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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. May I draw his attention to the private Member's business that will be conducted on 30 Novemberin particular, the Home Energy Conservation Bill? Will he confirm that the Government will give that private Member's Bill a fair wind and that they will try to avoid its obstruction and defeat, given its importance to home energy efficiency and energy conservation in general?
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill, consideration of which will take place on 29 November? Bearing in mind the fact that the Bill appears to reinstate only one of the four protections of embryos that the courts struck out, is he satisfied that the amount of time allocated is sufficient to hold a properly measured debate and that the Bill's framework is sufficient to allow sensible amendments to be added to it?
Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that statements will be made next week not only by the Chancellor, but on local government expenditure? Will he consider holding a full debate on local government finance, especially on the gross inequalities in the funding of local authorities throughout the country?
Mr. Cook: The Government certainly want more energy to be conserved; thus we share the objectives of the Home Energy Conservation Bill's promoter. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is consulting the Bill's sponsors. I hope that it will be possible to find common ground, but that is also down to the promoter entering into discussions in a way that enables us to produce a Bill that is not only laudable but practical.
On cloning, I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have appealed against part of the judgment and that has a bearing on the terms of the Bill before us on Thursday. We are seeking to do no more than restore what was understood to be the law before the ruling last week. That is important for the House and for the country. At a future stage, we may need to consider further measures on the issue, but for the time being, we need emergency measures to prevent people from coming to Britain to exploit the loophole that has been revealed by the court decision.
I expect there to be a statement of one kind or another on local government finance in the near future. I will take on board the hon. Gentleman's point that we should have a debate and I shall add the subject to my long list of impending debates.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future of education maintenance allowances? That would provide Ministers with the opportunity to explain why the county of Durham, the largest education authority in the north-east, is the only one in the area not to be selected
Mr. Cook: I understand my right hon. Friend's disappointment. I am sure that it is reflected in his constituency. However, it is in the nature of pilots that not every area is selected. I hope that the experiment will be successful and that we shall be able to extend the programme to areas such as Durham that have not been included in the pilot scheme.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Did the Leader of the House share my shock when he read this morning's newspapers and discovered that he was not one of the Chancellor's new best friends? Is that because he, like half the Government, has a long-standing feud with the Chancellor? Can we have an early debate to see whether these tantrums at the Treasury are impairing the proper functioning of government?
David Winnick (Walsall, North): The shadow Leader of the House did not raise this issue, but will we have a statement on why the advertisement for the post of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards states that the job is only for three days? [Hon. Members: "What?"] Three days a week, I meanalthough I suspect that, if some people in the House had their way, it would be three days a year.
Why did the House of Commons Commission come to the view that the present occupant should not have her contract renewed, unlike the offer made to her predecessor, Gordon Downey? It is being interpretedin my view rightlyas an Officer of the House being sacked for doing her job in a zealous manner; so does my right hon. Friend accept that that reflects badly on the House and on us all? I hope that, even at this late stage, the matter can be reconsidered. This person is doing a fine job; there is no need to sack her.
Mr. Cook: The reference to three days a week reflects precisely the terms of the advertisement placed on the last occasion the job was advertised. It is the basis on which Mrs. Filkin was appointed, but she negotiated an increase to four days. It will be open to any incumbent that we may appoint to enter into similar negotiations. The advert this time is exactly the same as the one used when Mrs. Filkin was appointed.
Sir Gordon Downey indicated that he did not wish to seek a second term, so the question of reappointment did not arise. I keep pointing out to my hon. Friendand I am pleased to do so again for the benefit of the whole Housethat it is important to be fair about the case of Mrs. Filkin. She has not been sacked. Nobody has expressed any dissatisfaction with the way in which she has carried out her duties. The decision of the House of Commons Commission is that it is right that the post should be filled by open competition and that the best
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Leader of the House not understand the widespread concern that has been expressed on both sides of the House that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill will have only two days for its Committee stage and Report, with the second day on Monday? Will he also explain why he was not on the Front Bench yesterday when the programme motion was debated and the hapless Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), failed to explain to me and to others why the British Overseas Territories Bill, which is being debated today, was so important that it had to be discussed this week? We could have had an extra day in Committee on a vital Bill.
Mr. Cook: I attach great importance to the British Overseas Territories Bill, as do the residents of British overseas territories and a number of hon. Members. Moreover, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that those residents have been waiting some time for the Bill to be introduced and proceeded with. When I was Foreign Secretary I was regularly asked when it would be introduced, and it is important that it should proceed.
On the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, I understand that hon. Members want to debate its important contents. It is therefore a matter of regret that some of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends wasted time yesterday debating not the Bill's substance, but a programme motion that had already been put before the House.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): The Leader of the House knows that we are entering a difficult stage in which health authorities have to manage their demise by next spring and the transfer of their responsibilities to primary care trusts. Although I have nothing but praise for my health authority in Nottingham for the professionalism with which it is attempting to do that, I am conscious that we face the problem of staff haemorrhaging from health authorities to the embryonic PCTs. Some health authorities face the prospect of meltdown as they try to get the staff to support existing and essential services. Can we have a statement on how the Government are supporting the transition of responsibilities to the new PCTs and on what additional resources we are putting in place to ensure that existing services are not damaged in the process?
Mr. Cook: I accept that that is an important aspect of the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, which is before the House. I anticipate that my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues will want to explore that issue as the Bill proceeds. I welcome his praise for his health authority and believe that there is a broad welcome for our proposed measures to put the funding of local services in the hands of local health service staff, especially general practitioners.
We are aware that there will be a period when staff of the health authorities are worried. That is why we have given an assurance that those who may not be transferred by 1 April 2002 will remain employees of the Department of Health, which will run a clearing house to ensure that