|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the local hospital on its campaign. I assure my hon. Friend that the Department of Health and the Government want to ensure that we have as much success as possible in making protection available to elderly people against influenza.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May we have an urgent statement from the Government on the implications of the resignation of the First Minister of the Scottish Administration? The Leader of the House will be aware that the matter that appears to have caused the resignation relates to the First Minister's membership of this House and our rules for Members. May I ask that those implications be explored with a proper ministerial statement and an opportunity for us to cross-question?
As has already been mentioned, there will be a debate on Railtrack, but may I ask that the Government's position on privatised companieswhat we used to call public utilitiesbe explained more fully, particularly in relation to the chaos, confusion and public criticism of what is going on in British Airways and British Telecom? It seems that if we are not careful the taxpayer will pick up the bill for the incredible incompetence of the previous Government in the way that they sold off the family silver, as a previous Prime Minister put it. Can we have an express statement from the Government on their precise view of taxpayers' liability in relation to those shareholdersbig institutions and, of course, directors themselveswho may have mismanaged those companies to that extent since the sell-off?
I remind the Leader of the House that the electricity in this Chamber and in this building is owned by a French Government-owned company, so French taxpayers benefit from the charges that we have to pay.
Mr. Cook: On the resignation of the First Minister, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Mr. McLeish is making a personal statement at 2 pm, and it would not be right for any of us to speculate on the details until we have heard from him. Should any further action be required in this place, we have the machinery to take such action. I am sure that that machinery is perfectly capable of undertaking a charge.
The only thing that I would say at the present time is that, personally, I have had Henry McLeish as a colleague and a friend for two decades. I have come to respect immensely his commitment to public service. I am sure that he will continue to give the same commitment to his constituents.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the debate on public bodies. It is right that those bodies that are appointed to carry out part of the functions of the Government, albeit at arm's length, should be subjected to scrutiny in the House. That is why we have decided that it is right for the House to have a full day's debate on those matters.
For the very reason that the hon. Gentleman suggested, it would not be proper in that debate to discuss the privatised industries. Since they have become privatised, the liabilities that they incur are their liabilities. They are not the liabilities of the Government.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the French National Assembly has this week hosted a convention for organisations in civil society to engage those organisations in the future of Europe debate. Will he consider increasing the role that this Parliament can play in stimulating a much wider debate in Britain about the future of Europe and in particular, as part of that debate, increasing the role and effectiveness of national scrutiny through the Select Committee on European Scrutiny?
Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that the Government favour the widest possible debate on the future of Europe. Indeed, we now have a period in which to carry through that debate in advance of the intergovernmental conference in 2004. It is important that that debate should range widely: not just over the narrow question of institutional amendments, but over the nature of the Europe that we wish to construct and how to achieve the right balance between the European institutions, the member states and the regional bodies.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the plight of arable farmers? That would give hon. Members the opportunity to comment on the fact that the Government failed to pull down the agrimonetary compensation that they could have pulled down at the end of October, and that those farmersmany of them in my constituencyface falling farm incomes, crop prices that are a fraction of what they were just four or five years ago, and nasty foreign imports being sucked into the country because of the weak euro.
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's last comment is entirely in line with the spirit of the common agricultural policy, which many farmers wished us to join when we signed up to the European Community, but the Government are well aware of the situation in the farming industry and have given great attention to it. That is one of the reasons why we will have a debate on a Bill from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the coming weeks, when I am sure the hon. Gentleman and many others will make their points about the farming industry. It is also why we have created a new Department that brings together the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the wider interests of the countryside to ensure that we can take a wider view in addressing the future of the rural economy.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): My right hon. Friend's commitment to reforming and modernising our democratic institutions is well known, well respected and most welcome. [Interruption.] Wait for it. But is he aware that the wholly inadequate proportion of elected Members in the revised second Chamber proposed in yesterday's White Paper almost guarantees that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of achieving the consensus that he seeks on the Labour Benches, never mind across the House or the country at large? Given that more than
Mr. Cook: I much preferred my hon. Friend's premise to his question. On his concluding point, I assure the House that we have put the matter out for consultation. I said so repeatedly in the course of the statement yesterday. This is the first day of the consultation and I therefore think that it might be premature to draw conclusions, but we seek consensus and I hope that the consultation will enable us to get closer to one.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the subject of Government appointments? In the past few weeks, we have seen the scandal of Jo Moore and her remaining in post, and the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions apparently making misleading statements to the House, if one is to believe the Rail Regulator appointed by the Government and the chairman of Railtrack, whom the Government were offering the chairmanship of their new body
Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant to say, "Apparently making misleading statements to the House". I do not think that he would want to attribute that to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The best thing that the hon. Gentleman can do is withdraw that remark and then he can continue with his question.
Mr. Hawkins: I do withdraw that remark. May I say that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions may have been guilty of terminological inexactitude to the House, and we also now have the circumstances that have led to the resignation of the First Minister? Those are important matters affecting the dignity of the Government. Will the Government provide time for such a debate?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman kept twisting his words to come back to the same bogus assertion: that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has misled the House. He will be in the House next Tuesday when he will robustly deny any such allegation, and he will have the full support and confidence of Labour Members in doing so.
Next week's debate arises only because the previous Conservative Government carried through a privatisation of the railway industry that has totally failed[Interruption.] Opposition Members cannot now deny that their Government privatised Railtrack. They even provided the basis for administration of the kind that we have put Railtrack into. They provided the basis under which Railtrack turned out to be a black hole that swallowed public money, and they now want us to give it more public money rather than put the passenger first.