|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will agree that the forthcoming debate on the armed forces and terrorism will be an opportunity to acknowledge the professionalism, ability and skill that the armed forces have shown in the fight against terrorism. Will it not also be an opportunity to commit ourselves to providing the armed forces with the resources that they need to fulfil their task? It is especially important that, as some personnel have been wounded and injured or have become sick as a result of their service, we continue to look after them afterwards. I remember from my parish days in Belfast that the prisoners whom we cared for were often far better looked after than the soldiers whom we sent to protect the citizens.
Mr. Cook: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and many others will wish to use the debate to record the House's deep debt of gratitude to those who serve us in the armed forces and our appreciation of their professionalism and dedication. They are repeatedly demonstrated to be among the finest anywhere on the globe, and we can take pride in them.
The Ministry of Defence goes well out of its way to try to provide help for those who have been injured in the line of duty and to protect and help bereaved families, as it didexceptionally soin the case of the bombardier who was killed in Sierra Leone. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about specific cases, I shall be happy to transmit them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I am sure that the Leader of the House will be delighted to hear that I wish to help the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to do his job properly by calling for a debate on transport as soon as possible. During that debate, we could consider the success story of Chiltern Railways, which has just been awarded a new 20-year franchise; the progress of crossrail; the difficulties of Central Railway; and the appalling mess of the London underground, which is severely affecting my constituents. Perhaps the Secretary of State could explain to us why his mind was not on his job the other day when he appeared not to know that the Metropolitan line, which runs into
Mr. Cook: It always worries me when Opposition Members say that they are going to be helpful. However, I agree with the hon. Lady about the success of the Chiltern line. I noticed that it has been decided that it will now be a classless line with one single class. That flatly contradicts the prediction of a previous Conservative Minister of Transport, who said that privatisation would bring in several classes, including a cheap and cheerful class for typists. I am sure we are all glad that they were wrong about privatisation in that respect, as in so many others.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I thank the Leader of the House for the charming and gracious way in which he corrected the record from two weeks ago. However, in line with "Erskine May", is it good enough to have to wait two weeks for the correction? It became clear at 4 o'clock on the afternoon on which he made his statement that he had been misled and had therefore inadvertently misled the House. I raised that on the Floor of the House before 6 o'clock that evening and again last Monday. Does two weeks meet the requirement of correcting as soon as possible inadvertent misleadings of the House?
I invite the Leader of the House to correct the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). The Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill has 68 amendments tabled for Monday, all of which are in my name and in those of my hon. Friends. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for confirming that there will be Government amendments. I understand that they may be substantial amendments arising directly from our debates in Committee. The fact that we did not debate 32 clauses and seven schedules, yet finished with time to spare, must be taken up by the Modernisation Committee. We must be able to do our job as legislators properly.
Mr. Cook: On the time taken before correcting the record, I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that from 7 o'clock that day until Monday the House did not sit. This is the first business statement since then, and I have corrected the record at the appropriate time to the appropriate audience.
As regards the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, I am sorry if I was wrong about the composition of the 68 amendments to which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst referred. I understand that technical Government amendments will be moved to fulfil the commitments that we made in Committee.
Can he find time in the near future for the Secretary of State for Defence to explain to the House, through a debate or a statement, exactly what is intended for the Fleet Air Arm and the Sea Harrier force? I understand that a press conference will be held at the Ministry of Defence this afternoon. There has been further speculation in the press this morning, which has been enormously unsettling for the people I represent at the royal naval air station at Yeoviltonthe pilots and their families in particular. It would appear that significant changes are being made to the Ministry of Defence's assessment of the economic case for moving the Sea Harriers away from Yeovilton, without any explanation. As the Member representing that constituency, I have not been given the normal courtesy that I receive from the Ministry of an explanation of what is intended. Will the Leader of the House make it plain to the Secretary of State for Defence that it would be extremely helpful to the members of the Royal Navy who serve this country well if they were given a clear understanding of what is intended?
Mr. Cook: In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, it is my experience that the Ministry of Defence is one of the most punctilious Departments in making statements to the House. Its Ministers have probably made more statements than those of any other Department during the course of this Session. In the spirit of the good wishes that the hon. Gentleman has offered to me, however, I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend and suggest that he contacts the hon. Gentleman to clarify the situation.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Can we have an early statement on the disposal of school playing fields? As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, his Government were elected five years ago on a pledge to stop the sale of school playing fields, yet we now know that, in spite of the comment by the Prime Minister as long ago as 1999 about the disgraceful waste of sporting talent due to the loss of school playing fields, the Government have done nothing about this. I also know, from a written answer that I received this week, that of 100 applications received since the Government supposedly tightened the rules only two have been rejected. The Government clearly have no intention of keeping their promise on this matter. The National Playing Fields Association has said that the Government have not kept their word. Can we have a statement on this, so that Ministers can explain why they have not kept their word?
Mr. Cook: I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government acted quickly after 1997 to change the regulations and guidelines under which they would grant licences. Indeed, the number of applications for transfer
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): This week has seen the publication of the latest edition of Members' voting records, which many of our constituents use as a measure of the diligence of Members of Parliament. The Leader of the House has also announced another free voteone of a number that we are expecting in the next few months. Will he give some thought to making available a desk in one of the voting Lobbies, so that Members who wish to do so can formally register an abstention which will then go on the record?
Mr. Cook: I am not entirely sure whether, given three options to vote on on Monday 18 March, anyone would really need to abstain on all three options. I personally deprecate the use of the voting record as conclusive evidence of the activity or contribution of a Member.