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Mr. Cook: I look forward with the keenest of interest to our debate on Monday. I am happy to give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks. On the Labour Benches, the vote on who should be a member of a Select Committee will be a free vote. This is a House of Commons[Interruption.] If the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will let me finish my sentence, I think that I shall be able to satisfy him.
In response to the question about timing, I must stress that this is, so far as we can discover, the first time that any Government have scheduled a debate about the setting up of Select Committees in prime time. Such debates are usually taken late at night. This debate will be held in prime time between the end of questions until 7 pm, and I am sure that that will provide plenty of time for the House to explore the issues of concern. I should be extremely surprised if my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) did not contribute to that debate.
The Government have announced their intention to amend the educational code and to bring the matter forward for debate after the summer recess. There will, therefore, be an opportunity for the House to consider it when we return in the autumn.
On Northern Ireland, I am absolutely confident that the Government will take every possible measure to ensure that the House is kept informed of the progress of the talks. Indeed, as the hon. Lady will have noticed from the business statement, there will be opportunities for us to explore Irish issues next week, starting on Monday when we shall debate the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001.
I note the hon. Lady's request for a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister on the new arrangements for responding to national crises. It is sensible that we should examine ways in which we can achieve an integrated, co-ordinated and prepared response, although we do not seek national crises. I note and log her request for a statement, but I would gently remind her that the first point she made was that she did not want a statement on Monday. As always, I have to balance the requirement of the House for a statement with the wish to protect the business of the House.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): I thank my right hon. Friend for being so effective after my intervention yesterday afternoon when he was carrying out his caretaker role. I asked for an early decision on the Hastings bypass, and it was made at about 12.30 pm today. Unfortunately, it was the wrong decision. [Interruption.] It may be amusing, but not for my electors in Hastings and Rye, who are devastated by the decision not to proceed. Despite unanimous support from the local council, the county council and the south-east region, the Government have made a different decision. Can we have an early debate on the matter so that the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions can explain how it could have overlooked the poverty of my constituency, which includes the 28th poorest town in Britain, local democracy and overwhelming public support for the bypass, and reached the wrong decision? When will such a debate be possible?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): On the subject of the treatment of Government Back-Bench Members, I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the leading article in today's Evening Standard. It states that the names of some Labour London Members of Parliament have been attached to a motion in support of public-private partnership for the tube, apparently without their approval. Will he urgently investigate that serious matter, which pertains to the respect of the House for its Members and vice versa, as well as to the respect of Government for their Back Benchers?
Will the Leader of the House consider the way in which effective opposition to the Government is provided largely from the Government Back Benches as well as from the Conservative Back Benches and the Liberal Democrats? Will he particularly examine the way in which Opposition Front-Bench Members are financed? In the provisional business last week, he announced that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 2001 would be considered next week. It includes an increase in the amount paid by the taxpayer to the Conservative leader in the House of Lords to £60,961 and to the Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Lords to £56,224. Will that be backdated now that the increase will be postponed until October?
Will the Leader of the House take into account the fact that those increases are on top of the considerable sum already paid to the leader of the Conservative party? I presume that that is why five people are still interested in that ludicrous job. The Conservative party leader receives £63,000 and the Conservative Chief Whip receives £35,500, although he cannot control his Back-Bench Members. In view of the total disarray on the Conservative Benches, does the Leader of the House believe that taxpayers are getting good value for money?
Mr. Cook: The statement on the London tube was an initiative by London Members, not the Government. Any Member who feels misrepresented will have plenty of opportunities to make that clear. We welcome support for a proposal that will enable investment of £13,000 million to proceed. That will provide a basis on which commuters and travellers on the London tube will have trains that run on time, new, more comfortable trains and cleaner stations. Those are important gains, which will be secured without changing London Underground's responsibility for managing, running and ensuring the safety of the service.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me sorely to comment on value for money considerations, for not only the tube but Opposition Front-Bench Members. However, the increases that he mentioned follow from previous references to the Senior Salaries Review Body. As I said recently when we debated pay and rations, I believe that our pay and increases should be independently assessed. Once that has happened, we should accept the assessment.
Mr. Cook: It certainly would be a matter of legitimate public concern if public funds rather than proceeds of the trade of the airport were to be used in such ways. Having said that, I was asked that very question yesterday and I responded by assuring the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is considering ways in which he can expedite the public inquiry. The best way forward is to have a public inquiry during which all interested parties can express their views. I am sure that my hon. Friend will robustly express the views of his constituents.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House, bearing in mind his interview in The Times today, which tells us how he will take Parliament more seriously, arrange for an explanation to be given to the House as to how a Minister recommended approving a code on Tuesday evening, with the House approving it in a Division yesterday afternoon, while, at the same time, the Department for Education and Skills was withdrawing it?
Mr. Cook: I see no conflict whatever between what I have said about modernising the House and improving scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has responded to criticism and to concern, which was expressed from the Opposition Front Bench only 10 minutes ago. I think it absolutely right and proper that she should listen to those representations and consider them.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale): Will my right hon. Friend consider holding an early debate on the recent report "Sea Changes", which has been produced by the seaside resorts taskforce? That fine report contains excellent recommendations for seaside towns. There is so much concentration on rural tourism at presentI am equally concerned about it, as I represent a rural constituencybut it is important that we do not forget the seaside resorts and the problems that they have faced over the years. I would welcome an early debate on that.