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Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate on prison reform? There are some Christian-based prison units called Kainos wings that have had very good results in rehabilitating prisoners, much along the lines of Government policy, which we probably agree with. Yet, inexplicably, these wings have been told to shut by the Prison Service. I suspect that that was an irrational reaction to Muslim opinion following the events of 11 September. I also suspect that it happened without the Home Secretary's knowledge and was done behind his back. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore allow a debate, so that this irrational decision stands a chance of being reversed?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of prison reform, in which I have taken a close interest. Indeed, as a Back Bencher I once initiated a debate on the topic. I say to him that he makes a point that I am sure is of importance. I am sure also that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would wish to hear his comments. We can get an answer to him more quickly than through a debate by inviting the Home Secretary to write to him.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the shock and outrage that was felt on some of these Benches when we saw what is effectively a carry-over motion for the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill? It was printed on the Vote yesterday and today. Will there be time on the Floor of the House to debate the motion, and will plenty of time be given so that some of us can set about sabotaging it? It is, after all, a wretched Bill and an attack on democracy. Can he also assure us that the votes will be unwhipped? We know that they are unwhipped in theory, but, in practice, they are whipped in the Lobby. After all, Mr. Speaker, we do not want a row, do we?
Mr. Cook: It is one of the first duties of the Leader of the House to try to avert as many rows as possible. My hon. Friend is commendably candid about his views on the Bill, which I know excites strong feelings. The question of timetabling the Bill is the prerogative of the Chairman of Ways and Means, not me, although it will not have escaped him that time is reserved for the Chairman of Ways and Means for the week after next. As to a vote, it must be a free one, and I can assure him that that will be our intention.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Can the Leader of the House confirm that we have not debated the economy in the House since a one-day debate on the Queen's Speech some time ago and that we are not scheduled to do so in the next two weeks? As the health
Mr. Cook: It certainly would be the wish of the Government that the whole House congratulate them on the fact that unemployment is below 1 million, on having the lowest inflation anywhere in Europe and on achieving a commendable high rate of growth, as well as on the fact that we are securing the lowest interest rates that we can remember on record. All those are very good achievements by the Government. If the Opposition wish us to debate them, I shall certainly commend that to my Cabinet and make sure that my colleagues there are aware that the Opposition are clamouring for more opportunities for us to demonstrate the sound economy that we have created.
Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire): Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 127, which deals with the Disability Discrimination Act 1996 and the exemption of airlines from it?
[That this House regrets that airlines and airports are exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act 1996; calls upon the Government to remove their exempt status so that blind or partially-sighted people are able to fly with their guide dogs, as the 'Passport for Pets' scheme introduced in the last administration enables airlines and airports to register to take assistance animals only; and believes this will ensure that blind and partially-sighted travellers are not discriminated against.]
Will my right hon. Friend consider making time available for a debate on this very serious issue, which not only affects my constituents, but could seriously impact on the work of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. Plainly, we all want to improve the rights of disabled people wherever that is possible, and they must have fair access. I will convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and its relationship with the Department of Health, especially in relation to the drug beta interferon? He may be aware that NICE finally reported on beta interferon in August, after several years. The Department of Health is currently negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies on clinical trials of four different types of drugs. He will knowI see that he nodsthat this an almost inhumane process, and our constituents in all parts of the country who suffer from multiple sclerosis are being put through it. Will he encourage somebody from the Department of Health to come to the House and make a statement? If he cannot do that, will he at the very least ensure that my written question, which has been tabled for priority answer on Monday, is answered on Monday by that Department?
Mr. Cook: I shall draw the Department's attention to the hon. Lady's question. The issue has been raised a number of times on Thursdays. The whole House will welcome the fact that progress is now being made. The Government are involved in discussions with the
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has a reason for abandoning the process that was followed in the previous Parliament of allowing the Chairmen of all Select Committees to be represented on the Liaison Committee. It would appear from the Order Paper that, in future, there will be only one Chairman representing those Select Committees that have two Sub-Committees. Can he explain the reason for that, as it appears to disfranchise one of the Committees?
Mr. Cook: No Committee will be disfranchised; every Committee will be entitled to have its Chairman on the Liaison Committee. It is a matter for the Committees to choose whom their Chairmen may be. Of course, we changed the Standing Orders in June, in response to the report of the Liaison Committee, in which my hon. Friend played a distinguished part, which suggested that all Select Committees should have the right to appoint Sub-Committees. We have given that right to all the Committees. It is a matter for the House, but I would be surprised if it wished in those circumstances to provide a basis for the Liaison Committee on which the Chairmen of all Sub-Committees and all Committees should at all times be members.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the Leader of the House accept that small shareholders in BT are very angry and resent the reported fact that the departing chairman, Sir Peter Bonfield, may receive a golden pay-off of more than £14 million? That is obscene and it is happening in spite of the fact that billions of pounds of shareholders' money was lost. Indeed, share values have collapsed during the period in which Sir Peter Bonfield has held that responsibility in BT. Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently find time to enable the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to introduce a Bill requiring shareholders to vote formally on individual directors' pay and pay-off packages, to prevent this scandalous pay-off, which is perceived as rewarding failure?
Mr. Cook: I believe the figure is £1.4 million, not £14 million, but it is still a considerable sum and the hon. Gentleman's point still stands. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said that we intend to empower shareholders with the right to review the rewards of executives. I echo her observation that, at a time when workers are losing their jobs and shareholders are losing their money, we expect executives to share some of the pain.
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on flood alleviation measures, so that we can consider what further funding could be made available to projects such as the Hatch End flood alleviation scheme in my constituency? It is being championed by the excellent local residents
Mr. Cook: We have considerably increased spending on flood protection, as a result of which more homes are protectedmany more than two years ago. We shall ensure that that investment is made. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is willing to receive applications from the Environment Agency, and if it puts forward that particular proposal I am sure that it will be sympathetically received.