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Mr. Cook: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I do not accept that we cannot proceed with the Second Reading of a Bill from one Department while that Department has another Bill Upstairs in Committee. It is one sign of the health, energy and commitment of the Home Office that it has many Bills before the House, and we cannot confine ourselves to proceeding with only one Home Office Bill at any one time.
On the local elections, I wholly share the hon. Gentleman's sentiment that we should make sure that we do everything possible to encourage the electorate to turn out and to take part, whatever way the electorate may choose to vote on the day. There are too many people in France who regret that they missed that opportunity when they had a chance to take it, and who now complain about it.
If we are to have a fair electoral system and a fair result, it is important that we should be honest with the electorate. As the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the local elections, may I say that I was disappointed to read in this morning's papers the report of the Liberal Democrat campaign literature, which invites Liberal Democrat candidates to
Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on ITV Digital? The focus has rightly been on the situation of Football League clubs, but of much greater importance is the position of dozens if not hundreds of companies that have been left high and dry, with debts owed by ITV Digital, after contracts were signed on the understanding that Carlton and Granada would guarantee that company. My constituency faces the loss of 600 jobs because of the activities of ITV Digital, and the matter should be debated on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Cook: I fully understand the severity of the situation to which my hon. Friend refers and the extent to which it has a direct impact on many constituency interests of hon. Members. I assure him and the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is following the issue closely. I touched base with her this morning in the margins of Cabinet, and she will certainly want to keep the House informed of the progress of discussions. The only caveat that I would enter is that we cannot proceed on the basis of the public purse accepting responsibility for the rather exaggerated expectations of ITV Digital. Consistent with that caution, though, we will do anything that we can to be helpful.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Although I have no quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman for deleting a day from the Whitsun recess, am I right in assuming that he had to do that because of the mess that he has made over the national insurance Bill? If I am wrong, could we instead have a debate on 10 June on Liberal election tactics, which he could perhaps open?
Mr. Cook: I would not want to rule out a debate on that topic, and I shall bear it in mind, among the competing pressures. I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that he is wrong on that point. We took the decision on the recess in advance of the latest announcement. The Whitsun recess will be two full weeks. It is a generous recess; indeed, it is much longer than usual, and I do not think that hon. Members have any ground for complaint.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I have just learned of the result of the Damilola Taylor case, and like many people in this country will, I regard it as yet another judicial farce that has let down many people. Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the role that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service played in that farce, and give hon. Members an opportunity to comment on it?
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Last week, the Government published their response to the Select Committee on Public Administration's report on the House of Lords, entitled "The Second ChamberContinuing the Reform". There is a suspicion on both sides of the House that continuing the reform is not actually the Government's policy at all. To allay those fears, can the Leader of the House promise that we will have a debate before the summer recess on the Government's response, so that their policy on the second Chamber can be fully tested?
Mr. Cook: I am dismayed to hear that there are such fears, so I am glad to take the opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman offers me to repeat our commitment that we wish to take this forward before the summer recess, and I hope to be able to speak to the House on that matter before then.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the first question to the Prime Minister on 8 May is, in fact, a closed question from one of our hon. Friends? However, does the Leader of the House accept that without open questions it would not have been possible for the events in France to be raised yesterday? That is as good an illustration as any that a contemporary issue can be raised without notice being given. It is farcical that we have to give a fortnight's notice. The sooner that ends, the better. However, even if we give less notice, it would be a retrogressive step if we took away from Members the opportunity to raise a contemporary issue without having given notice beforehand. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that matter carefully.
Mr. Cook: I have great sympathy with all the points that my hon. Friend made. I do not recall saying yesterday that open questions would be suppressed in any way, although I did plead for a better balance with Members who wish to raise a specific issue being open and clear about what they wish to raise.
I totally endorse what my hon. Friend says about the importance of topicality. I was struck by the fact that not a single question on the middle east was taken at the recent Foreign Office questions. Of course Members found another opportunity to raise their concerns about the crisis in the middle east, but there is something wrong with a tabling system by which Members of the House of Commons, in holding the Foreign Secretary to scrutiny, cannot raise the biggest single foreign policy issue.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): A number of my constituents are deeply concerned about the activities of gypsy families on the eastern end of the weald. A key to resolving the problem is the efficient operation of the planning system. At a recent meeting with the local borough councilI should add that it is not Conservativeit was alleged that a change in the
Mr. Cook: I regret to say that the hon. Gentleman's local authority did not copy the letter that he received this morning to me, so I obviously cannot comment on it. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, but my willingness to do so does not imply agreement with the view that has been expressed to him. I remain a little sceptical on the basis of the facts as stated.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): The House and my right hon. Friend will be aware of the growing incidence of hepatitis C. The Department of Health set up a working groupchaired by Howard Thomaswhich reported back before Christmas. I understand that the report is lying on a civil servant's desk at present. Will my right hon. Friend investigate when that report will come before the House and will he make time to debate it?
Mr. Cook: I fully share my hon. Friend's concern about the incidence of hepatitis Ca very serious condition, which is of concern to health workers as well as patients. It is very important that we take the issue seriously. I cannot say when it is anticipated that the report to which he refers may be published, but I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.