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Mr. Cook: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the vigour with which he promotes and defends the interests of the coal-mining communities that he represents. A Thursday rarely passes without his raising them. That is a good example of Parliament being used for the proper function of articulating our constituents' interests. I am sure that my hon. Friend will ensure that the issue that he raises today is included in the discussion to which he referred. I shall give advance warning to my colleagues in the relevant Department.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House may know that people in Northern Ireland, especially Omagh, are worried about mixed messages on terrorism. The American authorities have banned funding of the Continuity IRA, which uses the alias the 32 County Sovereignty Committee. Is it not time for the Home Secretary to list that organisation? The legislation that was introduced after Omagh has not brought anyone before the courts in Northern Ireland, and the Continuity IRA continues.
Mr. Cook: I do not believe that there is anyone in the Northern Ireland Office, the Government or the House who does not regret that people have not been brought to court for the Omagh atrocity, which we all deeply deplore. I assure the hon. Gentleman that our security services
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows about the increasing number of women in prison. I learned through a response to a written parliamentary question earlier this week that 169 women from Wales are in prison in England because there is no women's prison in Wales. Will my right hon. Friend bring that to the Home Secretary's attention and ask him to use all the means at his disposal, not to build a prison in Wales but to reduce the number of women in custody by encouraging sentencing in the community? The devastating effect on families, especially children, could thus be avoided.
Mr. Cook: I am happy to say that it will not be necessary to draw this to the attention of the Home Secretary, because I know that he is well aware of the rapid rise in the number of women in prisons across England and Wales. He is also vigorously involved in the review of sentencing. He has said that he wants to bring sense to sentencing. Serious sentences are applied to those who have committed serious offences, but those who have not, and who can be treated in other ways, should be so treated.
In fairness to my right hon. and hon. Friends and to everyone involved in the system, it must be said that there has been a rapid rise in the number of women offenders. That is reflected in the statistics to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) referred. They are not simply a result of sentencing policy; they are also a reflection of the number of offenders. There is, unfortunately, no short-term, easy solution to the problem of increased demand for places for women in prison. It is, however, an issue to which the Home Office attaches high priority, and to which it will respond over time.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Leader of the House sought to raise to an art form his disingenuousness in his original response to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. Does he not recognise that most of us realise that Ministers constantly bypassing the House and making statements to the media first, rather than to the House, is a tactic to which we all expected the Government to return, the minute the wheels started to fall off? Regarding the Saville inquiry, does he not realise that, in a constituency such as mine, in which many members of the Parachute Regiment and their relatives live, I doubt that a single constituent thinks that any public money should have been spent on this ludicrous inquiry? It was a craven act of appeasement by the Government to terrorists, and it should have been stopped long ago.
Mr. Cook: I do not honestly see that anyone interested in the affairs of Northern Ireland should be afraid of our bringing out into the open what may have happened on that occasion; nor do I believe that anyone in the United Kingdom would wish to create the appearance that we have anything to hide.
On the hon. Gentleman's other point, he saidif I apprehended him correctlythat I had out-performed myself in my disingenuousness. I shall try to continue to set new standards of clarity and fact in the House.
Mr. Cook: Starting right now. Before I came into the Chamber, I asked for the comparative figure for statements made to the House in the last five years of the Conservative Government and the first five years of this one. I shall try to express these statistics clearly so that the hon. Gentleman can follow them. We have made more than 60 more statements in our first five years than the Conservatives made in their last five years. I therefore decline to take any lectures from them on the importance of accountability to the House.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): My right hon. Friend will be aware of a recent judgment by the Law Lords to the effect that term-time workers in schools are not allowed to claim jobseeker's allowance during the three months of the year in which they are not employed and, therefore, not earning. Unusually, the Law Lords made it clear that they foresaw a change in the law being necessary, and recommended such a change to allow those workers to claim that benefit. Like many hon. Members, I have constituents who are caught in this trap. Is there any chance that the appropriate Minister could make a statement to the House to set out just where the Government see this going?
Mr. Cook: The rule, if I recall it rightly, that those leaving school cannot claim benefit until September is of long standing. If the Law Lords have made a ruling on it, I am confident that my hon. Friends at the Department will be considering its implications, and I will advise them to write directly to my hon. Friend.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Further to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the Secretary of State for Education and Skills made a major speech outside the House this week on an apparent change in the Government's policy on school exclusions, ironically at a time when the Standing Committee on the Education Billof which I am a memberhas been discussing that same issue. Will the Leader of the House tell me when the Secretary of State will come to the House to make a statement about that policy change?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman has just confirmed that this issue has been debated in the Standing Committee, and it will continue to be debated as the Bill proceeds through the House. I anticipate our having a very full period of time in which to consider the Bill on Report, when it will be open to the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member to table an amendment or a new clause that could ventilate this or any other part of education policy. I would say to the House that we have to get real on this issue. Cabinet Ministers have made speeches outside the House from time immemorial, and sometimes that has taken forward the development of Government policy. The ministerial code rightly and properly places an
Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): May I remind my right hon. Friend that Holocaust Memorial Day is approaching? Will he consider how the House and individual Members may better support such commemorative events?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend draws attention to a very important approaching dateand the commemoration was of course introduced by this Government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a speech on the day to mark its significance and I am sure that hon. Members will consider how they can best do likewise in their constituencies.
Mr. Cook: Perhaps the House requires a debate on backstabbing in the Conservative party. [Hon. Members: "There isn't any."] I am interested to hear that, because the shadow Chief Secretary says that the Conservative party is seen as