Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Will the Leader of the House assure me that, when the Government publish their response to the consultation exercise on the code of practice for dealing with the remains of the deceased in hospitals, the House will have an opportunity to consider the matter? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the unhelpful and sad case at Queen Mary's hospital in Sidcup that involved the disposal of the body of James Fernandez. That baby's death was a tragedy for his parents in the first place, but the subsequent handling of his remains obviously caused them additional sadness. I am sure that the House will extend its sympathy to the family.

The hospital has committed medical and management teams, and the staff are deeply distressed by the exercise. The Leader of the House will understand why, in the fullness of time, we should have the opportunity to debate the resources, assistance and procedures available to the hospital to ensure that such a eventuality does not occur again.

Mr. Cook: The House will wish to echo the hon. Gentleman's deep sympathy and condolences to the parents for what must have been an appalling experience. We all share those views. I also echo the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the staff at the hospital. I have been impressed by the speed and thoroughness with which the hospital management—the trust board—has responded to this appalling event. It has put in place systems to ensure that it cannot happen again. That has to be the right way to respond, but it cannot alleviate the distress caused to the parents.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): Will my right hon. Friend use his powers to bring the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry here to make a statement on the Post Office? Since the debate on Tuesday, we have heard that 8,000 post offices face closure as a result of the new benefit changes. Today's announcement by the regulator that within eight weeks one third of the Post Office's businesses will be privatised is a disgrace.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is quoted today in the press as saying that it is not a matter for her but for the regulator. Does the Leader of the House agree that when half the post offices in this country face closure, a process that will accelerate next year, and the regulator announces a change that will push the redundancies in the post offices beyond the 30,000 already announced, that is very much a matter for the Secretary of State? It is certainly a matter of great interest to Labour Members.

Mr. Cook: It is, of course, a matter of clear and close interest to the Secretary of State. The regulator is entitled

31 Jan 2002 : Column 433

to publish what it wishes to publish, but it could not secure the proposals in the consultation paper without primary legislation. That is very much a matter for the House and for the Government, who will be following that consultation closely.

On the figures quoted by my hon. Friend for the closure of post offices, I repeat that Ministers have received no such proposals. The House should be careful in interpreting the figures that have appeared in the press so far and will no doubt appear again in the weeks ahead.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that today is the first anniversary of the initial announcement of the loss of 3,000 jobs from Corus in south Wales. He will understand, therefore, how shocked we were to read in the Welsh newspapers that at the same time as Corus workers were battling to save their jobs, the Labour party was lining its pockets with a donation of £125,000 from one of Corus's main competitors. It was not for tables or for drinks—it was hard cash from the chairman of Ispat International.

In the wake of Enron and Andersen, the fear is that the Government's decision not to back the employee buyout was due in part to knowing that a hefty cheque was on its way. We need an urgent statement from the Prime Minister on this. He needs to come clean and not plead the fifth amendment yet again.

Mr. Cook: I am not aware of any donation of the kind that the hon. Gentleman describes. I will investigate the matter and make sure that one of my colleagues responds to the hon. Gentleman. However, I find it unlikely that contemplation of any donation from a competitor of Corus would have any bearing on Government decisions on Corus.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Given the announcement that cattle markets are about to be reopened, when can we debate early-day motion 750?

[That this House welcomes the reduction in animal suffering and costs caused by the sale of farm animals through video links, the Internet and direct sales during the enforced closure of animals markets; and calls on the Government to encourage non-market sales in order to reduce risk of infections and to avoid the stress for animals in avoidable journeys and cramped conditions in stock markets.]

We should congratulate farmers on their ingenuity in finding alternatives to cattle markets by selling their animals via direct farm-to-farm sales, video links and the internet? These methods have been a great improvement in reducing animal suffering and costs. Should we not recall that the main way in which foot and mouth was spread was via animal markets and encourage the use of non-market sales to reduce animal suffering and infections?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend rightly identifies one of the major vectors of foot and mouth in the recent outbreak as the enormous—surprisingly high—distances travelled by sheep and cows to market. If one of the consequences has been to promote more local slaughter and sales, I would

31 Jan 2002 : Column 434

regard that as welcome. That step would be helpful in ensuring that we can contain any future outbreak, and I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): This morning, we heard difficult news about the A400M transport aircraft from the BBC. It was suggested that the Germans were about to renege on their obligations to the project and, more disturbingly, that the British Government were looking for alternatives. In light of the problems faced by the aerospace industry, in particular in the north-west of England, may we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Defence to establish the facts of the matter and what this Government are doing to ensure that the German Government honour their obligations?

Mr. Cook: I fully understand the problems that the aerospace industry is facing and we have discussed them a number of times in business questions. The right hon. Gentleman asked what we were doing to make the German Government take a particular course of action. We cannot do anything. They are a sovereign Government and will reach their own decision. Of course, we are making strong representations to them and will continue to do so; and we will consider any statement that they make later today.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): If there is a debate on the Post Office in the near future, will my right hon. Friend pass on the message that some of us want to know the process and the procedures for sacking regulators? This fellow Corbett, or whatever his name is, has gone too far already. He is going to become an embarrassment to this Government, just like Woodhead before him—we all know what happened to him: he finished up working for The Daily Telegraph and the Tory party. Let us get Corbett out before he causes more damage.

Mr. Cook: I am not sure whether The Daily Telegraph is in the market for more columnists, but I am sure it will note what my hon. Friend has said. I fully understand his point. The more cherry-picking of the large commercial contracts by other parts of the market, the more challenging it becomes for the Royal Mail to maintain its universal service. Obviously, that is a matter that must weigh with us when we consider any outcome of the consultation process. In the meantime, I shall ensure that someone furnishes my hon. Friend with a full description of the process of sacking a Postcomm regulator.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): The Leader of the House will be aware that a growing number of issues are seriously affecting the ability of Members of the Parliament to carry out their job in this house and elsewhere—data protection matters, tax allowances, expenditure on parliamentary trips abroad and so forth. Some of those matters may require legislative changes. Will he allow an early opportunity for this Chamber to debate some of those issues in detail?

Mr. Cook: I have had exchanges about a number of those issues with the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful to him for keeping me posted on the views of Opposition Back Benchers. I fully share his concern about some of those matters, in particular the way in which the Electoral Commission has pursued the matter of the passes

31 Jan 2002 : Column 435

provided to all hon. Members by BAA plc, which is plainly not a political donation in any meaningful sense of the word.

On data protection, I hope that my last letter to the hon. Gentleman will have been of some assistance. We stand ready to consider whether legislation requires amendment. I hope that we can find a solution to those questions short of primary legislation, but it is important that hon. Members should be able to go about their business and be free to make representations on behalf of their constituents without facing undue legal obstacles.

Next Section

IndexHome Page