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17 Oct 2002 : Column 471—continued

Mr. Cook: I am aware of the controversy to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Plainly, the sooner it is resolved the better, from everyone's point of view. I have two general observations. First, we set up NICE precisely because it is surely right that it should be the scientific and the medical experts, with some independent assessment, who come to a judgment. These are not matters that we are qualified to judge and they are not suitable to be resolved on the Floor of the House. Secondly, I hear the hon. Gentleman's complaints about poor funding. Of course, it is the Government's understanding that we have to make further progress in raising funding within the national health service. We have carried through a massive increase in funding since we inherited the record of the previous Conservative Government. At the Conservative party conference, the Conservative leadership said that it was not committed to matching our increases in health spending. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can support his leadership in refusing to match our spending and at the same time complain that we are not spending enough.

Andy Burnham (Leigh): Will the Leader of the House consider timetabling at the earliest opportunity a debate on the future of United Kingdom manufacturing? He may feel a sense of deja-vu, but there have been profound changes within our industrial base, and Parliament is in danger of failing to respond to those changes. In the past year, there have been forced large-scale redundancies in Leigh and 1,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, the latest due to the closure of the Bentwood textiles factory, which has led to the loss of more than 300 skilled jobs. That raises real issues about the future of the UK textile industry and whether the European Union tax regime is working in our national interests. There is real concern out there about both the ease with which companies can seemingly relocate away from the UK and the quality of the redundancy packages offered to people when such relocations occur. I urge my right hon. Friend to give hon. Members the opportunity to air those concerns on the Floor of the House at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Cook: I am distressed to hear of the experience that my hon. Friend describes in his constituency and I fully understand that the matters that he has raised must be of grave concern to his constituents. I am aware of the interest on both sides of the House in a discussion of manufacturing. It is a matter that has been aired before. I draw attention to the fact that we are rapidly approaching six full days' debate on the Queen's Speech, which traditionally provides an opportunity to discuss industry and the economy. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members may wish to consider whether these are matters that could be pursued in that context.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Would the Leader of the House make a statement prior to the

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modernisation debate on the possible impact of the modernisation on the working hours and income of the staff of the House and the police? He may be aware that it is feared that those staff may well end up worse off after that modernisation process.

Mr. Cook: If there are concerns on income, that is a matter that can be pursued through the usual negotiating channels, which are well developed within the House of Commons. I am sure that the House of Commons Commission will be willing to consider any bona fide and genuine concerns that there might be—I say that as a member of the Commission. However, I am not immediately aware that there would be a significant impact on the hours of the staff. If he is referring to the Modernisation Committee's report, it is true that we make a vigorous case for thinking that the House would be wise to start earlier in the day than at present and that that would have a consequence for when we conclude our business at the end of the day. We do not go so far as the Opposition, who suggested that we should sit from 9 am and stop at 5 pm, but we are suggesting 11.30 am until 7 pm.

We also recommended that, because a number of hon. Members will wish to continue working on the premises, catering and other facilities such as the Library should remain open. so I would not apprehend any immediate and sharp reduction in hours.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I return to the issue raised by the Father of the House during business questions. My point relates to the article by Oonagh Blackman in today's edition of The Mirror. We might want to take issue with the basis on which the US Congressional Budget Office speculated on the costs of a war against Iraq. The following statement from its report ought to cause this House real concern:

We have had a succession of statements, from the Prime Minister and other Ministers, saying that the UK has not made any such commitment. Either the US Congress is being misled, or information is being withheld from this House. May we ask the Prime Minister to make it clear to this House whether there is any grounds at all for the certainty with which this commitment of UK troops is referred to in the report to the US Congress?

Mr. Cook: There is no commitment made, and can be no commitment made, because no decision has yet been reached. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said to the House—I fully support him in this policy objective—it is the objective of British foreign policy to make sure that it is progressed through the United Nations. At the moment, there are discussions within the United Nations on what resolution might be approved, and I think it may well be possible that those discussions will result in a resolution. At the moment, no decision is required of us, and no commitment has been made by us. Military action is not imminent; nor is it inevitable. I very much hope that, at the end of the day, we will succeed through the United Nations process of satisfactorily disarming Saddam Hussein and removing his ambition for weapons of mass destruction. However,

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we also need him to heed the UN obligations that he has previously had put upon him, and any fresh UN resolution that is adopted.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Will the Leader of the House keep an open mind as to the allocation of time for debating local government funding, given the concerns expressed by Members, the interests of their constituents, the scale of the proposed changes to funding, the effect on local services, and the interests of those such as the chairman of the Hertfordshire police authority, who wrote to Ministers and MPs saying that, in due course, changes in funding will result in the loss of 300 police officers in Hertfordshire? These are very big changes. Can we find sufficient time, so that all these anxieties can be heard?

Mr. Cook: Yes, although I am aware that my right hon. Friend has repeatedly stressed to the House that no local authority will be worse off. Of course, there is room for debate as to who is best off in terms of the increased amounts. Having said that, I admit to the House that I see no realistic possibility that I can provide satisfactory time on the Floor for every Member who wishes to make a contribution, through a speech, to this issue. It is simply not possible to reconcile that with the finite character of time. I have twice tried to provide generous time for this debate. On Tuesday, that opportunity was waylaid by the need for statements; it will not be so waylaid next Thursday, when a second opportunity will arise. I believe that, in all fairness, we have tried hard to provide adequate opportunity for the House to ventilate this subject.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that—despite the impression given by the shadow Leader of the House—the Modernisation Committee has done everything possible in the past year to try to reach a consensus? Is it not true that some of his friends on the Labour Benches wanted to go much further in respect of matters such as the modest overspill proposal? People such as me believe that we should have a five-year Parliament, with all legislation being introduced in a sensible, phased way over that period. That would ensure a better programme, better scrutiny and better legislation.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has played a distinguished part in the Select Committee. He is absolutely right—we have sought whenever we can to achieve consensus. All members of the Committee will accept that I have made real efforts to get as many members on board as possible. There are one or two areas on which we disagree—that is not surprising—but we have achieved substantial consensus on the way forward.

On the issue of carry-over to which my hon. Friend refers, I stress that I do not see it as related in any way to increasing the volume of legislation before the House; I see it as necessary to make sure that the House can do a proper job of scrutiny. The real problem in scrutinising Government legislation is finding enough time in which to do it. If we want more time to do it, we must have a

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longer time-horizon. That is the value of carry-over to the House, and it is for the House's sake that we should adopt it when we meet on 29 October.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Leader of the House will know that about six of his ministerial colleague, including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, attended the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg at the end of August. He will further know that that international conference debated and discussed some of the most vital issues affecting the future of our globe. Surely the House should have an opportunity to discuss these important matters. Bearing in mind the fair point that he made about the pressure on business between now and Prorogation, will he assure us that the matter will be debated on the Floor of the House, if not before then immediately after the beginning of the new Session?

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