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Mr. Cook: I hear what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) says, and I gather that some of my hon. Friends did, too. I have just announced that there will be a vote in both Houses in some two weeks, and we need to wait and see the outcome of those votes before we consider the next step. The Government go to bed every night in the hope that they may wake up and discover that both Houses have voted for the same thing.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): On the subject of hunting, I welcome the debate but this will be the fourth debate and free vote on the subject of hunting with hounds. We have had crushing majorities on all three previous occasions. Is it not about time that a Bill was introduced? Contrary to what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) just said, if the Bill is passed in this place and goes up the Corridor to the other place and the Lords decide to sabotage it, the Parliament Act would automatically be invokedwe would not need any commissionand the legislation would be passed. Then we could get on with abolishing the House of Lords.
Mr. Cook: I am not sure to what extent my hon. Friend's final remark will provide an incentive to their lordships in the other place to be co-operative. I recognise the logic of his argument in terms of the application of the Parliament Act, but that would depend on all sides being satisfied with the precise terms of the Bill in the last Parliament. Some people, not necessarily those who are in any way friendly to hunting, have suggested ways in which that Bill could be improved. That, of course, cannot be done within the terms of the Parliament Act.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone else in the House that the convention meets for the first time today, so it may be a little premature to say what direction it is travelling in. He will have noted the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary setting out a perspective quite distinct from that of some of the other countries that will be participating in the convention. I am not sure that all the rest of the House would share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for regular statements on progress in the convention, but it is a matter of legitimate interest, which I am sure will be aired. I look forward to the report from the European Scrutiny Committee on how we could improve our procedures in this House.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the establishment and inauguration of the convention on the future of Europe which, by bringing together national Parliaments with the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, will provide a unique opportunity to involve civil society and the people of Europe in a discussion and debate about the future limits and future direction of Europe? Does my right hon. Friend agree, first, that we should give central importance to the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, both in assisting our representatives on the convention to report back to the House, and in monitoring the progress of the convention, and secondly, that in parallel with the report of the Modernisation Committee on the work of Select Committees, this is a good opportunity to review and upgrade the work of the House in scrutinising European legislation? Perhaps we could consider some small experiments such as appointment by the European Scrutiny Committee of a rapporteur on the convention, or larger ideas such as the establishment of a Grand Committee on European affairs. Thirdly, does he accept that
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes some very interesting proposals, and I would be very happy to discuss with him privately whatever else he was about to propose. On the question of appointing a rapporteur, the Modernisation Committee suggested in our report on Select Committees that they could make more use of rapporteurs. Of course, it is open to the European Scrutiny Committee to consider that possibility. I am pleased that the House is well represented on the convention and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on her election by the convention to its collective presidency. She will be able to play a major role in shaping its direction and procedures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) touched on the key issue: the convention should be not merely a body of politicians talking to each other, but a forum that can liberate and allow civil society and the public of Europe to take part in the debate about their future. Ultimately, we have to find a solution that is acceptable to the public and supported by them.
[That this House notes the report in the Evening Standard of 26th February that the Shooting Stars Children's Hospice has not yet been built; and consequently calls upon the Liberal Democrat honourable Member for Richmond Park to justify her press release stating that 'It was an honour to meet the brave children at the hospice. The work the doctors and nurses do at the Shooting Stars Children's Hospice is second to none'.]
There are other occasions in respect of which the Leader of the House could consider the need for a debate about communications. I notice that the 22 February edition of Liberal Democrat News announces that there is to be a by-election in Matlock on Hurst farm. A number is given for contacting helpers, and the announcement states:
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman memorably raised a matter concerning communication by a Department last time, so I am immensely relieved that he is being non-partisan. He has not yet attacked the Conservative party about communication, but no doubt he will have many opportunities to do so in future. I am pleased to say that I have no ministerial responsibility for these matters, but the House will have heard his remarks.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): My right hon. Friend may have seen a recent BBC poll on the national health service, which showed that the No. 1 popular priority was free, long-term care for the elderly. Subsequently, he may also have seen a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research saying that such care should be a priority for the Government and was popular with the electorate. He will have noticed early-day motion 351, on the Right to Care campaign.
[That this House welcomes the launch of the Right to Care Campaign; believes that the formation of a campaign grouping involving 20 major campaign groups, charities and trade unions is testament to the depth of feeling surrounding the issue of long-term care felt by the members of these organisations and by many members of the public; is concerned that distinguishing between personal and nursing care is impractical and will prove unworkable; further believes that these differences in policy between regions of the UK are creating major disparities in the type and levels of care available to elderly and disabled people; and urges the Government
The motion has the signatures of 122 hon. Members, the majority of whom come from the Labour Benches, and calls for free long-term care for the elderly. Will my right hon. Friend make time for another debate on this subject in the very near future?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a profoundly important issue that will one day affect all of us in this Chamber. It is also a matter of real and legitimate public debate. I have noted the reports to which he referred and will bear in mind this topic among the many others for which there are bids for discussion in the House. I remind him and the House that the Government have acted by providing for the first time that all nursing care in private residential homes will be provided for free. We have honoured that commitment and it is making a genuine difference.