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Mr. Cook: On reading such stories, I have sometimes reflected on whether I have mis-spent my life and might have been better becoming a barrister. I am sure that the same thought has entered the mind of many people looking at the figures. There may be a debate about whether the rate of pay is appropriate, but I do not think that there is ground for a debate about the fact that it is important that we have a full public inquiry and bring the matter out into the open. On Thursdays I frequently hear demands from the Opposition for more public inquiries, not fewer. Next time they are minded to do that, perhaps they will reflect on today's exchanges.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I refer to the forthcoming convention on the future of Europe, and draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the recent report of the European Scrutiny Committee and its recommendations for the selection of the representative of this Parliament to that convention. Does my right hon. Friend agree that whatever the outcome of the discussions that are taking place about the selection of our representative, we must not lose sight of the important topics that will be discussed at the convention itself? As a central theme of the convention is to be enhancing the role of national Parliaments in European decision making, may we have an early debate in this place about how democratic accountability in European decision making can be enhanced through the scrutiny process? Finally, I renew my request for the House to take the lead in bringing non-governmental organisations and other organisations
Mr. Cook: On my hon. Friend's first point, there have been discussions between my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about who should go forward to represent Parliament in the convention. I hope that those discussions will bear fruit in the near future, and that the names to come before the House will be agreed by consensus by both parties. That will have to be laid before the House and approved by the whole House, so the House can have a say.
On the other matter that my hon. Friend raises, I am well aware of the central feature of the review leading up to the next intergovernmental conference, which puts national Parliaments centre stage. I am aware of it because I played a part in making sure that that happened. We should be doing more to connect the national Parliaments with the debate and the decision making in Europe. As to our procedures in the House, the Scrutiny Committee is carrying out a review of procedures relating to European legislation and decisions, and I look forward to discussing that with the Committee when it has completed its report.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): May I tell the Leader of the House that I have recently received a number of representations from constituents who support a campaign to ensure that posthumous pardons are given to many of those who were shot for cowardice in the first world war, when it was apparent to just about every right-thinking person outside this House that they were guilty of no such thing? I am aware that this matter has come before the House on previous occasions, but I say to him that it is not an issue that will go away. Can we have an early opportunity to bring it back to the Floor of the House?
Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the strength of feeling of the relatives of those who were shot. I think that everybody in the House would express great sympathy with their position and concern about the action that was taken at the start of the last century. It is plain now, in retrospect, that many of those who were sentenced and executed at the time would never have been sentenced or executed under modern law or standards. However, as the hon. Gentleman will know from previous exchanges, there is a bona fide issue as to whether it is credible to apply a legal pardon posthumously in very different circumstancesincluding the state of the lawfrom those that applied at the time. Nor would this be the only occasion when we might be invited to do so. Therefore, what I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he should offer comfort to relatives by telling them of the very strong sympathy and regrets of all of us who are alive today about what happened. However, it is not really for us to make legal judgments by today's standards about what happened 100 years ago.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The Leader of the House correctly said that there was strong interest in DEFRA matters. He will be aware that the first of the three reports that the Government commissioned following the
Mr. Cook: I am advised that the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is yes and that the report will be brought before the House. The appropriate time for a debate is a matter of judgment that we would have to consider in the round. I am not immediately persuaded that it would be sensible to have three separate debates on three separate reports, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government and my DEFRA colleagues will be considering how we should best take the matter forward.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): My right hon. Friend will have seen recent press reports on the damage caused by alcohol misuse. He will also be aware that the Government have long promised an alcohol strategy, although it has yet to emerge. Will he encourage Ministers to bring forward the Government's alcohol strategy at an early date? Even before that, will he make time for a debate on alcohol abuse on the Floor of the House? [Interruption.]
Mr. Cook: May I say straight away that I would wish to rule myself out as the opening speaker in any such debate? None the less, my hon. Friend raises a serious issue that causes immense distress in the families of a number of our constituents. I shall certainly convey my hon. Friend's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ensure that Ministers reflect upon the urgency and importance that he and many other hon. Members obviously attach to the question. I cannot promise a debate in advance of a strategy, but I am sure that my hon. Friends will consider how they can quickly take forward a response.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Given that the BBC's "The World at One" programme yesterday made the extraordinary decision to devote more than half its running time to concerns about the treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners, the Leader of the House may think that far too much time has already been spent on the issue. Nevertheless, I should like to join those of his Back Benchers who are calling for a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners and the way in which they should be tried. Surely, such a statement would give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to point out that, in past conflicts, people who engaged in the sort of outrageous terrorism of which the prisoners are accused were by no means and by no stretch of the imagination ever subject to the provisions of the Geneva convention. It would also enable him to point out to the House that it was as the result of trying such people in a civilian court after the attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993 that bin Laden was informed that his telephones were being listened to. If that had not
Mr. Cook: It is plain that there are two views on the treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. I advise hon. Members to wait until we have heard from the Red Cross, which is visiting today. It will be able to provide a clear statement about the matter and say whether it wishes to make representations about changes.
On the legal background, whether the prisoners are covered by the Geneva convention is not immediately germane. Requirements of international humanitarian law transcend the Geneva convention, and they have to be observed, even if the convention does not apply.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Does my right hon. Friend know that coal-mining communities are well served by CISWOthe Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation? In my constituency, it is setting up a one-stop shop with a wide range of services at the Mastin Moor miners' welfare. However, CISWO is currently in financial difficulties because there is no National Coal Board with which to negotiate to advance its financial position. Its difficulties will lead to considerable loss of important services in coal-mining communities.
Last week, I asked for a general debate on the coal industry. The matter that I have raised today could be included in such a debate. Other items, such as equal pay for women, compensation for vibration white finger, bronchitis and emphysema and the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on the miners' pension scheme could be covered in an omnibus discussion on important matters for coal-mining communities.