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On the issue of House of Lords reform and the hon. Gentleman's point about the Public Administration Committee, I welcome one general point about the report, which is that it proves that it is possible for those who want reform of the second Chamber to reach agreement on what should be the shape of that reform. What has repeatedly worried meI have expressed this to the Houseis that, for decades, we have failed to proceed with root and branch reform of the second Chamber because those who are in favour of reform have been
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically helpful question. May I gently point out to him that the Prime Minister said that no decision has been taken, and no one anticipates one being taken in the near or medium future? Indeed, there is no timetable or process by which such a decision could be taken. It would therefore be ludicrously premature for me as Leader of the House to commit myself to what the House may do in the event of a hypothetical outcome that is not expected for many months.
In any event, the Government have demonstrated, with the recent crisis in Afghanistan, a willingness, enthusiasm and keenness to hear from the House. We have had five separate full-day debates on that issue in which, if I remember rightly, my hon. Friend was careful to give his views at length, as I am sure he will do when we debate it again.
Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): May we have a statement on the Government's relations with industry and trade unions? Yesterday in the House the Prime Minister said that the concerns of City fund managers about the financing of public-private projects were motivated by self-interest. Today we read on the front page of The Times that he is crawling back to them by reneging on pledges on workers' rights that he has made to trade unions. Can the Prime Minister make a clear statement to the House on where he stands? Now that we all know the way in which the Government operate, can we be told how much more money the unions would have to pay the Government to get a change of policy?
Mr. Cook: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to correct the statements in this morning's press. We issued a consultation document last September on the preservation of pension rights. It listed a number of options that have been out for consultation. They are being discussed in the Government and no decision has been made.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable disquiet in companies up and down the country because of the demise of final salary occupational pension schemes? Will he make time for a debate on the Floor of the House on that important issue to reassure the many people who are worried and to see what can be done to support them?
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on the general concern about Iraq? Will the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange an early debate on the Floor of the House, led by the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister, on Iraq? Will he consider publishing at an early date a document that sets out and identifies the chief areas of concern in the context of Iraq? In the event of the Government deciding to take or to support action, including military action, outside what goes on in the no-fly zones, will he seek the support of the House on a substantive motion, even if that authority has to be given retrospectively, which is where I slightly depart from the views of the hon. Member for Linlithgow?
Mr. Cook: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has floated an alternative option to that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The request is ludicrously premature in terms of what may, or may not, be happening. No decision has been taken, and none may ever be taken. The fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend have produced two different approaches shows that we need to consider the matter carefully before we commit ourselves to one or other way of proceeding.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's other point related to the grounds of concern about Iraq. At the present time I do not think that there would be any difficulty for the Government putting in the public domain a response to the areas of concern to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded, but those issues are well known and unarguable. The fact is that the Iraqi regime has several thousands of unaccounted litres of toxic chemicals that would be appropriate to use in a chemical weapon; it has made considerable investment in developing biological germ agents that could be used in biological weapons; and has proceeded intensivelyand appears to be continuing to do sowith medium-range missiles that could deliver such warheads. In addition, of course, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in his attack on an innocent village of Kurds, wiping out 5,000 women, children and elderly men with mustard gas.
Given that history and the present record, it is entirely proper that the world should take action through every available channel, starting with the United Nations, to ensure that Saddam Hussein accepts what the rest of the world accepts: no regime should have access to weapons of mass destruction unless it fully participates in international regimes to control proliferation.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will be aware that this House is represented directly by two Membersone from our party, who has been elected to the collective presidency of the convention and is therefore well placed to monitor its proceedings and agenda, and one who represents the Opposition, who no doubt also represents their strong views against Europe and will be making his own strong commitment to it and reporting to us at great length.
I anticipate that, as the convention proceeds, it will be a matter of repeated discussion in the House. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will be frequently before the House giving an account of it. We have had discussions on the process by which Members of the House and of the convention can report to Committees of the House, but I very much share my hon. Friend's concern that the debate should not simply be one within the convention or, indeed, between the convention and national Parliaments. The debate must also embrace the wider population and the civic community of Europe. I very much hope that high on the convention's agenda is the means of ensuring that it carries out exercises in listening to that civic community.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Will the Leader of the House think carefully about the comment of his hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) and bear in mind the tradition of consensus across the House when discussing pension legislation and the future of pensions? Although there is much discussion at the moment in the House on legislation affecting second pensions, pension plus and stakeholder pensions, there has not been an opportunity to discuss the serious, long-term and deep effects on security in retirement. Will he therefore look favourably on the possibility of an Adjournment debate in which we can consider such issues and subject them to the measured and informed discussion that they badly need?