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Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to VARDAthe Victims of Air Related DVT Associationand the Aviation Health Institute for raising public awareness of the problem of deep-vein thrombosis in air travel? Is he aware that, this afternoon, in the precincts of the Palace, they are launching a report which shows that 43 per cent. of the people who have died from deep-vein thrombosis
Mr. Cook: I am happy to congratulate those organisations on their work on drawing attention to the matter, although I do not think that anyone has done more than my hon. Friend to draw attention to the problem of deep-vein thrombosis. I fully agree about the importance of our carrying out research to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to minimise the risk of deep-vein thrombosis.
I do not want to get into the business of criticising a foreign Government about their attitude to that or many other matters. I am proud of the fact that Britain has taken the issue seriously and is providing leadership. I hope that, in time, other countries will follow that lead.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): On 16 January, I put a question to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the number of claimants for incapacity benefit in York and North Yorkshire. I received the figures in a written answer on 6 March. However, this week, I received a letter from a Minister in the Department stating that the figures were incorrect and that he had published revised figures. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, in such circumstances, it is customary for the Minister in question to apologise and explain why the figures were incorrect, whether they were higher or lower than the original figures, and why the revised version was necessary.
Mr. Cook: I did not hear anything in what the hon. Lady said that seemed in any way improper or in breach of ministerial duty. If the Minister discovered that the figures provided to him were in error, he was right to correct the record. There is a duty on him to do so. I am confident that the previous figures were provided in good faith. Given the many thousands of questions that have to be answeredsome of which are highly statisticalit will occasionally be necessary to correct figures. I gently suggest that such situations were not unknown when the hon. Lady's party was in government.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Clearly, the whole House deplores the suicide bombings that took place a couple of days ago in Israel and Pakistan, but the stark contrast is surely between the expected responses. It is inconceivable that France would engage in reprisal killings or the wanton destruction of poor people's homes. May I endorse other hon. Members' requests that we should have an early debate on the middle east and its wider implications? If Sharon continues to exercise a licence to kill and to block the Jenin inquiry, that could surely undermine the United Nations in the way that the failure to act effectively over Japan/Manchuria and Italy/Abyssinia undermined the League of Nations in the last century, leading eventually to war.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): The Leader of the House will be aware that today is Europe day and that the future of Europe is currently being considered in the convention chaired by the former President of France, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Twice in recent weeks, the Minister for Europe has made the Government's position on the future of Europe clear to members of that convention. Will the Leader of the House tell us when hon. Members will have an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals for the post- enlargement period from 2004? Will he also tell us what arrangements will be made to allow the parliamentary representatives from the Housethe hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)to report on their contributions to that convention?
Mr. Cook: I have told the House before that we are examining how we may provide an appropriate forum for the House's representatives to the conventionas well as the Minister for Europe, who represents the Governmentto report to hon. Members. I hope soon to be able to announce those proposals.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), my right hon. Friend may be aware that London bus workers lobbied Parliament yesterday. London is different from the rest of the country because an element of regulation was maintained after privatisation, but a route-based franchising system is used. That is a direct threat to the standard of services across Greater London because the system operates to bear down on costs, which screws down wages, pension rights, terms and conditions and even, in some cases, the condition of the buses that operate on those routes.
My constituency is more or less on the border between the regulated part of the bus network and the unregulated part which exists in Essex. I have been involved in several campaigns to save various bus services. So when we have a debate on bus services in Britain, could it extend to the regulated part in London, not just to the part outside that area?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will of course be aware that pay for bus drivers and other staff is a matter for the companies and unions concerned, but the companies negotiating those wage settlements with their staff are, in part, subsidised by Transport for London. The Government's grant for Transport for London has rocketed in recent years. Indeed, it recently went up by 100 per cent. My hon. Friend may wish to ask Transport for London what
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The Leader of the House will have read reports to the effect that political advisers are being asked to amend, or tamper with, Ministers' answers to parliamentary questions. I am sure that he will agreeas will you, Madam Deputy Speakerthat parliamentary questions are one of the crucial ways in which Members from both sides of the House can hold the Executive to account and gain information on behalf of their constituents. If there is no truth in those reports, I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to let the House know, and we will all be entirely happy and very satisfied. If there is any truth in those reports, perhaps he will arrange for a statement to be made to explain the full detail of that further imposition on the rights of parliamentarians by the Executive.
Mr. Cook: The right of Parliament is to receive full and accurate answers, which is set out in the ministerial code, and Ministers are accountable for those answers. I am all in favour of Parliament's being rigorous and vigorous in ensuring that Ministers are held to account for the answers that they give. In those circumstances, it is not unreasonable for Ministers to seek advice from those in their own offices.
Gillian Merron (Lincoln): May I tell my right hon. Friend that, last Thursday, Councillor Jim Speechley, the Tory leader of Lincolnshire county council, was in court facing eight criminal charges and that the very next day, he was found guilty in an independent public interest report of intimidation and being behind illegal payments totalling some £750,000? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will share my immense concern that, last night, the same councillor was re-elected as Tory leader of Lincolnshire county council. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate standards in local government so that I can have the opportunity to raise the very real and pertinent concerns of my constituents, who, after all, rely on the political management of the authority to deliver essential services to them?