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Mr. Cook: I am fully aware of the deep concern in the House about the sale of fireworks and the importance of ensuring that they are properly regulated and that there is proper safety for our constituents. We all know of local cases where things have gone tragically wrong. I will convey my hon. Friend's remarks to the appropriate Secretary of State to ensure that we consider all that can done. I am not entirely sure that it would be wise to start to plan now for a big event to celebrate the gunpowder plot in 2005; some people could probably think of ways to celebrate it that the House would not wish to encourage.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): Will the Leader of the House consider holding an urgent debate on illegal hare coursing—an issue of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House? Gangs of thugs currently roam the countryside, intimidating residents and torching the yards of farmers who try to stop them rampaging across fields full of crops. That is completely unacceptable, and I would be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if he could arrange an urgent debate, because the police fully support a change in the anachronistic laws that currently cover those crimes.

Shona McIsaac: What about hunting?

Mr. Cook: May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) that—whatever view we may take of hunting, which is legal—hon. Members on both sides of the House can agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no basis on which any of us should countenance illegal hunting of the kind that he describes. I will certainly ensure that we reflect on the point that he makes, to find out whether we can ensure that it is covered at an appropriate time in future.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the treatment of cancer patients in the national health service? Such a debate would provide the House with an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals to run down cancer services at Southend hospital, thus forcing many patients, many of whom are elderly, to travel possibly as far as Suffolk for their treatment. That is a matter of great concern to all residents in south-east Essex, so I wonder whether time can be found for such an important debate.

Mr. Cook: I am not aware that the House is short of opportunities to debate the health service, and I am

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confident that it will continue to remain high on our agenda. On cancer services, I remind the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he is aware of this but it may have slipped his mind—that there is a substantial programme for the expansion of oncology services, and specifically for the expansion of oncology specialist consultants. We shall continue to press ahead with that. I cannot comment on the decision taken by his local health authority on local services, but the national picture is one of improvement.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): As the Leader of the House is no doubt aware, Arthur Andersen is involved in 37 of the Government's private finance initiative projects, and Ministers have referred to the Andersen report on 44 occasions in support of the private finance initiative. Could we therefore have an early statement about the status of the Government's PFI, given the extremely serious allegations of corporate malpractice by Arthur Andersen?

Mr. Cook: I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his arithmetic in counting up references by Ministers to Arthur Andersen. I remind him that Arthur Andersen receives a smaller number of Government contracts than many other major accountancy firms, and that the PFI has been examined not only by Arthur Andersen but, as the Prime Minister reminded the House, by PricewaterhouseCoopers and by the National Audit Office, which is a public sector body that invigilates Government decisions. They have all reached the same conclusion—that the PFI provides value for money.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting several debates in recent weeks in Westminster Hall in relation to London infrastructure issues—in particular, the congestion charge, the London underground and the funding of the Metropolitan police. However, will the Leader of the House ensure, as a matter of urgency, that the House has a full debate on the entirety of London infrastructure, because the issue causes great concern not only to London's 13 Conservative Members but to Liberal Democrat Members and Labour Members?

Mr. Cook: I announced earlier that, according to tradition, we would have a debate on Wales on St. David's day. I am aware that other parts of the United Kingdom may also want a debate to examine their regional issues, and I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): This week has seen not only the state of the union address in the United States, which has implications for the fight against terrorism, but the visit of Mr. Hamid Karzai to London and the continued participation of our forces in operations in southern Afghanistan and with the security force there. The Leader of the House said that there would be an Adjournment debate on defence. However, can time be found to debate the war against terrorism and, especially, Afghanistan—we have not done so for some time—not least so that our service men involved in those operations know that they are at the forefront of our thoughts?

Mr. Cook: I am confident that next week's debate will make it clear that British servicemen, especially those

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who are on service abroad, are at the forefront of the thoughts of the Government and the House. I was present when Hamid Karzai addressed the Cabinet this morning. His speech was impressive. There is a strong commitment to making sure that we rebuild his country so that it does not again become a threat to other nations, whether through terrorism or through the export of drugs.

I can report to the House that Mr. Karzai expressed warm appreciation of the role that Britain has played in securing that success in Afghanistan. I am tempted to have a further debate on international terrorism so as to explore the relation between that and the speech that I understand that the Leader of the Opposition is giving today, which offers a narrow definition of the national interest in terms of defence. Such a definition would not have made it possible for us to do what we have done in Afghanistan.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): At last week's business questions, I asked, in the context of the Adoption and Children Bill which will shortly come back to the House, whether the Government will support moves to enable unmarried couples to apply for joint adoption of children. The Leader of the House said that

The vast majority of the constituent members of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering believe that it can be in the best interests of the welfare of the child if unmarried couples are allowed to apply for adoption and if the merits of their case are considered by the courts and adoption agencies.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore clarify that the Government will support an amendment to allow such couples to apply for adoption, or at least provide a free vote in the light of the cross-party amendment that was tabled in my name? Given that the amendment has received the support of Labour Members and Conservative Members, it should be allowed to be considered without a Whip being applied, at least on Government Members.

Mr. Cook: I would not want the remark that I made last week to be read as ruling out adoption by unmarried couples. Indeed, on the contrary, I thought that I was saying that we should judge each case on its merits and ensure that at the end of the day the best solution is found for the child. I am sure that any discussion during the remaining stages of the Adoption and Children Bill will reflect that.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): In Fareham, there is one NHS dental practice and one dental access centre to cope with the dentistry needs of nearly 100,000 people. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the crisis in NHS dentistry, which affects many constituencies and not just mine?

Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the problems in the dentistry service. They of course reflect more than anything else the way in which the previous Administration ratcheted up charges for NHS dentistry to the point where, for many patients, it was not worth while going on the NHS, and many were then forced to go private, as were many of the dentists. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should address some remarks to the team in office during that period.

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Points of Order

1.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know better than anyone the contents of Standing Order No. 152 relating to Select Committees, in which it says that they

You will similarly know that Erskine May says on page 647, among other things, that

Flowing from that, could you remind the House and the Leader of the House that very few people are exempted from the powers that we—the House of Commons—have given Select Committees? Among the very small groups exempted, as it happens, are Members of the upper House, which makes one wonder whether the Prime Minister selected a Member of the other House to be a special adviser on transport precisely to give him that peculiar immunity—but that is a matter not for you, Mr. Speaker, but for the Prime Minister.

I ask you to clarify one important matter. The Leader of the House, no less, appeared to imply in one of his earlier statements that in some mysterious way special advisers and unpaid advisers to the Government should not and may not be summoned to appear before Select Committees. Will you confirm that the contents of Standing Order No. 152 and of Erskine May entitle and empower Select Committees to summon anyone other than Members of this House and the House of Lords to appear before them to give evidence?

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