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Mr. Cook: I am glad, but the right hon. Gentleman should have seen this coming before he raised the question. He may wish to have a word with his party's health spokesman, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). He told a private meeting of Conservative doctors that the advantage of speaking to them was that he would not read about it afterwards in The Mirror. I am delighted to say that we can find a full account of the meeting in The Mirror. It fully displays the intentions of Conservative Members to dismantle the NHS, if they ever get their hands on it. In the very week when we have shown dramatic reductions in out-patient and in-patient waiting lists, the Conservatives' health spokesman has told the nation that the national health service cannot work and will not work, and that they intend to dismantle it and replace it with private health care.
The Prime Minister is right that there has to be substantial change within Consignia or the Post Office. The Post Office is losing millions of pounds, which amounts to a heavy annual debt. I have a simple question for the Conservatives, which I note the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to answer: how do they propose to pursue their policy of cutting taxation and public spending if they are not prepared to embrace the case for change in the Post Office?
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): May I encourage my right hon. Friend to ignore the sedentary comment by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to the effect that there is no hurry to reintroduce the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill? There is an urgent need to ensure that advertising of tobacco products is outlawed for the thousands of people whose lives can be saved by not being encouraged to take up that appalling habit.
Mr. Cook: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I assure the House that it is the Government's intention to reintroduce the Bill. We adopted it when it came from the House of Lords precisely because we are fully committed to it. Indeed, it reflects the text of the Bill that we introduced in the previous Session. I assure hon. Members that it will be timetabled in a way that enables it to be passed this Session.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I warmly welcome the statement by the Leader of the House on the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, introduced in the other place by my colleague Lord Clement-Jones?
On a more serious matter, I notice that yesterday the Lord Chancellor said in the other place that he hoped to publish the responses to the White Paper on Lords reform shortly. How shortly is shortly? In addition, may we have a general discussion soon, although obviously not within the next two weeks, on a review of the constitution? I am sure the Leader of the House is well aware of the great public and media interest, especially over the past few days, in the role of the monarchy in the 21st century. That is part of the tripartite nature of the British constitutionthe two Houses of Parliament and the sovereign.
Given the conventions on discussing the monarchy in this place and our responsibility for monitoring some of the statutes that affect the monarchynotably, the Act of Settlement of 1701surely it is time to review the unequal rights of women and the ban on Roman Catholics in the succession, and to reconsider the transparency of the allocation of the civil list, for which the House is responsible. There is talk in the media about the publication of an annual report. Do the Government have a view on that?
Will the Leader of the House address that issue seriously and urgently? I hope he agrees that it is ridiculous that the pubs, clubs and media of this country can discuss the important topic of the future of the monarchy, yet here in the House of Commons we are prevented from doing just that.
Mr. Cook: I fully apologise to the Liberal Democrats if they have only just received a letter to David Lloyd George. All three major parties represented in the House must share the blame for that, since it plainly transcends Governments led by them all.
I, too, want the responses to the White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords to be published as soon as possible. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I said at a previous Question Time that the bulk of those responses show support among the public for a substantially elected second Chamber.
The Government have no proposals, no intentions and no plansI want to leave no room for misunderstanding on thisto change the monarchy. As Foreign Secretary I had the privilege of serving with the Queen on a number of foreign visits and I want to record my immense respect for the way in which she fulfils a very difficult and delicate role. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we are to maintain the relevance of and respect for the monarchy, it is important that we take sensible, modern steps towards modernisation. If the House can develop a consensus on these matters, we will be willing to respond to it, but it is not an issue on which the Government should be taking a lead.
As the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of equality between the sexes, I think that all hon. Members will wish to applaud the leadership role played by Princess Anne during the recent royal funeral in demonstrating the importance of that equality among members of the royal family.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Has my right hon. Friend had the chance to study today's article by the distinguished journalist Nick Davies, in which he reveals the surprising fact that the richest family in the United Kingdom pay next to no income tax? In fact, they make a profit out of the tax system because the subsidies that they receive from their farms bring in a greater income than the tiny amount that they pay in income tax. Should not we take a look at a regime under which families with low or average earnings pay under a very efficient pay-as-you-go system, but billionaires and millionaire farmers pay under a pay-if-you-like system?
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman is right; I congratulate my hon. Friend on his soundbite. I read the article with interest this morningI try to read all articles before the business statementand reflected that I might wish to contact the family concerned for advice on my tax return, as they are doing substantially better than I am.
The tax returns of an individual household are of course a matter for it and for the Inland Revenue, but I am sure that my hon. Friends who are in charge of the Inland Revenue will note my hon. Friend's comments.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): What has been the outcome of the discussions between officials in the right hon. Gentleman's Department and in that of the Lord Chancellor about the implications of the data protection legislation for Members of Parliament?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is of grave concern to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I fully share those concerns. We have got into a position in which the data protection provisions are being applied in a way that nobody anticipated or intended when the Act was passed. It is rather strange to be told that if we take up the case of a constituent who has come to see us we are breaching their privacy, even though they approached us for help in the first place. We are exploring ways in which we might resolve the matter, possibly with the Data Protection Commissioner by means of guidelines; if not, I stand ready to ensure that we amend the law to protect the rights of hon. Members and their constituents.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about homelessness among young people? Next week, three young people from Wales will come up to Westminster to show hon. Members a film called "Cold Light", which gives their experience of homelessness, generally caused by violence in their homes, drug addiction and many other tragic circumstances.
Homelessness is a grave and serious issue for those affected by it, and it is important in the overall context of rising housing and property prices that we should not forget people who are squeezed out of safe, secure and affordable accommodation. My hon. Friend will be aware that the matter has been actively under consideration in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for the past two Sessions, and I hope that we may be able to bring it before the House again in the not too distant future.