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Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Today, many schools in Scotland break for the summer holiday. Meanwhile, the House will sit for a further four weeks. I know that the recess is timed to coincide with the English school holiday. That means that English Members get an extended opportunity to spend time with their families; Scottish Members do not. We also have to make sure that we get our complicated child care arrangements put in place for the school holidays; English Members do not have to consider that. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that fair and right? I know that he is looking at the summer recess for next year. Will he accommodate all parts of the United Kingdom in that review?
Mr. Cook: I fully understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I recall one occasion when the House went into recess the week before the Scottish schools went back. At that time, I had two children of school age. The happy consequence was that I was in London all through August, when it turned out that my opposite numbers in the Department of Health for the Conservative Government were absent, and it was a rather useful month for me. That is inadequate compensation for being able to go on holiday with our children.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Modernisation Committee is examining my memorandum, which suggested that we should rise earlier in July and come back for a period in September, before going off on a conference recess. I hope that we will be in a position to put those proposals to the House some time in the overspill, and that they will take effect next year. That will go some way to easing the problem that the hon. Gentleman identifies.
Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): My right hon. Friend knows that the Daily Record in Scotland and the Evening Times reported yesterday on the re-emergence of a pyramid selling scam called "Women Empowering Women". That has surfaced in various parts of the UK,
Mr. Cook: Pyramid selling can be a great menace, and unfortunately too many peoplenot just in Britain, but elsewherehave been defrauded by it. Anybody who fraudulently or by misrepresentation obtains money from another is open to a legal charge and to legal remedy, although my hon. Friend draws attention to the question whether there is a need for a specific crime relating to pyramid selling. I shall happily draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Trade and Industry.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate next week on school admissions? Is he aware of the case of Ecclesbourne school in my constituency, which tried to achieve a more co-ordinated approach to its catchment area? It was supported by Derbyshire county council and Derby city council, the two authorities involved, but the recommendation was overturned by somebody called the adjudication officer, who did not visit the site, but decided that no change could be made. That is a new office and the decision is nonsense. It causes great uncertainty, particularly to parents in Kirk Langley, West Underwood and Muggington, who now fear that they will not be able to get their children into the local comprehensive school. We need a statement and we need to know the Government's position on the matter.
Mr. Cook: I hear the hon. Gentleman's support for Derbyshire council, which I hold in high estimation. I will be happy to consider with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills the points that he makes. My own prejudice has always been that such matters and local issues are best determined locally, wherever possible. We obviously have to make sure that national standards are applied and that national guidelines are followed, but I understand the frustration of the hon. Gentleman's constituents if a decision is imposed by people outside their locality.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): May I ask the Leader of the House when he will consider, along with the Modernisation Committee, the more even distribution of parliamentary sittings? For many months of the year, we cannot table written questions and have them answered. I should have thought that there was overwhelming support in the House for a swift resolution, which would allow that important tool for Back Benchers to be available throughout the year, instead of long periods when the Executive can be let off the hook and not subjected to the probing and scrutiny that are so essential to us.
Mr. Cook: I believe that the proposal that we should return in September will address part of the problem of the long recess in which questions cannot be tabled. My hon. Friend may be aware that the Procedure Committee yesterday published its report on questions and Question Time, which contains many interesting ideas that I am sure will repay careful study, and touches on the ability to table written questions during periods when the House
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): The Leader of the House has always correctly registered his RMT interest, which so sadly ended yesterday, but is he surprised to learn that the Deputy Prime Minister has never registered exactly the same interest? Does he know that the Deputy Prime Minister's flat, which he is keeping on, is a benefit-in-kind of approximately £12,000 a year? Is he aware that the rent has not been reviewed in 10 years? Does he think that that huge benefit-in-kind is compatible with paragraph 122 of the ministerial code of conduct?
Mr. Cook: As I recall, that specific issue was examined by the Standards and Privileges Committee, which found that there was no obligation on the Deputy Prime Minister to register it. Nor is he required to register an arrangement that is not a personal sponsorship, but a constituency agreement with his union. As for myself, I have sadly to conclude that my entry in next year's register might be just slightly shorter.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend will remember that, this time last year, we were still in the middle of the foot and mouth outbreak. Following that period, the Prime Minister set up a number of inquiries. The Follett inquiry, which is chaired by Professor Brian Follett and deals with the scientific problems, and the Anderson inquiry, which deals with the lessons learned, are due to report in July. As the argument for those independent inquiries and against a public inquiry was that they would report and be debated quickly, can we have an assurance that the Government will find time to debate the reports before the summer recess?
Mr. Cook: I am sure that the House will want to examine the reports, hear about them and express its views. As Leader of the House, I fully understand that the House will want to ensure that these matters are adequately considered by it. Of course, neither I nor the Government can give an assurance on the date of the reports' publication, as that is in the hands of those who are carrying out the investigations, who will properly want to ensure that the reports are published at the time of their choosing rather than ours. None the less, we have made clear to them the great importance that we attach to their being published while the House is still sitting.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will be aware of the dips in the Royal College of Nursing and, in particular, the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting in terms of registering nurses. Does he share my concern about people who have come out of business to be retrained, but then discover that there is no employment for them because they are not registered? A greater concern is that, when we recruit people from overseas, should not we ensure that they are registered before they are brought here, instead of allowing them to be left in the lurch to be employed by others in lower paid jobs than those that they are qualified to perform? I understand the problems, but surely we should be doing something to ensure that nurses are not victimised in that way in future.
Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): May I urge the Leader of the House to organise an early debate on the draft Local Government Bill? While the Bill contains much that is to be applauded, I am very concerned about the proposal to pool local authority housing capital receipts. In Harlow and throughout much of the south-east, there is an acute shortage of homes for rent and a significant backlog of housing repairs. I would view any proposal to take away the capital receipts on which we are relying to meet the Government's decent homes standard as a very backward step, and I urge an early debate on the issue.