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Mr. Cook: Yesterday I made a speech in which I suggested that if we want to restore the respect of the public for Parliament, we should try to rise above our tribal instincts. However, the right hon. Gentleman makes it terribly difficult for me rise above my tribal instincts, and I think that today I will fail miserably.
I have had an opportunity to study the ombudsman's report; I took it off the web this morning. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has disdain for anything that smacks of the web or the internet, but I recommend it to him as an easy and convenient way of getting access to public documents. As he has quoted paragraph 4.13, I refer him to paragraph 4.20, where he will find that the ombudsman states that he found
Mr. Cook: On the contrary, the ombudsman had access to all the documents in the Cabinet Office. I concede that there was a delay, for which the Cabinet Office apologised. However, he did gain access to the documents. He sets out in paragraph 4.19 and 4.18 that he saw all there was to see, and found that very little documentation had been delayed.
The ombudsman's conclusion was precisely the same as the conclusion reached by Sir Anthony Hammond. Indeed, he explicitly said that he reached the same conclusion. I see no point in wasting the time of the House in examining further a matter that has been exhaustively examined by Sir Anthony Hammond, and on which the ombudsman has reached the same conclusion. Had the conclusion been different, there might have been a point to the right hon. Gentleman's question, but as the conclusion is the same, there is no reason why the House should waste its effort and time on that.
As for the other matters raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I regret to say that I have not recently had an opportunity to hold discussions with the former membership secretary of the Prime Minister's constituency party. I am aware of Renewal. As the right hon. Gentleman is also aware of it, he may know that it recently carried a very interesting speech by myself, which it reprinted as an article.
Renewal is one of the many examples of vigorous, open, intellectual and democratic debate in the labour movement. I would have more respect for the right hon. Gentleman's concern about democracy in the Labour party if he did something about democracy in the Conservative party. For instance, perhaps he should respond to the demand of Conservative activists that they should elect officers within their party, as we elect officers in the Labour party.
As for the vetting of donations, I think it entirely healthy and proper that we should set up a committeeand be open about the membership of that committeeto consider the implications of any donation that we take. I wish that the Conservative party would nowfinallytell us from whom it took donations when the Conservatives were in office. The Conservatives can do itI presume that they have not burnt the files, so they are somewhere in central office. The only donations they ever owned up to were those that they were obliged to disclose after we laid a legal requirement on them.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. I may be getting tribal again, but perhaps I should encourage the ombudsman to make an inquiry at central office and see just how long the delay is before the Conservatives finally tell us from what companies and what countries they took money when they were the Government of Great Britain.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I express my thanks to the Leader of the House for giving us a second day on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Billtime that we requested and others agreed was necessary? In the light of recent developments, it is extremely important that we discuss those issues, especially those that were not covered in Committee.
While I am in a grateful mood, may I also thank the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for giving added publicity to my question to the Prime Minister yesterday? I am very grateful.
I read with great interest and welcome the speech that the Leader of the House made to the Hansard Society last night, but does he agree that the House must find better ways to discuss urgent and topical issues more thoroughly? Let me give two examples. First, there is the funding of democracy and political parties, which has just been mentioned. The Prime Minister goes on television to talk about it, the chairman of the Labour party talks about it, two prominent Conservative MPs were talking about it yesterdayeven the CBI is now talking about state funding of political parties. When will the Government give the House time to debate that issue properly?
Secondly, I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the adjudication by the pensions appeal tribunal yesterday in the case of a gentleman who served this country well in the Gulf and now suffers from Gulf war syndrome. The right hon. Gentleman will know of my interest as a long-time member of the Royal British Legion, which is concerned about the matter. Does he realise that the report in today's Daily Express, which I assume is now required Government reading, given that it is clearly their favourite newspaper, not only refers to the pay-out announced for Mr. Shaun Rusling, but states that his claim was adjustedI think that is the best way to put itby the Ministry of Defence so that it would not
Mr. Cook: First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the arrangements for the Report stage the week after the Whitsun recess. In the light of the representations that were made, it was right to ensure that there was adequate time for the remaining stages of that Bill. On a number of occasions since the general election the Government have listened to representations about remaining stages and provided the House with adequate time to explore important issues. We regard the Bill as a very important one, which deals with a serious issue.
I also appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments about my speech yesterday. I fully agree with him about the importance of making sure that our proceedings are topical and deal with the public interest. I look forward to the forthcoming report from the Select Committee on Procedure, which I hope will enable us to shorten the period of notice for oral questions and thereby ensure greater topicality in those that come before the House.
I cannot promise a debate on party funding because, as the hon. Gentleman will have observed, we have a crowded schedule at this time of year. My impression is that there is a lively debate going on about party funding, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that no step can be taken in respect of party funding without a decision of the House, and therefore a debate in the House.
I am aware of the pensions appeal tribunal's judgment with regard to Gulf war syndrome. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is a very recent judgment, and it is right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to consider it carefully and respond to it in due course. However, the hon. Gentleman can take it as read that we take what has been said by the tribunal extremely seriously.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): My right hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister is making an important speech today about science and research. He will know also that the spin-off from science and research in universities in the north-east will be crucial to the future prosperity of the north-east. Can we have a debate on this issue soonalthough preferably not next weekso that we can explore the best ways of improving job creation by our universities?
Mr. Cook: I think that my right hon. Friend carried the House with him when he suggested that any debate that we may have should not take place next week. I very much welcome the Prime Minister's decision to give a major speech on science, research and technology. Sometimes, because of the press pressures on us and the agenda on the front pages, we overlook what are the fundamentally important and strategically significant issues in our nation, and I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen to highlight one of those strategic questions. My right hon. Friend may be aware that there is a forthcoming debate in Westminster Hall on the report by the Committee on Science and Technology, when I am sure many of these points can be aired.