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17 Oct 2002 : Column 467continued
Mr. Cook: I think I can help my hon. Friend to clear up the point now. First, there is no such commitment by the British Government. Secondly, the paper from which he quotesas he has fairly indicatedis a paper not from the American Government but from the Congressional Budget Office. To be fair to the
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): May I return to Northern Ireland? Quite rightly, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland used the first possible opportunity to make a statement to the House on Tuesday about the suspension of the devolved institutions. It is clear that, this time, we could be in for a long haul, because previously there have not been two additional Ministers appointed. In the circumstances, may we have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that there will be a full debate on the crisis in Northern Ireland before the House rises?
Mr. Cook: May I respond first to the right hon. Gentleman's last point, because I anticipate that he may be the first of a number today to raise it? Time between now and the date of prorogation that I have announced7 Novemberis very tight. It is extremely important that we fulfil the commitments that we have, which we willingly accept, to meet the requirements of the Standing Orders for Opposition days, of which there are a number outstanding. We have four Bills, to which there will be Lords amendments, before we rise. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, and to anyone else thinking of asking the question, that there is no time for additional debate between now and prorogation.
On the general point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, we are fully seized of the gravity and importance of this development. I have no doubt that, over a period of time, the House will return to the question of Northern Ireland; whether in debate or in statements remains to be seen. Certainly the House will be right to expect to be fully involved. In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he has done everything possible to keep the House informed.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the role and activities of IPPR? In the aftermath of its report proposing a cap on donations to political parties, IPPR makes no comment on its own uncapped donations from the corporate sector.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes a robust point and I should be surprised if a letter from the IPPR were not winging its way towards him by tomorrow. I can only say to him that there are aspects of the report that do not immediately commend themselves to the Government or, I suspect, to any other party in this Chamber.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): The discovery of a Republican spy ring at Stormontin the wake of the raid on Castlereagh police station and the arrest of suspects in Colombiain addition to the ongoing violence on the streets of Northern Ireland has produced a huge decrease in support for the Belfast agreement. This was confirmed this morning in a BBC report in which a poll indicated that only 56 per cent. of people now support the Belfast agreement, as opposed to over 70 per cent. in 1998. Further to the request of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), could I appeal to the Leader of the House for an urgent debate in Government time on the circumstances that made
Mr. Cook: I fully understand the importance of the developments to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Indeed, in his statement on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stressed the fact that events at Castlereagh and in Colombia had contributed to the decline in confidence in the peace process and the structures for Government in Northern Ireland. As my right hon. Friend said in his statement, the time has come when those who are participating in the peace process must decide whether they are committing themselves wholly to that track. If the peace process is to succeed, paramilitaries on both sides must recognise that the case for violence and for trying to resolve these issues through violence is over, and that now is the time for all to commit themselves to the peace process, and solely to the peace process.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday a cross-party group of Members of Parliament presented a petition at Downing street calling for tougher regulation on fireworks? We understand that the Government have made announcements this week on bringing in new regulations, which we welcome. Would it be possible, however, given the sheer volume of people who signed the petition, for a Minister to come to the House to detail the new measures that the Government wish to introduce to deal with antisocial behaviour connected with fireworks?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue that is about to become very topical. There can be no Member of the House who has not, at some time or other, seen a constituent who has suffered injury from fireworks. My hon. Friend is correct that the Government have made proposals for controlling fireworks that are most prone to abuse or to cause injury. Those measures will, I believe, take effect from next year, and there will be opportunities for the House to consider them as the Government bring forward measures to implement them. In the mean time, I am sure that all hon. Members will use the press in their constituencies to consider how to provide the publicity to ensure that those handling fireworks recognise that they are potentially very dangerous explosives that must be handled with care, responsibility and judgment.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the courtesy of the House being informed if a Secretary of State cannot be here to answer questions is observed in the future, as it was not observed today? Will the Leader of the House also please reconsider the Modernisation Committee debate on 29 October? It is not essential that that issue be debated on that day; it is essential that Northern Ireland be debated very soon.
Mr. Cook: We have to make our own judgments as to what is the best allocation of time, and I think that the House will want to address a number of modernisation issues. As a matter of fact, it is essential that we have a debate on modernisation before proroguing, otherwise the House will be sitting until 10 o'clock on Thursdays in the next Session, because that order is sessional and must be addressed. There are reasons of necessity why we have to have a debate before the House rises.
On the hon. Gentleman's other point, I am advised that those on the Opposition Front Bench were informed that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be absent. In fairness to my right hon. Friend, she is attending the Environment Council in Europe, which has very important business relating to this country. If she were absent from that meeting, I suspect that she would be criticised by the House for coming here rather than going to Brussels.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): The Leader of the House is aware that this week the Irish people will be voting in a referendum on the Nice treaty. Although not wishing to interfere in that process, many of us hope that they will vote yes. Bearing in mind the interest of the Leader of the House in the enlargement process in his work as Foreign Secretary and its importance to the rest of Europe, could time be set aside for a debate next week, or at least before the House rises, so that we can debate how to champion the cause even further?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend tosses me what I think is a firework that I must handle with care and responsibility. As he rightly says, the Irish public would quite properly resent any outside interference in their process. On enlargement, however, I have no difficulty in saying to my hon. Friend that the Government wholeheartedly support the enlargement process and have been one of the champions arguing for enlargement and the access of the countries in central and eastern Europe.
I think that we in the European Union are inclined to underrate the extent to which the possibility of membership of the European Union has helped those countries transform their economy and alleviated some of the longstanding ethnic tensions that they have realised they have to put behind them as a condition of membership. These are welcome developments. Given the painful decisions that those countries have taken, it remains incumbent on us to ensure that those decisions are rewarded with membership.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and, in particular, the delays in providing guidance? Is he aware that there is a problem with the rationing of photodynamic therapy for patients suffering from wet age-related macular degeneration, or AMD? My constituent, Jack Tolley, of Bladon, is going progressively blind. His general practitioner has recommended him for treatment, but the Oxford eye hospital says that it cannot carry it out because the funding from his own primary care trust is not there. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is particularly iniquitous because patients in Reading are funded for that treatment at the Oxford eye hospital. He may like to know that the North East Oxfordshire NHS PCT has said that because