Mr. Cook: It is not for me to devise the Opposition motion, nor do I imagine it would be welcome were I to do so. [Interruption.] I am grateful for that confirmation of my view on the matter. It is open to all Members of the House within the rules of order to take advantage of that debate to explore the issues that they regard as most germane. For many of my colleagues, one of those issues will undoubtedly be how Railtrack, a company on the brink of bankruptcy, nevertheless in the course of the past 12 months has paid hundreds of millions of pounds to shareholders, which could have been there for the safety of the travelling public.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): We heard earlier about the calamitous consequences of 11 September for the airline industry. My question is about aerospace. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Rolls-Royce, which is a major employer in my constituency, is expected to announce between 3,000 and 4,000 job cuts? Does he agree that now is not the time for a high-tech company to make panic cuts? Will he invite the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House tomorrow and make an urgent statement about the unfolding crisis in the airline and aerospace industries?
Mr. Cook: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is following these matters with great care and great energy. I fully understand the importance of the impending announcement to the constituents of my hon. Friend and I also understand how important it is that, because of a short-term emergency, we do not disperse skilled teams that work together. I hope that we can all work together so that in the long term there will be healthy airline and aerospace industries in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): May I support the call for a debate on the airline and aerospace industries in the crisis resulting from the attacks on 11 September? In Northern Ireland, we know that Shorts in particular proposes to lay off thousands of workers as a result of the crisis. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 261.
[That this House deplores the fact that British Airways have chosen to use the 11th September terrorist attacks as justification for withdrawing from the Belfast/London Heathrow route; condemns the refusal by British Airways to release slots at Heathrow Airport which could be used by other airlines for this route; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to provide support to ensure that this level of service can be maintained given the dire consequences of this decision on the economy of Northern Ireland.]
The decision by British Airways to use the terrorist attacks of 11 September as justification for withdrawing from the Belfast International-London Heathrow route has caused great dismay and concern in Northern Ireland, and has removed Belfast and Northern Ireland as a region from the British Airways timetable. Can consideration therefore be given to an early debate on these matters?
Mr. Cook: I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety on behalf of his constituents who are employed at Shorts. In the long run, we must face the fact that the only way we can recover both the viability of the airline industry and the order book of the aerospace industry is by getting the public back travelling by air. That is why it is so important that we address our minds to what we can do to improve aviation security still further, to provide that confidence to the travelling public, and that is why it is important that the House deals urgently and sympathetically with the Bill that we have introduced, to ensure that we carry it through expeditiously.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when considering alternative methods of choosing Select Committee members, priority should be given to two criteria? First, any system should be independent of Government, and secondly, it should be transparent and open. Does he also agree that unless all the names of hon. Members who are applying for membership of Select Committees are published, neither the House nor the public can be confident that the most appropriate hon. Members have been selected?
Mr. Cook: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the criterion that we must meet is that the body which puts names before the House is independent of party influence and transparent in its accountability. That is what the Modernisation Committee will seek to achieve. I am not sure to what extent it would be practical to publish the names of all those applying for membership of Select Committees, or whether such a system applies in the case of all the parties in the House. However, I can share with my hon. Friend our commitment that we will meet his standards of independence and transparency.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a DEFRA Minister to come to the House at an early date to make a statement about the serious delays in the issuing of movement licences under the new animal movement licensing scheme? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the need for farmers to move livestock before the winter. It is therefore important that the House knows what measures DEFRA intends to put in place to ensure that the system runs much more smoothly, in order to allow those much needed movements to take place.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): May we have a debate, or be guaranteed an early statement, on the serious situation in Northern Ireland? There are new possibilities in connection with decommissioning, given the general position on terrorism, and there is the problem of the resignation by Ulster Unionists from the Executive. Discussion of those matters should not simply be tacked on to general debates about the wider terrorist situation because the issues are important in their own right and hon. Members should have a chance to debate them.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is assiduous in raising this issue, and I imagine that he will have opportunities to ventilate his concerns in the future. I share his hope that the current international climate and the additional impetus that has been given to finding a resolution to areas of conflict that breed terrorism may bear fruit in the case of Northern Ireland as well. That is certainly what the Government are working for.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Could we have a statement on the guidelines given to special advisers? I am thinking in particular of the concern reported in the press today and previously about civil servants who have been instructed by special advisers to perform political acts. Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm a report on the BBC this morning that only Jonathan Powell and the Prime Minister's official spokesman have been authorised to give any instructions at any time to civil servants?
Mr. Cook: I can happily confirm to the House that there is no provision for special advisers, or indeed anybody else, to instruct civil servants "to perform political acts". There are clear codes for both special advisers and civil servants, and both professions stick within those codes.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a slight delay in the general availability of the Auld report since its stated publication date, but that it should be widely available from today? Given that the report proposes root-and-branch reforms to our criminal court system, the Government have rightly announced a period of public consultation until the end of next January. Can my right hon. Friend find time during the consultation period for this Chamber to debate those proposals?
Mr. Cook: I see that my hon. Friend's point has resonance in other parts of the House. The Auld report is an important, fundamental review of the court system and offers us a substantial improvement to our criminal justice system. It should be dealt with, at all stages, with the importance that it deserves.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Leader of the House has already heard several pleas for a debate on the airline and aviation industry. Given that the board of Rolls-Royce is presently meeting and intends to make a statement after the stock market has closed this evening about the future prospects of the company; given the events of 11 September; and given the need to retain high-quality technical skills in Hucknall, the east midlands and across the country, may we have an early opportunity to discuss the future of that important sector?