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[That this House remembers with deep sadness the Omagh bombing of 15th August 1998 in which 31 peopleincluding seven children and two unborn babieswere murdered by the Real IRA; commends the courage of the families of the victims of this bombing in launching an unprecedented civil legal case against five named individuals, suspected of planting the bomb, and the Real IRA; congratulates the families on their persistence in attempting to seek justice; and urges the public to show their support for the families' legal action in whatever way they can.]
Almost 100 hon. Members have signed up to support that motion and to urge the public to support the families' legal action. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to raise at Cabinet level the justice of the Government providing matching funding to support the money raised privately for that legal action against those perceived to have been responsible for the murder of 29 people in Omagh three years ago. That would be a small sum compared to the £100 million perceived to have been spent on the Bloody Sunday inquiry into the loss of 14 lives 30 years ago.
Mr. Cook: I understand the gravity of the issue and the extent to which it troubles the hon. Gentleman's constituents and many others throughout Northern Ireland. I will certainly reflect on his request. I assure him that the proper place to deal with the pursuit of justice and legal action is through the prosecution service, which is adequately resourced to meet anything that may be available to the defence.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Post Office is still publicly owned? In view of the irresponsible attitude of the regulator, which is jeopardising the universal service obligation, will he ask the Minister with responsibility for the Post Office to make a full statement to the House?
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): As far as I understand the right hon. Gentleman's response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is unable to make a statement to the House at the normal time because London Underground will not have reached its decision by then. However, it will have done so at 3.30that is why the Secretary of State is holding a press conference with two other Ministers. In the interests of brevity, may I suggest a compromise? If the Secretary of State came here to make a statement, the press could appear in the Press Gallery and listen. I think that this is the single most important piece of public finance anywhere in the world, so it is very frustrating for London Members to wait a further four hours before having an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State a number of pertinent questions. If he fears that we will run out of questions, there is no possibility of that.
Mr. Cook: I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the Order Paper. He will see that a large number of amendments have been tabled to the Tax Credits Bill, all bar one of which are in the name of Opposition Members. Those Members want those amendments to be debated. I have therefore ensured that the Secretary of State will make a full statement to the House and will not interfere with the debate on the amendments. My hon. Friend the Paymaster General is on the Front Bench, ready to take part in that debate. I hope that we will be able to start it soon.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Since it was my right hon. Friend, to his credit, who persuaded Madeleine Albright to allow a trial in a third country, he knows a great deal about Lockerbie. Can we have a statement next week about where the responsibilities of the House of Commons end and those of the Scottish Parliament begin? In particular, is it not high time that we had a statement on Strathclyde police's extraordinary actions, which have gone unchallenged, in providing a witness in a forthcoming murder trial, namely Tony Gauci, with salmon fishing on the River Spey? That aspect of the proceedings is not sub judice. Should there not be an explanation?
Mr. Cook: I am always nervous when my hon. Friend gives me credit, but in response to his last point may I say gently to him that that matter is sub judice because it touches directly on an appeal proceeding that is currently under way. It would be wholly inappropriate and improper of me to comment on it. In any case I am not in a position to enlighten him on that specific point.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Given that yesterday and the day before we were allowed a total of six minutes to debate clauses relating to Wales in the Education Bill, and that more clauses related to Wales than to England, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he would
Mr. Cook: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but I remind him of the point that I have just made. We doubled the amount of time that was available for the Report stage and having found that there was a difficulty on the first day, we extended consideration on the second day. The House itself has some responsibility in this matter. If there is adequate time available for examination and scrutiny of a Bill, we must ensure that we reasonably pace it so that all clauses are debated and people such as the hon. Gentleman can make their voices heard.
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): On Tuesday the Department of Trade and Industry published its clean coal technology review. Today the Select Committee on Trade and Industry has published its report on security of energy supply, and we are all waiting eagerly for the Government's performance and innovation unit energy review. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will arrange for a full day's debate on those matters? The issue is the total energy supply, perhaps for the next three decades. I would like a debate so that our views can be heard, as well those of the policy wonks that put these reports together.
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I recognise the description of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy as a policy wonk. I suspect that he would also take issue with it but we all look forward with interest to the forthcoming PIU energy review. I am sure that the House will wish to ensure that it is fully explored. I have a difficult task which becomes more difficult every Thursday with the number of additional claims
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman does not help me, but nor is it his job to help me in this. Every Thursday there is an increase in the list of subjects for which we would wish to have a day's debate. I cannot satisfy everybody, but I am very conscious of my hon. Friend's claim.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): When the Leader of the House contemplates his political future can I appraise him of the full offer that is being made to Labour Members? He was slow to back the Conservative proposals for PFI, so may I seek his assurance that he will firmly reject Scottish Labour's PPPpeerages on offer, pensions on offer and pay-offs on offer? Is it not the case that every Member of Parliament here today either voted for the Scotland Act 1998 and accepted that there would be fewer Members here thereafter, or has arrived since?
Mr. Cook: Of course I voted for the Scotland Act and of course I fully recognised what we were voting for, namely a reduction in the representation of Scotland at Westminster. We have carried through that commitment and we intend to honour it. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is the sole Conservative Member from Scotland, that
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the handling of the dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union over the introduction of Jobcentre Plus and unscreened areas in offices? It would appear that this has ground to a halt with letters, particularly a very unhelpful letter from Leigh Lewis, being fired at the union, demanding that it replies. Letters are going backwards and forwards like bullets when we should, as a Government who believe in negotiating with trade unions, be negotiating a settlement and not getting into this stalemate. Surely we should debate the matter in the House to help the Secretary of State who appears to be supporting this gunfire diplomacy rather than negotiation.
Mr. Cook: I understand the strength of feeling on this and my hon. Friend no doubt speaks from having consulted in his local area. We have now had 60 hours of negotiation with the unions on this particular question. My hon. Friend should also reflect that only one in four of the membership of the union voted for strike action. I strongly support the principle of having unscreened offices for the public. I am pleased to report that in offices where unscreened facilities have been provided there has been a reduction, not an increase, in the abuse or intimidation of staff. Of course we look forward to ways in which we can increase the safety of those working in unscreened offices, but in the 21st century that is the type of service that the public are entitled to expect.