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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The Leader of the House has just announced a four-day debate on the Budget statement, which I welcome. Will that not be the first time since the Queen's speech nearly a year ago that the House will have debated in Government time key issues such as public expenditure and taxation? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to move away from this feast and famine approach to debates on the economy and ensure that the House has an adequate opportunity throughout the year to hold the Government to account on those key issues?
Mr. Cook: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's recognition that we are about to have a feast of debates on the Government's handling of the economy and their record in achieving a sound economy in Britain which has the lowest inflation in Europe, the lowest unemployment in a generation and a secure and stable economy whose growth rate compares with any other within the G7 economies. All those are matters that we can debate at length over those four days. In fairness though, I would say that there was an extended discussion of public expenditure when the Chancellor presented his autumn statement only last November and he regularly appears before the House to be held to account by the House. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, I heard his voice on my way into the Chamber.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware of the welcome announcement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions designating nine pathfinder areas in the north-west and
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to the progress that is being made at local and regional level by my colleagues in ensuring that we tackle issues of urban regeneration and housing shortage. It is worth noting that throughout the country, where such initiatives have been taken on urban regeneration, they have evoked wide support and interest from the affected communities. In a number of ballots related to our progress on urban regeneration, a higher turnout has been achieved than for elections to the House; notably, that happened in Glasgow only the other week. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall convey her welcome for the measures to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and that we will continue to take all the action that we can to build on the success that we are securing in urban regeneration.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): At column 20 of yesterday's Official Report, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question on standards in government that most of what was being raised by Opposition Members was "complete nonsense". When early-day motion 1112 is published tomorrow, will the Leader of the House talk to the Prime Minister and see whether there will be an opportunity for a debate in the House on standards of government and the ministerial code, as well as whether the Prime Minister is interested in upholding that code, whether there is a complaint and whether the Government will make a submission to the Wicks Committee on this and related issues?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on having stumped my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who cannot produce an early-day motion that is to be published tomorrow, as opposed to one that is currently on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, understand if I cannot comment on the motion. On standards in government and public life, I have always said that we should keep the matter in perspective. I believe that standards in public life in Britain bear comparison with those in just about any other country that the hon. Gentleman might care to name. We should not contribute to the agenda of some of those in the press who wish to discredit the standards in public life in this place or elsewhere. I intend to make a submission to the Wicks Committee, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will study it with care.
[That this House notes that the widows of police officers who retired after 5th April 1978 and subsequently married are entitled to a pension under the Police Pension Scheme, that the widows of police officers who retired before 5th April 1978 and subsequently married
Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on the plight of widows of police officers who remarried, but retired before 1978? Such widows do not receive a pension, despite contributions having been made to the pension scheme. Will the right hon. Gentleman congratulate The Mail on Sunday on its campaign on the issue?
Mr. Cook: I will not do so; there are some things that hon. Members can ask me to do, but it is a step too far to ask me to congratulate The Mail on Sunday on anything. The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of great sensitivity, and I appreciate its importance to the people who are caught up in the situation that he describes. Of course, there is a downside, as any extension of pension rights must be paid for. It is a matter of judgment for the members of any such scheme as to whether they are willing to pay and accept the additional contributions that would be necessary. Within that limitation, I fully accept that we should be moving to a situation in which pensions are not withdrawn on remarriage.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Three months ago, as the Leader of the House will obviously recall, I asked him whether he would find time for a debate in the House on the two Green Papers published by the Government making radical proposals for changes to our town and country planning system and major inquiries. He fairly pointed out that there was a consultation period and that any changes would have to be brought before the House. I think that the Government and hon. Members in all parts of the House would find helpful a debate in which we could inform the Government of our views and opinions before they make definite proposals for approval by the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter?
Mr. Cook: I shall certainly reflect on what the hon. Gentleman says. Having sat through the past 45 minutes of questions, he will be aware that I am not short of bids for time and debate in the Chamber or elsewhere in the precincts. I understand that he makes his observation in good faith and with a genuine wish to help. I anticipate that we will return to the matter on a number of occasions in future; whether we can do so in the near future is a matter of judgment that I shall have to consider.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): While it was unfortunate to say the least that the accident-prone Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions was yet again caught giving out controversial information at a sensitive time, does the Leader of the House agree that an even more serious issue is at stake? At a time when there is terrific congestion both in our cities and on our motorways, our constituents will fail to understand why the Secretary of State for Transport,
Mr. Cook: As I have said before, I do not think that there is a member of the Cabinet who has been more willing to make statements to the House than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I am sure that there will be many future opportunities for us to debate transport policy.
The hon. Gentleman reminds me that the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), expressed concern about the impact on Parliament square of yesterday's traffic disruption. I share Members' concern about that issue, and we will pursue with the authorities the need to ensure that Members have reasonable access to the House of Commons.
Mr. McLoughlin: In the previous Parliament, I initiated an Adjournment debate, to which the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) replied, on improvements to the A50the M1-M6 linkand the associated dangers. An intolerable burden has been placed on the A515, which has not been improved at all, and residents along that road now live in fear. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House on road safety and the associated problems?