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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes a tempting suggestion for a debate. I shall promote it as a priority on my list of issues awaiting debate. I agree that it is clear from the evidence that has been produced during the week that the way in which we fund the national health service out of general taxation provides the most efficient, fairest and most universal system of health care. We look forward to the Opposition telling us whether they are willing to destroy that.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I join those who have called for greater clarity from the Government on the question of health spending. Has the Leader of the House not realised that as Britain increases expenditure on health, so the amount of the European average will increase? If any other member state were also to increase its expenditure on health, the average would effectively translate into a moving target. Will he clarify how we are supposed to hit that target?
Mr. Cook: These questions are descending from the entertaining into the pathetic. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's befuddled arithmetic, the fact is that we have closed the gap over the past four years. We shall continue to do so over the next five years, and we shall succeed in matching the average in 2005-06.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has identified a valid forum in which to explore the issue which, I know, is of great importance to him and other Members. It is vital to reflect the regional variety and dimension of the United Kingdomone of the strengths of our countryin our debates and ensure that our forums reflect that adequately. I am pleased that the Government have given that commitment. From what my hon. Friend said, I take it that he welcomes that commitment, and I am sure that he and others will want opportunities to make sure that the Government deliver it.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House and a member of the House of Commons Commission, give the House the opportunity to discuss the facilities for visitors to the House? Does he agree that when constituents come to the House of Commons they should be treated equally and fairly? At present, they are not.
Mr. Cook: I absolutely agree. Indeed, during the time in which I have been Leader of the House, I have reflected on the fact that, as a Parliament, we miss an immense opportunity to convey to the tens of thousands of people who come to Parliament the importance of the Commons as an expression of democracy in the United Kingdom. I welcome the fact that, at present, they have adequate opportunity to see our buildings, study our architecture and consider our history, but we should look at ways in which we can ensure that they also receive a message about the importance of a contemporary Parliament and its role in our democracy. I shall wish to explore that with the Modernisation Committee.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on regional development agencies? That would give a Minister an opportunity to explain that the Government have insistedrightly, to my mindthat those agencies are business-led. However, neither the chairman nor the vice-chairman of the regional development agency for the north-east of England are from the business sector, and it has just summarily got rid of representatives from the Confederation of British Industry and the chamber of commerce. If my right hon. Friend cannot find time for a debate, will he look into the matter and tell us what is going on?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's invitation but, if he will forgive me, I shall decline to dip my toe into that particularly hot water and leave it to the region itself to resolve the issue. However, on the generality of what he said, I am conscious of a number of regional issues that are a matter of legitimate public debate and interest; I am also conscious of our obligation as a Parliament to ensure that they can be ventilated. I
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I wonder if the Leader of the House can help me. If a Bill is considered and passed on a Sewel motion in the Scottish Parliament, but is significantly amended by the House making aspects of it substantially different, should it not go back to the Scottish Parliament for further consideration and approval? If not, why not?
Mr. Cook: The short answer is that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman without notice, but I shall reflect on his point. So far, we have not experienced the difficulty of amendments changing the character of the Bill so much that it would require a fresh Sewel motion. However, I can assure him that we maintain close contact with our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. So far, that contact has worked to the advantage of both the Scottish Parliament and this place, but we shall certainly wish to discuss any such difficulties.
Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Can the Leader of the House find time to arrange a debate on the charter of BBC Wales and language discrimination? That would enable us to debate the reasons why the vast majority of the people in Wales who do not speak the Welsh language are increasingly excluded from senior positions and why BBC Wales is now sacking people, not just because they do not speak the language but because their accent is not Welsh enoughthat was agreed in a recent court ruling. We could also debate the reason why every controller of BBC Wales in the past 50 years has been a Welsh speaker and why 25 members of a 30-strong political unit are Welsh speakers. The vast majority of people in Wales are now being excluded or discriminated against by BBC Wales.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes his point with great force and vigour. I expect that other hon. Members from Wales may wish to express a contrary point of view with equal vigour and clarity. I would strongly support the right of anybody to take part in broadcasting or any other activity, irrespective of their accent.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Leader of the House agree to the request from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for an early debate on the ministerial refusal to answer questions? The issue is the reply to my question about emergency legislation to prevent an application for interim review from Railtrack, and an answer that was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). Since when do internal communications cover draft legislation that is due to come before the House?
Mr. Cook: Any draft legislation is necessarily the subject of internal communication within the Government. That is not particularly new, nor is it an invention of this Government, as opposed to the previous Government. I listened with care to what the Speaker said to the House yesterday. It is important that the House accepts his advice and pursues the matter through the two relevant Select
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Rolls-Royce is by far the largest employer in Pendle. It came as a real shocka body blowto learn from the company this morning that up to one third of the employees at the two Rolls-Royce plants in Barnoldswick, where I live, are to lose their jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) referred to the crisis in aerospace. Is not the situation serious enough for an early statement from the relevant Ministers to the House next week, to see what the Government can do to help the industry, which is in crisis? We all understand that the Government cannot force people back on to aeroplanes, but there are steps that the Government can take and should be taking to help that high-tech leading-edge industry, which needs our help now.
Mr. Cook: I entirely understand why the impact of such a large number of job losses in my hon. Friend's constituency is a matter of deep concern to him and to his constituents. I am glad that he has had the opportunity of drawing the House's attention to that deep concern. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be following the matter closely, and the Government will want to do anything they can to assist, within the reasonable bounds that my hon. Friend outlined. I shall make sure that my hon. Friend hears from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as soon as possible.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (NorthWest Norfolk): I refer the Leader of the House to the ongoing crisis in the countryside as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic. He is a countryman; he has lived in the New Forest, he spent much of the last Parliament at Chevening, and he spends a lot of time at the racecourse. He must understand the dismay. Has not the time come for the Government to arrange a full and comprehensive public inquiry? What is his personal view?