Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): In view of the publication today of the White Paper on the Liabilities Management Authority, with the expected increase in cost of the management of our radioactive waste and the prospect that it opens up of the French state-owned nuclear company taking over the management of our nuclear liabilities, will my right hon. Friend find time in the very near future for a debate on the subject, in Government time, on the Floor of the House, so that all the implications of this crucial issue can be discussed?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. He will be aware that the Minister for Energy and Construction has nuclear liability very much at the front of his work programme, and I anticipate that he will make an announcement in the near future. As to when the House can debate these matters again, I cannot give a commitment before its rising for the summer recess. However, there are many ways in which my hon. Friend can pursue his well-founded and genuine concerns in the House.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May we have a debate in Government time on early-day motion 1490?

[That this House notes the comments of the Right honourable Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the Minister responsible for electoral law, that "Any provisions on European Parliament elections laid down by the Council (including amendments to the 1976 Act) need to be ratified with an Act of Parliament in the UK"; further notes that the UK is, therefore, free to adopt any electoral system of its choosing for future elections to the European Parliament; believes that, by removing the vital

4 Jul 2002 : Column 405

link between each elected representative and their constituents and consequently encouraging voter apathy, proportional representation has not served the UK well; also notes with concern that proportional voting systems in other parts of Europe have allowed far-right parties to gain a foothold; and further believes that the UK's next elections to the European Parliament could, and should, be held under the First Past the Post electoral system.]

I ask for the debate in Government time because 49 of the 53 hon. Members who have so far signed the early-day motion happen to be Labour Members. However, if such a debate is too embarrassing for the Government, I suggest an alternative one on the more innocuous subject of squatters' rights. In such a debate, the Deputy Prime Minister could explain whether he intends to stay in his RMT-owned flat, now that he has correctly resigned from that union on a point of principle.

Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend has the security of a long-standing tenant, and the hon. Gentleman would not be helping himself and his constituency by suggesting that all secure tenancies involve squatters and squatters' rights.

On the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I fear that there are another 1,500 among which I have to choose. If I were to find a day for debating early-day motions, I might just be tempted to include a half-day on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion—if he will agree that the other half-day can be spent debating an early-day motion drawing attention to the fact that the Conservative website has no entry under "policy".

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): Constituents, bus drivers and local police tell me of their serious concern about the increasing number of dangerous incidents involving airguns and replica guns. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this issue? If we want to make communities safer, we must take further action to get these dangerous guns out of circulation.

Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the concerns expressed about incidents involving airguns. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has raised very real concerns, based on what happened to a constituent of his.

Mr. Forth: The Government killed the private Member's Bill.

Mr. Cook: We have a long way to go before we rival the right hon. Gentleman's record on killing private Member's Bills.

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to my hon. Friend's comments. Should the Home Office wish to introduce a measure, I would be happy to ensure that we provide time for it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I refer the Leader of the House to a point made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the issue of questions to the Deputy Prime Minister? Since the reshuffle, the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister and the number of questions put to him have increased massively—at least I hope they have, given that

4 Jul 2002 : Column 406

his departmental and ministerial team has increased massively, from three to five. According to the ordered questions available this morning from the Vote Office, there will be only 50 minutes available for questioning the Deputy Prime Minister between now and Christmas. Is that really acceptable for such an important Department?

Mr. Cook: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be gratified at the excitement shown in the House about the importance of questioning him for longer, and I have already taken on board the point that was made. I shall happily look at the question rota, but before making a move I need to know that I will not be inundated at a subsequent Thursday business statement with complaints about where such time has been taken from.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is there not an important tradition of liberal adult education—advanced especially by organisations such as the Workers Educational Association and university extramural departments—that was influential in, for example, getting people into higher education before the days of excessive modules, tests and certification? That is exemplified by the life of Royden Harrison, whose obituary appeared in The Guardian this week. It was written by my former colleagues at Sheffield university, Michael Barratt-Brown and John Halstead, and should be read by all hon. Members. May we have a debate on how to build on, further and nurture the tradition that Royden exemplified?

Mr. Cook: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Royden Harrison, who brought to his work an enormous conviction and a commitment to teaching as a vocation. That commitment and sense of vocation are important if we are to have a successful education system.

For four years, I was employed by the Workers Educational Association, so I am very susceptible to the suggestion that we should have a debate on its work and on the important contribution made by adult education. That contribution is especially notable in regard to people with ability who may not have succeeded first time around during their education in school. As a responsible Leader of the House, I fear I cannot indulge my wish for such a debate, but I fully endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) said about the importance of education.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Will the Leader of the House consider making time available to discuss the matter of enforcement in respect of the Child Support Agency? This is a serious issue for many hon. Members, and it is a matter of great concern that many mothers are unable to ensure payment from the fathers of their children. I know that the Select Committee on Work and Pensions is very concerned about that, and I believe that the matter should have an airing on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the first acts of this Government on taking office in 1997 was to reform the Child Support Act 1995, and ensure that we provided improvements. In my work in my constituency, I have noted a substantial decline in the number of people coming to me expressing concern— by contrast with what happened in the period immediately

4 Jul 2002 : Column 407

after the previous Conservative Government introduced the legislation, when surgery time doubled because of complaints about the CSA. However, no one would deny that problems remain, and we are keen to make sure that we keep the matter under review. Where sensible improvements can be made, we will certainly want to make them.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): There are still frequent reports that the US Government are considering military intervention in Iraq, with a view to replacing the Government there. My right hon. Friend will be aware that that development would be very controversial in this House. There is a possibility that it might happen during the summer recess. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the matter, so that hon. Members can give their views before the House rises?

Mr. Cook: Well, I cannot promise such a debate before the House rises. I said earlier that we already face a very congested period, and I think that I have clocked up enough bids for debate in the past 45 minutes to keep us here well into September. However, if any such action were to be taken during the recess, I should be very surprised if hon. Members did not demand that the House reconvene to consider it. At present, I do not anticipate that any such action will be taken. As I have said repeatedly to the House, no decision has been taken, and none may ever be taken.

Next Section

IndexHome Page