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John Cryer (Hornchurch): May we have an urgent debate before the recess on the public-private partnership that is being foisted on the London tube? It is not a proper partnership but the backdoor privatisation of chunks of the tube, which involves breaking up the network in a way that could be deeply dangerous to the travelling public, many of whom are my constituents. The Minister for Transport should come to the Dispatch Box before the recess and tell us what he is playing at.
Mr. Cook: The Government would very much wish to find a way to make progress as fast as possible. That is why we have asked London Underground to enter into negotiations with the bidders. I stress that the proposals will leave London Underground managing and running services. It will be responsible for safety and will manage an integrated service.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the Health and Safety Executive has a double lock on the safety of the proposals. First, it will report, probably by the end of the month, on the safety of the package; secondly, it will report, probably towards the end of the year, on the safety of each contract as it proceeds. I urge him to reassure his constituents that the safety issues are a priority for the Government and are fully safeguarded in the plans for the tube.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): One of the national crises that the Government are dealing with is that of foot and mouth. A week ago today we had our first case in Vale of York and we now have five. North Yorkshire, with 107 cases, is the third worst affected county. What assurance can the right hon. Gentleman give that the issues that we have raised with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be responded to before the recess? Will the problems that may arise should the epidemic escalateit is clearly not under controlbe brought to the attention of the Department and the Government during the recess?
Mr. Cook: The House may not be sitting, but I can assure her that my colleagues at DEFRA will continue to work on foot and mouth through the recess, and I am sure that she will find ways to communicate with them, even though she will be unable to attend the Chamber.
The hon. Lady has a point when she says that we are not yet at the end of the outbreak. That is why we have continually stressed that it is important that everybody, including the farming community, take all possible steps to make sure that the biosecurity mechanisms are in place and are observed. We have made good progress. There are now half a dozen or fewer new cases a day, which is a big improvement on the 40 to 50 cases a day that were confirmed at the height of the epidemic.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue for his constituents and the wider Scottish public. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement to the House earlier this week, which has increased the orders available to the yard and, in the longer term, should provide security of employment on the Clyde. We are disappointed about, and very much regret, the short-term situation in which there will be a number of lay-offs on the Clyde. I assure my hon. Friend that the Scottish Executive and the Employment Service are fully engaged in trying to find ways in which they can meet the needs of those facing redundancy.
I cannot offer my hon. Friend a debate before the House rises next week because of the pressure of business, but I assure him that Ministers, both here and in the Scottish Executive, are following the matter very carefully.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): In the light of the concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about Government interference in the appointment of Select Committee Chairmen, may I remind the Leader of the House about the scandal of the last Parliament in which the Liaison Committee report "Shifting the Balance" was never subject to a free vote in the House? Will he make time available now for the House to express its views, on a free vote, on that vital report?
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I see the way forward as reverting to a vote on the document from the last Parliament, as the Liaison Committee itself may well have a different composition in this Parliament. [Interruption.] It is perfectly true, and unless we make it a rule of the House that the Chairmen of Select Committees never change, that is bound to follow. However, I have already indicated to the House that I want to revisit some of the issues in the Liaison Committee report. I look forward to consulting and working with the new members of the Committee, and I intend on Monday to include the Modernisation Committee in the Committees that we set up. Among the issues that the Modernisation Committee should address are some of the recommendations in "Shifting the Balance".
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On that very point, on Monday we will agree the membership of the Select Committees for a full Parliament, and there is great disquiet among hon. Members on both sides of the House and in the Hansard Society about the way in which that will be done. Is there not a case for agreeing the membership of the Committees for, perhaps, 12 or 18 months, so that in the interim we could debate and vote on the second report of the Liaison Committee, "Unfinished Business", which was published in March but has never been debated or voted on? The way in which we appoint members of Select Committees is highly unsatisfactory. In the words of the Select Committee, the
Mr. Cook: I have said to the House before, and I am happy to repeat it for what I think is the fourth time, that I am very willing to examine the process of appointment to Select Committees when we return in the autumn, when the Liaison Committee has been set up and when we have a Modernisation Committee to consult. However, I have also stressed to the House that to meet the genuine will of the House that the Select Committees be up and running before the summer recess, there is no alternative but to act under existing Standing Orders and procedures. Members on both sides of the House urged me to get the Select Committees in being before the recess, and we have delivered on that: the Committees have been set up faster than in any previous Parliament. I could not have done that and at the same time reformed the process.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Further to the highly pertinent inquiries of my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), I appeal to the Leader of the House to reconsider and to facilitate a full day's debate next week on the operation of Select Committees. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that such a debate would allow scores of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to testify to their belief that the contribution of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has always been marked by intellectual rigour, devotion to the House and an unfailing readiness to stand up to the motley crew of third-raters who dominate the Government? Why does he not accept that?
For half a day in prime time on Monday the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to expatiate at length on the issues he raises. I understand that two and a half hours might not be long enough to exhaust his rhetoric, but it ought to be long enough for the House to have a considered debate.