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Does the Leader of the House agree that it is wholly inappropriate for the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to make an announcement on what the new Railtrack will benamely, a company limited by guaranteein a written answer to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) on a day when that Department answered both oral questions and an Opposition-day debate on such subjects?
Mr. Cook: It merely confirms how active my right hon. Friend was on that day. The answer stated that my right hon. Friend proposed setting up a company limited by guarantee and I have heard him say that at least half a dozen times at the Dispatch Box. Of course it is important that Ministers should make major statements to the House and it is also important that the House should have adequate opportunityas it did twice on that dayto put questions and comments to the Secretary of State, but the House is becoming a bit precious when it suggests Government business cannot be done through written answers and that the technical details of strategic statements should not be followed through by written answers.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask my right hon. Friend a question of which I gave his office notice this morning? May we have an assurance next week that no weapons, such as land mines, that would be banned by convention for use by British forces are being used by the US or the British in the campaign from British bases, in particular Diego Garcia? May we have a statement on
Mr. Cook: I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks: no weapons will be used by British forces, or approved for use from British territory, that break any of the international conventions to which we are a party. No land mines have been dropped during the present military campaign, and those cluster bombs that have been used against military targetsone against an al-Qaeda training camp and four against Taliban military installationswere all designed to explode on impact and not for delayed action.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his announcement today that he intends at an early date to table a motion to set up the Liaison Committeea most important Committee of the House. It is essential that it begins its work as quickly as possible.
My question relates to the statement yesterday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Although the conscience of the House is very much on the campaign against international terrorism, does the Leader of the House agree that it would be appropriate to hold a full debate in the House on the implications of the Secretary of State's statement. Northern Ireland is an important part of the United Kingdom and many people think that the decommissioning statement by the IRA is merely about a transfer of weapons from the IRA to Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. There are severe implications for the security of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Cook: The rules drawn up by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, supervised by General de Chastelain, are quite explicit: the weapons have to be put beyond future use. The commission has stated that it has seen that happen in the case of ammunition, weapons and explosive. There is no question of any of that material being handed over to any terrorist organisation. To that extent, I want the House to appreciate that there has been real destruction of weapons under the rules provided by the decommissioning body.
As to a debate in the House, I appreciate that there is considerable interest in the matter both in the House and in the country at large. I am sure that the House will have adequate opportunities to explore it. After all, there was an historic statement on the issue this week and I am sure that the whole House welcomes the progress that the Government and our friends are making in moving forward the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): May I refer the Leader of the House back to the subject of next Thursday's debateinternational terrorism? He will fully understand that millions of people in this country are deeply uneasy about the continued bombing of Afghanistan and his confirmation of the reported use of cluster bombs by United States forces in that country? Does he agree that many people in this country find it incomprehensible that British military forces should be involved, and that we should endorse an American-led
Mr. Cook: I have sat through many of the debates that we have held on this matter. We should recall that the Government have ensured that the House has had adequate opportunity to debate the international coalition against terrorism. There were three recalls and a further debate will be held next week. There have been plenty of such opportunities for the House to debate and explore the issue and to question Ministers.
In the course of those debatesto much of which I listenedI was impressed by the degree of support throughout the House for the action being taken by the Government. It is unreasonable for my hon. Friend to pretend that the House has not had an opportunity to express a view, or that the House has not made its will clear during those debates. It is of course open to the small number of Members of Parliament who disagree with that action to express their view, and my hon. Friend has done so, but he cannot deny that the clear will of the House is to support the action.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Given the likely and necessary changes to the Government's legislative programme in the light of the events of 11 September, does the Leader of the House think that a Bill to ban tobacco advertising is likely or unlikely? If it is on the unlikely end of the spectrum, what would be his view and that of the Government if the Scottish Parliament were to introduce such legislation so that the practice could at least be banned in Scotland?
Mr. Cook: The Scottish Executive and the Government share the same view: it would not make practical sense to try to ban advertising in one part of Britain and not in another. We share the view that our policy is to take forward a tobacco ban and that it should take place at the same time throughout the whole United Kingdom. That is what we shall seek to do at an appropriate time.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite his reply, disquiet remains about the position of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is not to be reappointed as a matter of course? Indeed, frankly, it is unlikely that in the circumstances she would be reappointed if she applied. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a feelingperhaps not shared by everyoneon both sides of the House that the commissioner has carried out her duties in an impartial, conscientious manner? Indeed, it is because she was so conscientious that she was told, in effectin the words used in an earlier exchangethat she should not continue her present duties. That was a deplorable decision and I hope that it can be reconsidered.
Mr. Cook: I put it to my hon. Friend that there is no provision for the commissioner, as he suggests, to be reappointedI think I use his words advisedly"as a matter of course". Ms Filkin was appointed on a fixed-term contract[Interruption.] No, she was
[That this House notes with dismay the unethical behaviour of Jo Moore, a ministerial special adviser, in seeking to exploit the terrorist atrocities in America to 'bury' news stories damaging to the Government; agrees with Charlie Whelan, the former aide to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that her action was 'sickening'; and calls on the Right honourable Member for North Tyneside to remove her from his staff forthwith.]
I had intended to ask for a debate on the motion, but as we have recently held such a debate in Opposition time, may I ask instead for a statement from the Secretary of State for Health or the Minister for the Cabinet Office, on the availability of counselling services for civil servants receiving e-mails from obnoxious special advisers, and for Labour Back-Bench Members following interviews with the Government Chief Whip?