Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome and support for my objective of getting Select Committees up and running before the House breaks for the summer recess. I will require the House's co-operation to meet that very tight timetable. At least two separate decisions will be required of this Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) has pointed out, one will be to change the Standing Orders in order to track changes in Departments; another will be to approve nominations to the Committees. I shall endeavour to enable the House to reach decisions on those matters before the summer. I will need its co-operation to ensure that the decisions are taken and would welcome from the official Opposition the sort of support that we have heard from the hon. Gentleman.
On Gothenburg, a written answer comes to the House and is the property of the House. It is not the property of the wider public until it is made to the House. I can give the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members an assurance that they will find plenty of opportunities to debate Europe before we arrive at the summer recess.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Will the Government give any indication regarding hunting with dogs? The Queen's Speech refers to a free vote, but would not it be right for the Government to provide time for the matter to be finalised at long last? If there is an overwhelming majority in this Parliament for a ban on hunting with dogs, as there was in the previous one, let us finalise the issue once and for all, using Government time and the Parliament Act.
Mr. Cook: Our manifesto, on which we were elected, committed us to providing time for a free vote of Parliament. The Queen's Speech of the very first Session of this Parliament commits us to carrying through that manifesto commitment. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important for us to resolve the issue, and I believe that many hon. Members, whatever their view on its substance, would like it to be resolved in the current Session.
As the right hon. Gentleman considers the week after next, will he bring to the House for decision regulations relating to the pay of hon. Members, office costs allowances and the other related matters that have been pending for a considerable time, on which there is need
Mr. Cook: I am very sympathetic to the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The decisions on pay and the office costs allowance affect not only hon. Members but our staff. In the wake of the election, I know that many hon. Members are facing decisions on staff that are difficult to take with the lack of certainty about the future of the office costs allowance. I hope that we can resolve the matter as soon as possible.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I very much welcome the announcement that we will discuss programme motions on Thursday. Many Back Benchers are very dissatisfied about the way in which such motions were discussed in the previous Parliament and want the current Parliament to be more efficient and effective. In that spirit, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the first Modernisation Committee report of the Session of 1997-98 and to the many ways in which it suggested that the legislative process could be modernised? Will he revisit the report and consider whether it would be helpful to draw Ministers' attention to ways in which they could progress Government business more effectively?
Mr. Cook: I am aware of the previous reports of the Modernisation Committee. In fairness, I should say that, of the 65 recommendations that the Committee made in the previous Parliament, 56 were carried through by the Government and the House. There is unfinished business and I assure my hon. Friend that we want to revisit it. That is, after all, why I have just committed the Government to setting up the Modernisation Committee and myself to playing a full part in it.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Is the Leader of the House aware that Gosport was not the only constituency in which the local provision of hospital services was the biggest issue on the doorstep? Is he aware also that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), whom I am pleased to see in his place, and I propose to form an all-party group on the local provision of hospital services? Will he provide an early opportunity for the issue to be debated in the House, as it is of overwhelming concern to our constituents?
Mr. Cook: The House will be aware that our priority for early business is to ensure that we get under way with the Bills to which we have committed ourselves in the Queen's Speech and about which the House has heard. I am confident that there will be many opportunities in the current Session for the House to debate health matters. Of course, we are well aware that the health service is not what we would wish it to be. That is why we are in the middle of the largest hospital-building programme that the NHS has ever known, and why we have committed ourselves to a 10-year programme for the NHS that will provide an additional 7,000 beds. If that had been done in the decade before, when the previous Government were in office, we might not now have to make good the damage that was done.
Mr. Cook: The process of modernisation is necessarily continual; we have therefore already undertaken much modernisation. My hon. Friend undervalues my predecessors' contribution in the previous Parliament, which included introducing Westminster Hall debates, the changes to Thursday sittings and draft legislation. However, there is no ground for complacency, and I assure my hon. Friend that if we are serious about having a modern House that is fit for the 21st century many tasks remain to be done. I shall continue the process of modernisation.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I fully support the views that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) expressed. I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment and make a further plea to him to consider the House's method of selecting hon. Members to serve on Select Committees. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that it is important that the Selection Committee is not dominated by the usual channels? Will he also reconsider what appears to be his decision to continue with the Modernisation Committee, which he will chair? The Government could be perceived as abusing their position to devise procedures to help them to get their business through rather than enabling the House to scrutinise them and hold them to account. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that the Modernisation Committee's functions could be carried out by the Procedure Committee, the impartiality and good sense of which was shown by its excellent report on Mr. Speaker's election?
Mr. Cook: I fully concur that the Procedure Committee produced a good report, but the Modernisation Committee must consider wider issues than procedure. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as Chairman, I shall not try to railroad or bulldoze the Committee; I am sure that he would not allow me to do that. In the previous Session, the Modernisation Committee produced consensual reports. If I withdrew from the Committee, did not participate fully in and show commitment to its work, that could convey the wrong message.
I am aware of the debate about the appointment of Select Committee members, which was rekindled by the Hansard Society this week. I sense that the House wants the Select Committees to be up and running as quickly as possible. It is therefore not the time to start to rewrite the basis on which members are nominated.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): It became a practice in the previous Parliament for the Welsh Affairs Committee to examine the Queen's Speech for matters that are relevant to Assembly Members. As former Chairman of the Committee, may I add my weight to calls for the Committee to be set up as soon as possible so that we can examine some of the matters in the Queen's Speech?