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Mr. Cook: Obviously, I cannot commit myself to legislation without consulting my colleagues and reflecting on the matter. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the judgment, and can understand the sense of injustice and hard feeling experienced by those who lost such a case. I can see that the implications of the principle contained in the judgment could go much wider than such cases. I am informed that the Association of British Insurers is consulting its members on their response to the judgment, and I hope that a way forward can be found that will not deny remedy and justice to those involved.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debatenext week or in the first week of Januaryon industrial relations in the civil service? Given that the staff of the Department for Work and Pensions are on strike and that that may cause immeasurable difficulties for vulnerable people seeking benefits or advice in the pre-Christmas period, and that staff of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are also on strike, thus meaning that farmers will not receive the payments owed them under
The strike in the Department for Work and Pensions relates to the introduction of changes that will be very much in the interest of the public. Although I hope that we can find agreement on taking forward those changes with the support of the staffwithout staff feeling threatened in any wayour duty is obviously to the public and to ensure that we provide them with the best possible service.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the good sense and imagination that runs through his modernisation paper and especially on his comments that the proposals are a first step towards changing practices and the balance between this place and the Executive, and that the process will continue. I also welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the naturealbeit limitedof the free vote next Tuesday. That seems to go some way towards recognising that membership of the House and the use of its facilities are not in the gift of the Governmentthey are a matter for the House. It is the Houseproperlyon a free vote that should decide such matters.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is correct about the free vote for Members of the party. He is entirely free to vote as he wishes on Tuesday. I would have neither the temerity nor the courage to advise him how to vote on Tuesday.
I welcome his comments on the modernisation proposals. I also agree with him that, important though the package is, work will remain to be done and that modernisation will not stop with this programme.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Bearing in mind the motion that the Leader of the House will introduce next Tuesday, is he aware that the vast majority of Members take their responsibilities to Parliament very seriously indeed? Several of those Members are currently in shared accommodation and in accommodation that is not up to the standard of that occupied by other Members. Why the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting to the House that he will give Members who have no intention of taking part in its proceedings the same sort of space that he gives Members who take this place seriously?
Mr. Cook: Against the historic achievement of the Good Friday agreement, the first-ever verifiable decommissioning in the history of Northern Ireland and the election of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to argue over whether we can find a room for those Members does not match the gravity of that process in Northern Ireland.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): Following an earlier question, may I remind my right hon. Friend that the board of Consignia has a long history of ignoring its work force and failing to consult them on major decisions? I was involved in a campaign to keep open the sorting
Massive job losses are in the pipeline. Some of my constituents and people from the poorest parts of London will lose their jobs with Consignia. When we are talking about job losses on that scale, it is a matter for the Government and for the elected representatives who represent those people who are on the receiving end. Can we have a debate?
Mr. Cook: Of course, my hon. Friend raises a very important priorityensuring that Consignia's management consults fully and tries to reach consensus with the work force, because the problem that faces Consignia is common to the management and the work force. I am very much in favour of Select Committees having access to all available information and to hearing, whenever possible, Government policy announcements. I was a bit taken aback to hear the scale of redundancy that was announced first to a Select Committee. I hope that the management will now remedy that by moving quickly to try to reach agreement and a way forward with the work force.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On Monday this week, the report that the Home Secretary commissioned from Ted Cantle produced its first recommendation saying that the rights and, in particular, the responsibilities of citizenship need to be more clearly established and should be formalised into a statement of allegiance. That view was endorsed by the ministerial group on the issue, which states that the public realm is founded on negotiation and debate between competing viewpoints at the same time as it upholds inviolable rights and duties. Given the motion that will be moved in the right hon. Gentleman's name on Tuesday and the fact that the Ministers who made that comment will be invited to support it, is this an example of joined-up Government or double standards?
Mr. Cook: Not in the slightest. The citizenship of Britain of course embraces the fundamental right to vote in a parliamentary democracy. Many of the citizens of those four constituencies have exercised that right and they have elected those four Members of Parliament. The House has to ask itself whether it is consistent with what we preach in parliamentary democracy not even to let them into the precincts. The hon. Gentleman was a special adviser to the Conservative Government, so I find it surprising that he never expressed that view to those whom he advised at the time who, throughout their period in office, let those four Members into the precincts.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will be aware that there have been requests for other debates from both sides of the House. Is it not passing strange, therefore, that the Government have selected next Tuesday for the debate to allow Members who have not taken their seats to use facilities in the House, especially when that party has not been prepared to nominate people to the police board and to take a fuller role in Northern Ireland? At a time when we have been debating international terrorism, is that not giving a wrong
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman's party sits on the Executive and the Government of Northern Ireland with one of the very four Members whom we are discussing. I cannot accept that it is right to sit down at the same meetings of the Executive in Belfast with him, but to say that he cannot even get in to use the Vote Office, the Library or the travel office here. That seems to fail to recognise the logic of the process, to which the hon. Gentleman has contributed greatly.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): The Leader of the House said that the Sinn Fein-IRA Members would not be eligible for parliamentary salaries. However, will they be eligible for parliamentary allowances? If so, will not the British taxpayer hand over almost £500,000 to Sinn Fein-IRA? Will the right hon. Gentleman also investigate whether the ribbons in the Members' Cloakroom can support the weight of a kalashnikov?
Mr. Cook: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's last question is worthy of the House of Commons or its exchanges. I happily confirm that the motion will provide for allowances to be payable on the same basis as those for any other Member of Parliament who has been elected by his constituents.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): To inform the debate on access to the House, will the Leader of the House make available the information about the terrorist activities of the Members concerned? At least one of them, Martin McGuinness, was to my personal knowledge the commandant of the IRA in Londonderry. I interviewed him when he was in that capacity and, during the interview, he told me that he had had a dozen Catholic informers killed. If he has, indeed, put that bloody past behind him and now believes that constitutional change should come about only by operating within the constitution, is not the appropriate test that he takes the Oath?