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Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know that last week Michelin announced its closure in Burnley, losing about 450 jobs. Since then, we seem to have had redundancies every day in the aerospace industries or other industries dependent on aerospace. My right hon. Friend will recognise that the situation in the industry has changed greatly since 11 September. Does he feel that it is time to hold a debate on the Government's approach to manufacturing, which I know the Government believe to be a crucial part of the national economy as well as of the local economy in places such as Burnley?
Mr. Cook: No, I would never dream of treating redundancies in that way. Redundancies are a serious matter, in whoever's constituency they arise. The Government will certainly continue the work that we are doing to try to restore faith and confidence in and business for the aviation industry. That is why today the Minister
In the meantime, through our regional development agencieswhich the Conservatives opposedand through the Government offices we are doing all that we can to cope with the impact of redundancies on local communities.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Does the right hon. Gentleman recall last week giving sympathetic consideration to the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) for a debate on farming and the countryside? Will he now regard that as a matter of urgency, given the continuing and deepening crisis in agriculture and in the rural economy and, coupled with that, the conduct of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?
The Department increasingly appears to have turned its back on agriculture, refuses to answer letters from hon. Members and does not answer parliamentary questions. I tabled a written question for a named-day response on 15 October that, two weeks later, is still not answered despite being a crucial matter for people in my constituency. May I tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly that the Department is increasingly losing any confidence that may have resided in it among people who live in rural areas and those who represent them in this place?
Mr. Cook: I shall take up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about parliamentary answers and see whether we can get an answer to his specific question. On the issue of the debate, I would be surprised if, sometime in the near future, we did not hold a debate involving that Department. He will understand that I have many conflicting demands to balance, but I know that the Department is keen to have a debate on the countryside.
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman says that I am doing the opposite. I was surprised, given his commitment to scrutiny, that his memorandum to his leader suggested that they should ensure that Bills left this place imperfectly scrutinised, in order to discredit the Government.
I will ensure that there is adequate time for the scrutiny of Bills in the House. I hope that the Opposition will take that opportunity. If they choose instead to conspire to leave Bills imperfectly scrutinised, it is not us but themselves whom they will discredit.
Mr. Cook: I am not aware of having brushed aside a question on care homes; indeed, I am not aware of having been asked a question on care homes this afternoon. However, I fully understand the importance of the role that they play; I said as much last week. Only this month the Government have taken action to ensure that everyone is entitled to free nursing care. We shall certainly do all that we can to ensure that care homes can play a full part. We need them to play a full part, to ensure that hospitals can focus on those acute cases that require hospital intervention.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): May I raise with my right hon. Friend a matter that requires urgent parliamentary attention? It concerns the role of some, if not all, landlords, especially across northern cities where there are areas of very low demand for property. Those landlords, by failing to take any responsibility for their properties and the tenants whom they move in, are having a very serious impact on the quality of life and, of course, on the asset value of the properties of other owners in the area.
The Government have consulted on the need for a licensing system for private landlords. May I urge my right hon. Friend to tell the House that we can move forward on that licensing, which would have the impact of allowing local authorities to take away access to housing benefit for those landlords who will not act as good citizens?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an issue of concern to the Government. That is why we have issued a consultation document on the selective licensing of private landlords. It was issued as recently as this week and it will obviously be some time before we are able to give a considered response, but we hope that it will enable us to deal with some of the problems that my hon. Friend has identified.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Leader of the House said that the Government would shortly introduce legislation to deal with matters of terrorism and extradition. Will he ensure that it encompasses a situation where British nationals leave these shores to participate in military action against this country and our allies, and the consequential action that will be needed if they then seek to re-enter this country?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Lady raises an issue that I wrestled with in the Foreign Office in a previous role in relation to a previous conflict. The legal issues involved are extremely difficult, but I understand the point that she raises and I am sure that my colleagues at the Home Office will consider it.
Mr. Cook: I cannot promise my hon. Friend a statement, but I will draw his observations to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ensure that he receives a response from the Department.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the Leader of the House further consider granting an emergency debate on British Airways' decision to withdraw its Belfast-London Heathrow service? A debate on that matter would enable us all to consider the options, and especially the slots vacated by British Airways and the possibility that one of several other carriers might use them. Thousands of people from Northern Ireland, who work and live in London, expect a good service, and they are already concerned about arrangements to enable them to get home to their families over the Christmas period.
Mr. Cook: I fully understand the great importance of the matter to Northern Ireland, and to those in Britain who wish to visit and travel to Northern Ireland. There is a wider debate about what happens to slots that are vacated in the present difficult times for the aviation industry. That issue, in its generality, is receiving close attention from my colleagues, which is why the aviation Minister is today on a tour of four airports in Britain. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention so that he may consider this point.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the publication on 12 September of the long-awaited Government Green Paper on the management of radioactive waste? Given the enormous costs involved in the management of our existing stockpiles of radioactive waste, which now exceed £85 billion according to an answer given last week by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, given the increasing concern about terrorist access to fissile material, and given that the Green Paper calls for a wide-ranging public debate on the very complicated issues involved in the management of that waste, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that subject in the very near future?