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Mr. Cook: I indignantly deny that suggestion. For the record and in case anyone subsequently complains, I explain that I have had a long relationship with the RMT, which has been regularly and annually declared. I am happy to make that clear.
The position that the Government have taken on the current dispute has been to invite both sides to go forward to arbitration. There is provision for arbitration in their agreement, and we hope that both sides will agree to arbitration.
Over decades, the House has discussed the Government's role in disputes and, by and large, the consensus has emergeda consensus that was certainly followed by the previous Conservative Governmentthat industrial disputes are a matter for the business concerned. They are not for politicians to resolve on a political basis.
Clive Efford (Eltham): May I ask for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to come to the House to make a statement on the performance of the train operating companies? Too much of the debate about the railways has focused on individuals rather than on what people in the street want done to improve the railways. My constituents suffer the daily misery of travelling to central London on Connex South Eastern, which is almost certainly the worst-performing train operating company on the rail network. We need a proper debatenot one that is petty and backbiting about who is or is not running the railwaysthat will bring about the improvements that we need. The performance of the train operating companies and the persistent poor performance of the management of those companies is worthy of debate in the House.
Mr. Cook: I echo the central thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. This issue is not a matter of personalities and it should not be personalised. Fundamental strategic issues are involved and those who use the railways are aware of some of them. They would like those issues, and not personalities, to be at the centre of the debate.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Can the Leader of the House find time for a brief debate on the helicopter industry? He may be aware that just one hour ago Westland helicopters, which is now part of AgustaWestland, announced 600 job losses at its base in Yeovil. That will have a serious effect on my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws). Is it not time that we had an opportunity to hear from Ministers in the Ministry of Defence about the strategic importance to both military and civil avionics of our helicopter industry, and from Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions about the help that they can afford my constituents at this very difficult time?
Mr. Cook: I fully sympathise with the position of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I was notified of the recent announcement of the redundancies in Yeovil and elsewhere in the south-west. The Government will obviously examine any way in which, through the Department of Trade and Industry and the Employment Service, we can assist communities to cope with the impact of the redundancies. However, at the end of the day, the decision is one for the company. It was not taken by the Government, and although we of course bear in mind the strategic importance of preserving our own weapons and armaments industries, those industries must ultimately decide what is required of their work force and the size of the work force they need.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we debate the adverse effects of prescribed drugs? It has been reported that the young pilot who crashed into the skyscraper in Miami was being prescribed Roaccutane, which is notorious for producing side effects including depressive illnesses and suicidal tendencies. A few years ago, a young constituent of mine died after being prescribed this drug and his parents have been campaigning ever since for clearer labelling of the drug and for warnings that it had such awful side effects. I have seen no improvements since then on the warnings about Roaccutane. When can we debate the issue?
Mr. Cook: I have to confess that I am not technically qualified to enter into a discussion on the particular drug to which my hon. Friend refers. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Department of Health. There are requirements on the information about and on the labelling of all drugs and they usually draw attention to the kind of side effects that he has mentioned. However, if there is a problem, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will wish to address it.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Given that in two weeks' time South Hams district council will produce a local plan that almost certainly will provide, thanks to Government pressure, for a new town in the middle of my constituency for up to 4,500 houses that no one locally wants, may I add my weight to a call for a debate in Government time on town and country planning? Two points need to be made. First, while the Government consult on new rules, district councils up and down the country are producing local plans on the basis of existing
Mr. Cook: I would not advise the hon. Gentleman's council or any other to put decisions on hold pending a change in legislation. As Leader of the House I can say that there is no guarantee when legislation will be completed and come into force. It is important that decisions are not left in suspense until then. I understand the controversy that such a proposal must cause in any constituency, but there are many ways for the hon. Gentleman to ventilate his concerns, and I would encourage him to do so.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): Is there time for a debate on the energy industry? We need that debate for two reasons. First, Ofgem, the energy watchdog, plans to complete the deregulation of energy pricing, which has implications for rising energy prices for low-income families. Secondly, confidence tricksters are going around switching energy supplies to various homes without the permission of the people who live in them. Clearly that is to a large extent a result of deregulation and we need to crack down on those cowboys. Can we have a debate, or at least a statement, on those problems in the energy industry?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes his concerns most forcefully and I shall ensure that they are drawn to the attention of the relevant Minister. I understand that the Office for Gas and Electricity Marketing is consulting on some of those matters and he may wish to express his concerns directly to it.
Mr. Cook: There have been more debates on transport than any other issue in this Parliament and I am sure that it will continue to be a priority. However, the right hon. Gentleman might, for completeness, have shared with the House the fact that more people are travelling by bus than before and more people are travelling by train than ever before. I would have thought that the Conservative party would welcome the new subsidies that we introduced to ensure that there are more rural buses.
Zimbabwe is in a grave crisis. Indeed, no one in the Government has sought to diminish that in any way. I read the comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at Question Time on Tuesday. He clearly laid the degree of persistent serious violation of human rights in Zimbabwe on the line and made a new commitment that if the situation does not improve the Government will speak up for the expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.
We have gone through the gamut of measures available to us as sanctions. We have reduced aid and targeted it only for humanitarian purposes. We have used the political measures available to us. We have withdrawn the British military advisory and training team from Zimbabwe. We are working with both the Commonwealth and the European Union, with some success, to increase that pressure and we will continue to do everything that we can.