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Mr. Cook: There will be an opportunity to question Ministers at the Department of Health. In fairness to the Government, we should recall that we began on Monday with a statement from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which dwelt on the internal security situation in Britain.
The hon. Lady puts her finger on a dilemma that we must try to get right. We are aware of no specific threat to the UK, but at the same time we must recognise that in the present environment some people may wish to execute an attack on the UK if they have the opportunity and means to do so. Although we may be aware of no specific threat, we must be constantly alert and vigorous in safeguarding our people, and take all possible measures to do so. I am sure that we will debate the balance of those considerations as we proceed with emergency legislation.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the future of the United Kingdom hospice movement, which is under severe financial pressure? Sue Ryder Care expects to close four of its hospices throughout the country, including one at Staunton Harold hall in my constituency, about which a 20,000-signature petition was presented to No. 10 Downing street just last week. Is not the hospice movement, with the day, respite and terminal illness care that it offers and the dignity that it gives so many of our citizens in their final days, of sufficient importance for finance to be more heavily sourced from the national health service and not dependent on the vicissitudes of voluntary contributions?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Having previously held the health portfolio in opposition, I fully understand and greatly value the work of the hospice movement, which can provide particularly sensitive care at a very difficult time for both patients and relatives, who immensely appreciate its services. This Government certainly want the hospice movement to prosper, and I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): May I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the conduct of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, particularly relating to the fishing industry? In the Shetland part of my constituency, the fishing industry accounts for 20 to 25 per cent. of our economy. My
Mr. Cook: I note that the hon. Gentleman has seconded the suggestion made from the Liberal Democrat Benches by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), and I fully understand and am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to his constituency. I am delighted that this occasion has given me the opportunity to put that on the record in the way in which Question Time did not.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): My right hon. Friend will be aware of demerger plans concerning mmo 2 , which is part of BT. I should register an interest as an ex-BT employee of 30 years, a small shareholder in the company and a member of Connect, the management and professionals union. My right hon. Friend will also be aware that, if carried, the proposals could damage not only BT but the UK's communications infrastructure. Is he aware that the trade unions representing BT's employees are firmly against any demerger on the grounds not only of possible job losses but of national interest? Will he arrange a debate in which we can discuss what might happen if the demerger goes ahead?
Mr. Cook: I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but I am aware of the issue and I fully understand the anxiety to which it has given rise. The matter is essentially for BT as a company, but I hope that, in taking it forward, it will fully consult and listen to its employees and consider carefully whether the division of debt in the demerger is fair to both parts.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): The Leader of the House may be aware that in early September the Strategic Rail Authority presented to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions an analysis of Central Railway's proposal to build a freight line from the channel tunnel to the north-west. As the Leader of the House may be aware, the proposal has caused considerable anxiety across many parts of south-east England, so I should be grateful if he would invite the Secretary of State to attend the House at the earliest possible date to make a statement on the proposals and their viability.
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State needs no further encouragement from me to appear in the House next weekhe will be involved in Question Time and a debate next Tuesday, and I am sure that that will furnish the hon. Gentleman with adequate opportunity to air his concerns.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the events of 11 September will have long-lived and wide repercussions, and I share with him the hope that, as a consequence, there will be a greater international consensus on bearing down on world poverty, which is, of course, one of the breeding grounds of the fanaticism that can produce terrorism. This Government have a very good record on taking the initiative in the G8 and elsewhere on relieving the debt of the poorest countries. We shall continue to provide that leadership, and I hope that we can now build a bigger alliance to lift the burden of debt from those countries that sometimes find that they pay more in interest on debt than they spend on their schools and hospitals.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Will the Leader of the House try to ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions can tell the House, either in the debate next week or in an early statement, how much public money will be made available to the new Railtrack, when decisions will be made about investment projects that have been put on ice by Railtrack's going into administration and when we will know the details of the successor company? In my constituency, we were well advanced with plans for a new station, but we now have no idea where Railtrack is coming from, who is running it, how much money it has and whether it can get on with modernising the railways. We will need answers from the Secretary of State, and I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the time will not be wasted next week.
Mr. Cook: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reflect on the right hon. Gentleman's observations and consider what weight he should attach to them in his speech. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also favour us with a speech on Tuesday and explain how, while sitting in the Cabinet that privatised the railway industry, he helped to devise the system of railway administration. The system was thought up by that Cabinet and is part of the Railways Act 1993, so perhaps he could share with us the answers that Conservative Members had in mind in 1993.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity to hold an urgent debate on encouraging the recruitment and retention of general practitioners? Has he had a chance to study the two surveys published yesterday? Is he aware of the growing shortage of GPs across the country, especially in east Kent? Yesterday, the prospect arose of one large practice in my constituency shedding 500 patients from its roll.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes his point about the situation in his constituency, and I understand why he is concerned. On the broader, national picture, I have to tell him that there are now more GPs than ever before and that the survey to which he refers discovered that the clear majority of those GPs believe that health care to their patients has improved under this Government.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If not next week, then at an early date, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on a matter that is assuming some urgencythe proper parliamentary scrutiny of the new European security and defence project? Given the need for the ESDP closely to ally its work with NATO, does he agree that it would be far better if the scrutiny at European level were conducted by a reconstituted Assembly of the Western European Union rather than by the European Parliament or the European Union, because some members of the EU are not members of NATO and some members of NATO are not members of the EU?