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Mr. Cook: On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, may I say, Mr. Speaker, that I read with care your words inviting my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) to raise the matter with me this morning? I was delighted to see her in her place when I entered the Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman has slightly stolen her thunder, but since he has asked the question, I may say to him that there is no question of those matters being agreed by Her Majesty's Government in any meeting in Brussels until the meeting on Monday 10 December. In practice, we anticipate that the issues will be resolved at Laeken, not at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and the Laeken meeting will take place after 10 December.
The forthcoming paper on the modernisation of the House will be circulated to members of the Modernisation Committee this weekend, and discussed at meetings of the Committee next Tuesday and Wednesday. I hope that it will be available to all Members of the House next Wednesday.
Mr. Forth: Will the Leader of the House guarantee that?
Mr. Cook: I certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that guarantee. However, I also want to point out that before the Modernisation Committee takes forward that
I am very pleased to give the right hon. Gentleman the guarantees that he asked for. The whole purpose of the exercise is to make sure that Parliament is able to do its job more effectively and able to scrutinise legislation more effectively, and that it has Select Committees that can scrutinise the Executive more effectively. It is important that we get across the message that the modernisation of Parliament is not about making life easier for MPs; it is about making the job of the MP more effective and more rewarding. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear, and I look forward to his support in this matter, that the total impact of my proposals on the sitting hours of the House will be to increase, not diminish, them. I know that he personally will fully support me on that.
On the other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises, I accept responsibility for many things, but not for what happens in the Strangers Bar at 3 am. My rare experience of being in the Strangers Bar at 3 am is that it is a place for robust exchange of views, and I should not have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be surprised or dismayed by that, but there is a categorical denial of any physical violence.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I am delighted to hear that European Standing Committee B will have an opportunity to look again at the very important European arrest warrant. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is an extremely far-reaching measure? It is not simply a matter of a small adjustment; it will affect many aspects of British law. Before we accept the right of a foreign Administration to issue a demand for arrest on matters as wide as crimes of homosexuality and abortion, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should debate the consequences and the implications on the Floor of the House of Commons, where all hon. Members can be aware of what we are being committed to?
Mr. Cook: I am quite sure that all hon. Members are well aware of the proposals of the Justice and Home Affairs Council. They have, after all, been debated during the passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, and will no doubt be debated again when we consider statutory instruments under that Bill when it becomes an Act. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her welcome for the fact that there will be a debate in the Standing Committee. That debate will be timely, before any decision is taken. I would not disagree with her that important and serious issues are involved. It is precisely because of the need for co-operation across Europe and with our immediate neighbours to defeat terrorism that we are taking the measure.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In the context of the improved scrutiny that the House should undertake, does the Leader of the House recall the infamous memo from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), in which he advised his colleagues to "bunk off"to use his own expressionon a regular basis? Does the Leader of the House also recall that late on
With regard to modernisation, does the Leader of the House recognise that we have a problem? Members of the Select Committee have been sworn to secrecy about the ideas that we are currently discussing, yet the briefing which emerged from the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night, most of which seemed to be erroneous, puts us in the awkward position of not knowing whether we are allowed to discuss those matters with our colleagues or with the media. Can the Leader of the House release members of the Select Committee from that vow of secrecy? We recall that on many occasions in this place, members of Select Committees have been strongly criticised for disclosing matters that were being considered by their Committees.
In particular, can the Leader of the House give an undertaking that, as part of his proposals, he will examine the vexed issue of the rationalisation and regularisation of the allocation of Opposition Supply days and the way in which subjects for debate on those days are chosen? He will recall that over the past week or so, considerable confusion resulted from the failure to give us information in good time so that we could prepare for those debates.
Mr. Cook: I hope that the paper on modernisation will be circulated to members of the Modernisation Committee in the course of today and that it will be available for the weekend. The normal rule to which the hon. Gentleman refers is correct. A Select Committee would be expected to proceed with its papers on the basis of discussion only within the Committee.
We must be mature and recognise that if we are to discuss the modernisation of Parliament, changes in the working practices of our colleagues, and the right of the House to carry out effective scrutiny of legislation, we cannot do that in conditions of secrecy. It is important that we share that with colleagues, and that they can offer their own input. That is why we intend to release the document after it has been discussed in the Committee next week. I leave it to the discretion and good faith of members of the Committee as to whom they consult and the conditions on which they consult them before we meet to discuss the paper next week.
On the views that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) expressed to the Conservative party, I well recall his proposal that Conservative Members should divide themselves into teams, each of which would turn up on one day of the week.
Mr. Cook: Yes, I regret to say that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal failed to be implemented. The rest of us were rather looking forward to the outcome, with only a fifth of Conservative Members turning up on any one day.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): On an issue not raised by the two Opposition parties today, should not there be a statement in the House next week about why the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards did not have the opportunity of having her contract renewed, like her predecessor? Is it not clear that her successor, whoever
Mr. Cook: I cheerfully say to my hon. Friend that I am open to bids from other Committees to take that burden upon themselves. I am certainly not fighting to keep it for the Committee on which I serve.
David Winnick: Outside bodies.
Mr. Cook: The Standards and Privileges Committee is not an outside body. I remind my hon. Friend that the procedures of the House are clear; when an appointment is proposed, the nomination will come before the whole House of Commons on the Floor of the House and it will be for the whole House to approve or reject it. I think that I am correct in saying that it will be an amendable motion, so it will be open to my hon. Friend at that stage to table an amendment to test the opinion of the House on whether the present commissioner should be reappointed.
I do not think that it will help my hon. Friend's cause of ensuring proper inviligation of the standards and conducts of Members of Parliament if he starts a campaign to decry the process of appointment. It is in the interests of everybody in the House to attract a quality field and approach the task of finding the best possible candidate to become commissioner.