Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report published by Barnardo's yesterday called, "No son of mine! Children abused through prostitution"? It deals with the hidden problem of boys abused through prostitution. Many of those young people
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend draws attention to an important and sensitive report on the problem of child prostitution. She will be aware that last year we issued guidelines on the handling of sex prostitution of young people. We stressed that in child prostitution the child should be regarded as the victim and those who exploit child prostitutes as the criminals. It is important that we target those who abuse vulnerable young people, and that we provide every possible opportunity to protect young people from such exploitation, and to be rehabilitated and returned from it when we find them.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Will the Leader of the House persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement on the alleged dumping of poisonous combination ash at the Pitsea tip? This serious issue came to light in last night's edition of "Newsnight". May we be told whether the ash contains dioxins and other poisonous substances, as has been claimed? May we be told when the ash was first deposited, what controls have been applied since, when concerns were first raised, what investigations have been carried out, when the dumping was stopped, what assessment has been made of the impact on public safety and the environment in the communities of Benfleet and Canvey Island, what is the radius within which the risk might arise, and what action will be taken to remove these dangerous materials?
Mr. Cook: I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed when I say that I cannot answer each of his questions in full. I will, however, draw them to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, and encourage him to write fully to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on the refranchising of the railways, to establish what progress is being made? There is a particular problem with the Wessex franchise, which needs to be resolved quickly. I gather that the Secretary of State will make an announcement on 16 July; it would be very helpful if he also made a statement in the House.
Mr. Cook: I have noted my hon. Friend's comments carefully, and I will draw what he said about the Wessex franchise to my right hon. Friend's attention. I am awarepartly from my constituency workof the difficulties regarding investment in and development of the service that can arise from uncertainty about the future of franchises, and I assure my hon. Friend that the Government understand the importance of making as reasonable progress as possible in providing certainty.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Next week, the House will deal with the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Does the Leader of the House thinkparticularly in the light of his previous experiencethat there is a case for changing the way in which the House considers the ratification of
Mr. Cook: That point has been at the heart of the debate about the powers of the House ever since I became a Member of Parliament. We have made some improvements, in that Select Committees can now take more of an interest and more of a scrutinising role in regard to treaties that the Government have undertaken to ratify. I think it important that when legislative change is involved it should be fully debated, as the Nice treaty is being debated on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Gentleman invites me to reflect on the experience that I gained in my last post. I personally would regret it very much if the United Kingdom drifted into the situation in which the United States now finds itself. Treaties negotiated at length by the US Administration, and signed by them, are subsequently repudiated by Congress and Senate. I do not think that that has assisted the standing of the United States in international treaty negotiations, and I would not wish to put a British Prime Minister or Foreign Minister in the same position.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Too many people are losing their homes, having made their mortgage repayments, because of our scandalously unfair and out-of-date leasehold laws. When will the leasehold reform Bill be put before us, so that we can protect and enhance the rights of home owners?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend knows that we committed ourselves to such legislation in the Queen's Speech. With respect, we have worked hard to ensure that we can deal with as many Bills as possible before the recess, but my hon. Friend will have to wait for this one until after it. I note what she has said about its being a priority, as, I am sure, has my noble Friend Lady Scotland, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Could the Leader of the House persuade the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the provision of beta interferon? As he will know, the issue affects many of my constituents and those of other Members. I believe that when the drug would have an efficacious effect for multiple sclerosis it should be prescribed, and I know that many others agree. The Prime Minister was asked about the matter on three occasions. Each time, his answer was characterised by spin and prevarication. Is it not now time for action? Should not a statement be made in the House as soon as possible?
In the past 50 minutes, there have been seven different requests for oral statements, which underlines the point that I made earlier: at some point, we have to strike a balance between oral statements and the business of the House.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Two weeks ago, the Government announced a comprehensive review of energy policy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is crucial to the future competitiveness of the economy and to the quality of the environment? Given that in the previous Parliament not a single debate, as I recall, was dedicated to energy policy, and given that there is a growing and urgent public debate about the future of nuclear energy, the need for investment in renewables and the Department of Trade and Industry's attitude to both forms of energy, does he agree that there should be a debate in Government time before the performance and innovation unit completes its report on energy policy?
Mr. Cook: I agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of the energy review and its fundamental significance to both our industrial strength and our environmental health. I would be surprised if the review could be concluded and announced without giving the House a full opportunity to consider it, but I would take a bit of persuading that the right time to debate it was before the review, rather than after.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Leader of the House has already been questioned on the subject of Marconi and spoken about his experiences with Motorola, but is not a pattern developing: international companies are making more job cuts in the United Kingdom than in continental Europe and elsewhere? Is that not a reflection of our fall in the world competitiveness league from ninth to 19th? May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on how she
Mr. Cook: Those factors played no part in the decision of Motorola to locate in Germany. It did so because it had suffered large tax losses in Germany, which it wished to write off against future profits. That was its sole reason for going to Germany. Personally, I have always deprecated the fact that it took a decision affecting my constituents for reasons of tax management.