherto.
Mr. Cook: First, in response to the question about the Budget date, I say to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that we will ensure that they are advised of the date as soon as it is confirmed. At the present time, I have no reason to suppose that it will be significantly different from those in previous years: either in mid to late March or very early in April.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the importance of returning in September. We on the Labour Benches look forward to returning in September as well, although possibly for different reasons from his. We want to do so in order to put before the nation the way in which we are carrying through our programme to improve public services[Interruption.] I am very glad that I can take the rest as read. None the less, we will want to talk about the record investment in education and health that we are carrying through. I regret to say that there are several good reasons why it will not be possible to introduce that innovation this year. A number of hon. Members have made their arrangements in good faithI am impressed by the number of Members who are thinking so far aheadand Mr. Speaker has arrangements to visit Canada and also to represent Britain on 11 September in New York. I am also advised that there will be roadworks outside the Palace. [Laughter.] While I believe that it would be entirely right for us to meet in September, people have taken it in good faith that we will not be sitting and I want the innovation to be introduced in an
Mr. Cook: It is technically and legally constituted as Consignia, but I have no problem with the right hon. Gentleman using phrases that he understands from previous years. With regard to Consignia, the House introduced a Bill only two years ago on this Government's initiativeit was broadly supported by the Opposition during its passagethat created commercial freedom for Consignia. It is absolutely right that we should let the management of Consignia, in consultation with its work force, take forward its plans for the company without constant micromanagement by Government, this House or any external political influence.
I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should take exception to our coming to the House with a statement on our response to the emergency situation caused by a volcano erupting in the Great Lakes area. I welcome the fact that a statement was made to the House on the matter. Many people outside in Britain would expect their Government to respond sympathetically and humanely to that emergency.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the issues arising from the use of personal cases to illustrate what is happening in the national health service? Is he aware that the shadow Health Minister, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), said in his maiden speech that
Mr. Cook: It is regrettable that the good sense of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has declined since his maiden speech. Every hon. Member would echo some of the sentiments that he expressed in it. From time to time, I have raised personal cases in the House; they probably live in the memory of some hon. Members who were present at the time. However, my hon. Friends and I did that with the full support of the relevant staff, who were appalled at the poor resources with which they had to work. I cannot recall an occasion when I or any Labour Member took up a personal case to attack NHS staff. Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) attacked not simply the health service but those public servants who work in it. That will not be forgotten.
When can we expect a Government response to yesterday's statement from the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the confusion about what is being investigated in relation to foot and mouth disease cannot continue? Several inquiries are in progress, but they are leaving unresolved and unexamined important matters such as the effects of the disease on rural Britain and the way in which the Government tackled it. A Select Committee, which has a Labour majority, has called for an overarching, comprehensive inquiry. I hope that the Government will take that more seriously than previous requests from us and hon. Members from other parties.
In the past, Mr. Speaker, you have deprecated Ministers' habits of making statements to the media before they make them to the House. It appears that, in an interview on "Today" this morning, the Foreign Secretary signalled a change of policy on the internees at the Cuban base. He suggested that he expects any British citizen there to be brought back here to face justice. Is that now the Government's policy? Is it also their policy that other nationals should return to their home states to face justice rather than facing the perhaps peculiar justice of the United States? What is the Government's position on the use of the death penalty? The Minister of State has signalled a different conclusion on that. Are we trying to insist that our American allies respect the Geneva convention?