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Mr. Cook: It may be Valentine's day outside, but there is obviously no love-in in here. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that no one will ever attempt to put him on a website, and he will be able to stick to his wireless.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's recognition of the performance and information unit as a very important body. [Hon. Members: "Innovation, not information."] Of course. Innovation sums up its fresh look at Departments. The PIU was set up by this Government, not the Conservative Government, precisely to provide an independent assessment of departmental work and to ensure that fresh minds were brought to bear on that. There has never been an occasion on which a PIU report has been brought to the House by means of a statement.

Mr. Forth: Why not?

Mr. Cook: I explained that to the right hon. Gentleman. These are reports to Ministers, not announcements of Government policy. The Government will now reflect on what the PIU has said and reach conclusions, and I am authorised by my colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry to say that when they are in a position to announce their response to the PIU report, they will of course make a statement to Parliament. I expect that the House will want to hold them to that commitment.

On the question of Mr. Mittal, he is resident in Britain, his headquarters are here and he employs 100 British citizens here. [Interruption.] I honestly do not think that any of them would find that comical, unlike Opposition Members. I can think of many hundreds of British citizens who would wish to be employed in London. If it is to be a matter of criticism to lobby for a company with British connections, I plead guilty. For four years, as Foreign Secretary, I lobbied for hundreds of such companies, some of which were successful. Nowadays, I suppose that I would be expected to apologise for lobbying successfully on behalf of such companies. Sometimes I lobbied on behalf of Swedish companies because British aerospace industries provide large numbers of components for the Grippen aircraft made by a Swedish primary contractor.

It is right that Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers should lobby for people who are employed in Britain. The two most recent Conservative Prime Ministers did precisely that. [Hon. Members: "No."] Oh yes they did. The only difference is that we do not know whether the companies on whose behalf they lobbied had made any donation to their party; we have been transparent, but they kept the donations to their party secret.

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I end by trying to make the right hon. Gentleman happier. He asked for a denial of the story in The Mirror. I am pleased to give him the categorical denial that the e-mail that appears in The Mirror today is a fabrication; there was no such e-mail; there was no suggestion that the report should come out on Friday; and there was no disagreement on the matter between Mr. Sixsmith and Jo Moore, who was not responsible for what The Mirror alleges.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): On Monday business in the House finished at 5.40 pm; tomorrow, the House is not sitting; on the Friday after we return we have a debate on a general subject, the lottery; and the following week my right hon. Friend has announced an estimates day. Taking those matters into account, is it not clear that the Government had—and have—ample time for the promised debate on hunting with dogs? Is it not now eight months since the Queen's Speech promised to introduce that? Many Labour Members are fed up with the Government's procrastination and their failure to fulfil both a manifesto pledge and a commitment in the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Cook: The commitment in the Queen's Speech was to have a free vote during the course of this Session. I know of no reason why that commitment will not be fulfilled. There are other commitments in the Queen's Speech that have not yet been fulfilled because we are only halfway through the Session. A number of Bills in the Queen's Speech have still to be brought before the House; they mostly will be brought before the House, and I am sure that there will be a free vote on hunting.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to give Members an indication of the time scale for considering the Modernisation Committee's report on Select Committees, and to deal with rumours about its recommendations, particularly in relation to the payment of Select Committee Chairs?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): We are not having that.

Mr. Tyler: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman, and hope that he and I will stand shoulder to shoulder on that issue when it is debated.

On the Public Administration Committee report which appeared today, does the Leader of the House accept that, to use his own terms, there is a centre of gravity around which he can develop consensus on reform of the second Chamber. Does he accept that there is no excuse for the dinosaur tendency, represented by his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, to do nothing? We have to do something and get on with it; can we please twist his arm to get on? When can we debate the report?

Finally, last week, the Leader of the House kicked into touch my suggestion that it was time to review the issue of public funding of our democratic system. In view of the obvious briefing from No. 10 in the past few days to the effect that state funding is again in the frame, when can we debate that important issue which Members on both sides of the House clearly believe needs to be reviewed? [Interruption.]

Mr. Cook: Let me try to make some peace in this unseemly exchange. I welcome the fact that the hon.

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Gentleman has given me an opportunity to refer to the report that the Modernisation Committee issued on Monday on reforming the scrutiny committees. I believe that the report offers the House a way forward. In particular, it sets out a system of nomination to Select Committees which would be independent, authoritative and transparent and would make it plain that Parliament has control over who sits on the Committees that scrutinise Government. It also provides substantial additional resources to support Select Committees in their important and often technical work on financial scrutiny and provides a clear statement of their core tasks.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the reference to an increase in pay for chairs of Select Committees should be seen in that context and kept in proportion. There is a view in the House that there should be an alternative career structure for MPs through scrutiny and for that reason the Modernisation Committee on balance has put forward a proposal that the House should consider in principal whether the Chairs of Select Committees should be paid. However, that is a matter for the House and I recognise that there will be differing opinions on it. I look forward to the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on that occasion.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Cook: I welcome interest in this statement, but perhaps hon. Members will let me finish. I welcome one clear signal that comes from the Public Administration Committee's report on the House of Lords, although I have not yet had an opportunity to scrutinise it in full. I can only say that the report has been produced on the basis of unanimity. That shows that it is possible to find a centre of gravity among those who wish to reform the second Chamber. I promised some time ago that consultation would be followed by a period of reflection. We promised that we would not conclude consultation until we received the Select Committee report and we will now consider carefully its conclusions.

On public funding, the Government have no proposals or plans to introduce the public funding of political parties. I note that we would not secure a consensus across the Floor were we to do so. It is a matter for legitimate debate and I am sure that hon. Members will be looking for ways of raising it in the House.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 779 on Saudi Arabia?

[That this House notes the recent widespread reporting of the use of torture in Saudi Arabian jails, particularly against a number of British nationals accused of participation in bombings in Saudi Arabia; recalls the disturbing findings of the 1997 report entitled 'Torture in Saudi Arabia: No Protection, No Redress' published by the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and REDRESS; condemns the use of torture in any circumstances; and affirms that the provisions of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture must serve as the standard to be upheld by all governments.]

Is it not time that we had a debate in the House on our relationship with that country, given that Conservative Members lobbied so hard for the Al Yamanah arms deal;

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that a previous Conservative Prime Minister was involved in that lobbying; and that we have no information about it because the National Audit Office report was never published. Given that British nationals continue to be tortured in Saudi Arabia and that most of those involved in the incident on 11 September in New York were also Saudi Arabian citizens, the time for soft shoe diplomacy in our relations with Saudi Arabia is over. We should face up to torturers and have a proper discussion of our future relationship with that country.

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