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Mr. Forth: That is not what I said.

Mr. Cook: I fully understand that there is a gulf between the right hon. Gentleman and the shadow Home Secretary both in personality and in policy, but it may just be that the latter was only gentle in his criticism because he, too, appeared on the "Today" programme this morning, rather bizarrely responding to a statement that he had not even heard.

On what the right hon. Gentleman said about the device of having a statement at 7 o'clock, I should have thought that the House would welcome the opportunity to hear a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on what is not his announcement but an announcement by London Underground. I would deprecate it if we were to break into a very important debate on the Tax Credits Bill, to which many amendments have been tabled, including by Opposition Members. As Leader of the House, I wanted to protect the time for scrutiny of that Bill. We have arranged for a full statement. The right hon. Gentleman keeps complaining that we do not sit long enough. He has today the opportunity to sit for an extra hour and hear that statement. I hope that he will be here for it.

On the early-day motion, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his protection, but I know her well enough to know that she can stand up for herself. This Chamber is a place for robust exchanges—we are all grown-ups—and, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman has in his time been every bit as robust as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Some hon. Members who came into the Chamber after the statement had started are

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seeking to catch my eye. They will not be called. In order to be called, hon. Members must come into the Chamber in time for the statement.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am able to be here, almost on the verge of my 70th birthday, because of the dedication of the nurses and doctors in the hospital who gave me a second mortgage on life a few years ago? While I am here, let me also ask him about those other 70-year-old miners and widows in the mining communities. Can we have a statement to ensure that they, too, can celebrate the years ahead of them with their proper miners' compensation? Will he hurry and speed that along and call on Industry Ministers to deal with the matter? Then, most people in Bolsover will not be too happy about me, but will be happy about the Labour Government having paid out that £5 billion in miners' compensation.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): He is a national treasure.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have an opportunity to debate the national heritage in March, and he will no doubt wish to celebrate my hon. Friend's contribution to it.

I repeat my congratulations to my hon. Friend. It is entirely characteristic of him that he should share his own celebrations with the staff of the NHS. In his three decades in the House, he has been a redoubtable champion of an NHS that is free at the point of use and provided on the basis of need, not ability to pay. I hope that we will share many more decades together, defending that important principle.

I will certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks about miners to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and suggest that, in the spirit of celebration of his contribution, she should give a speedy response.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I associate myself with the good wishes expressed to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Many of us would agree with him that the current fad for denigrating NHS staff does no credit to politics, from whatever source it comes.

Several issues are raised by the statement on the public-private partnership for the tube. The excuse given by the Leader of the House for having it at 7 o'clock—when of course it will be more difficult for hon. Members and the media to take the issue seriously—is that the only opportunity for ministerial statements is at 12.30. Well, we are already at 1.30, and the likelihood is that this session will continue for some time longer, so it would be perfectly possible to have a statement at 2, if not 2.15 or 2.30.

Given that the Prime Minister effectively made a statement on this subject to the BBC yesterday by saying that the plan was ready to go, and that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions also made a statement yesterday, can the Leader of the House tell us: when is a statement not a statement? If people are prepared to make statements to the media, why are they not prepared to make statements to the House? Will we have a firm assurance from the Secretary of State this evening that the plan has been approved by the Health

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and Safety Executive? If it has not, why is a statement being made at all? Surely safety questions must be paramount.

On another subject, it is reported today that there is a six-week wait for the single vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that this is not an attempt to ration the single vaccines—and an absolute assurance that parents will be encouraged to have their children vaccinated on the basis of the credibility of the joint MMR vaccine, not by any restriction on the single vaccines? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that since the Phillips report on BSE there has been a real credibility gap concerning the advice available to the Government on matters of scientific and medical importance?

Mr. Cook: I have not offered any excuse to the House for not breaking into the debate on the Tax Credits Bill; that is a real reason. The hon. Gentleman and I have repeatedly pressed the importance of ensuring that the House has adequate opportunity for scrutiny—

Mr. Forth: Oh!

Mr. Cook: It is true: a number of amendments have been tabled to the Bill that will be before the House this afternoon, and there are several different groups to discuss. I am keen to ensure that we have adequate time to consider them. As for the idea that a statement should be made now, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the statement will be about the announcement by London Underground—an announcement that has not yet been made. With the best will in the world, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot make a statement on an announcement that has yet to be made.

As for the vaccines, I say firmly to the hon. Gentleman—I hope that he will accept this—that our case for the MMR vaccine as the best way to protect both public health and the individual rests on the credibility of that vaccine. May I "gently"—as the shadow Home Secretary said—remind him that the assurances have come not only from Ministers and the Government machine; just about every independent scientist and medical body that has considered the question has echoed our faith in that credibility. I hope that we can now reach a responsible phase in which people recognise that the best way of protecting public health and the safety of individual children is to encourage people to use the MMR vaccine, which will ensure that we protect the individual and the population at large.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), because I too want to raise the question of MMR with my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he has seen early-day motion 815, which was tabled by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley).

[That this house notes with concern the recent outbreaks of measles in London and the north east; further notes the often devastating consequences of measles, mumps and rubella for young children and their parents; condemns the irresponsible conduct of some sections of the press and media which have undermined public confidence in mmr either by sensationalising the doubts about its safety of a small minority of doctors or by

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cynically manufacturing a political controversy without regard for the consequences for public health; and urges parents to consider the almost unanimous medical advice from this country and the 90 others where mmr is routinely in use that the risk associated with the triple vaccination is vastly outweighed by the danger to their children and those of others of not having it.]

My right hon. Friend will also have heard the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, which mirrors his own. May we have a debate in Government time on the subject, so that we can hold the Opposition to account for their irresponsibility and scaremongering, particularly the Conservative spokesman on health, who is himself a doctor? We could also point out to the Opposition how disastrous it will be if parents stop their children having that excellent, and proven, vaccination.

Mr. Cook: I fully echo what my hon. Friend says; she speaks from a lifetime's work in the NHS. It is very important for the nation as a whole that we encourage the maximum number of families to ensure that their children are vaccinated. I fear that we may be witnessing the first hint of the problem that will arise if the uptake declines, and I deeply regret the fact that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who speaks for the Conservative party on health and is himself medically qualified, has chosen to put politics before science in this matter.

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