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Mr. Cook: Having just announced the business for next week, I see no prospect of debate on those matters then. Naturally, I do not wish to commit myself to the general principle that it would be a useful use of the House's valuable time to debate speculation on the "Today" programme, as we may then find that we make slow progress on legislation.
I heard the interview myself. I am not sure that my recollectionof course we can both consider the transcriptis quite the same as that of my hon. Friend. General Wesley Clark certainly suggested that pressure was best brought to bear on states rather than on what he described as shadowy terrorist groups. Indeed, Afghanistan demonstrates that we have made very good progress, not just on behalf of the international community, but of the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, who now have a prospect of a better and more decent life than if we had not done so.
The short answer to my hon. Friend's opening comment is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is rightwe have taken no such decision. No such decision has been asked of us; should one be made, naturally the House will be consulted and we will have a full debate.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Surely, in the light of the highly critical report of the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the fridge crisis, the Leader of the House ought to reflect on what he said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). He should persuade the Minister for the Environment to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement. Is he aware that, up and down the country, and particularly in my constituency, people want action and explanations? Bracknell Forest borough council faces a financial and logistical nightmare, because it has to deal with 1,000 fridges a month without any help or support from the Minister for the Environment, despite promises. The Minister therefore needs to come to the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Cook: I have already told the House about the vigorous action which will result in 10 new sites for the treatment and disposal of fridges by the end of the year. We will then see the mountain come down. If the right hon. Gentleman wants action he really cannot object if the action that we proposed is well under way.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Can we give urgent consideration to the outrageous behaviour of Argos? It is ruthlessly exploiting a loophole in the law whereby shop workers in Scotland are not given the protection that is enjoyed throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, and sacking staff who between them have given years of loyal service to the company, if they will not accept compulsory Sunday working, thus discriminating in particular against those who have family commitments or religious objections, and in general against employees in Scotland.
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to the House's attention a very serious issue of principle that is of immediate concern to his constituents. I know that he has tried to resolve the matter through discussions with Argos. I regret that those discussions have not produced a better result.
We have acted in this Chamber to provide the flexibility whereby companies can open their stores on a Sunday if they wish to do so, but we have also provided protection: staff should not be compelled in England to work on a Sunday if they object in principle to doing so. Although that is not the law in Scotland, as far as I am aware, every other trading company in Scotland has, rightly, observed that issue of principle. I deeply regret that Argos is failing to act in the way in which its competitors do.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): It is customary to debate the advisability of publishing opinion polls during election campaigns but may we have a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the advisability of publishing opinion polls between election campaigns? Recently, opinion polls have been showing support for the Labour Government going down, support for the Conservative Opposition going up and support for the Liberal Democrats doing neither one thing nor the other. This morning, an opinion poll suggests that 56 per cent. of the population find the Prime Minister untrustworthy and unreliable. Surely the Government should be very worried about that indeed.
Mr. Cook: For some years now, Conservative party spokesmen, when asked about opinion polls, have been saying that they do not believe them. That seems a judicious, sensible and mature approach. I suggest that the Conservative party do not immediately abandon it the one time that it gets an opinion poll that it might find encouraging. The only poll that really matters is the poll on polling day and, broadly speaking, we are quite satisfied with the past two results.
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue that is a high priority for the Government. She will be aware of the substantial additional investment that the Government are making in child care, which has provided increased child care to thousands of women and contributed to enabling many more women to enter the work force and take up full-time employment. I will certainly bear in mind what she has said about the wish to expose that further in a debate in the House, but possibly Madam Deputy Speaker might report to the Speaker the difficulty that my hon. Friend has encountered in obtaining an Adjournment debate. There may be a more efficacious and speedy response in that direction.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): May I draw to the attention of Leader of the House the fact that, on 12 March this year, I led an all-party delegation to meet the Minister for Industry and Energy to discuss some serious concerns that we all have about the future of the supply chain in the aerospace industry? I draw it to the Leader of the House's attention because a number of questions were raised that the Minister promised to answer. Those questions were reinforced by me in a letter on 18 March to the Minister's office. As the weeks and months passed, the Minister's office was continually reminded of that outstanding obligation. Such was our frustration in the all-party group that I eventually tabled a written question to the Minister, which was answered on 18 Juneprecisely three months since I wrote to him. The answer was that the Minister would reply as soon as possible.
When the Leader of the House next meets his Cabinet colleagues, I ask him to draw to their attention the fact that such behaviour can only lead hon. Members to believe that this Government treat us with contempt.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman makes his point with clarity and force. He will be aware of the deep concern in the Department of Trade and Industry and throughout the Government about the impact of 11 September on the aviation industry, and the knock-on effect on the aerospace industry. I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's attention to his remarks, and try to ensure that he receives a speedy response.