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Bob Russell (Colchester): In the spirit of joined-up government, will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate listed buildings, in particular the fact that one Department granted listed building consent as recently as March to buildings at Bishopsgate goods yard, while another Department is planning in the next week or two to sanction sending in the bulldozers? Not only will we lose some of our major national heritage, but many jobs will be lost. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the relevant Minister to find time to come to the House and explain why joined-up government is not working in respect of our listed buildings?

Mr. Cook: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having found a subject on which the entire resources of Whitehall had not thought to offer a brief in advance. In the circumstances, I shall refer his comments to the two relevant Departments and invite them to respond.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Government's plans to have a single equality commission that will encompass the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equality Opportunities Commission, and which will also consider age, sexual orientation and religion? The Government's plans are probably the most practical way to proceed, but there is understandable concern among the different groups involved that their particular interests will be lost. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate that important proposal?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that we can be proud of the Government's record post-1997 and, indeed, of the record of previous Labour Governments, of taking through all the legislation on the statute book which opposes race discrimination and promotes equality of opportunity for women. We want to build on that fine record of achievement in opposing inequality and discrimination.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the idea of a merger has been floated. At the moment, it is no more than that. It will require considerable debate and I have not the slightest doubt that views will be expressed by people on both sides of the argument, including those who are worried about maintaining the focus of those bodies.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I should like to follow up on that subject. The Leader of the House will

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be aware that my Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill is listed for Second Reading on Friday 21 June—alas, it is No. 6 and will not be reached. However, an identical Bill was introduced in the Lords on 13 March, when it had its Second Reading. It has completed its Committee stage and will complete Report and Third Reading next week. It received the support of all those on the Front Benches in that House and there are indications of support from Cabinet Office Ministers here. Can the Leader of the House give an idea of how much time he thinks that Bill will require to be passed in this House, and when he is likely to make an announcement on that?

Mr. Cook: I am sympathetic to the substance of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. As he knows, some of my colleagues in government have already expressed their sympathy with the purposes of the measure.

As Leader of the House, I have to say that the hon. Gentleman must be realistic about the prospects of progress for a Bill that is slated as No. 6 on the last day for private Members' business in this Session. I wish him much luck; I will be happy if he succeeds. However, it is not for me to intervene to provide the opportunity for that to happen. If I were to do so, those with an interest would wish Bills Nos. 1 to 5 and 7 to 19 to feature in next week's business statement.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1206?

[That this House commemorates Workers' Memorial Day on 28th April and recognises its value in helping trade unions and work place safety and health campaigners in over l00 countries to draw attention to the one million three hundred thousand people who die annually due to poor working conditions often forgotten and publicly unremembered; and welcomes this year's UK theme of improving public health through stronger safety and health measures, access to effective occupational health services and empowering safety representatives to do an even better job in the work place.]

The motion stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). It draws attention to the fact that 1.3 million people die because of poor health and safety conditions every year throughout the world.

The British building industry has always been notoriously dangerous. At present, two construction workers die each week because of poor health and safety conditions. Some construction workers who have suffered under these conditions, and who will suffer in future, live in my constituency, which provides many construction workers for east London and the rest of the south-east. Will it be possible to have a debate, perhaps in Government time, on health and safety conditions on building sites?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an important and serious issue. I share his view that the legal process, the political process and Parliament should pay more attention to and put more effort into considering serious loss of life at work, including on building sites. It is important that we all back the Health and Safety Executive in its measures to ensure that we provide, as best we can, the safest possible working environment for those who

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undertake tasks that often turn out to be more dangerous than was anticipated when they were designed. I wish my hon. Friend every success with his campaign. I am sure that he will find other opportunities in Parliament to raise it.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Foreign Office Minister next week to correct the record of the House at column 332 on 9 December 1998?

The House, including the right hon. Gentleman, will recall the murder of four hostages—British Telecom workers—in Chechnya in 1998. One of those people, Mr. Rudolph Petschi, was one of my constituents, and on behalf of his widow I pursued information through debates and questions. After two years I gave up because I felt that the responses I received were inadequate. I referred the case to the parliamentary ombudsman, who has now reported.

As a result of that investigation, I have received a letter telling me that Foreign Office practice in London and in our embassies will be changed in respect of how communications are dealt with at weekends. In addition, on 21 March I received a letter of apology from the permanent secretary, Mr. Michael Jay. He apologised to Mrs. Petschi and me for the confusion in the way Ministers answered my questions. I have sent a copy of the letter to you, Mr. Speaker.

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 22 April but have received no response to that letter, let alone an apology. The need for an apology is twofold. First, I obviously accept the permanent secretary's apology, but I do not think that it is correct for Ministers to allow civil servants to apologise on their behalf for what happens in the Chamber. In addition, the very nature—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mrs. Browning: I will be brief, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I understand that the hon. Lady is raising a sensitive matter, but I must stop her. This is business questions. I call the Leader of the House to reply.

Mr. Cook: I shall read the ombudsman's report and the correspondence to which the hon. Lady has referred. She will be well aware of my interest in it at the time. I have not seen the papers, and therefore would not wish to give the House an off-the-cuff response. The matter deserves to be considered fully and in detail. Having said that, I remind the hon. Lady and the House that, from my recollection of events, even if procedure that weekend had been different, there is no evidence that it would have had the slightest bearing on the tragic outcome for those four people.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): Given that we are a Government of strong family values, why the haste in introducing the Adoption and Children Bill? We have not had any consultation with any Churches or any of the children's committees. What kind of psychological effect will the Bill have? Will it erode the civil liberties of children who have been adopted by homosexual partners? Is it right for a Labour Government to introduce

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such a Bill? Because there has been very little consultation, as I have said, will the Leader of the House postpone it?

Mr. Cook: I will not do that. The Adoption and Children Bill, which we shall consider today and next week, is the only Bill this Session that we have dealt with in Special Standing Committee, which enabled everybody with an interest to give evidence to Committee members. Moreover, the proposal before the House to provide for unmarried couples to adopt children is supported, I believe, by every children's charity. If we are serious about providing a home for those children and making sure that we tap those who are willing to work with them and the charities to provide a secure environment in which they can be brought up, we have to move with the times and recognise that a growing number of couples out there are not married, but are living together in a stable, albeit unmarried, relationship. It may not be right for the House to tell them that, for that reason, they cannot adopt a child and at the same time tell the children that we cannot find them a home because we will not work with those people.


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