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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue of deep concern to many in the House and many of our constituents. I assure her that the British Foreign Office is fully engaged in trying to find ways of defusing the situation and find a way back to the negotiating table. I congratulate all those who have been involved in finding a solution to the effective house arrest of Chairman Arafat in Ramallah and in the progress that is being made, slow and painful though it is, on relieving the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is very important that the outside world does all that it can to make sure that we continue to make progress.
I think that everybody in the Chamber will deplore the act of terrorism that took place the other day and will greatly sympathise with the relatives of those who were killed in that bomb attack. I hope that everyone in Israel will also reflect that the event shows that the actions within the west bank are not eliminating suicide bombers. The only way in which we can fight and successfully defeat terrorism is to offer a just and peaceful way forward for all the Palestinian people, which will only be found at the negotiating table.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement by the Minister responsible for S.I. 843, Animal Health England? I served on the Committee stage of the Animal Health Bill, which currently lies in another place; it has been defeated in another place and is therefore unable to progress. However, this statutory instrument, some 221 pages long, was first made and laid before Parliament during the easter recess, coming into force on 19 April. It seeks to replicate many of the issues on which the Bill was defeated in another place.
I see this as legislation by stealth. The statutory instrument involves giving additional powers to Government to enter property and slaughter owners' animals without their consent. I believe that this is a contempt of the House, and we should have a full explanation of how it came into being.
Mr. Cook: I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised this question because it gives me an opportunity to put right some of the press reports concerning the regulations. The only powers for entry and slaughter contained in the regulations are those which already exist in statute. There is no extension of those powers. The only new matter in the regulations is the power to carry out wider testing to try to establish whether there have been transmissible forms of BSE. That form of testing does not involve the slaughter of live animals but the examination of dead carcases. There is no extension of the power to slaughter in the regulations.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in calling for an urgent debate on what is happening in the middle east? As we sit here, the Israeli army is massing tanks, troops, helicopter gunships and bulldozers on the borders of Gaza. It is clear that Ariel Sharon is going to inflict bloody revenge on civilians in Gaza, as he did in Jenin. We all condemn the latest suicide bombingof course we dobut my right hon. Friend must realise that we cannot sit by and watch another Jenin. We should at least hold a debate.
Mr. Cook: I understand my hon. Friend's last point. In fairness to the Government, we are very aware of the concern in the House, as we have shown in the past by giving the House opportunities to hear statements and to explore these matters. Foreign Office Question Time will take place next Tuesday, but I shall continue to keep the situation under review, as, I am sure, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
I fully share my hon. Friend's concern that any massive military retaliation for the terrorist action of the other day is not likely to produce a lasting peace or a cessation of terrorist activity. We shall secure that only by returning
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I welcome the announcement that there will be a debate next week on the new code of conduct and guide to the rules for Members of Parliament. However, does the Leader of the House agree that neither the current code of conduct nor the proposed new code would deal with any Member who is associated with an organisation involved in terrorism in this country or who assists such activity in another country? If Sinn Fein-IRA is proven to have been involved in the break-in at Castlereagh police station, in assisting FARC guerrillas in Colombia or in carrying out a recent murder in County Tyrone, what action does the Leader of the House propose or recommend should be taken against the four Members of the House who represent that organisation?
Mr. Cook: It is important to keep a clear distinction between the code of conduct, which governs our behaviour as Members of Parliament in the fulfilment of our parliamentary duties, and other matters where there is the same duty on Members of Parliament as on any citizen to obey the criminal law. There is nothing in the parliamentary code of conduct that seeks to subvert or replace the criminal code. If a Member of Parliament were to have criminal knowledge of a specific criminal or terrorist activity, they should be visited with the full majesty of the law. I support that. Next week, we shall be debating those measures that do not involve criminal activity but on which it is important to establish high standards for our conduct as Members of Parliament, to ensure that we have the clearest possible professional ethics.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to celebrate women in sport? Yesterday evening, many of us had the opportunity of meeting the England women's rugby union team who are off to their world cup on Saturday. When another world cup is in the news, is it not important that we recognise the tremendous contribution that women make to sport, and that we wish the England women's rugby union team all the best in their world cup in Barcelona?
Mr. Cook: I am sure that my hon. Friend passed a very enjoyable evening and I am happy to join him in his congratulations to the team, and to wish them well. On behalf of all of us, I wish them success.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May we have a debate entitled "new Labour, new standards in the House of Commons", when we can learn that questions of integrity and honesty are mere "flim-flam", as the Leader of the House just said, and that Ministers can come to the Dispatch Box and claim that misleading the House by saying something that is an untruth is allowed if it is taken in the round?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a matter of which I have personal knowledge from my own constituency. The real problem is the difficulty of securing public transport and bus services in places where they may not be commercially profitable or, indeed, at times of the day when many of the vulnerable people in our community want to travel but when, because they are not peak times, services are not available. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the dilemma in which that leaves local authorities, and I shall certainly bear in mind his suggestion that there should be a debate on the subject. I am sure that an opportunity will arise for us to discuss these matters generally, although I cannot predict the date at present.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): As we are not to have a debate on the middle east, will the Leader of the House at least ensure that the Foreign Secretary or the International Development Secretary comes to the House to explain why European Union funds go to finance members of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat at a time when it would seem that terrorism is being prosecuted by that very organisation? At the very least, should not the European Union stop such funding until violence stops, or is the United Kingdom powerless to prevent British taxpayers' money going to such purposes?
Mr. Cook: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has paid any attention whatever to what has been happening in the Palestinian territories during the past month or, indeed, during the past five years. Income in those territories has gone down by a third over the past five years. During the past month, large parts of the infrastructure have been smashed, with total damage from that destruction amounting to well over £200 million. People in the Palestinian territories are desperate. I do not believe that it would assist the peace process at all if the European Union were to stop providing humanitarian and reconstruction aid for those people. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman should be careful not to spread false allegations that European funds support terrorism. The European Union has made it plain that it has carefully audited the trail of money and that, to its knowledge, none of it has ever been used for terrorist activities.