Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking a number of additional questions. I should warn him and the House that one of the recommendations of the forthcoming Modernisation Committee report is that we should both seek to be briefer at the Dispatch Box. He might wish to reflect on that when he has an opportunity to study our report.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his diligent research into my previous speeches. I was not aware that many hon. Members or members of the public had been carefully studying my speech to the Dependent Territories Association three years ago, but I am gratified that it is still current, and I stand by every word that I said on that occasion. I have heard my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary give a clear undertaking that, in the event of the people of Gibraltar rejecting any agreement, that will be the end of that agreement. We cannot, of course, put an agreement either to the House or to the people of Gibraltar until such an agreement is reached. The matter is continuously under negotiation, and, as soon as any agreement is reached, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he and the House will be among the very first to know.

On the Prime Minister's press conference, I felt that the right hon. Gentleman fell short of his usual standards of generosity. Surely it is right that the Prime Minister should introduce such an unprecedented regular system of openness and transparency, and make himself available for questioning not only by those who happen to be among the privileged few with a pass to the Press Gallery but by journalists who are specialists in a particular topic. Nor is that in any way at the expense of his appearance in the House, where, by the way, he has cancelled fewer appearances at Prime Minister's Question Time than either of his Conservative predecessors, and where he has only recently announced that he will be appearing before the Liaison Committee.

The first of those appearances will take place before the House rises for the summer recess, and I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister will be before the Committee for a whole two hours, not just one hour like today's press conference. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have found it in him to acknowledge that no previous Prime Minister has ever done this, and that it is a tribute to my right hon. Friend's commitment to the House that he has introduced this innovation.

I am glad to see that the minutes of the PLP are being fully studied and absorbed. I was slightly taken aback when the right hon. Gentleman began that passage, because—if I heard him aright—he said he had the minutes of the meeting of 24 June. That cast a little bit of doubt over what he then quoted. Given the robust views of my right hon. Friend the party chairman, and given my total support for him, I shall try to ensure that the shadow Leader of the House is put on the mailing list for the minutes, in the hope that he will read to us more often such excellent, strong views, which meet with full consensual support on this side of the House.

20 Jun 2002 : Column 426

I repeat what I said to the House last week: this is a serious issue for Parliament and for the press. It is important that we get back to political reporting, which is about politics as it affects the people of Britain. We need less reporting of the gossip of the Westminster village, which we lap up, and more of the policies that affect the real lives of our people, such as the remarkable way in which the Government have increased the number of people in work by 1.5 million and reduced the number of unemployed by 500,000.

As for the fridge mountain, I am pleased to give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we have now completed four new sites at which we can dispose of fridges; we expect another three to be completed next month and a further three before the end of the year. We expect the fridge mountain to begin to melt—if that is the right term—in October.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to our attempts to get clarification from the Commission. We approached the Commission on many occasions more than two years before it gave us the fresh clarification that gave rise to the difference. Throughout those two years, the Commission's interpretation of the directive was identical to that followed by the British Government.

Lastly, I regret to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not have the incentive to follow the stock market as closely as would be required to answer his question about percentages. I rather suspect that he follows the stock market more closely than I do, but I am happy to confirm that the Prime Minister was absolutely correct in saying that we are spending £6 billion a year more on pensioners—more than double what would be required to uprate pensions in line with earnings.

By next April, the average pensioner will receive £22 a week more than in 1997, and the 2 million poorest pensioners receive a lot more as a result of the minimum income guarantee. Those are big advances on the Conservative Government's record on pensions. What we would all like to know, especially the pensioners who have benefited under Labour, is how much the Tories would cut spending on pensions, given their commitment to cut overall public spending. They cannot say to the nation that they will cut spending, and at the same time say to pensioners that they will maintain the pension.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's ignominious retreat over regulation and investigatory powers? I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that no fewer than six motions relating to that are still on the Order Paper. When will those motions be withdrawn to give effect to the Home Secretary's retreat?

Now that the Government have taken over the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), will its further stages be debated in Government time and not take up precious private Members' time?

I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that on Monday 1 July he has allocated considerable time to the Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill, which took only an hour to make progress in the other place. Surely that is an excessive use of time. Does not he recognise that that is a classic example of when a more manageable system of business discussion between the parties of what should take precedence in this House would make more economic use of our precious time?

20 Jun 2002 : Column 427

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was particularly concerned about the quantity of the exchanges between the Prime Minister and the media, which we have all been watching with great interest. I think that the Prime Minister spent an hour and a half talking to the media. I was able to sign letters to my constituents and still listen to him, and it was an interesting occasion. Does the Leader of the House recognise that it is the quality of the exchanges that really matters? What progress is he making in the Modernisation Committee to try to improve the quality of the real answers that we get at Question Time and the extent to which they are topical? I refer not just to the Prime Minister, but to other Ministers. How will we make Question Time exchanges informative and topical? I have no problem with the Prime Minister speaking to the media, and I think that speaking to the Liaison Committee is a great step forward, but when will the Chamber have the same advantages as the Liaison Committee and the media in getting real answers to real questions on topical issues?

Mr. Cook: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the decision to go out to consultation on the order that would otherwise have been debated next week. However, may I gently chide him for describing that as an "ignominious retreat"? If the Government are asked to think again, and if Members of the House invite them to consider their proposals carefully, as a result of which the Government announce that they have taken on board those representations and will reflect and consult, it does not give Ministers an incentive to do the same again if they are told that they are being ignominious.

We have made a sensible decision, in the circumstances, to consult on the matter. It will therefore not come before the House before the consultation is concluded, which will certainly not be before the far side of the recess. In the meantime, I shall consider what to do with the motions on the Order Paper.

On the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), it is for him and the Government to discuss whether there is an acceptable way forward for both parties. The matters are complex and are taking some time to resolve. The Bill is my right hon. Friend's and I have detected on his part no wish to give it up. It was prompted by his constituency concerns and I am sure that he would wish to be identified with the final result.

On the topicality of questions in the House, I share the belief of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that it is important to ensure that our proceedings are relevant to debates outside the House and deal with issues of the moment. That is why, as he knows, the Modernisation Committee has been looking sympathetically at whether we can reduce the period of notice for oral questions and take other steps to ensure that topical issues of the moment are discussed at Question Time. I understand that the Procedure Committee will make similar recommendations when it reports in the near future. I hope that that will ensure that proceedings at Question Time are relevant and topical. Unless we make ourselves topical and relevant to the outside world, it will not pay us the same attention.

Next Section

IndexHome Page