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Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a regular debate, possibly yearly, on the work of delegations from the House to international bodies, which would allow them to report back to the House? I am a member of the delegation to the Council of Europe, which is not to be confused with the European Union. It is a completely separate organisation, with an important role as the parent body of the European convention on human rights. Our role on the delegation is multifaceted; we are ambassadors, diplomats and politicians, but most of all we are delegates from the House to that body, yet we never return here to report.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and important point. I am well aware of the excellent work done by the Council of Europe. Since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war, the Council of Europe has played a very important part in encouraging and supporting the countries of central and eastern Europe into democracy and adopting the important principles of freedom and human rights, in all of which it can take a lot of credit. I shall reflect on what my hon. Friend says, but I am reluctant to make a commitment to hold further annual debates, which already reduce the flexibility of the House to carry out its important business of scrutinising the Government. However, there may be waysfor example, in Westminster Hallin which we can allow those involved in the Council of Europe to report, and it is right that they should have an opportunity to do so.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The right hon. Gentleman will remember that last week the House voted by a margin of 289 to 33 to instruct the trustees of the parliamentary pension schemea statutory schemeto extend bereavement benefits to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples: indeed, he supported that decision. Has he held any discussions with colleagues about how other public sector statutory pension schemes such as those for NHS staff and teachers, which do not offer those benefits, can be amended to ensure that those benefits are available? I think that he will recognise that less well-paid people will not understand how Members of Parliament and Ministers can vote for those rights for their bereaved partners, yet prevent those benefits from being made available to public servants in the teaching profession, the NHS and other professions.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman invited the House to vote for that measure, and I was very pleased to support him. He should not therefore now criticise those who supported him in that vote. I have not had an opportunity to pursue this point with the trustees, and the House will be aware that other issues that arise from last Thursday also engage me. However, I hope that the trustees will be able to reflect on the will of the House and develop the means by which it can become part of the Commons pension scheme. Once they have done that, it may be possible to learn lessons elsewhere, but the first step must be to interpret the decision that the House has taken and to put it into practice.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a constituency case that is of great importance to him and to his constituent. My hon. Friend should be congratulated on pressing vigorously and openly on the Floor of the House the claims of his constituent. I will happily draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and shall invite him to consider further the correspondence.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Ministerthe right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), I believeto come to the House to make a statement on the working of the emergency business rate relief scheme that resulted from the outbreak of foot and mouth? My area of Macclesfield is the only borough in Cheshire not to be eligible for the relief, which is causing great unhappiness and anger among retail businesses, hotels, pubs and other outlets that tourists and visitors normally frequent and patronise. Those businesses are in grave financial difficulties and it appears to be an anomaly and an injustice that an area that is 90 per cent. rural and agricultural and has a population density that meets the criteria should not be eligible for emergency business rate relief.
Mr. Cook: I know that my right hon. Friend continues to keep the working of the scheme under review. It has been in operation for only a few weeks, so it must be kept under review. I do not want to encourage the hon. Gentleman to imagine that a scheme that was devised to provide assistance to the countryside is one that we can readily apply to an urban area, even if it is surrounded by countryside. None the less, I shall happily draw his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of yet another tragic and premature death. A woman in Scotland died from deep vein thrombosis after recently travelling on an aircraft. Given the growing public concern about the incidence of this condition and the apparent unwillingness of airline companies to carry out proper research into the matter, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate in the House on the subject? We do not definitely know whether the condition affects just a handful of people or is of epidemic proportions, so does he now think that we should have a public inquiry into the matter?
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): The right hon. Gentleman did not confirm that the Prime Minister will come to the House next week to make a statement on Northern Ireland. Given the gravity of the situation, does he not agree that despite the burdens on the Prime Minister's time it is right for him to make such a statement before the recess? Will he guarantee that his right hon. Friend will do that?
Mr. Cook: I have been very careful not to anticipate the outcome of the talks, which recommence tomorrow. I remind the hon. Gentleman that twice next week we will debate Northern Ireland orders and the Prime Minister will, of course, be answering questions in the House on Wednesday.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend proposes an extension of the working families tax credit, which has been a very successful scheme. For many low-paid households, it has provided an additional £20 to £30 a week. That has made a real difference to those families and the standard of living of their children. The policy is consistent with our commitment to lift another 1 million children out of poverty, as we did in the last Parliament. I would be much more comfortable with our continuing that strategy of lifting children out of poverty than reverting to means-tested benefits, which would keep them trapped in poverty. Let us work on our strategy to ensure that we end child poverty within a generation. That has to be right and it is one of the most important priorities for Britain.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions make a statement to the House next week on the Government's decision on the proposed development of a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport? Is he aware that with every week that passes its competitive advantage over gateways such as Charles de Gaulle and Schipol is being eroded? The Government have no excuse for procrastinating any longer.