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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Invite us all for drinks?

Mr. Cook: Sadly, I am too constrained by my work on behalf of the House to take time off to do that. On behalf of the House, I wish to thank all the staff of the House for their hard work—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Without that hard work, we could not have sat over the past year. As Leader of the House, I also wish to record my personal thanks to the parliamentary clerks across Whitehall for their co-operation and support.

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I echo strongly his thanks to all of the staff and Officers of the House who help us in our work. It should never go unrecorded or unappreciated.

Can the Leader of the House tell us why we are having a defence statement today? Yesterday, we had a defence debate—indeed, the Minister opening that debate took some 74 minutes of the time of the House. I should have thought that it would not be beyond the wit of the Government and the Leader of the House to have put a defence statement on the same day as a defence debate. Instead, there will be three statements today. They will squeeze consideration on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, for which 13 groups of amendments have been selected. That is the very Bill whose progress the Prime Minister tried to imply that the Opposition were obstructing. It is the Government who seem to be conspiring to give that Bill less consideration than it deserves. Will the Leader of the House explain what on earth is happening, and why he seems to have lost his grip almost completely?

Next Monday, we will get the Anderson report on foot and mouth. We know that because Anderson has told the world so. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the House will have the opportunity to consider that very important report before we leave for the summer recess? We must not slip into the recess without being given the chance to consider the report, and perhaps we could delay the recess by a day. [Hon. Members: "You will be on your own."] I hear Labour Members say that I will be on my own, but it is clear from their response to that that my colleagues will be here. We want the opportunity to hear from a Minister about the Government's response to the Anderson report on foot and mouth. We are prepared to be here for as long as that takes.

In connection with matters agricultural, the Leader of the House will be aware of the excellent report produced yesterday by the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the annual report for 2002 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Among other things, the Committee stated that the "achievements" section of the annual report was misnamed and that it


The Committee also recommends that


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That is how a Select Committee of this House, with a Labour majority, sets out what it thinks of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It goes on to state that


It recommends that the Department


It also states:


I hope that the Leader of the House agrees that those studied comments by a Select Committee warrant full consideration by the House before the recess. Such matters should not be slipped away so that—as the Government hope—they might be forgotten.

The next section of my remarks might be entitled "ministerial inaccuracies". I choose that second word carefully, as you, Mr. Speaker, would reprimand me if I used words such as porkies, whoppers or anything else. In deference to you, therefore, I shall stick to the word "inaccuracies".

My first question refers to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), to which reference was made at last week's business questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). The point of order referred to the Minister for Pensions, who my colleagues believed had given the House inaccurate information on whether pensioners could elect to have a home visit from the pension service.

That is a serious matter, as there appears to be a complete difference of view between the Minister and one of his officials. I hope that the Leader of the House will give the Minister for Pensions time to come to the House and correct the record, not least so that pensioners can be reassured that what he and the Department are saying is accurate and reliable.

On July 15, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Chancellor, that he was Home Secretary "when crime doubled." The truth is that crime fell by 18 per cent. while my right hon. and learned Friend discharged his duties as Home Secretary. Will the Leader of the House say what is the source of the Chancellor's assertion? Will the Chancellor come to the House to apologise, or will the Leader of the House now have to start excusing inaccuracies by the Chancellor as well as by the Prime Minister?

Talking of which, yesterday in PMPs, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted the Prime Minister as saying that the Government


The Prime Minister replied:


in other words, he seemed to imply that that would be done. However, at column 281, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) asked by how much the Prime Minister


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and the Prime Minister said that


Obviously, again, the Prime Minister chooses his words to fit the moment, with a blithe disregard for accuracy. So the question to the Leader of the House is: is the Prime Minister massaging, redefining or spinning, and how often does the Leader of the House expect to have to come to the House on a Thursday and excuse or apologise for what his colleagues have said?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman must be seriously concerned that he will miss these exchanges over the next three months, so he has given us a treble helping today. I am in generous mood, and the House is in demob mood, but as the right hon. Gentleman quoted one of the Select Committees calling for a lot less waffle, I should have thought that he might reflect on those words himself over the next three months.

On the statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I do not think that the House can hear too often from my right hon. Friend, who is punctilious in fulfilling his duties to this place. I am advised that in yesterday's debate we had fewer speakers from the Conservative Benches than from the Labour Benches. My right hon. Friend is no doubt keen that there should be a full attendance of Conservative Members on this occasion to hear his important statement about the future strategy for our defence forces. It is absolutely right that that should be brought before the House.

As to any squeezing of time for the Proceeds of Crime Bill, I saw the right hon. Gentleman in his place yesterday when we both supported our senior figures. He may recall that the leader of the Conservative party assured the House that the Conservative party now supports the Proceeds of Crime Bill. It is therefore a bit rich to complain only 24 hours later that there is not enough time to debate it.

On the forthcoming Anderson report, it is unusual to declare this in advance to the House, but in these circumstances I think it is right to do so: I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and she is keen to make a statement to the House on Monday. There will be a statement on that issue.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that he wanted additional time for the House to debate the matter, and that we should postpone the recess. Before we embark on the wider question of the business statement, I should warn the House that I have no plans to go abroad this summer, so there is a serious danger that if asked to detain the House longer, I might agree. I hope that my hon. Friends will take that on board before putting their questions to me.

On the crime statistics, over the 18 years of the last Conservative Government—the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of this, as he was present throughout that period—crime did indeed double, compared with the drop of 22 per cent. since we took over in 1997. I shall be happy to provide the right hon. Gentleman with a full list of all the Conservative Home Secretaries who collectively presided over that doubling of the crime figures during the Conservative years.

I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that

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I do not wish to give an off-the-cuff response to a matter that has not previously been drawn to my attention, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond perfectly adequately to him.

On the crime figures, I remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House that street crime in the Metropolitan area has fallen by a third since last January. That is well on course for the target for September, and the Prime Minister was right to say that we are taking special measures to make sure that we bring street crime under control. I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman next addresses the House, he will wish to congratulate the Government on their success in that initiative against street crime in the Met.

Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman asks whether there is a massaging of figures. I am sure that there is no massaging of figures. Indeed, we have just gone out of our way to provider fuller, clearer recorded crime statistics, and we did so despite the fact that, as he knows, the effect of the change in recording was to produce a slight rise. The rise was the result of the recording rather than the reality. That provides a stark contrast to the behaviour of the Government of whom he was a member in massaging the unemployment figures so that some of the unemployment would vanish. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, on the eve of the general election, which is the nearest that we can come, he said that half of those who disappeared from the figures represented genuine falls. Given that he said that in February 1997, it is bit rich for him now to complain about anyone on the Government Benches massaging figures.


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