The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) asked about the Standards and Privileges Committee. It is, of course, a very important Committee. I think it would be rather odd if we sought to set up Select Committees that did not include one dealing with standards and privileges, and I hope we shall be able to include it in the overall package.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Are we being softened up for the non-renewal of the contract of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards? What is wrong with her being zealous in the performance of her duties?
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in past Parliaments, we campaigned--before and during the "sleaze" allegations--for far tighter controls over matters relating to finance and Members of Parliament? The steps that were taken were very important. For heaven's sake, are we really going back to those former days? The Parliamentary Commissioner has performed her duties correctly. Why on earth should her contract not be renewed?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do require a zealous Commissioner, and we will ensure that the House is served by a zealous Commissioner. As my hon. Friend says, the present Commissioner has been extremely zealous in performing her duties.
I deprecate the speculation that I have seen in the press about the future of Ms Filkin. I do not consider it in any way helpful to Ms Filkin or to her authority; nor does it serve any of the interests of the House. For the record, the House of Commons Commission has not even met in the current Parliament, far less reached any view on what it may or may not do when that contract becomes open for renewal--next year, not this year. I urge all Members not to rise to the bait that the media offer them to speculate.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the right hon. Gentleman see whether it is possible to organise a debate on the genuinely serious position of some of my elderly constituents who find themselves bed-blocked in hospitals? In the Princess Royal hospital in mid-Sussex, 20 per cent. of beds are blocked at any one time. People are having to spend nights and days on trolleys in the accident and emergency unit before they can get into a ward. All that is because the Government have redistributed--in effect, stolen--£15 million of social services money in order to distribute it to other parts of the United Kingdom, leaving West Sussex very short.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I am sure my right hon. Friend knows how pleased many Members are that the Queen's Speech includes reference to a Bill to promote women's representation in politics. [Interruption.] How soon could such a Bill be introduced? Given that elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are due to take place in 2003, selections for candidates are likely to start over the next 12 months. It would be helpful for all political parties if the legislation were in place by then.
Mr. Cook: I see that the Bill will be opposed, so that will be a factor in the decision of the business managers as to when we introduce it. I am fully aware of the urgency of the issue, and as a Scottish Member I understand my hon. Friend's point about the desirability of getting this measure in place in good time for the elections in 2003. That is why we included a reference to it in the first Queen's Speech of this Parliament, and we shall try to make diligent progress with it--in so far as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will allow us.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the fact that the last full debate in Government time in this Chamber on their national drugs strategy took place on 2 July 1999. Bearing in mind the recent changes introduced by the Government, whereby responsibilities have been transferred from the Cabinet Office to the Home Office, and the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator is no more, retaining only an international remit, does the right hon. Gentleman feel that a debate in this Chamber on the national drugs strategy, with all its implications, is long overdue?
Mr. Cook: The House has just completed the debates on the Queen's Speech, during which a full day was available to discuss home affairs and there was also a full day on health issues. The Secretaries of State of those Departments took part in those debates. The issue that the hon. Lady raises will continue to be a serious and grave problem throughout this Parliament. During yesterday's debate, a number of hon. Members drew attention with force and vigour to the severity of the problem, and I assure the hon. Lady that she will have a number of occasions during this Parliament to ventilate her concerns.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): In warmly welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new post, may I add my voice to those calling for the speedy setting up of Select Committees? Does he agree with me that he and the House have a unique opportunity to make an historic advance in parliamentary democracy by strengthening Select Committees? Will he give us an early opportunity to debate the Liaison Committee's and the Hansard Society's reports on strengthening Select Committees?
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman can be relied on to resist anything that smacks of the modern era, and to take our processes back to something more akin to the Gillray cartoon era, from which he comes. Most of the House want such a Committee to be set up and to examine some of the issues that my right hon. Friend raises. I shall be speaking at the Hansard Society conference in two weeks' time.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that there will need to be an early motion to create the Committee of Selection if his timetable for the creation of departmental Select Committees is to be met? Will he confirm that if there is any delay or exception taken in the early stages of the creation of the Committee of Selection, that could prejudice his timetable?
Will the Leader also say a word about the business motion that he has helpfully tabled for 5 July? Is it tight enough to ensure that if the motion were amended--for instance, some of us would like the number currently suggested for the Education and Skills Committee to be increased from 11 to 17--there would be no danger of the outcome of any such motion prejudicing the timetable for the creation of the other departmental Select Committees?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is right to outline again the pitfalls that lie along the way in order to secure the tight timetable that is necessarily set by the date of the rising of the House. I hope that all hon. Members will take his point on board.
On the business motion for next Thursday, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that those who wish to table amendments to the current motion on Standing Orders will have an opportunity to do so, and if they are selected, to have them voted on.
The motion that I drafted and placed on the Order Paper fully reflects consultations with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Liaison Committee. I hope that, in the spirit of making good progress, what we have tabled will find consensus in many quarters of the House.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Will my right hon. Friend indicate when the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs will meet? Does he accept that there is growing unrest about regional disparities and growing concern about the lack of accountability for regional quangos? Will he accept that there is unease about