Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): A serious problem faces firms trying to renew their employer's liability insurance. A firm in my constituency—Moorside Mining—has ended up paying seven times more than it did just over a year ago to continue in operation. Can we discuss that insurers' ramp, which is taking place at the moment, and the possibility of a scheme being devised—perhaps through the Consolidated Fund—so that construction, mining and quarrying firms, which are particularly badly affected, can have some protection in the future; or will pressure be put on insurers so that they bring themselves into line and provide insurance cover at a reasonable rate?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. I cannot hold out any immediate prospect of a debate of the kind that he suggests, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of the Minister for Energy and Construction, who is in charge of such matters.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): May I associate the Liberal Democrats with the words of thanks that the Leader of the House has extended to the staff, and single out those who have been responsible for our security this Session, following the events of last autumn?

I welcome the debate on the Select Committees that will take place on Monday 22 July. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the House approved the Modernisation Committee on that topic earlier this Session, the one issue that was not addressed was the political balance of Select Committee chairmanships? In considering the forthcoming reorganisation, will he undertake to use his good offices to ensure that the party political balance of the chairmanships is restored to the level that it should be?

18 Jul 2002 : Column 426

Last Monday, the House was presented with a Government motion to end Friday sittings in October. Presumably, that was done in expectation that the Home Energy Conservation (No. 2) Bill—the HECA Bill—will be successfully completed on Friday.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Read the Order Paper.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman speak.

Mr. Stunell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the event that the Bill, as amended, does not pass—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is putting a question to the Leader of the House. Let the Leader of the House answer the question.

Mr. Stunell: Unfortunately, Conservative Members do not appear to be aware that a substitute Bill is being submitted. My point to the Leader of the House is that, were that Bill—

Mr. Swayne: It has been withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Swayne, please be quiet. The House is very noisy, and we have only a few days to go.

Mr. Stunell: I think that I am entitled to be wrong when I speak in the Chamber, as well as to be right. My point to the Leader of the House is whether he will reconsider his decision, as put to us, to end sittings on Fridays in October to give extra time to private Member's Bills that have not been completed before the summer break?

Just before I entered the Chamber, I was given a detailed brief on what the Deputy Prime Minister will tell the House in the statement that he will make in a few minutes' time. I got that detailed briefing from BBC News 24. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is highly unsatisfactory that hon. Members could put on to the record of the House what the Deputy Prime Minister will say in advance of his saying it on the basis of news reports, but that we cannot get that information from the Vote Office? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have something to say about that.

Finally, the Leader of the House will know that I have been challenging the Government's capacity to answer parliamentary questions during this Session. Does he accept that several Departments are still massively behind in responding to questions, and that increasing evidence exists that political advisers and civil servants are working together to obstruct and prevaricate in the provision of honest and accurate replies, rather than facilitating them as the ministerial code requires?

Mr. Cook: Let me say, first, that the Opposition will join me in saying that all Members of the House would support fully the democratic right of the hon. Gentleman and his party to be wrong. There is no contention from us on that issue.

I know of the Liberal Democrats' concern that they do not hold sufficient numbers of chairmanships of Select Committees. Of course, that is not, in the first instance,

18 Jul 2002 : Column 427

a matter for me; strictly, it is a matter for the Committees to resolve. In the case of the two Committees that we shall appoint next week, there are two existing Committees in that area and two splendid Members of the House who have tended to preside over them. I could not counsel anyone to whom I have good feelings that they might intrude on that particular contested field. I am aware of the issue, however, and I shall certainly bear it in mind for a future occasion.

On private Members' Bills, those for this Friday—if I may clear up this doubt—consist of about 40 Bills on the Order Paper, which I think will be sufficient. The first three of those are: the Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs, Etc.) Bill, which, the House will be aware, the Government support; the Commonwealth Bill, which the Government also fully support; and the Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Bill, to which I understand members of the hon. Gentleman's party have tabled a very large numbers of amendments. That does not suggest to me that they anticipate that other Bills that appear further down the Order Paper will get a hearing. It is for the House on Friday to decide how it will handle these matters. I do not anticipate, however, that the Home Energy Conservation Bill will appear in either its previous reform or in a revised form on Friday.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about sittings on a Friday in October. I am not sure, however, that it would be responsible to extend the time available for private Members' Bills in October, given that the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred will still have to go to the Lords and come back. We must be realistic about what is achievable between now and the end of the Session.

Lastly, I would not, of course, accept in any way that Departments are conspiring to obstruct answers to Members. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the case of the Department for Education and Skills, Ministers have made it perfectly clear that they want the guidance reasserted to match that for civil servants so that we do not have a repetition of the e-mails that the hon. Gentleman saw.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): HIV/AIDS is currently claiming more than a million lives in heavily indebted poor countries, yet half the countries receiving debt relief are spending more on debt payments than on public health. Could the Leader of the House find some time for us to debate that matter to see how we can engage the international community on debt, aid and trade, to tackle this disaster, which is set to reduce life expectancy in some of those countries to the age of only 27?

Mr. Cook: First, I fully concur with my hon. Friend on the very important matter to which she draws attention, which is having a severe impact on some of the poorest countries in the world. For that reason, the Government have fully supported the proposal, through the G8 and the United Nations, for a special fund to tackle the HIV/AIDS threat in those countries. That is also why Britain worked very hard to make sure that development aid for Africa, which is one of the continents worst-hit by AIDS, should be at the heart of the debate held only last month at the G8 in Canada. We secured some progress there in making sure that there were fuller commitments to help Africa.

18 Jul 2002 : Column 428

We have shown leadership on the relief of debt, and it is fair to say that no other major developed country has done more than we have to tackle the debt burden. We have unilaterally renounced the debt to Britain of more than 20 of the poorest countries. We shall continue to work on that—there is a lot more to be done—but Britain does not need to be ashamed of its record in this area.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The last time that I asked the Leader of the House for a full-scale debate in Government time on agriculture, he counselled me that it could not be done until all the reports associated with foot and mouth disease were in the public domain. As that is about to be achieved—in addition to the publication of the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on the activities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the fundamental spending review report on the future budget for DEFRA—will the Leader of the House ensure that as soon as we come back after the summer recess, if not before, we have a full-scale debate on agriculture? All the criteria that he laid down for such a debate have now been fulfilled.

Mr. Cook: It will not be possible to do that before the House rises for the summer recess. However, I am well aware of the issue and will bear it in mind when we return.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): The Minister for Rural Affairs will conduct public inquiries in September in connection with the latest leg of the saga on hunting with dogs. He has given the same amount of time to those who argue for a ban as he has to those who wish to retain the status quo. Inexplicably, he has given the same amount of time to those who argue for the middle way, which has no discernible support in the House or outside. I urge my right hon. Friend to pass on my concerns to the Minister. Will he ask him to make an early statement when we return in October on precisely where we are on that issue, which concerns many of us?

Next Section

IndexHome Page