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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Will the Leader of the House make time available for a parliamentary firsta statement from the Advocate- General for Scotland? The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that Lord Nimmo Smith in the Court of Session yesterday ruled against the Advocate-General on the question of whether she should be involved in a case being brought in connection with the legislation outlawing fox hunting in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman will know too that Lord Hardie ruled against the Advocate- General on the same point a few months ago.
Several hon. Members have never been clear about what the Advocate-General's job involves and, if Lord Nimmo Smith and Lord Hardie are correct, it now appears that the Advocate-General is among that number. Can we have a statement to clarify just what she is here for?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman speaks as a lawyer. I defer to his interest in the case. I am not sure that I would wish to encourage any of those of my hon. Friends who share the Government with me to come to the Dispatch Box to discuss an individual court case. I think that that would be ill advised, but I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will note what the hon. Gentleman has said.
[That this House believes that the service offered by Hoopers Employment Law Publicity Ltd to redundant workers in the City of Newport is of little or no value; further believes that the publicity promised by the company for tribunal cases is vastly overpriced at
The firm wrote to recently redundant constituents of mine demanding £578 for a service which is likely to be of little or no value. Is not this particularly mean and despicable scam likely to impoverish people who are redundant and have already suffered severe financial losses, and who are in any case getting splendid advice from the Newport citizens advice bureau? Should we not advise any others who are redundant to avoid this particular company and seek advice from reputable organisations?
Mr. Cook: I am not aware of the company, so I cannot express a view on its merits or otherwise, but I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend's tribute citizens advice bureaux, whether in Newport or anywhere else. My hon. Friend asks for another debate on the subject. I remind the House that one of the great beauties of having a recess is that we have a half-day debate on the date of the recess when many of these matters can be pursued vigorously. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be delighted to give a full reply on that occasion.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will the Leader of the House confirm that it remains Government policy that the next elections to the Scottish Parliament will be held on 1 May 2003? Can he take this opportunity to deny persistent rumours circulating in Scotland that that is a potential date for a euro referendum and would give the Presiding Officer the opportunity to vary the date of the next elections? Surely the Scottish people have every ability to pass decisive judgment on both the euro and the Scottish Executive on the same day.
Mr. Cook: The date for the Scottish parliamentary elections is not simply a matter of Government policy; it is a matter for legislation. I suspect it would require primary legislation to change the date and I know of no suggestions that it should be changed.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I refer the House to last week's business questions. [Hon. Members: "Where's the tie?"] Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on early-day motion 1524 in my name, on the abdication of King Edward VIII?
[That this House believes in open government and the timely release of public documents of historical interest; notes recent allegations in the Press about the Nazi associations of Wallis Simpson from public archives in the United States of America-deplores the fact that people in Britain have to rely on overseas sources for information about their own history; and therefore calls for the immediate release of all currently closed United Kingdom public records relating to the abdication of King Edward VIII.]
Is my my right hon. Friend aware of the recent American press reports about the alleged Nazi links of Wallis Simpson? Despite the very appropriate sartorial tribute today from the shadow Leader of the House to our
Mr. Cook: I can fully understand why some of my hon. Friends feel that they cannot compete with the right hon. Gentleman's ties, so may have given up on the effort. My hon. Friend raises a matter of history of which I am woefully ignorant and into which I would not wish to be drawn. I can think of more important, more urgent and more strategically significant things that I would wish to know about in history than the matter to which he draws attention.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): The Leader of the House is no doubt aware that in the Easter recess the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that she intended to remove the beer orders. The DTI has since had a consultation which finishes on 5 July. I understand that there is now a draft statutory instrument on the subject. Considering the concerns of the independent brewers and of the Campaign for Real Ale that this will seriously damage the small, independent, brewing industry, will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a debate in this Chamber and that the SI is not just pushed through in Committee?
Mr. Cook: I shall happily draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Personally I would be keen to make sure that we stay on side with those who support real ale and the many independent breweries. I am delighted that real ales are now more freely available in off-licences around the country. I would wish to see that continue rather than dwindle.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): When will the Government respond to the parliamentary ombudsman's grave criticisms of the Government today? The report on which the criticisms are based was brought out last autumn, yet there has been no response. This Parliament set up the parliamentary ombudsman and expects the Government to respond, but the Government will not make their response. It is all very well talking about freedom of information Acts, but should not the Government show them some real credence and deliver some access to information?
Mr. Cook: Not by 1.30 pm, I have to say. Of course we will respond to the ombudsman's report, as we always do. It is not a matter of my, or any other Minister's, having to stand here talking about the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We passed that Act. We have provided the greatest transparency and openness that this country has ever seen, and we have been far more transparent and open than the Conservative Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order of which I have given you prior notice, Mr. Speaker. I want to ask a question on the theme of freedom of information and openness on the part of the Government, bearing in mind the gross discrepancy between a written answer that I received on 10 April from the Department for Education and Skills and the answer that I was given orally this morning by the Under- Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). On 10 April, having asked the Government to set out how many teachers in maintained schools have been the victim of serious assaults by pupils or parents, I received this reply from the then Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms):