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Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): As has been widely reported in the Channel Islands press and some parts of the British press, the Treasury is planning economic sanctions against Jersey if it does not sign the European code of conduct. Bearing in mind that a Treasury Minister told the Treasury Select Committee that the code was voluntary; that the only impact will be that money leaves the Channel Islands where it is well regulated to go to other places where it is not; and that the Channel Islands have no representative in the House of Commons, will the Government at least have a debate on the matter or issue a ministerial statement of
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I concur with the hon. Gentleman that the islands have no representative in the House; they appear to have a good affinity with Southend-on-Sea. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having time to represent people other than his own constituents. On the specific point at issue, it is important for the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Southend-on-Sea that the Government of the United Kingdom are able to negotiate, debate and commit themselves in debates in Europe that make sure that we deliver on the commitments we make.
The withholding tax, which is at the root of the hon. Gentleman's argument, was a success of British diplomacy and saw off what might otherwise have been a new European tax. We made sure that such a tax was not introduced, and dealt with the problem by providing information. It is important that all territories for which the United Kingdom speaks in foreign affairs are committed to the agreements that we make, and that embraces the Channel Islands as well.
Jim Knight (South Dorset): During business questions on 7 March, I asked my right hon. Friend for a debate on the membership of Select Committees, because I was concerned about the continued inclusion in departmental Select Committees of Opposition Front Benchers. My right hon. Friend referred me to a Liaison Committee meeting that had taken place that morning. I dug out the Report of Session of that meeting, point 35 of which states:
Mr. Cook: Indeed, but the Liaison Committee did not object to that; its comments referred specifically to the official Opposition. Whatever my sins, I am not a member of the official Opposition. I think that the right hon. Member will confirm that.
On the specific point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), I urge him to try to be a little more understanding of the problems of the Opposition; they are the smallest official Opposition for 30 years and, frankly, I doubt whether they could fill those posts without occasionally raiding their Front Bench. The Liaison Committee has expressed a bona fide concern, and I can tell my hon. Friend that there will be a debate on Select Committees and their membership next month, when we introduce the Standing Orders arising from the recent report of the Modernisation Committee. It will be relevant and in order for my hon. Friend to make his points in that debate.
Mr. Cook: I always try to be helpful to the House, and perhaps I am in a particularly jovial mood today after such an excellent Budget statement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I regret it if the hon. Gentleman has been kept waiting for correspondence and I will ensure that his comments are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. We try to make sure that we achieve replies to hon. Members, both in written correspondence and in parliamentary questions, as quickly as possible. Some Departments are under particular pressure and some questions raise particularly difficult issues that require some time to resolve. I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Health is aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns.
Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): May I reinforce calls for an early and specific debate on the future of digital broadcasting in the UK? The difficulties faced by ntl and ITV show that there appear to be problems with two out of the three platforms for digital TV. That raises serious competition issues and has implications for the Government's plans to switch off the analogue signal. In addition, 900 jobs are threatened in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency in west Wales.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. It is important that we should reflect that the recent collapse of digital TV from the ITV stable has implications going well beyond the well-publicised concerns about the football teams. My hon. Friend is aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be opening the Budget debate on Monday, so she may wish to contribute to the debate to make sure that the issue that she raises is fully ventilated. I can assure her that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Trade and Industry are following the matter closely.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Leader of the House will be aware of the crisis in the automotive industry. We have seen the closure of the Ford car assembly plant at Dagenham and the closure of Vauxhall at Luton. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only has there been a problem because of blockages in the channel tunnel, but that the new tax on jobsthe employers' contribution of 1 per cent.,will cause an even greater crisis in labour-intensive industries such as the automotive industry? Can we have an urgent debate on the future of the automotive industry, in the west midlands in particular and the UK in general, and the veracity and honesty of the Government in putting a tax on jobs instead of a tax on national insurance or, rather, a tax on income tax?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): As these business questions have shown, there is an urgent need for a debate on state funding to demonstrate that the Labour party is the only party in the House that does not enjoy any part of the £20 million of state funding that will be paid in Short money in this Parliament. Is it not right that if there is to be transparency in all donations to political parties, it should stretch back over the past 25 years, so that we can demonstrate the contrast between the fantasies about sleaze in the present Government invented by the piffle artists on the Opposition Benches, and the real corruption that existed in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was said that some Conservative Members had their noses so deeply in the trough that all that was visible of them were the soles of their Gucci shoes?
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): While I am delighted that my Welsh colleagues have managed to secure yet another full day's debate on the Floor of the House to discuss Welsh issues, may I ask what we in Scotland have done to offend or upset the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends? When can we expect a full day's debate on the Floor of the House on Scottish issues? Perhaps I can belatedly remind him that there will also be no local elections in Scotland on 2 May.
Mr. Cook: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Scotland has done nothing to offend me. Were it to do so, I am sure that he would be the first hon. Member to draw it to the attention of the House. I think that he is being slightly curmudgeonly. As he said, we welcome our Welsh colleagues' opportunity for a full day's debate. I remind him that we took action, in which I took a particular interest as Leader of the House, to ensure that the nationalist parties had an Opposition Supply day. If I remember rightly, his party had half of that day.