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David Winnick (Walsall, North): Many of us have campaigned for a shorter recess over the years, and I am glad that at long last the House is to sit in September, even if it does not do so this year. Oddly enough, such a proposaldespite the delay by a yearhas been criticised by Opposition Members, and was opposed by past Governments, who always resisted any proposal for the House to return in less than 10 or 12 weeks. The 1992 summer recess lasted at least three months.
Mr. Cook: The Secretary of State will be answering questions next week. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and others will seek to raise that point, but as I have said before, the reason for the delay in replies from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is that the volume of its correspondence has gone up threefold, which is why the Secretary of State has written to every Member setting out the steps that she is taking to increase the staff in the correspondence unit and to improve the turnover to MPs. The delay is a result of the increased work load, not of any reorganisation of the Department.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): The Leader of the House has rightly acquired a reputation as someone who is willing to think radically about the reform of the Houses of Parliament in order to make sure that we are relevant to the 21st century, rather than redundant. It is in that context that I ask him to consider an urgent debate on the future of the NHS. The reason is that at the very least there are some discrepancies that need explaining between repeated assurances from Ministers that the NHS will never be transferred out of public hands and into private hands, and this morning's statement by Labour peer Lord Haskins suggesting that the NHS's future is to be found in transferring it lock, stock and barrel into the hands of a private corporation.
Given the number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have asked questions about the NHS today, will the Leader of the House at least reflect on the urgent need for such a debate, before another of the luminaries in the other House, who increasingly represent the voices of the new corporate aristocracy, suggests that democracy itself would be best served if Parliament were also transferred to a private corporation?
Lord Haskins, who is not a Minister, was speaking at the launch of the report by the King's Fund, which is not a subsidiary of the Government. It has made a number of recommendations about the decentralisation of NHS management, with which we are comfortable, but it is an independent body and it must speak for itself. I cannot speak for it, but I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we will not privatise the NHS, which will remain a public service, accountable through Ministers to the House and based on national values that reflect its importance as a service to meet need, not a service to chase money.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made at the earliest opportunity on the Trident refit complex at Devonport? He may be aware that, with only a few weeks to go, it is reported that the complex is not complete.
Mr. Cook: The issue is of concern to the hon. Gentleman's constituents but it is of wider concern because it raises larger issues. In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, he has always been vigilant in making statements to the House on procurement or the management of his Department. I welcome the fact that only this week there was a statement from his Department on the treatment of Army pensions. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State, who will no doubt wish to write to him direct.
[That this House expresses its deep concern at the conduct of KPMG as receiver for UPF-Thomson who are effectively holding Land Rover to ransom and placing over l0,000 manufacturing jobs at risk; believes that this will endanger well established business arrangements that could lead to increased sourcing of components overseas; and calls upon the Government to review all it's department contracts with KPMG in light of their actions.]
KPMG's demand for over £40 million for resupplying Land Rover with chassis is nothing short of blackmail and threatens the whole manufacturer/supplier relationship in Britain. It will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk, many of them in Wales. Will he agree to an early debate on that crucial subject, and will the Government look at what contracts they have with KPMG?
Mr. Cook: I hesitate to be drawn into the commercial character of the argument to which my hon. Friend refers. I welcome the fact that the business statement has given him an opportunity to ventilate the matter in the House, and I have no doubt that he will look for other ways to do so, but it is unlikely that the Government will wish to intervene in what is a commercial dispute.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): When last week I asked the Leader of the House to be kind enough to hold an urgent debate on Sir Donald Curry's report on the future of food and farming, to be published next week, he urged me to curb my enthusiasm until the other two reports on the foot and mouth disease outbreak were published. Now that the Leader of the House will have had a chance to read the report by the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he will realise that those two reports will not see the light of day at least for six months and most likely for 12 months. That is too long a gap for the House not to debate in Government time those important rural matters. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to re-examine the situation.
Mr. Cook: We will always keep the issue under review. If it appears appropriate to hold a debate, I am sure that the Government will wish to respond to any feeling in the House that is consistent with it being the right time for that debate to take place. However, I remind Opposition Members that they were the ones who pressed for a full public inquiry, which would have taken years rather than months to produce a result.
Mr. Cook: I share my hon. Friend's puzzlement about the case. Many hon. Members will find it difficult to comprehend that no offence existed under which a charge could be brought in the case. As I told the House last week, we are carrying out a review of sexual offences, with a view to producing legislation at some point in the future. We want to make sure that the range of offences is modernised so that it meets the current realities and has no substantial loopholes. I am sure that those carrying out the review will reflect on the case to which my hon. Friend refers.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to set out at the Dispatch Box the parliamentary timetable for legislation to impose a levy to recoup the costs of the air travel transport fund? The fund, which is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority, was set up 20 years ago to reimburse operators and bring back stranded tourists if a major travel company went broke. However, it has run out of money, and the CAA has emphasised the seriousness of the consequences should a major travel operator, package holiday company or charter airline go bust as a result of the very serious security threats in the wake of 11 September. We need appropriate legislation in place before the summer.
Mr. Cook: I remind the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will be answering questions next Tuesday. This is clearly a matter on which he can be interrogated by the House. The hon. Lady raises a serious issue, and I shall certainly draw her remarks to the attention of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions so that appropriate steps might be considered. However, given where we are in the parliamentary year and the pressure of legislation, I cannot necessarily commit the Government to further legislation this Session.